Head-Hopping

The book I am currently reading, which relates to the period of time I am interested in, but within the first twenty pages I came across ‘head-hopping’. For those who don’t know what this means, it is when the writer jumps from one character’s point of view to another in the same scene or in the same paragraph. This author has four published books and the publishing house is one of the more notable ones. So my question is: how does this get passed through the editorial stage?

Head-hopping is one of the first things you get told NOT to do when writing scenes; for one, it is confusing to read and two, it’s frowned upon. We all have done it, not on purpose, but because you’re still learning the art of writing fiction. A good friend read a draft of my story and pointed it out to me and I am grateful she did. More recently, I attended a workshop lead by an international best-selling author where our work was critiqued and one of the attendees got told not to ‘head-hop’. You can write from multiple points of view but should not change the viewpoint within the same scene.

Again, I ask the question: how did this not get picked up? And for those of us who are aspiring writers trying to break into the publishing world, it gives mixed messages. Polished manuscripts only to be submitted. So you spend hours, days, weeks, months, years working on your baby to get it to that ‘error free’ stage. No work will ever be perfect because you’ll always find something wrong with it. You can go over the same work, improve it and then put it aside for a while, go back and amend it again. The process is cyclic.

Yet, ‘someone’ loved this author’s work. The agents, the editors, the buyers at the publishing houses must love the work otherwise forget it. My other question is, once you are published do the rules not apply?

Have any of you come across head-hopping in published books? Do you like it? I’d really like to know what your thoughts are on this.

8 thoughts on “Head-Hopping

  1. I’m not a professional writer so I wouldn’t know better for this, but I personally don’t quite like this “head-hopping” idea. It might be ok if one scene is described from four perspectives (eg. in 4 different chapters), but not all at once at the beginning of the book.

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  2. Do you think the publishers (and author) were trying to be avant garde? I’ve known some writers to believe that there are no rules in writing and structure? Whats structure? 🙂 I can only imagine how confusing that would be to read.

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    • Both good questions and I don’t really know the answer. I guess it comes down to whether it works. I think there needs to be some structure and it comes down to the narrative and point of view. And yes, it is confusing 😉
      Thanks for your wonderful comment.

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  3. I actually came across this in a book I read recently – it wasn’t in the same paragraph but there were quite a few times throughout the novel when it was obviously character A’s pov and then the internal thoughts of character B within the same scene. And while it did jar me a bit at first, this author managed to pull it off to where it worked. Now granted, each “shift” happened in its own paragraph so maybe that helped take away the head hop effect a bit but it was still on the same page without obvious transitions – which I always thought was a big No No. But again, they somehow made the rule breaker work for the story – so maybe there are exceptions if you can pull it off well enough?

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    • I guess it does depend on how it is written and if done well then the reader won’t mind. I just hope it doesn’t become a trend! Thanks Julie 🙂

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  4. I found a case of head-hopping in “For Whom The Bell Tolls.” It bothered me because it was supposed to, but really, it flowed well and was hardly noticeable. I’m not sure I couldn’t find it again.

    I suppose it’s in the same class as ly adverbs and exclamation points. They are frowned upon, but one use per novel is seen as not criminal. Just don’t do it twice!

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