Point of View: Head hopping

Point of view is a bugaboo for many writers. Editors too.

When deciding which point of view is best for your manuscript, think about narrative distance. Ask yourself, “How close do I want the reader to be to the experience?”

In this post, I’m going to dive into various types of third-person point of view and break down head hopping, specifically.

Third-Person Point of View

There are three types of third-person point of view.

Third-Person Objective: The writing is told from an objective narrator’s point of view. The narrator only reports on what is happening. This point of view is rarely found in popular fiction. It’s most common in nonfiction.

Third-Person Limited: The story is told from one character’s point of view and keeps the reader close to the story. The reader is aware of everything this character sees, hears, feels, thinks, experiences. Caveat: if the narrator is unreliable, then the reader may be “betrayed,” or tricked, by the narrator.

Third-Person Omniscient: The story is told by an all-knowing narrator, one who shares with the reader what is happening with every character: their thoughts, emotions, experiences. But because readers are being told what is happening, there is narrative distance between the reader and the story.

What Head Hopping Is Not

Omniscient point of view is NOT head hopping. It is a specific way to tell a story that was very popular in books we consider classics today. The all-knowing narrator is a character in its own right. Its voice may be very strong and offer opinions on the characters’ behaviors and plot happenings, or the voice may be more distant and simply share what is happening with the characters on the page.

What Head Hopping Is

Head hopping occurs during third-person limited point of view when the writer shifts from one character’s “head” to another character’s “head” in the same scene without any transition to ease the reader into the shift.

What I mean by “head” is that the reader is aware of the character’s internal musings.

During third-person limited point of view, readers ride along with a character, experiencing what that character hears, sees, feels, thinks, etc.

Example:

She bebopped along the trail, ambling slowly. She breathed in deeply and sighed. Honeysuckle is one of my favorite smells. Where is it? She spotted the sweet blooms on the opposite side of the path and crossed over, her mind focused on the tiny drop of nectar she’d soon taste.

“Watch out!”

The girl jumped as the biker skidded around her. Where had he come from?

He couldn’t believe how clueless the girl was. He’d been shouting, “Biker coming through,” louder and louder, and she hadn’t looked his way once. He was furious and a little frightened, too, if he was being honest. His hands were shaky on the handlebars. He’d almost had a major wipeout. And who knows what damage could have occurred to that flighty girl if he’d hit her.

In this example, the reader enters the scene from the girl’s point of view. Then midscene, the reader has to “head hop” into the biker’s point of view without warning.

How to Revise Head Hopping

Here are three ways to revise a head hopping scene.

1. Create a scene break when shifting to a different character’s point of view. A scene break can be created by adding extra line breaks, or white space. You can also add a symbol to alert the reader to the change. In a manuscript draft, three asterisks (***) do the trick.

2. Wait for a chapter break to switch character points of view.

3. Only write from one character’s point of view.

This means that the reader can only experience the thoughts, senses, and feelings of that one character. Information about other characters is conveyed through the point-of-view character’s interactions with the other characters.

Still Confused?

If head hopping is still clear as mud, don’t fret. This is hard stuff. Do let me know if you’re confused though, and I’ll do my best to make it clearer.