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View Full Version : Head Hopping -- It's Like Being In A Car With A Drunk Driver



Laurie2
August 3rd, 2008, 08:30 AM
Conventional wisdom varies about if/when it is permissible to change viewpoint during a scene or whether it is only permissible to change at scene or chapter breaks. This seems to be something that authors discuss more than publishers. Most publishers are open to viewpoint shifts within a scene as long as they are carried out smoothly and purposefully.

What no one likes to see is head hopping.

Yes, I can hear you screaming at your computer asking if I have never heard of Nora Roberts, wondering if I have missed HER level of popularity. So...yes, I have heard of Nora. I do know she is popular. I know that Nora's name is invoked in nearly every discussion of head hopping so I thought that I would bring it up first. :)

The thing is, though Nora changes viewpoint often, she doesn't as a general rule head hop.

Head hopping is not the same as frequent purposeful viewpoint shifts. If you think of the viewpoint as the reader's conveyance through your story that would be a fairly accurate way of looking at it. Following that analogy head hopping is like being carried through the story in a car driven by a drunk driver.

With head hopping the viewpoint is never very deep. The viewpoint weaves back and forth across lanes of traffic so that the author can show the reader something on the other side of the road, that the viewpoint character couldn't see. Then the car careens back the other way, showing something the new viewpoint character couldn't see. The reason that readers, editors, and publishers frown on the practice of head hopping is that we don't like the experience it gives us. It makes us feel as uncertain, nervous, and on edge as riding with a drunk driver in heavy traffic would.

As an author you want to lull your reader. You want to focus their attention and move them purposely through your story. Think of deep point of view as a gilded carriage pulled by a team of snazzy white horses that drift just above the ground, keeping the gilded carriage from bumps and jars. The experience of THE CONVEYANCE NOT THE STORY should be one of smooth calmness. When you accomplish this the reader will follow you deeply into your story.

Changes in viewpoint that lull your reader, making them feel as if they are carried smoothly in the gilded carriage are accomplished by signaling viewpoint changes and then handing off the viewpoint as smoothly as an Olympic runner passes off the baton in a relay race.

If you are accused of head hopping, or if your reader doesn't follow you into your viewpoint switch then chances are good that you need to work on your baton passing skills -- ahem...your viewpoint signaling technique.

More on signaling and anchoring viewpoint changes in another post. :)

rgraham666
August 3rd, 2008, 08:43 AM
That's a good metaphor. I quite like it.

I was often bad at head hopping. I've beat the habit now by making my stories focus on a single character.

My upcoming novel is going to be tricky. First novel and three central characters. Each chapter will be in a single characters viewpoint. Should be fun. :)

stargazer
August 3rd, 2008, 01:39 PM
As strange as it may sound, I still don't know if I'm head hopping by reading this explanation. Let me clarify that to say that this is about me understanding what head hopping actually looks like. Is it possible to give an example? I change viewpoints a lot, but it seems clear to me. However, to others this may be...clear as mud. I'm hoping that the next presentaton will help clear this murky water for me. thanks, stargazer

JudeAZ
August 3rd, 2008, 02:20 PM
I find this to be a constant challenge for me. One editor referred me to "A River Runs Through It" as a wonderful example of presenting different POVs.
Thank you for this workshop--it's enlightening many things for me.

hollie
August 3rd, 2008, 04:33 PM
That's a good metaphor. I quite like it.

I was often bad at head hopping. I've beat the habit now by making my stories focus on a single character.

My upcoming novel is going to be tricky. First novel and three central characters. Each chapter will be in a single characters viewpoint. Should be fun. :)

That works from a readers pov I've also seen authors put lines or some thing to signal a change in pov it makes it clear and easy to follow

If I understood head hopping is when there are to many changes and you become unsure who is telling the story??

Laurie2
August 3rd, 2008, 05:09 PM
:) Glad you like the metaphor. I like metaphors and analogies a lot. I think they make it easy to remember things.

It sounds like sticking with a single character for a whole chapter will work well to keep you from head-hopping. Though I don't like using * * * * for viewpoint shifts where there isn't a scene change it is sometimes a good technique to use when writing as it makes it a very conscious thing to shift point of view.

