Head Hopping 101

Head hopping is a seriously devious little monster. It’s also not something for which there’s a global rule.

Some people couldn’t care less. Some don’t notice. Some enjoy knowing what each character is thinking in a scene.

Others still want to stay in the mind of the MC* who’s POV*

Let me start this by saying: You’re going to head hop. Period. Every writer does it in the first draft, which is only intended to get the story out of your mind and onto “paper.” The key is catching and correcting it during editing. You’re not a failure if you do this through the whole thing. It’s actually a sign that you’re invested in your character’s thoughts and actions on a deeper level, which is great! Just fix it later if you need to.

So let’s define “Head-hopping” for starters.


*Head Hopping is swapping to another character’s point-of-view within a single scene.


 “Great,” you say. “But what does that mean?”

Let’s look at an example my author buddy wrote up special for this blog because she’s awesome x 1000.

To set it up: We start the scene in Tori’s POV. See if you can spot the hop! (*Bonus if you can spot the other big issue!)

 

Tori looked Chris up and down several times. Gorgeous was an understatement. But so was unattainable. He was completely out of her league.

She sat his cup of black coffee in front of him and smiled. At least she could try for a good tip if she couldn’t get a date. “Is there anything else you need?”

Chris offered a blinding smile. This waitress was cute. Seriously cute. A few cheesy pick-ups lines ran through his head and he dismissed them all. “No, this is great, but what did you say your name was again?”

Alright, admittedly, that hop was glaringly obvious, but that was the point. 🙂 We’re using it as a wide stepping stone to help fill your editing toolbox. [I’ll do another post later {Head Hopping 102} for spotting the sneaky little one sentence, or even a couple word long ones that always trip up us authors.]

This chapter starts in Tori’s pov, as we already established. In multi-pov novels, it’s encouraged for each chapter heading to include the character’s name to help clue in your readers. So, every reader would be expecting only her experiences/thoughts about the events in this chapter.


*In multi-pov novels, it’s encouraged for each chapter heading to include the character’s name to clue in your readers.


Unless Tori is somehow psychic, there’s no way she’d know what he’s thinking. She’d also not know his name. (Did you catch that one? Bonus points for you!)

“Well, how do we get around that? I want my readers to know this stuff!”

There are two tried and true methods of communicating that information.

1. Show us with body language.
2. Use the primary character’s natural powers of assumption and/or observation.

Let’s rewrite this, in each way. First,  with body language.

Tori looked her customer up and down several times. Gorgeous was an understatement. But so was unattainable. He was completely out of her league.

She sat his cup of black coffee in front of him and smiled. At least she could try for a good tip if she couldn’t get a date. “Is there anything else you need?”His eyes traveled the length of her, and his brows lifted.

“No, this is great.” He sat up a little straighter, a blinding smile spreading on his lips. “What did you say your name was again?”

The reader can easily extrapolate based on common body language cues that he might be interested in her. And unless the writer has chosen for Tori to be completely oblivious, or some other plot device, she can also tell.

This also has the added bonus of making the atmosphere much richer, but we’re left a little wanting on Tori’s thoughts. (In my humble opinion!)

Now, let’s try the scene a different way, adding a few more details and using only Tori’s assumptions.

Tori looked her customer up and down several times.

Gorgeous was an understatement. Probably one of those guys that got so much action he had a slew of pickup lines in his back pocket, ready to go at any moment. In other words: unattainable for someone like her. Completely out of her league.

She sat his cup of black coffee in front of him and smiled. At least she could try for a good tip if she couldn’t get a date.
“Is there anything else you need?”

He offered her a blinding smile.

“No, this is great. What did you say your name was again?”

Different, right? We’ve moved into deep pov.* This is my preferred method of storytelling, and the majority of my novels are written this way.
While this gives us all of her thought processes, it takes away the social cues and still leaves the scene feeling a little…meh. (Also in my humble opinion!)


*Deep POV is third-person subjective taken a step farther than the normal. (You can read my blog post on this for a better explanation!)


 Now the fun part. Let’s combine the two for the full effect!

Tori looked her customer up and down several times.

Gorgeous was an understatement. Probably one of those guys that got so much action he had a slew of pickup lines in his back pocket, ready to go at any moment. In other words: unattainable for someone like her. Completely out of her league.

“Is there anything else you need?”

His eyes traveled the length of her, and his brows lifted. “No, this is great.” He sat up a little straighter, a blinding smile spreading on his lips. “What did you say your name was again?”

Good, right?

 So let’s close this up and hit the highlights:

1. You’re going to head hop.
2. Head hopping should be avoided if you are doing one character’s pov.
3. Any time you give thoughts and/or intentions of another character that others wouldn’t organically know, that’s a head hop.

*Bonus tip: Giving the reader a character’s name before other characters would know is a no-no.

I hope this post was helpful! Feel free to leave comments or questions below, and be on the lookout for Head Hopping 102 as well as other editing tips/tricks!

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