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Bartholomew
12-01-2007, 09:58 AM
Head hopping, defined as the sudden switch of character perspective while in closed, 3rd person tense, is often touted around these parts as a big, fat, no-no.

However, like all rules, this one can be broken. I'd like to share an excerpt from a book I am currently reading.




Cassandra ignored him; even concentrating as she was, she could tell Max was annoyed, not scared. Let him move faster if he didn't want to be left in the dark. [...]

[... a bit of dialog follows, without any scene breaks. Then, suddently, we are in Max's head ...]

Max's lips twisted in irritation [...]. What did she want from him? Here he thought he'd been holding up pretty well, given the number of impossible things he'd seen and done in the last few hours.

Head hopping is only an error when done poorly. Keep that in mind when you're editing, everyone.

Happy Christmas,

kristie911
12-01-2007, 10:11 AM
I might be able to overlook that instance but if the writer does it frequently I'd stop reading. It drives me insane.

blacbird
12-01-2007, 10:13 AM
Ditto Kristie. Published or not, the example you cite is lazy and crappy writing. I gave up on reading mysteries by P.D. James after gritting my teeth through three of them, for exactly this kind of stuff.

caw

Bartholomew
12-01-2007, 01:05 PM
I like it so far.

The cut snippets, while they aren't scene breaks, include (as I mentioned) dialog, and in my opinion, that more than removes potential confusion. Now, if she switched POV's in the middle of a paragraph, I'd probably agree with you both.

Zelenka
12-01-2007, 01:37 PM
I've seen a few instances in published fiction. One that really put me off was Reginald Hill's Dalziel and Pascoe novels - he quite frequently head hops between four different characters in the one scene and by the end of it you've no idea who's thinking what. On the other hand Garth Nix did it to a lesser extent between two characters in 'Sabriel' and it didn't jar me out of the story.

Will Lavender
12-01-2007, 05:47 PM
Tom Wolfe head hops like crazy. He sets up his cast of characters early on, and when two of those main characters meet, he liberally jumps back and forth between them in the same scene.

I think A Man in Full is a very fine novel in part because of this head hopping.

jordijoy
12-01-2007, 06:18 PM
I got lacerated for head hopping in my first ms and haven't done so since. I thought I did a good job of it but was told my an agent to re-right and remove it. It was a bar scene and I head hopped my way through it.

underthecity
12-01-2007, 06:27 PM
When done well, head hopping or POV shifts in published fiction are invisible. Since we're writers, we probably notice it more than the general readership.

I noticed POV shifts in Stephen King's The Shining in early chapters, when the POV goes from Wendy to Danny and back to Wendy in different paragraphs. It also occurs in one place in Christine (off the top of my head, anyway) in a later scene in Will Darnell's garage. The POV throughout the scene is on Will. But one line shifts to Jimmy Sykes, then back to Will:

(From page 297 of my 1983 Signet paperback) This whole scene is Will's POV.

"Yes," Will said. "Like magic." It was a word that had occurred to him in connection with Christine before. He suddenly changed his mind about inviting Jimmy in for coffee and brandy. Still looking at stall twenty, he said, "You can go home now, Jimmy."

"Aw, jeez, Mr. Darnell, you said I could have six hours tonight. That ain't over until ten."

"I'll punch you out at ten."

Jimmy's muddy eyes brightened at this unexpected, almost unheard-of largesse. "Really?"

"Yeah, really, really. Make like a tree and leave, Jimmy, okay?"

"Sure," Jimmy said, thinking that for the first time in the five or six years he had worked for Will (he had trouble remembering which it was, although his mother kept track of all his tax papers), the old grouch had gotten the Christmas spirit. Just like in that movie about the three ghosts. Summoning up his own Christmas spirit, Jimmy cried: "That's a big ten-four, good buddy!"

Will winced and lumbered back into his office. He turned on the Mr. Coffee and sat down behind his desk, watching as Jimmy put away his broom, turned out most of the overhead fluorescents, and got his heavy coat.

Will sat back and thought.

(Then a very very long paragraph follows.)

----------------------------

Although it's a relatively isolated example of a POV shift in the middle of a scene, it stands out prominently when I reread it now. However, I am sure I never noticed it when I read Christine the first time when I was fifteen. If I were to dig more, I could probably find further examples.

In my own fiction, I've been very conscious of keeping the POV on the main character in the scene. And I suppose that as long as the scene still flows, and POV shifts aren't blatant and obvious, then an editor would probably accept them.

I suppose, anyway.

allen

maestrowork
12-01-2007, 09:54 PM
Bart, whether it's published or not, are you saying that excerpt was well-written? To me, it's not. And headhopping can happen to everyone and it's up to the editor to catch it. I remember reading a Grisham book and it's in 3rd limited, and right in one chapter he hopped into a minor, minor character's head for no reason, then back out again to his main character. To me, that's sloppy writing and editing, whether Grisham is a best-selling author or not.

