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Friday, July 03, 2009

Head-Hopping

This article I wrote originally appeared on Suite101.

Head-Hopping

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Published Authors Head-Hop, But Unpublished Authors Should Not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However, as an unpublished writer trying to break into the industry, writers should avoid these point of view switches in order to appear more professional to the editor or agent reading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.

4 comments:

  1. Hey Camy! I just read your interview for Deadly Intent and Love Inspired. What a great interview! I love reading author's journeys toward publication. And I find it very encouraging that you kept writing and your fifth book got published. It's good to know that some novels are just for practice. :) I'm really looking forward to meeting you at the conference. I took your advice and bought Dwight Swain's book. The man's a genius. So far, the pages are filled with orange highlighter!

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  2. Thanks, Katie! I'm looking forward to meeting you, too! I love Dwight Swain, BTW.
    Camy

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  3. Hi!
    Maybe it sounds a little stupid, but my question is: why deep point of view is better than omniscient point of view? In school we don't even learn about the former.
    It's not that I don't like it, I love it actually (deep point of view I mean) but I would like to know what is it that makes it better than omniscient.

    Thanks !

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  4. Hi Roxo,
    It's not a stupid question!

    Deep point of view inserts the reader into the character's body, which often creates a more deeply emotional reading experience and consequently makes the book a bit richer emotionally. Epics told in omniscient point of view tend to be very sweeping in scope but sometimes a little shallow in terms of emotion.

    Most readers don't realize that the publishing industry has moved more toward deep point of view rather than omniscient in the last several years. It's an industry trend. Most new writers wanting to break in to the industry now should probably write in deep point of view if only to increase their chances of being contracted.

    Camy

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