Winsell’s Fix-Its: Head Hopping
We are on to week two of my editing pet peeves. This week we’re learning about head hopping in your writing. Some of you may not know it by this particular name; so let me clarify what head hopping is.
Purely Fictional Example (Just made it up off the top of my head):
“You, sir are an idiot.” Charley sat down and crossed her arms, her cheeks on fire.
Darryl walked around the end table to avoid her glare. He marched behind her chair and rolled his eyes. “You’re acting like a child.”
Charley wondered why Darryl would be so stubborn. All she needed was a thousand dollars to get her car fixed. For him that was change. “No. I’m acting like a woman in need.”
Darryl ran his hands through his hair. He’d love to loan Charley the money, but his company just went belly up.
Okay, that is truly horrible writing, and I can say that because I wrote it. But do you see how in every line we’re in a different character’s POV. It gives the reader whiplash from going back-and-forth, and it really makes it hard to enjoy the story. When I read a book, I want to immerse myself in the characters that I’m reading about. If I’m too busy trying to figure out whose head I’m in from one line to the next, I’m not invested in the character and most likely won’t be invested in the story. In fact, if the head hopping is bad enough, I’ll put down the book and move on to something else. My reading time is too valuable to waste on a story that’s just not grabbing my interest.
How to Fix It:
There are a few ways to fix head hopping. The most accepted way is to decide which character’s POV will be the most entertaining for that particular scene. Who has the most to lose? Once you’ve decided, you stay in that character’s head. Let’s say you chose to stay in Charley’s head. If she can’t see it, feel it, taste it, hear it, or know it, then you can’t write it. In my example, she wouldn’t have been able to see Darryl rolling his eyes because he was behind her. She wouldn’t know that he didn’t have any money, and if she doesn’t know it . . . the reader doesn’t know it either.
If you have to have more than one POV in a scene, you can alert the reader to a POV change by inserting an extra blank line between the POVs. If you’re switching POVs for the remainder of the scene, a simple scene break (###) will alert the reader that something has changed.
I prefer to have one POV per scene or add a scene break to switch POVs.
I know that there’s someone out there reading this thinking: I’ve read plenty of books where they switch POVS without an alerting or scene breaks, and I like it just fine. In fact, my book does this, and no one has complained about it to me.
There are always exceptions to the rules. I’m just giving you my opinion, and what I’ve learned from writing conferences and editors. The bottom line is to do what works best for you.