One of the main things I worked with her on for book four was not “head hopping” (or, using multiple points of view* incorrectly).
*The phrase point of view from here on out will be shortened to POV.
Employing multiple POVs in a story can add depth and conflict when done well. This technique is used by some of today’s best-selling authors, such as Francine Rivers (The Mark of the Lion series), George R. R. Martin (A Game of Thrones), and Stieg Larsson (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). There is an art to the technique, however, and many authors fail when it comes to the simplest essential of POV knowledge.
Here it is in a nutshell: in every scene, you must stay with one point of view–one character. You might be switching throughout the book, but each scene should only be viewed from one character’s eyes. If you show more than one character’s POV in a given scene, you are guilty of head hopping, and your own head should be chopped off.
So what does head hopping look like?
Every time you change POV, the reader is inserted inside another character’s head. The reader is able to see the scene through that character’s eyes and hear his or her thoughts.
Here’s an example: Stan watched Marsha pour herself a glass of water and thought, Man, she’s hot.
This line of narration is from Stan’s POV. Stan is the one watching Marsha; we’re seeing this through Stan’s eyes and hearing his thoughts.
Now, what if the line read like this:
Stan watched Marsha pour herself a glass of water and thought, Man, she’s hot.
I wonder if he notices me, Marsha thought as she peeked at him out of the corner of her eye.
Now you’ve got both Stan’s and Marsha’s thoughts at once. This is not only confusing but also takes away from the suspense of the scene. You want readers to attach to your story and your characters, but head hopping doesn’t allow this. When the reader isn’t attached, they have less character empathy and less involvement in the story. This leads to the reader not caring what happens to the characters, which leads to the reader putting the book down.
Obviously this is not something that you, as a writer, want.
So here’s what you need to do:
If you choose to use what’s called omniscient third person and show multiple characters’ POVs, you should limit yourself to one character per scene. (Or chapter, depending on how well your scenes are broken up.)
And if you choose limited third person, you must stick with only your chosen character in every scene–that means your character should never know anything he or she hasn’t personally seen or heard about.
Unsure whether or not you’re head hopping?
Look at each individual scene through one character’s eyes. Is there anything your character didn’t see firsthand? Anything he or she didn’t hear firsthand? If so, those parts need to be cut or rewritten.
So that’s head hopping in a very small nutshell.
Do you agree that head hopping is confusing? Have you ever seen it done well?
*For more, check out these great articles: