This article I wrote originally appeared on Suite101.
What It Is and Why To Avoid It
Many beginning writers utilize quick switches in point of view, which is not used as often these days in the publishing industry.
Twenty years ago, omniscient point of view was commonly used in fiction. However, these days, a deep third person point of view is preferred most of the time (there are exceptions, naturally).
In deep third person point of view, the writing is in third person but the language drops the reader into the character’s head and body.
When the point of view shifts to a different character in the midst of a scene, this is called head-hopping because the reader feels as if he is hopped from one character’s head into another.
Moving the reader from one character to the other so many times will often disorient the reader. This will also not allow the reader to feel connected with any one character in the scene. This reduces character sympathy and the reader may not care enough about the character to continue reading the book.
Stick To One Or Two Points Of View Per Scene
Rather than moving from character to character, keep the point of view in one character’s head for the entire scene.
Some writers will shift to a second character in the scene, but they only do this once per scene and the shift is signified by a scene break, to signal to the reader about the new point of view.
So, at maximum, the writer should only have two points of view per scene—starting the scene in one character’s point of view, and ending in the second character’s point of view, with only one shifting in the middle. The writer should not shift from one character to the other and back again several times in the scene.
Several Point of View Shifts With Scene Breaks Is Still Head-Hopping
Some writers will shift point of view several times in a scene, but separate each shift with a scene break. This is still considered head-hopping.
Even though the scene break signifies the point of view shift, the reader will still feel the negative effects of head-hopping—disorientation and/or reduced character sympathy.
Writers don’t want to give the reader any reason to stop reading the book.
Published Authors Head-Hop, But Unpublished Authors Should Not
There are a few published authors who head-hop or switch point of view several times per scene.
However, as an unpublished writer trying to break into the industry, writers should avoid these point of view switches in order to appear more professional to the editor or agent reading the manuscript.
The adage is, “Better safe than sorry.” A writer would not want an editor to reject a manuscript because it looks unprofessional due to the head-hopping or point of view switches. Don’t give an editor or agent an unprofessional reason to reject your manuscript.