This blog usually deals with books–new books, old books, and the reading thereof. And I am giving away a book today, of course.
But I want to talk about writing today, and one of my pet peeves. Those of you who are readers and not writers, I’d be curious to know if this is something you notice in the books you read, or if it bothers you. The “IT” is head-hopping (and, no, that is not a grand tour of European bathrooms).
All writers have heard the rule: Don’t head-hop. And we all know of at least two extremely well-known authors who’ve head-hopped their way onto every bestseller list known to humankind. It drives me freakin’ nuts!
So, what is head-hopping? It’s all part of that sticky subject called Point of View (in capital letters because it’s so important), or POV, and it most often crops up when internal monologue or emotions come into play–which means romance and YA authors are particularly prone to hopping due to the emo factor.
“But I want my reader to know what BOTH my characters are thinking,” you argue. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Multiple points of view within a book are great. Just not when you bounce back and forth between viewpoints within a single scene or part of a scene or, heaven forbid, within a single paragraph.
What does a head-hop look like? Here’s one adapted from a Famous Author Who Shall Not Be Named:
Susie hesitated at his words and their significance. “Are you telling me you’re staying?”
Bob smiled. “I believe your phrase was ‘you got it.’”
She fell silent, unable to believe he was really going to stay when she’d asked him to go.
Rising slowly from the sofa, Bob stared at her. In all his years as a gigolo, no woman had ever asked him to leave–much less for his own good.
Heat rose in Susie’s face at his expression.
What’s the problem with that passage (well, other than that it sucks)? It has a major head-hop! Let’s say this scene is supposed to be from Susie’s POV and take another look at it:
Susie hesistated at his words and their significance. “Are you telling me you’re staying?” Fine–we’re in Susie’s head. We know what she’s thinking.
Bob smiled. “I believe your word was ‘bingo.’” We’re still in Susie’s POV. She can see Bob smile and hear his words.
She fell silent, unable to believe he was really going to stay here when she’d asked him to go. Great! We’re still in Susie’s POV. We’re hearing her thoughts.
Rising slowly from the sofa, Bob stared at her. Still okay. Susie can see this.
In all his years as an escort, no woman had ever asked him to leave–and for his own good. Oops–HOP alert. Susie couldn’t possibly know this was what was going through Bob’s head. We have hopped to Bob’s POV.
Heat rose in Susie’s face at his expression. Oops–HOP alert. We have hopped back to Susie’s POV. Only Susie could feel the heat rise in her face and know that it was a result of Bob’s expression–Bob couldn’t know that.
“But I want my readers to know what Bob’s thinking,” you might say. Absolutely–just not right now. Multiple points of view are fine as long as there’s a chapter or scene break to let the reader know you’re changing, and don’t do it more often than once per scene.
POV breaks often occur in love scenes, for example. In the first half of the love scene, we’re in the woman’s head, hearing and feeling and seeing and smelling what she does. Then, the author will insert some extra double-spacing or asterisks and will pick up with the love scene at the same spot, only telling it from the man’s point of view. That way the reader knows what both people are thinking, but never gets confused as to who is thinking what or gets whiplash from bouncing back and forth.
Just for good measure here’s another, more egregious example of head-hopping. The scene should be from Thom’s POV.
Thom watched as Leslie lowered the straps of her gown, her eyes looking down in shyness, a pale blush coloring her cheeks.
He looked so strong, so sure of himself, that it made her feel like a teenager again, and he wanted to be the one to awaken the passion he knew she’d been tamping down. She wanted it too.
Oy! Let’s look at it:
Thom watched as Leslie lowered the straps of her gown, (Thom’s POV), her eyes looking down in shyness (Leslie’s POV–how would Thom know she was feeling shy–he might guess it but that’s not what this says), a pale blush coloring her cheeks (oops–back in Thom’s POV again–Leslie couldn’t see the blush on her own cheeks).
He looked so strong, so sure of himself, that it made her feel like a teenager again (back in Leslie’s POV), and he wanted to be the one to awaken the passion he knew she’d been tamping down (back in Thom’s POV). She wanted it too (back to Leslie).
Feel like a ping-pong ball? That’s head-hopping. Does it bother you? If you saw either of these passages in a book (not factoring in the purple prose), would you notice? Would you care?
THE GIVEAWAY: Tell me what you think of head-hopping for a chance at The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (Writer’s Digest Books), by Jack M. Bickham of Setting, Scene & Structure fame. It’s a handy little reference! As always 1 entry for a comment, +1 for blog follow, +1 for Twitter follow @Suzanne_Johnson, and +1 for a Tweet or Retweet. Happy writing!