Now, if the book is written in 3rd omniscient, there's a difference. I have nothing against omniscient, if it's done well.

nevada
12-01-2007, 10:34 PM
Talk about headhopping, I tried to read a Jack DuBrul book once and he headhops badly, but what stopped me dead is that twice he headhopped into the head of a minor character who was about to get killed. Character is about to get killed and DuBrul hops into that character's head for a paragraph then hops out and kills him/her. After the second time I put the book down. Couldnt do it anymore. THere were other issues too ofcourse, bad dialogue, bad logical decisions, but that headhopping into unimportant almost dead people just totally destroyed any enjoyment i might have had.

Changing POV midscene is actually quite common in romance novels. Usually during the sex scenes so you get the feelings of both characters. But normally it's done during a natural break in the scene and it doesnt switch back and forth so you don't get whiplash. Just half the scene from one POV and the other half from the other. Not too bad. Not what I would call headhopping.

virtue_summer
12-01-2007, 11:27 PM
I think it depends on how people do it. If there's a new paragraph and a lead up (maybe describing the character's actions and a bit of their dialogue so that we're already thinking about them before we jump into their head from another one) then it tends to be transparent. In the King example there's Jimmy's bit of dialogue before his thoughts, so it gets the reader focused on him before it jumps into his head. This works. It flows. He said this as he thought this. What I hate is when an author head hops in the middle of a paragraph (or the middle of a sentence) and there's nothing to lead up to it at all, not even a snippet of the character's dialogue. That's when it gets confusing, and that's when head hopping becomes a problem, when it gets confusing. Writing is communication. The important thing is just to make that communication as clear as possible.

CheshireCat
12-02-2007, 12:14 AM
Shifting POV, like any other writing tool, works when it works.

It's neither an example of bad writing nor good writing, in and of itself. If done well, it serves a purpose and is seamless from the reader's POV; if done badly, it's jarring and confuses the reader as to who's thinking or speaking.

The trick is to learn how to use it well -- not remove it from your toolbox because it's difficult to deal with.

IMO, of course.

lfraser
12-02-2007, 01:09 AM
Shifting POV, like any other writing tool, works when it works.

It's neither an example of bad writing nor good writing, in and of itself. If done well, it serves a purpose and is seamless from the reader's POV; if done badly, it's jarring and confuses the reader as to who's thinking or speaking.

The trick is to learn how to use it well -- not remove it from your toolbox because it's difficult to deal with.

IMO, of course.


I agree.

Just as a for-instance, I'm reading Terry Pratchett at the moment. He head hops his way through his narrative, and it never feels like a mis-step. In fact, the shifting perspectives keep the stories moving along at a fast and entertaining clip.

Bartholomew
12-02-2007, 02:58 AM
Bart, whether it's published or not, are you saying that excerpt was well-written? To me, it's not.

Whether either of us believe it to be well-written is irrelevant--someone liked it well enough to publish it and write a royalty cheque. I like the book, and the head hopping doesn't distract me. In fact, it tickles my natural tendency to get bored and find something else to do every few minutes.

The point I'm trying to make with all this is that this one particular style we've all said is really, really bad, still finds its way into the published world.

maestrowork
12-02-2007, 03:45 AM
Are you saying everything that gets published must be pretty darn good?

I agree that a lot of it is personal preference. Some readers wouldn't even know what POV is if that hits them on the face. Sometimes only we writers notice things. Still, "publication" isn't the only holy grail. I'm published and I would be a fool to say everything in my writing is gold. There are things I wish I could change -- I didn't know any better. Like I said, even John Grisham made booboos and he's a best-selling author. It may not really matter to an average reader, but if one is trying to break into publishing, they should be careful about booboos.

WendyNYC
12-02-2007, 04:02 AM
Ann Pratchett's latest novel, Run, has tons of head-hopping too. There were times when I had to read paragraphs twice to keep track.

Joyce Carol Oates does it, too, but it doesn't seem so stark.

But I agree with maestro. If it's your first novel, don't do it. It's just another reason for someone to reject you.

CheshireCat
12-02-2007, 04:10 AM
The point I'm trying to make with all this is that this one particular style we've all said is really, really bad, still finds its way into the published world.

We haven't all said that. ;) In fact, I said it's only bad when it doesn't work.

The trick is learning to recognize when it doesn't work. And in many cases, that's going to be a very subjective call. What one reader doesn't even notice may drive another reader totally nuts. Sticking with a single POV could bore some readers to tears, but that doesn't make it wrong. Or right. It just means that choice didn't work for that reader. Switching POV in every scene, or every chapter, could make Reader A dizzy and confused, while Reader B finds the plot moving faster and more interestingly because of it.

Choices. Make the ones that help you tell your story to the best of your ability.

