Head Hopping

I used to have my Dear Daughter convinced that I had eyes on the back of my head.  Until a few years ago, she would test me.  She’d hold up a certain number of fingers, make a face or do something goofy behind my back so I could tell her what I “saw.”

Most of the time I was right.  Often because I knew her personality, so knew which antic she would try.  Other times because a mirror or window would reflect back to me her finger count.  Shadows were another good place to read what she was doing, and of course, Lady Luck helped me out a time or two.

Things happen off-scene.  Kids leave pop cans in the basement, sneak Oreos into their bedrooms or watch movies they shouldn’t.  It is our job as parents to know what they are doing to the best of our ability.  Any good parent can accomplish this by getting into their kids’ heads.

Writers, however, should never head hop.  We must never use the eyes on the back of our MC’s heads to tell the story they couldn’t possibly know.

Great things happen off-scene.  Better things happen in other characters’ heads.  Yet to use shadows and reflections to sneak those snippets in weakens our writing.  Head hopping (aka an inappropriate POV switch) pulls the reader away from the writing and takes away tension rather than adds to it.

Not to mention, it’s cheating.

EXAMPLE:

Fed up, I rounded on the group of boys.  My eyes flashed as I berated them for what they had done.  Even Josh.  No, especially Josh.  I still couldn’t believe he was a part of it all.  I left my hand print across his handsome face just before I stormed away.  Concerned by my outburst, his eyes followed me down the street until I turned the corner and collapsed  into a heap of anguish.

I know, not strong writing, but it’s 5:30 in the morning and it serves its meager purpose.

This piece is obviously a strong first person POV.  Yet twice, I make the mistake of conveying things I cannot know. 

Fed up, I rounded on the group of boys.  My eyes flashed as I berated them for what they had done.  Even Josh.  No, especially Josh.  I still couldn’t believe he was a part of it all.  I left my hand print across his handsome face just before I stormed away.  Concerned by my outburst, his eyes followed me down the street until I turned the corner and collapsed  into a heap of anguish.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen my eyes flash.  I’ve witnessed an entire electrical storm when DD has been angry.  I’ve seen Dear Hubby’s light up a time or two.  But mine?  Naw, when I’m mad, I’m usually glaring at my victim, not staring in the mirror.  Flashing eyes are a visual clue that cannot be seen by our MC, thereby forcing us to convey her anger in another way. 

Additionally, when she storms down the street she cannot know Josh’s eyes are following her until she rounds the corner.  Not unless she is walking backwards and watching him watch her or she has eyes on the back of her head.  Nor can she know the reason he is staring.  She may think he’s concerned or upset or sad or frustrated.  Really, though, he’s just enjoying the view.

These little things may not seem offensive, but in truth, they can damage our writing tremendously.  Breaking POV is a lazy way to convey information and emotion.  And, it can be extremely subtle.

Have you recently broken a head-hopping habit?  If so, what tricks do you use to keep your writing grounded in one POV? 

As a reader, what are some examples of head-hopping that you notice the most?

 

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4 responses to “Head Hopping

  1. That wasn’t very nice!

  2. Well, I more meant using me as a slapping target.

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