Monday, July 16, 2012

Head-Hopping: Confusing Readers

Who here finds themselves stuck in the head-hopping trap when they write a story with multiple points-of-view? It's OK. Raise your hand. This is a judgement-free zone.

I admit. I am one of those offenders. My critique partners, Alex and Greg, needed a neck brace after they recently read one of my submissions from the rapid whipping from one character's thoughts to another within the same scene. Once the embarrassment faded, I decided to put my mistake on display to help my fellow writers.

I'm going to use a small section to show you where I went wrong and share the solution that will eliminate the problem in future submissions.

For the sake of time, I'm going to fast forward to the first instance of head-hopping. It's important for you to know that the scene begins with the narrator describing a bar from Jack Ackerman's POV.

 Tonight Jack planned to stick around longer to keep his eye on McCrea. The drunker McCrea got to more he talked about Maryanne. He didn't let one minute go by without bringing her up in conversation, which pissed Jack off even more. 

McCrea could still smell Maryanne's sweet lilac perfume from his visit during lunch with her at McGregor's Grocer where she worked. 

As you can see, the first paragraph is from Jack's POV. Then all of a sudden, BAM! Now, the narrator is in McCrea's head in the second paragraph. Mass confusion ensues.

And here I thought I was smoothly transitioning from Jack's POV to McCrea's POV by introducing McCrea in the previous paragraph and sliding into his head in the following paragraph.

Not so much. I'm sure I even confused you just trying to explain my thought process.


The research I found explained that head-hopping is a common error. Novice, experienced, and published writers have been found guilty of head-hopping. I felt a bit better knowing I wasn't alone. Next, I realized that it wasn't the decision to tell the story from multiple POVs that failed, it was how I went about it.

You know that a chapter is built on multiple scenes tied together. To avoid reader confusion, I need to stick to just one POV per scene, which means I can have multiple POVs within the same chapter, I just need to smooth out my transitions.

So, back to the scene above. What you don't see here is the scene ends when McCrea exits through the back of the bar. What I should have done was allow the narrator to continue observing McCrea through Jack's eyes until the scene ended when McCrea exited the bar. Then, begin the new scene inside McCrea's head as the whiff of Maryanne's perfume triggers the memory of their lunch date.

The solution appears so simple that I could kick myself. Unfortunately, all reason and natural law is locked out of my head when I'm in the writing zone. The great part is that my intention to tell this story from multiple POVs is still possible, and the solution won't be hard to incorporate during revisions. Alex and Greg will be thankful for the lack of confusion and neck pain the next time I submit.

How do you avoid head-hopping when you're writing a story from multiple POVs? 

1 comment:

  1. LAURA - THIS IS A JUDGEMENT FREE ZONE! THERE'S NO SHAME ALLOWED HERE (you know, unless yo want there to be.)
    How do I avoid the head hop? I don't. Not really. It's SO HARD TO AVOID! especially in first draft, when what you're doing is throwing it out there. The first book I wrote was in third person and it head hops all the live long day. staying in first person for my next two books solved that problem by avoiding it all together. Now I'm going back to my first book and having to deal with whip lash level hops. But you nailed it, Laura, in how to avoid.
    Also, I'm reading Erin Morgenstern's THE NIGHT CIRCUS now and I am noticing how masterfully she does this. It isn't always at the end of a scene, but she uses an object or an action as connective tissue between the perspective of one person to the perspective of another. In one instance, two people are in a cafe. The man's perspective is first, his observations, interior and exterior come, then his attention falls on something in the woman's hand. next paragraph, the woman is looking at the object in her hand. the object is the connection the 'conduit' for crossing from one perspective to another.
    I just managed to make NIGHT CIRCUS, an amazing, enthralling book, sound damn boring for the sake of an example. hope it helps!