Head Hopping or Just a Fluid POV Experience

Posted: July 5, 2016 in The Write Stuff
Tags: , , ,

Legal Disclaimer

If you’re not a writer, and don’t care about the writing process, skip right over this go on to the next entry. If you are a writer and still don’t care about the writing process, move on. In fact, take up another trade … like bomb testing. For the rest of you, this might hold some interest. Dialogue encouraged.

This post attempts to answer a nagging question that crops up in writerly circles over expensive coffee drinks as writers twiddle with their laptops and wear out the elbow pads on their tweed jackets.

What in Neptune’s blue balls is head hopping?

Head hopping is a term used to describe an author’s shifting the point of view (POV) from one character to another with little or no warning. It requires a reader to follow and understand whose perspective is being used to tell the story when that perspective shifts during the middle of a scene, and often several times during the scene.

Head hopping doesn’t make the writer a bad person. It’s not on a par with, say, drowning kittens, or fondling yourself in public. Some authors can make it work well enough, there’s no real danger of the reader suffering whiplash, or needing schizophrenia medication.

It is not the same as Omniscient Point of View. More on this later.

Reasons to use head hopping:

  • You’re not strong enough at writing to convey the emotions and reactions of non-POV characters through observation of the POV character.
  • You desperately need to let the reader know what more than one person is thinking during a scene and you can’t wait for a scene break to shift POV character because you’re a hack and should consider knitting instead of writing.
  • Your name is John Grisham and you’ve gotten a huge writing contract despite your poor command of prose.

Reasons to avoid head hopping:

  • Avoid reader confusion. Without sufficient clues, the reader gets lost trying to figure out who is thinking what, and who’s telling the story.
  • Using 3rd Close, or First Person POV immerses the reader deeper in the story and is easier for the author to connect them more strongly with the character.
  • POV restrictions leave unanswered questions for the reader. Little bread crumbs to follow. With head hopping, there is no longer any dynamic tension. The reader knows what everybody is thinking and feeling, so there’s no mystery left.

Differences between head hopping and Omni. This is where it gets hard to explain and most new writers say, “Man, you’re getting into writer arcana here. Get a life,” and return to the special snowflake school of writing.

  • Omni: There is never a doubt about who’s relating the scene. The author. Period-dot-turn-the-page. You know it, I know it, and Aunt Matilda senses it from beyond the grave.
  • Head hopping: Everyone is relating the scene. The author, the protagonist, the antagonist, the side characters, the protagonist’s dentist, and the editor’s niece who needs a break into show business.
  • Omni: The author guides the reader very carefully through the scene, orchestrating the characters and demonstrating their thoughts and actions the way a director focuses the camera to reveal the story.
  • Head hopping: Characters babble their thoughts and feelings like a kindergarten class.

Examples*

#1. Boris stood by while his wife packed for their vacation. Natasha’s thin frame and narrow features gave her a Slavic look that had attracted him from the beginning of their relationship. He smiled, remembering their first meeting at the Belgrade dead drop. The moment he saw her pinched lips and distrustful gaze, he had fallen in love, and believed she had always loved him in return.

His smile dropped as Natasha threw a second suitcase on the bed.

“Why do you need so many clothes?” he complained. “It’s a two-day trip!”

Natasha didn’t spare him a glance.

Boris always complained; it was his default setting. He had a whiny voice that tended to grate on everyone’s nerves, and Natasha had slowly been building a castle of hate with Boris’s name over the door. She smiled where he couldn’t see. Her nasty surprise at dinner tonight would take care of everything.

Boris threw up his hands and left the room to watch football on TV.

 

#2. Boris stood by while his wife packed for their vacation. Natasha’s thin frame and narrow features gave her a Slavic look that had attracted him from the beginning of their relationship. He smiled. She had looked so beautiful at the Belgrade dead drop where they first met, with her pinched lips and distrustful gaze. We have loved each other ever since.

His smile dropped as Natasha threw a second suitcase on the bed.

“Why do you need so many clothes?” he complained. “It’s a two-day trip!”

Natasha didn’t spare him a glance. What a pain. What was wrong with Boris that he couldn’t understand her desire to always look her best? I hate his whiny voice so much! She couldn’t wait for dinner, when she could drop the bomb on him. Literally.

Aw, what the heck, Boris thought in disgust. He threw up his hands and left the room to watch football on TV.

 

#3. Boris stood by while his wife packed for their vacation. Natasha’s thin frame and narrow features gave her a Slavic look that had attracted him from the beginning of their relationship. He smiled. She had looked so beautiful at the Belgrade dead drop where they first met, with her pinched lips and distrustful gaze. We have loved each other ever since.

His smile dropped as Natasha threw a second suitcase on the bed.

“Why do you need so many clothes?” he complained. His voice had taken on a whiny quality that he couldn’t seem to stop. “It’s a two-day trip!”

Natasha didn’t spare him a glance. Her back stiffened and her hands took on the jerky motion of a robot wound too tightly. He’d annoyed her, again, it seemed. It was all he did these days. Hopefully dinner tonight would help. She told him earlier it was to be a special going away dinner, which sounded to Boris like a peace offering.

Aw, what the heck. Time for football on TV. Boris threw up his hands and left.

 

Which is which?

Which is head hopping, which is 3rd Close, and which is Omni?

#1 __________ #2 __________ #3 __________

*Grading my examples on quality of writing will earn you a visit from the Kissmyass Fairy.

 

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Steve says:

    I could tell you which is which, but then I’d have to shoot you. As much of your stuff that I’ve read, you stick with 3rd close, as do I. Very much like 1st person writing, but from a 3rd person perspective.

    But there are also the more subtle shifts where you go from Omni to 3rd close and back to omni and then keep zooming in and out. If you’ve read Puzo or Thomas Harris, you know what I mean. I never quite know how to classify that sort of writing since it shifts all about and manages to remain brilliant.

    My general thought on it is to keep things as simple as possible and stick with 3rd close through most of a chapter, but I will open or close in omni as a method to set the stage. Since I’m not all that smart, this seems to be the only way I can keep from messing everything up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re not stuck with one or the other. You can even go with 1st, 3rd, 2nd, and Omni in the same novel. (Though please, not in the same scene.) You can even let your 3rd close POV slip show once in a while. “Zooming the lens” is a comparison I like–bringing the POV from a wide, establishing shot down to the character’s shoulder. The only concern for me is how much “author voice” leaks through the 3rd close scenes, and how hard it is to follow the action.

      It’s when the camera gets bounced around like the characters are playing Hot Potato that I get sick to my stomach.

      Like

      • sryeager says:

        I get sick to my stomach reading first person present tense. But I’m completely with you on following the action. If I can’t, I move on to the next book.

        I also tend to not like the terms 3rd close or 3rd omni or 3rd head-hopping. A lot of it comes down to telling a story ABOUT someone verses telling it AS someone. To me, that is where the mental shift takes place. If I’m writing ABOUT someone, I usually will stay neutral in the narration, whereas when I step into the AS someone, I will color that part of the scene through the character’s perspective…if that makes any sense whatsoever.

        1st, 3rd, 2nd, and Omni in the same novel? Ouch. No thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s