Tuesday, October 6, 2015

What is "Head-Hopping"?

To understand "head-hopping", we first have to understand Point of View, or POV. POV is how we are seeing the story. In its simplest form, POV can be in the first person. "I went to the store and bought milk but was annoyed with the long line." An example would be The Hunger Games. 

Hey, look at this handy chart! From here.
Then there's third person, which is used frequently when the author intends to change which character we can "see through" in the story. "Jane went to the store and bought milk, but she was annoyed with the long line." Sometimes, the author doesn't even give us the character's thoughts. "Jane went to the store and bought milk. As she stood in line, she frowned and tapped her foot, checking her watch every so often."

Now, it's important to differentiate between which character we're using as our "camera" into the story world, or we get head-hopping. Let's say we start out in Jane's head thinking about how annoyed she is about the long line at the store and then we jump over to Larry, the cashier, and how hungry he is after having to work through his lunch break.

That would look something like this: "Jane groaned. How much longer would this take? Larry's stomach grumbled and he stared at the long line of people waiting to get checked out. His lunch wouldn't be coming anytime soon."

See how confusing this is? We feel Jane's frustration and then all of a sudden, we're on the other side of the register, wondering how we got there.

Head-hopping is something that takes a while to identify, especially in its more subtle forms. I have this bad habit of trying to foreshadow and giving stuff away that my characters wouldn't know--another form of head-hopping (unless writing third person omniscient or some other craziness).

For example, "As John shut the door behind him, he had no idea it would be his last time in the building."

Granted, there are some exceptions to this. You can have something called a third person omniscient viewpoint (Lord of the Rings--of course Tolkien had to be complicated). I don't fully understand what differentiates this style from plain old head-hopping, but I do know that it flows better. (I've heard it said that the narrator also knows things that none of the characters know--such as the foreshadowing above).

There are some people who claim that head-hopping is acceptable so long as it doesn't interrupt the flow of the story and it's clearly expressed that we're going to be switching POV characters. I beg to differ--I really haven't run into a time where I like head hopping and normally it confuses me more than anything.

What's your opinion on head-hopping? Do you have trouble with it in your writing? 


  1. I struggle with head hopping so I tend to avoid more than one third person POV. I'll have multiple 1st person or a single 3rd person, but I haven't tried omiscent yet because it scares me :) How do you know everything without head hopping? I try to avoid it. Great post!

    1. I still haven't figured out how that plays by the rules...I think it's less of seeing through the person's eyes and more getting a window to thoughts and feelings from an outside perspective. I also think that people who are proponents of third person omniscient tend to be less against head-hopping than other authors. I don't fully understand it and I tend to avoid it. I would much rather have distinct points of view from multiple characters than a third person omniscient. Does that make sense? Thanks for the comment!


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