Thursday, July 8, 2010

H-Heeeeelp! CPR! ASAP! Something! I Just Head Hopped!

Head. Hopping.

I bet you hear those words more times than you care to admit. But before I head into a verbose description of why you don’t want to have it anywhere near your writing, let me make sure you all understand it and why it is a no-no. Let me see a show of hands. Yes, yes and oh dear, I see one of you poor newbies shaking your head in confusion. Head hopping? Are you crazy? How can you stand on someone’s head and leap from one to the other?

No, no, no, that isn’t what I am talking about. Though at times it would seem easier than trying to avoid it in your writing.

Head hopping is basically this: Leaving a character’s private and intimate thoughts to leap into another character’s emotions without warning to the reader.

Need another explanation. Sigh. I will try to write something….

Mary gazed out the bus window. The clouds fluffy blue against an azure sky. Jane across the aisle thought the same thing.

Poor I know, but that is what is. We were in Mary’s head at the beginning, we were seeing the sky through her point of view. But before the paragraph ended, we were inside Jane’s head. If we are inside Mary’s head, we can not see the sky the way Jane would.

Get it now?

Okay, let’s move on.

Sad to say, there are still authors out there- published even- that wish to add head hoping into their fiction. So you might be thinking that you can do it too right? Wrong.

Untried authors have a very little wiggle room for errors and one of the first things an editor will look for is if you are consistent with your POV (point of view). And if you are clear about whose head you are in, it will help separate your manuscript from the slush pile.

Head hoping is usually easy to fix and easy to spot. In most cases. But to make the change from one character’s head to another, put a space, an asterisk, or a symbol of some kind that is consistent through the whole of your book to separate one character’s thoughts and emotions from another.

One way I have heard staying true to one character’s POV is to literally get inside their skin. If you were this person, what would you be thinking? Unless your character is a mind reader, they should not know the thoughts of the character they are chatting with. They can interrupt what they think the other character is thinking, but it might not necessarily be accurate. That can lead to a great deal of angst, but that is for another week.

But there is another weasel that will infiltrate your fiction and is often the hardest to find. Below is an example and see if you can find the mistake.

Mary reached out to caress the soft rose petal, its velvet smoothness gliding between her fingers like silk. Jon's warm breath caressed her neck and she shivered, her heart thumping in her ears. Would he kiss her again? She squeezed her hands together and took a deep breath. Jon reached out a hand, hungry to feel the smoothness of her bare arm under his palm. The sleeveless blouse hugged her frame and he took a step closer. Mary spun and stared into his eyes, their deep pools, drowning her. She gulped.

Did you catch it? I went from Mary to Jon to back to Mary again. And that right there drives me c-r-a-z-y in fiction. It will turn me off a book faster than anything else. So make sure you watch for those moments and keep to one POV. If you want to get two in a scene, then describe in one POV and then make a space and do another POV. It is all about pacing and your reader will not mind back tracking to understand both character's thoughts.

Head hoping can sneak in other places too, places that weasel in the middle of the night to consume your work like a cancer.

Okay, maybe I don’t need to be so dramatic, but it can overflow your manuscript with red marks from the editor’s harsh pen. Keeping yourself firmly within your character’s head will clear up all problems. If you ever have a POV question, stop, and close your eyes. Think, “If I were this person, would I be thinking this? Would I know his thought? Would I know why he just crossed his arms?

And the answer to all of those questions is no.

When it comes right down to it, head hopping is a fairly easy mistake to clear up, but a common one to make.

While the popular and tried authors might be able to get away with it, it is really a lazy form of writing and should be nipped in the bud. Who knows, maybe that is what is standing between you and publication.


Krista Phillips said...

Great job, Casey!!

Head-hopping is one of the only rules I really cringe at when I see broken, and it's one of the rules I think, for newbie and modern writers, we should all follow w/out exception (i.e. no "trying" not to head-hop... just dont' do it!) I'm sure there is some exception where it isn't as bad (LOVED Francine River's Redeeming Love) but as a whole, this is a good rule:-)

Jessica Nelson said...

Whoops. Well, I personally love head hopping *grin* but I do try not to do it much in my most recent manuscripts. If possible, I do think it's better to stay in one pov. However, if head hopping is clear then alot of times I don't een notice that. :-)

Sidney W. Frost said...

Great explanation of head hopping. I'm sending this to several of my critique partners.

