Head-Hopping - Oh, the Horror



Head-hopping is when the writer switches from one character’s thoughts to another in the same scene. This is confusing for the reader who must work to keep up with the changes. Readers don’t want to work that hard. Head-hopping pulls the reader away from the story. For newbies and even experienced writers, head-hopping is more prevalent when writing in third person. Stay alert while typing away and editing your work. Avoid the lazy writing trap and stay on point.





Agents and editors refer to this as a “no-no.” In general, writers should steer clear of head-hopping when writing fiction and recognize it when it rears its ugly head in your writing. Read through your work carefully to fix any head-hops that pop up.


This point is moot when the story is written in first person POV. (Point Of View) When writing in first person, the story is always centered on that character. If your protagonist’s name is Amy, every scene, paragraph, and chapter is about Amy’s POV. Easy-peasy, no-brainer.





I blink in shock when Mickey Malone thrusts a bunch of stapled loose-leaf papers into my hands on the last day of school. I can tell he’s proud of his reputation as the school’s worst bully by the way he glares and smirks at me. The cover has a drawing of a girl with snot hanging out of her nose and bugs flying around her ratty hair. It causes a sick aching knot in my stomach. I turn the pages and discover my worst fear has come true. This is a Slam Book, all about me, written by my classmates. They write terrible things. Ugly things. My eyes prick with tears. Seeing this, Jessie throws an arm around me. At least I have one friend. A few feet away, Mickey Malone laughs with his cohorts, strutting around like a peacock and acting delighted with my pain. He’s probably plotting his next bullying scheme.


The above is all Amy. Her thoughts, her feelings, her reality.



Keeping Amy as our protagonist let’s head-hop and account for the POVs of Amy, Mickey Malone, and Jessie in the same scene.


Amy blinks in shock when Mickey Malone, who’s proud to be the school’s worst bully, thrusts a bunch of stapled loose-leaf papers into her hands on the last day of school. The cover has a drawing of a girl with snot hanging out of her nose and bugs flying around her ratty hair. It causes a sick aching knot in Amy’s stomach. She turns the pages and discovers her worst fear has come true. This is a Slam Book, all about her, written by her classmates. They write terrible things. Ugly things. Her eyes prick with tears. Jessie throws an arm around Amy worried about how her friend feels and thinking of way to get out of this. At least she has one friend. A few feet away, Mickey Malone laughs with his cohorts, delighted with her pain and plotting his next bullying scheme.


Yikes! Three points of view in the same scene and paragraph equals chaos. The reader is trying to figure out who the story is about and whose point of view this is. Who, at least has one friend? Amy, or Jessie? We’re not sure. Three points of view in the same scene is confusing as all hell.



Amy blinks in shock when Mickey Malone, who brags about being the school’s worst bully, thrusts a bunch of stapled loose-leaf papers into her hands on the last day of school. The cover has a drawing of a girl with snot hanging out of her nose and bugs flying around her ratty hair. It causes a sick, aching knot in Amy’s stomach. She turns the pages and discovers her worst fear has come true. This is a Slam Book, all about her, written by her classmates. They write terrible things. Ugly things. Her eyes prick with tears. Jessie looks at Amy and throws an arm around her. Amy accepts the comforting touch. At least she has one friend. Amy sees worry in Jessie’s furrowed brows; they’ve experienced the brunt of Mickey’s bullying before. Jessie gives Amy a subtle wink. Amy has seen this look of determination before too and knows that Jessie is thinking of way to get them out of this situation. A few feet away, Mickey Malone laughs with his cohorts and sneers at the girls. He shoves a fist in the air and squeals with delight. Amy notices his scrunched face and slanting eyes. She can tell he’s plotting his next bullying scheme.


The passage is somewhat different, yet we stay in Amy’s head the entire time. We get the same info from both examples but in the first and third passages we obtain that info without head-hopping from Amy to Mickey to Jessie. We understand Mickey’s POV and Jessie’s POV through Amy’s POV.



Maybe your goal is to tell the story from different points of view. Kudos, that’s doable but not in the same scene and preferably not in the same chapter. The writer must alert the reader that a new POV is coming. This can be done by simply drawing the reader’s attention to the character’s name before the passage or below the chapter number.



Romance novels, for example often tell the story from both the heroine’s and hero’s POV. Readers want to know what both are thinking and feeling and how the perspective shifts when the POV shifts. The best way to do this is to afford both the heroine and hero their own scene or better yet their own chapters. How does the heroine and hero perceive and handle the same scene or experiences? How does the heroine and hero feel about their circumstances and what new secret do they have to tell?


In other fiction novels, writers sometimes tell the story by involving more than one character’s POV. Again, they do this with separate scenes and chapters. In addition to perception, those separate chapters should offer new information, secrets, and/or locations. I’m spit balling here but maybe these differing points of views, perspectives, new info, and secrets can either converge in the end so all or some are of the characters are on the same page or purposely keep one separate (maybe the villain) if there’s a second in the series.





Hi. I'm Liz Ambrico, freelance proofreader and aspiring author. I too am querying agents, editors, and publishers in hopes of becoming a published author.

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