Lessons in Craft: Head Hopping

Often a mistake made by newer writers, head hopping is one of the most frustrating things to encounter as a reader. Its definition is simple–when the narrator switches between one character’s point of view to another without preamble or a signal to the reader about the change.

What does it look like?

Terribly written example incoming:
“Jason’s fingers brushed Tuck’s hand and a thrill of nerves shot down from his belly button. He couldn’t believe the moment was finally here. Tuck stroked his fingers across Jason’s knuckles and recited his vows over and over in his head. He couldn’t forget them. Not today. Not when Tuck was about to marry him.”

Here we’ve switched between Jason and Tuck’s POV without a signal to the reader besides starting one sentence with a different name. We’re in Jason’s head when he “couldn’t believe the moment was finally here,” only to hop into Tuck’s head as he recites “his vows over and over.” And Jason can’t possibly know because he doesn’t live in Tuck’s head.

But what about 3rd person, omniscient!

Omniscient narration still has a narrative voice which is separate from the character’s in the story. While the narrator may dip into people’s heads, she remains at a distance in her telling of the story. That means, she doesn’t speak as Jason or Tuck, but as herself observing and telling the thoughts or feelings of Jason and Tuck.

Why’s head hopping bad?

It confuses the fuck out of people\me.

Especially in the third person, head hopping makes me question who “he” is referring to when the narrator says “he walked into the store” because there are two men in this scene and which one do you mean? As a reader, I need one POV to fall into and assume we are referencing, otherwise I spend three minutes re-reading one paragraph trying to suss it out.

Don’t do it, y’all. Just don’t.



2 thoughts on “Lessons in Craft: Head Hopping

  1. justastar100billion says:

    Thank you for explaining this, I used to do it all of the time! It becomes really hard remembering that the characters are, in essence, clueless, whereas, the audience and narrator, if there is one, are the only ones who have a complete picture of what is happening. I would have to say Theory of Mind is a tough thing to remember. However, as you point out, when you can get Theory of Mind ‘on point’ you have a story that says so much more than you intended, which can lead to a good story becoming really great, and of course, less confusing.

    Liked by 1 person

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