I can no longer read books where the famous author doesn't follow this rule.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Great post, Casey! Now that I know the rule, I have a hard time reading it in published author's works. I am amazed at the top-selling authors who do this continually! It drives me crazy too!

As much as I dislike it, I have been caught doing it in my writing!!! I am always shocked, because I try so hard with this rule. lol Oh well.

Casey said...

Krista, thank you. :) I do agree that there are times in pretty popular fiction that the rules are bent, but why switch to lazy writing when once you get into a grove of staying in one POV, you don't have to worry about it as much.

Casey said...

Jessica, sometimes head hopping can be very hard to find. It seems to flow, but one of the major problems with it, is the reader never knows who's head they are in. Thanks for stopping by to read today! It is great to see your comment. :)

Casey said...

Well, thank you Sidney, I am glad the post was helpful. I know what you mean, when head hopping is involved, I tend to skim. It puts their credability down IMO.

Casey said...

Sherrinda, LOL, I would find it in my work too, especially where I didn't think it was, just like a weasel, see I *do* know a bit of what I am talking about. *grin* And yes, head hopping drives me i-n-s-a-n-e. Can't stand it!

Glad you liked the post, thanks!!

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Great post Casey!
Weasel was a great word to describe head hopping.
I whole heartily agree with the others, now that I'm forced to avoid head hopping and have seen the virtues of avoiding it, I don't like seeing it in matter how accomplished the author is. I've put a book back on the shelf for head hopping.

Casey said...

And isn't amazing that those authors even got those books published? It really makes me wonder, because in the long run, it really is just lazy writing and it confuses the reader.

Glad you liked the post, Mary. So glad to have you here. :D

Pepper said...

Great post, Casey. So true. I find the more subtle head-hopping is a big problem for me.

"Emily saw Jett from across the room and her eyes flew wide as hubcaps."
How on earthy can Emily know her eyes are as wide as hubcaps? Was Jett holding up a mirror? LOL

Don't you think as authors we naturally head hop because we're writing from so many POVs? Seems natural to jump from one character to the next without warning ;-) Anybody else's head like that? Lets see a show of hands.
Only mine? Hmmm

Casey said...

YES, Pepper, that is another example of head hopping. Though some could argue you could "feel" a smile, I still hold to your above comment, you can't see your own facial expression. Great point.

I think it is very easy to jump from one head to the other, so you have to be careful when you write! It is amazing where it can POP in. :)

Leah Petersen said...

I hate head hopping. And it's a huge part of my problem with omniscient POV. Perhaps it IS easy there. But in close third or first, it's impossible if you're actually there with your character.

Author Guy said...

I love head-hopping, couldn't write without it. Of course, I don't use the standard third-person POVs so that works for me.

Casey said...

Leah, head hopping is a controversial topic. It seems publishers don't want it, but still publish some of it. I can't stand Omniscient POV, it really bugs me in writing, but again can sneak in the most unknowing places.

"She didn't know he was there until his breath tickled the back of her neck" is an example of OPOV. If she couldn't see him, then how could she not know he was there? There are other ways to get the point across.

Thanks for stoppping by today!

Casey said...

Author Guy, well thank you for reading, even though you don't agree. It is good to see new faces visiting. :)

Anonymous said...

I was thinking this was- Well actually my wife is thinking your post- Ok, now the cat is thinking your post is spot on. lol
Glad I found it.

Anonymous said...

Great article! and so I'm going to use this comment space to rant about something sort of related.

My current novel has multiple POVs in the third person, so anytime I find an article on multiple POVs I want to read it! And then I find out it won't help me because they're always talking about first person. So I tweeted about it - why does no one talk about multiple POVs in the third person?

The reply I got? "In third person it's called head-hopping." Then I replied to the person saying, but head-hopping is a negative term. And then the person just went on to say it's a no-no and that 99.9% of the time writers use it as a cheap way out. I'm not made at this person, so if s/he finds this comment, that's OK by me. I'm just mad at the concept.

Why is it that you can't have a nice word for 3rd person multiple POV? Why does no one ever talk about doing it right (except for your brief interlude about hard breaks between POVs), they only talk abotu doing it wrong. And the only thing that has a name is the wrong way to do it. There's nothing, at all, good about it. And it makes me angry.

End rant! But I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. Again, this is a great article and I'm glad you included a small tidbit on how to do it "Right" even if this article is much more about how not to do it at all. Maybe I just have to come up with a new word for the right way to do it.