Editing Rant: Head Hopping

Image courtesy of Somkiat Fakmee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Head hopping. A virtual Easter Bunny jumping from point-of-view (POV) character to another; a camera so mobile, as to make one nauseous from the concussive force of the head-banging switches. Reading the work of a writer operating an “over the shoulder” drone flying so fast we get glimpses of the decision-making and emotional state of each character, not from one scene to another, but one sentence to another … and no telepathy involved.

Please make it stop!

What is the problem with headhopping? Well, while multiple close third person allows for one POV character per chapter or scene to have their thoughts revealed, headhopping switches the emotions and thoughts of one character for another paragraph by paragraph (or one sentence following another) creating a whip-lash effect in a reader who is trying to emotionally connect with a character.

Connecting with a character, empathizing with them, is an essential component of recreational reading. Prominent headhopping prevents that. In addition, headhopping increases confusion about the story’s focus.

Readers don’t need to know everyone’s reactions to a character’s declaration. Observing how people react and interpreting it can double up the character development. Think about it. A headhop would only provide surface information about the two characters – one acting and one reacting. But staying with the primary action character means we not only see the thoughts of the action, but we observe how the character interprets the reaction, giving us insights on how the singular POV character views the world and the people in it. This is a great way to show an unreliable narrator, as we see the reaction through the character’s eyes, and “hear” their interpretation¬†of the reaction.

Jennifer Ellis has a marvelous blog on the subject, showing different conventions for shifting POV including one of the most common – focusing on a common foot solider, then zooming out for a bird’s eye view of the battle, and then dropping the drone of the storyteller behind the general watching on the hill.

You can find out more details about headhopping, its pros and cons, AND HOW TO AVOID IT (please, please avoid it) at her blog here: (NOTE 2/28/2022 – Looks like this website has been taken down.). There is lots more on the topic available, so google-hop around the head of the interwebs and learn all about it.