Personality Disorder

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:

  1. Switching POVs between distinct chapters.
  2. Switching POVs between distinct scenes by using an extra line break or symbol.
  3. 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 🙂

Harmony Kent

@harmony_kent / Harmony Kent Author Pages: Facebook / Amazon

29 thoughts on “Personality Disorder

  1. Hi Harmony! I try to avoid head hopping altogether. Long ago, I read that it wasn’t to be done at all. The time or two that I just had to share from a secondary character’s POV, I was pretty nervous. Thanks for the advice on how to get it done correctly.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, Harmony! I like multiple POVs, but in limited 3rd person, which, I think, allows the reader an opportunity to see deeper into the POV character. I stick to at least scene breaks when switching POV, usually chapter breaks. Head-hopping drives me nuts, even if the story is going well and I’m enjoying it. Some writers (big names, too) do it with abandon, it seems, and even if I’m enjoying the story, it bugs me to pop between characters heads like that.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is excellent, Harmony. You reviewed my first book, Flowers and Stone, and one of your assessments was that I did some head-hopping. That helped me learn and I have often considered pulling the book down and doing a re-write. Maybe someday when I have extra time. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad you found that review helpful, Jan. I can’t tell you how much I fret about any review I leave, lols. I know all about that fickle thing called time! Glad you liked today’s post 😃

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I know that my first book was lathered in head-hopping. 😥 I’m a big fan of multiple POVs and enjoy knowing what each character is thinking/feeling/reacting to. I’ve been on a mission these past couple of months to reread my novels and clean them up. I know my writing has improved greatly with my newest novels, mostly because writers like you aren’t afraid to critique and guide other writers in perfecting the craft. 😉 I still use multiple POV, but I switch scenes before changing the POV. Sometimes, I can even manage to write a whole chapter in just one POV. Sometimes… lol! 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Yvi. Like you, I love multiple POVs, and most of my books use them. That’s great that you’ve improved such a lot. I think that the best writers never stop learning and growing. Am laughing at your final line about the whole chapter, lols 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Don’t like head hops. I’ve done it, and it was a mistake. I have one “on purpose” in the story in my drawer right now. I think I’m clear enough and it doesn’t jar the reader. After it ferments for a while I will take a second look at this. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have never thought about this even though I read loads and loads of books. I love Stephen King and think he gets you involved with his characters very well but I haven’t read much of his more recent stuff. Now you have brought it to my attention, I am going to watch out for this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • At the moment, I am revisiting his older books. Eventually, I will read right up to his latest novels. He sure does pull you right in with his characterisation 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  7. My favorite POV is omniscient, but that isn’t easy to pull off and seems to be rarely used these days. 😦

    Because I love omniscient, it’s no surprise my favorite books are those with multiple POVs. The switches just need to be handled properly with scene breaks or chapter breaks. That’s also how I write. Most editors won’t allow a head hop, even via #3 above. Probably why head hopping is one of my pet peeves. I’ve frequently mentioned it in book reviews when I find it distracting. If a story otherwise rocks, I can overlook a few, but too many becomes sloppiness on the part of the author That normally ruins the story for me.

    Fun twist with the “personality disorder,” Harmony!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m a huge fan of multiple POVs because I’m nosy and like to know what everyone (or at least more than one person) is thinking. However, I HATE head-hopping. I’m with Marcia; if it slows me down or makes me back up to clarify something, then it’s a bad thing. And head-hopping definitely falls into that category.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Good topic. I’ve noticed this problem in several books lately. For myself, I only change POV’s when I change scenes or chapters, so I follow your first two rules. Once in a while, I realize I’ve accidentally said something the POV character couldn’t know, but usually I catch it, or my editor does. I’d never switch POV’s “mid-stream” on purpose, because anything that causes the reader to stop and go back to figure out who’s speaking seems like a bad idea to me.

    I know some people, writers and readers alike, don’t enjoy varying POVs in a book, but for myself, being able to see what other characters are thinking and doing adds another layer of interest, so I enjoy reading books with multiple POVs. I guess that’s why I write them, as well. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  10. I don’t head hop in scenes (at least, I hope I don’t, I’ve had to correct some errors when editing.) I do use the chapter or scene break to switch POV. I’ve read some books where the author writes in omniscient POV and head hopping is commonplace. It is confusing for the reader, no matter how good the author is.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, in true omniscient POV you always remain with a clear narrator and don’t enter any characters’ heads (for example, The Razor’s Edge). I suspect the books where the author has aimed for omniscient, and you find them head hopping, they have actually ended up in third-person omniscient with no narrator instead of true omniscient, and that is head hopping plain and simple. Thanks, Joan! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

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