Head hopping or head jumping is the act of switching point of view (POV) between two or more characters in a single scene. A scene is a piece of writing that takes place in one time and one place.
Sometimes, writers are tempted to switch back and forth between characters to give an equal voice to each character within a scene.
Imagine that your main character is at a party. She’s talking with one group of people when she notices her ex-boyfriend across the room, talking with another group of people.
She’s suddenly upset and jealous, so she stops paying attention to her current conversation and starts thinking about him instead.
Her point of view has just been “hopped” onto by another person’s thoughts and feelings.
Let’s take a look!
what is head hopping
What Is A Head Hopping Narrative?
Head hopping is a style of writing where the reader gets to see into the head of multiple characters.
It’s also known as head jumping, viewpoint bouncing and viewpoint slalom.
Head hopping isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing – it just depends on how you use it.
A lot of writers don’t even know they’re doing it, so let’s start with some basic definitions before we get into examples of head hopping.
What Is Head Hopping In Writing?
Head hopping is when you switch points of view (POV) within a scene.
For example, if you’re writing in first person from the POV of one character and then suddenly change to another character’s POV.
The rules for this vary from genre to genre, so it is important to know the rules for your genre.
While head-hopping can be done well, it is generally considered poor writing. There are two reasons for this:
It creates distance between the reader and the characters. When you stay in one POV throughout a scene, you get deeper into that character’s head and see things from their perspective.
But when you start to change POVs, it becomes harder to get into their head and see things from their perspective.
It also confuses readers as they have to keep reorienting themselves as they figure out whose perspective they are seeing things from now.
It makes it hard to edit your book. If you find yourself constantly changing POVs, then there is a good chance that each individual scene isn’t focused enough on just one or two characters (which means those scenes need rewriting).
What Head Hopping Looks Like?
Head hopping is when a story’s point-of-view character changes from one scene or chapter to another.
First you’re in the heroine’s head, then you hop into the hero’s head, then you hop into the villain’s head, then you hop into the heroine’s dog’s head, and so on.
Head hopping is also known as multiple view points. The term “head hopping” comes from animation, which is when a camera pans quickly between different characters in a scene.
It might sound like an exhilarating ride, but in literature it just makes readers dizzy. It also makes the ensemble seem less like a group of individual characters than like a company of actors performing onstage:
The heroine says her line, then the hero speaks his line, and so forth.
And by that I mean this:
HEROINE: I have such conflicted feelings about my fiancé!
HERO: If only I could tell her how much I love her!
VILLAIN: Mua ha ha! Soon she will be mine!
Head hopping is a writing technique that consists of using the same word in both a subject sentence and an object sentence.
Some examples are: “The flowers were beautiful” and “The beautiful flowers were in the vase.”
This technique can be used to add emphasis to important words, add rhythm to sentences, or make your writing sound more natural.
The most important thing is not to overdo it, however.
It’s easy to get into a style where every sentence blends seamlessly together, which can have an unnatural feel and impact the reader’s attention.
Why Does Head Hopping Spoils Fiction?
Head hopping — the point of view (POV) switching between characters in a scene or even a chapter — is one of the most common problems I encounter in editing.
Most writers who are new to fiction don’t even realize that head hopping is a problem.
The moment I discuss it as an issue, they often ask why it’s wrong.
They often say that head hopping makes sense because writers know what all the characters are thinking and feeling. It’s just easier for them to write it all down.
The writer is the god of this story, after all, so why not their characters?
The reason head hopping spoils fiction is that it confuses readers. Writers need to make sure their readers know who is narrating at all times, otherwise readers start wondering whose POV they’re in — especially when they switch characters mid-scene or mid-paragraph.
Readers want to get into the heads of your characters, but when you switch between them too rapidly and without warning, you’re ripping them out of one character’s mind and throwing them into another’s without any transition.
You can’t expect your audience to follow along and enjoy your story if you’re constantly jerking them around.
How To Avoid Head Hopping In Your Writing?
If you’re not careful, head-hopping can happen in any writing. It’s not necessarily a sign of bad writing — it can be a sign of an enthusiastic writer who’s moving too quickly through a paragraph or more.
In many cases, it’s simply a result of the writer being excited about the topic and having too much to say.
It’s hard to write the same paragraph twice, so the easiest way to avoid head-hopping is to make sure each sentence contains some kind of content or carries some important information.
It can be done subtly, and it’s often an unconscious habit when you’re creating your scenes.
I call it “writing by instinct” because it’s not something that you deliberately do in your writing.
But you can’t really avoid head hopping even if you do want to — if you don’t know where this narrative is headed, how will your reader know?
So how do you know where the story is going?
Start at the beginning and put down a paragraph or two setting up the scene. Then follow with one paragraph or two establishing what happened in that scene.
Then take another character from the beginning of the scene and have that character explain what happened in that particular scene.
What did they hear, see, smell, feel? Get them to elaborate on what happened for a little longer than just one sentence.
If there are subplots or side stories happening in this scene, use them as well. Don’t be afraid to include some events that didn’t make it into the original scene.
Head-hopping can be a symptom of poor writing skills. But it can also be an indicator of other problems.
The problem is that head-hopping is hard to predict, because our minds don’t make any effort to anticipate what we’re going to say next.
When we’re trying to think of words for something, we’re making decisions about what we’re going to say next — whether we’ll use more precise words, more emotional words, more exciting words — all of which will affect the tone of our writing.
The most common example of head-hopping is repetition; it happens when people repeat themselves or the same word too many times in the same sentence or paragraph.
Another one is overuse of jargon and buzzwords; people who use them too much tend to overdo it.
When they find themselves repeating themselves, they try to stop by changing the word choice but end up with more than just a simple substitution; they lose track of their original meaning as well as their story.
Head Hopping In Writing – Wrapping Up
In this guide, we’ve talked about head hopping, why it is a problem and how to fix it. I’ve also talked about some of the reasons why writers choose to head hop and how you can use that to your advantage.
I hope we’ve given you a few resources for identifying head hopping in your own writing, and arm you with some tools to help you fix it.
One warning before we begin: when you’re learning how to identify head hopping in your own writing, it can be easy to fall into the trap of ‘fixing’ every instance of multiple perspective in your story.
This is bad! It’s totally fine if you have a few chapters or scenes in which multiple characters see things from their own point of view.
You just need to make sure that they are clearly separated (either by time or space) and that they aren’t competing with each other.