Hello SErs! Harmony here 🙂 How are you all? Today, I thought I’d take a look at how to avoid your book reading as if it has personality disorder. What do I mean by that?
Basically, this is what happens if your writing jumps between character Point of View (POV) without any indication. In common parlance, we know it as Head Hopping.
Unless done well, it can lead to confusion, headaches, and frustration for your readers.
Some of the most confusing places this can happen is in the middle of a section of dialogue or in the middle of a sentence (sadly, I’ve seen too many examples of the latter). One second, we read from Character A’s POV, and then all at once, we realise that we’ve switched to reading from Character B’s head instead. Worse still is when it takes a paragraph or more before we notice and then we have to back-track to make sense of what the heck is going on now.
Generally speaking, we want to use some kind of device to show a scene shift–whether that’s a POV switch, a time jump, or a complete scene change–such as an extra line space or a symbol, etc. And if we feel we absolutely cannot do that without spoiling the flow of the narrative, then at the least, we need to lead into that shift so that the reader has a chance of following us down the rabbit hole.
While we have no strict rules about head hopping, we do have conventions. The main three are:
- Switching POVs between distinct chapters.
- Switching POVs between distinct scenes by using an extra line break or symbol.
- Switching POVs within a scene by using a ‘camera panning out then in’ method (this is one of the ways of leading the reader into the shift that I mentioned above. This is where you start in on close zoom on one character. Then you pan out your words (camera) so that you almost reach an omniscient POV. And, finally, you zoom in close on the second character).
I have come across so many differing opinions about the best approach, and then there are those who don’t see it as an issue at all. For me, the important thing is that we find a way to signal to our readers that we are making a shift. Of equal importance is that we stick to the conventions that we set out at the start of the novel. Personally, I am a big advocate of the first two methods, and unless you are so, so careful, number three can border on head hopping.
While head hopping has its pros and cons, I find for me that it has more cons. Some famous authors have used it successfully, such as Stephen King, for example; however, I have seen Mr King mess it up badly too. As well as the issue of potential confusion and developing a personality disorder, there is the matter of the reader connecting strongly with the character. And if we continuously jump between heads without warning, this can prevent that connection and empathy.
Omniscient POV is not the same as head hopping. In Omniscient POV, we have a distinct narrator with access to the thoughts and feelings of the characters. In this POV, the reader is in the head of the narrator and stays there.
What are your thoughts on head hopping? Do you use it? Avoid it like the plague? Or fall somewhere in the middle?
Thanks so much for stopping by! Keep well 🙂