What is Head Hopping?
Head hopping is the unintentional change from one character point of view to another, exposing their inner thoughts or feelings, without any warning or proper break. Unless you are writing from a purely omniscient point of view wherein the omniscient being can jump into every character's mind, we should not be hearing voices from multiple characters in a single scene, or in the event you write short chapters, in a single chapter.
Head hopping is disorienting. It pulls a reader out of the story to pause and figure out what just happened or who just thought what and sometimes even go back to reread to try to understand. It makes it harder to identify with a specific character and it is generally seen as inexperienced writing.
If you need to switch perspectives, the best solution is to create a break that still allows good flow between the end of the section and the beginning of the next. This may be a chapter break or a scene break. Either way, the reader needs a definite clue that the perspective is changing between the characters.
How Do You Spot Head Hopping?
Some head hopping will leap right off the page at you. It can reveal itself by that sudden feeling you have of being lost about who said/thought what. Other times, the head hopping can be quite subtle and unless you are specifically head hopping hunting, you might miss it.
Spotting head hopping requires an analysis of character thoughts and behaviors, one scene at a time. It means determining which character has the focus or point of view in each scene, then intentionally reading to confirm that point of view has not unintentionally shifted to another character.
Here is an example:
Clara walked to the kitchen while she tied her bonnet onto her head. She reminisced about the fireworks from the evening before. Daniel had gotten a bit more friendly under the stars than she had been prepared for, but if she were being honest with herself, she had found it exciting. She felt her cheeks grow warm with the memory of his hand resting on her knee just as she pushed the kitchen door open.
Daniel stood in front of the stove flipping a pancake high into the air.
"What on earth are you doing?" Clara asked.
Daniel flinched and spun around. He knew she wasn't as happy as he thought she would be.
The excerpt begins from Clara's perspective. We walk along with her to the kitchen and experience a bit of her inner thoughts about what must have been a bit of a racy evening for her. But suddenly, just when she confronts Daniel, we are suddenly in his head. When the writer tells us what Daniel knows, that is a jump right into his head.
How Do You Fix Head Hopping?
Fixing head hopping requires a bit of creativity. Often head hopping, like the example above, reveals itself in a moment of "telling" when instead it should be a moment of "showing." Rather than telling the reader what Daniel is thinking, the writer should continue to show us, just as was done in the sentence before the head hopping... "Daniel flinched."
The question is whether that two-word sentence is enough for the reader to make the leap from flinching to knowing that meant Daniel knew Clara wasn't happy. In this case, I don’t think there is quite enough context.
Show, don't tell. Instead of telling the reader that Daniel can see Clara isn't happy, use some description that is more in line with showing us his feelings. In the case of the sample text above, the last sentence might be revised to:
Daniel flinched and spun around. His eyebrows drew together.
More about show versus tell will be coming in a few days!
Use dialog. It would probably be annoying or in the least, feel weird, if every secondary character were telling us how they were feeling every time they turned around. However, using dialog can be an effective way of getting to a character's inner turmoil. Instead of coming right out and saying, "I'm sad," however, consider other ways a character (while keeping in context of who that character is and what their personality is like) might say they're sad without stating it directly. In the case of the sample text above, the last sentence might be revised to:
Daniel flinched and spun around. His eyebrows drew together. "I thought you would enjoy a pancake for breakfast."
Delete. If you can remove the head hopping portion of the paragraph without it affecting the story or the scene, consider removing it. If you had a large portion of text and dialog that you believe could be removed, don't delete it! Move it to a back up location. Maybe it is part of a scene you can use in another story!
Exercise: Modify the Purposeful Scenes Worksheet
For today's exercise, you can reuse the Purposeful Scenes worksheet competed on Day 11 [link]. If you didn't do that exercise, you can create the worksheet from Day 11 and just use the Scene, Purpose, and Focal Character columns.
Tips for working by hand
If you are working by hand and still have your Purposeful Scenes worksheet, see if you have room in one of the margins to make your "No HH" notation. Another option would be to use a colored pen or a highlighter to cross items off as you check them.
Return to the Table of Contents
Go to Day 18 - Analyze Dialog