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  • Writer's pictureJoy Sephton

Head-hopping: why not?

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Head-hopping is a writing technique in which the point of view, or POV, switches too rapidly between different characters, is not properly managed, or both. As a result, readers feel as if they're on a rollercoaster, but unlike the one at the theme park, head-hopping doesn't cause a fun adrenalin rush to make us want more.

Don't confuse head-hopping with the omniscient third-person narrator. Because that's a difficult distinction to make, you can read about the difference here.

Head-hopping is most common when character POVs are changed within a scene or paragraph. Such changes must be avoided or handled properly, or any sane reader will give up the ride and head for the theme park instead - which, trust me, you do not want. Unless you own the theme park.

Here are the problems caused by head-hopping:

  1. Reader confusion: Head-hopping can confuse readers, as they have to constantly and quickly readjust and adapt to different characters' perspectives. It disrupts their immersion and engagement with the story, making it harder to connect with and understand the characters' emotions, thoughts, and motivations.

  2. Lack of focus and depth: By constantly shifting between multiple characters' viewpoints, head-hopping prevents the writer from developing a deep and focused exploration of any one character's perspective. It becomes challenging to delve into a character's inner world, establish a strong emotional connection, or effectively convey their unique voice and personality. The danger: two-dimensional characters that your reader doesn't really care about.

  3. Narrative inconsistency: Head-hopping can lead to inconsistency in the narrative voice and tone. Each character may have a different narrative style, and when these styles are mixed together, it can create jarring and disjointed reading. This disrupts the overall flow and coherence of the story.

  4. Difficulty in telling characters apart: The opposite of narrative inconsistency is when head-hopping makes it challenging for readers to distinguish between different characters, which leads to a less immersive and engaging reading experience.

  5. Loss of tension and suspense: When a story or scene is told from a single character's point of view, readers experience events and revelations alongside that character, which can build suspense and tension. Head-hopping dilutes this effect, as readers gain access to multiple characters' thoughts and insights simultaneously, potentially reducing the impact of plot twists and surprises.

So, I beg you, for maximum clarity, consistency, and reader engagement, stick to a consistent POV or use clear and deliberate transitions when shifting between characters' perspectives.

Let other writers fight the call of those theme parks.

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