Friday, June 15, 2012

Does Head Hopping Make You Crazy?


Photo by DnDavis

Head hopping is when the reader is privy to two (or, heaven forbid, more) characters’ thoughts and feelings in a single scene. That’s not to say it can’t be done successfully. Many popular authors, especially those who began writing some years ago, are known for it. Nora Roberts is probably the best example. And let me say, she does it extremely well. She never leaves you in doubt as to whose head you’re in. She leads you back and forth effortlessly.
Whether head hopping weakens the emotional impact of a scene is a matter of opinion. Head hopping is more acceptable in the romance genre than in others I’m familiar with, such as mystery, where it’s usually frowned upon. Some editors think love scenes are stronger with both the male and female points of view. Others go ballistic over POV shifts.
The main thing is to avoid making the reader wonder whose thought that is or have to look back a few paragraphs to see. Then she’s taken completely out of the story. It’s much harder for her to get back into it so that she’s once again experiencing events and emotions with the viewpoint character. Here’s an example of head hopping—dramatic, I’ll grant you.
Photo: Wavebreak Media Ltd
How could he do this? I gave up everything for him. Tears overflowed and ran down Cleo’s cheeks. His words sent waves of pain all the way to her soul. She flung herself on the bed and sobbed.
It wasn’t that bad—so I was with someone else. It was only once. Bryce jammed his hands in his pockets and turned his back on the distraught woman.
The transition from one head to another is the key. There is no transition in that example, so the reader expects the thought beginning with It wasn’t that bad to be Cleo’s. But then there’s the sentence naming Bryce in the same paragraph—so whose thought is it? Whose POV did you think that was?
It’s Bryce’s, but it wasn’t made clear. It’s an easy fix: put the Bryce sentence at the beginning of the paragraph, and it’s clearly his thought.
How could he do this? I gave up everything for him. Tears overflowed and ran down Cleo’s cheeks. His words sent waves of pain all the way to her soul. She flung herself on the bed and sobbed.
Bryce jammed his hands in his pockets and turned his back on the distraught woman. It wasn’t that bad—so I was with someone else. It was only once.
If you’re going to use more than one POV in a scene, make sure there’s no doubt about where/whose head. 
How do you feel about head hopping? Does it bother you? If there's no confusion, does it still bother you? Why? 

5 comments:

Polly said...

I head hopped when I first started writing because I didn't know "the rules." Once it was made clear to me, and I worked so hard to get it right, I found POV shifts a distraction when I read other writers doing it. I do believe head hopping bothers writers more than readers. All they're interested in is a good story, and if the POV shifts are done well, with no confusion, I doubt readers would notice them at all, or care. This post made me wonder--if head hopping was acceptable years ago, who changed the rule that made it unacceptable now? Good post, Ellis.

Ellis Vidler said...

I don't know when it changed, but there's certainly more emphasis on using a single POV now than in the early 90s. And it's still up for grabs in some circles. As usual, I don't believe the "rules" are absolute. I'd rather see a smooth shift now and then than a bunch of short, choppy scenes if you feel both POVs are necessary.

Sandy Cody said...

I don't like head-hopping in the same scene. However, I do like (actually prefer) stories that are told from more than one POV. I think it gives dimension and adds complexity if the reader can see the problem/situation from the POV of multiple characters. I agree that changes are more effective in longer scenes than short, choppy back-and-forth.

Ellis Vidler said...

Sandy, I prefer one scene/one POV too, but if it's well done and the story is good, the head hopping doesn't really distract me.
I also prefer multiple POVs for the same reasons. I like the depth. You and Polly both do it very well.

Nancy Lauzon said...

I don't like head hopping either, too confusing - altho you're right, Nora Roberts is good at it!