I think that awareness is important. A lot of the time we head hop and aren't really aware that we are doing it. As viewpoint shifts become more conscious bad habits diminish. :)


That's a good metaphor. I quite like it.

I was often bad at head hopping. I've beat the habit now by making my stories focus on a single character.

My upcoming novel is going to be tricky. First novel and three central characters. Each chapter will be in a single characters viewpoint. Should be fun. :)

Laurie2
August 3rd, 2008, 05:20 PM
We will do some exercises on point of view shifting/head hopping and on recognizing deep point of view and shallow point of view and looking at what can be done to deepen a shallow point of view.

I want to work up several examples for you...so I will post them as part of tomorrow's lesson.

Generally though, headhopping looks like this:

Jack stared at Penny from the back of the Harley that rumbled beneath him. There was a small laugh line at the corner of her mouth and a matching one at the corner of her eye. Those hadn't been there five years ago when he'd last saw her. Jack still had the same brilliant blue eyes and the same drop dead gorgeous physique that had made her mouth water years ago.

There is a head hop at:

Jack stared at Penny from the back of the Harley that rumbled beneath him. There was a small laugh line at the corner of her mouth and a matching one at the corner of her eye. Those hadn't been there five years ago when he'd last saw her. Jack still had the same brilliant blue eyes and the same drop dead gorgeous physique that had made her mouth water years ago.

You can recognize it because the paragraph starts out in Jack's point of view and it drifts into Penny's in the middle of the paragraph. Jack would not be thinking about his own brilliant blue eyes, so the viewpoint has drifted from him to Penny. This is a head hop. :)

There are other kinds of head hops too...those which are hops not to another character as much as a hop to the author's point of view. We'll look more at head hops as this seems to be an area that a lot of authors have difficulty with.

Laurie


As strange as it may sound, I still don't know if I'm head hopping by reading this explanation. Let me clarify that to say that this is about me understanding what head hopping actually looks like. Is it possible to give an example? I change viewpoints a lot, but it seems clear to me. However, to others this may be...clear as mud. I'm hoping that the next presentaton will help clear this murky water for me. thanks, stargazer

Laurie2
August 3rd, 2008, 05:23 PM
Hi Jude,

I think it is an area that is a challenge for all of us. Most of us get into what we are doing...what we are creating and we may not see the subtle shift that happens. I find this particularly true in sections of dialogue. (We will be covering deep point of view and dialogue a bit later in the workshop.)

I am glad the workshop is clarifying things for you. I hope that by the end the whole thing is a whole lot more clear. We've not even scratched the surface yet. Lots, lots, lots more to come. :)

Laurie


I find this to be a constant challenge for me. One editor referred me to "A River Runs Through It" as a wonderful example of presenting different POVs.
Thank you for this workshop--it's enlightening many things for me.

Laurie2
August 3rd, 2008, 05:29 PM
Yes, Hollie I think you understand generally...though head hopping isn't so much about how many changes there are. It is more about how the change is handled. If the change occurs without the author transitioning the reader through the change smoothly then the reader may become lost and unsure about whose experiencing the scene. Often head hopping occurs in the middle of a a paragraph. Planned viewpoint shifts should NEVER occur in the middle of a paragraph.

See the response to Stargazer's request for an example. I will provide more examples for us to talk about with tomorrow's material.

Laurie


That works from a readers pov I've also seen authors put lines or some thing to signal a change in pov it makes it clear and easy to follow

If I understood head hopping is when there are to many changes and you become unsure who is telling the story??

Jean Kelli
August 4th, 2008, 05:11 PM
lull your reader, making them feel as if they are carried smoothly in the gilded carriage are accomplished by signaling viewpoint changes and then handing off the viewpoint as smoothly as an Olympic runner passes off the baton in a relay race. :)

I'm going meditate on this!

Thanks.

Laurie2
August 5th, 2008, 12:04 AM
Hi Jean,

I just posted a bit more about making the transition smooth. See the thread titled Signaling, Anchoring, and Passing the Baton.

Laurie


I'm going meditate on this!

Thanks.