Today I have chosen to address the topic of “head hopping”. Some of you may ask, “What is head hopping?”
Head hopping is when a writer jumps from one head to another (switches from one character’s POV to another) without warning. (POV is Point of View). This can be quite confusing to your reader. It can also jolt your reader right out of your story. It is simply that the writer tells or shows us what is going on inside their main character’s head, then in the next sentence, next paragraph, or next scene tells or shows us what is going on in another character’s head without warning.
For instance: Robert took Janie’s hand as they strolled along the beach. When his fingers entwined hers, an electrical current shot through his fingers and up his arm. He wondered if she felt it too. Janie nearly pulled her fingers from Robert’s at the strength of the jolt his touch sent through her. She studied his face for a clue that he had felt it too.
Notice that in the first three sentences, Robert is the character reaching out to take Janie’s hand and feeling an electrical current shoot through his fingers. Then he wonders if she felt it too. In the next two sentences, Janie is the character considering pulling her fingers from Robert’s because of the jolt she felt at his touch. Then she studies his face to look for a sign that he might have felt something as well.
Do you see how we jumped from Robert’s head (POV) to Janie’s head (POV) in the same paragraph, just a few sentences apart? If Robert is the main character and we are inside his head in this paragraph or scene, we should be shown his thoughts and feelings. However, Janie is probably a second main character as she is most likely Robert’s love interest. But Robert cannot know what she thinks or feels unless she talks about her thoughts or feelings or exhibits a physical reaction.
Some of you may not see a problem with the example paragraph. Maybe it doesn’t confuse you or pull you from the story. However, for most readers, reading an entire book written this way gets tiresome and confusing. This kind of writing doesn’t allow your reader to get deep into one character’s head–thoughts and feelings–to fully be drawn in and engaged with the story.
Does this mean you can only have one point of view character in a story to avoid confusing your reader or pulling them out of your story? Certainly not. You just have to learn, and put into practice, how to move smoothly from one character’s head to another’s to avoid the confusion and the possibility of pulling the reader out of the story.
How do you avoid this problem? Be aware of whose point of view you are writing in –which character’s thoughts and feelings is your reader experiencing? While telling and showing your main character’s thoughts and feelings, remain in that character’s head, sharing these things until a scene or chapter comes to an end. The best and smoothest ways to change to another character’s thoughts and feelings is to wait to begin a new scene, then add a page break (use a symbol such as an asterisk three to five times in the center of the page with a page space before and after it), or wait until you begin a new chapter. These two places make a natural place to change your character’s POV, and by placing the page break and symbol or changing the chapter, your reader will know something is going to change and will be ready for it–expecting it. This will prevent confusing and jolting your reader out of the story.
One more thing I want to point out is that a character’s actions and physical reactions can be written in the same paragraph or scene as the main character’s as long as the main character is with the character who is acting or physically reacting. The main character can see the other character’s actions and physical reactions as long as they are with that other character. The problem with thoughts and feelings is that your main character is not a mind reader and cannot possibly know what the other character is thinking or feeling.
I hope you find this article helpful along your writing journey. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts you’d like to share, please leave them in the comments section below. I will always respond.