If it works, it works.

Bartholomew
12-02-2007, 05:10 AM
Are you saying everything that gets published must be pretty darn good?

I agree that a lot of it is personal preference. Some readers wouldn't even know what POV is if that hits them on the face. Sometimes only we writers notice things. Still, "publication" isn't the only holy grail. I'm published and I would be a fool to say everything in my writing is gold. There are things I wish I could change -- I didn't know any better. Like I said, even John Grisham made booboos and he's a best-selling author. It may not really matter to an average reader, but if one is trying to break into publishing, they should be careful about booboos.

I'm not saying that everything that gets published is gold. I do, however, assert that published books tend to have a recognizable quality that unpublished books do not.

Changes in POV are "booboos" because a group of writers decided they were.

JeanneTGC
12-02-2007, 06:32 AM
I agree.

Just as a for-instance, I'm reading Terry Pratchett at the moment. He head hops his way through his narrative, and it never feels like a mis-step. In fact, the shifting perspectives keep the stories moving along at a fast and entertaining clip.
LOL, I was thinking the same thing. Pratchett head hops all the time and all over and it's just awesome. Of course, he's my favorite living author, so clearly I think head-hopping, when done well, is just fine and dandy.

For every rule there are about a dozen examples of how the rule was broken successfully. I'm with CheshireCat (paraphrasing, btw!) -- whatever you do, do it WELL and you'll be much better off.

Susan Gable
12-02-2007, 06:35 AM
Changing POV midscene is actually quite common in romance novels. Usually during the sex scenes so you get the feelings of both characters. But normally it's done during a natural break in the scene and it doesnt switch back and forth so you don't get whiplash. Just half the scene from one POV and the other half from the other. Not too bad. Not what I would call headhopping.


Thanks you, Nevada. :) There is a difference between head-hopping, and changing POVs in the middle of a scene.

I mean, one change does not a "hopping" make. I mean, look at the word. Hopping. One change is not hopping. It's hop. That would make it a head-hop. Not head-hopping, which indicated a pingpong effect.

I've said it before. I have no problem at all with a well-execute change of POV in the middle of the scene. Do it right, anchor the reader in the new head immediately, and stay there, and I'm right there with you.

I'm not stupid. I don't need a gapping maw of white space to tell me HEY, THE WRITER IS CHANGING POVS NOW! <G>

Decide what works for you. What works for your editor. What works for your readers. For your story. For that particular scene.

Change POVs if it works. But don't go head-hopping. <G> Control your changes.

:)

I have an article on my website called Confessions of a POV Slut. <G>

Susan G.

lfraser
12-02-2007, 06:53 AM
Look, it's like anything else. If you don't know how to execute a decent head-hop, don't do it. There's no actual THOU SHALT NOT HEAD HOP commandment.

aruna
12-02-2007, 12:49 PM
Quite a lot of published authors, even BIG published authors, do it. For instance, A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth has a LOT of head hopping. I rmemeber one passage where he head=hopped mid-sentence!

blacbird
12-02-2007, 01:16 PM
Ann Pratchett's latest novel, Run, has tons of head-hopping too. There were times when I had to read paragraphs twice to keep track.


And that's doesn't cause a bad moon to rise in your writing experience? Any time I have to stop and read something twice bothers me. If I have to do it repeatedly, it really irritates me, and once irritated, I begin to look around for other things to read.

caw

blacbird
12-02-2007, 01:21 PM
LOL, I was thinking the same thing. Pratchett head hops all the time and all over and it's just awesome. Of course, he's my favorite living author, so clearly I think head-hopping, when done well, is just fine and dandy.

For every rule there are about a dozen examples of how the rule was broken successfully. I'm with CheshireCat (paraphrasing, btw!) -- whatever you do, do it WELL and you'll be much better off.

I think Terry Pratchett gets away with it because he's a satirist, and satire inherently involves breaking of, and distorting of, and making fun of, conventions. And I'm not so sure I'd regard what he does as "head-hopping" in the sense that most of this discussion is about. Pratchett assumes the narrative position of disembodied storyteller, a god-like figure relating a tale to a listener, which isn't exactly the same thing as what I consider "head-hopping" in narrative prose.

caw

maestrowork
12-02-2007, 06:21 PM
Pratchett assumes the narrative position of disembodied storyteller, a god-like figure relating a tale to a listener, which isn't exactly the same thing as what I consider "head-hopping" in narrative prose.

caw

Like many have said before, omniscient is different than head-hopping. I haven't read The Mirror Prince but for all I know, it may be written in omniscient as well.

WendyNYC
12-02-2007, 07:38 PM
And that's doesn't cause a bad moon to rise in your writing experience? Any time I have to stop and read something twice bothers me. If I have to do it repeatedly, it really irritates me, and once irritated, I begin to look around for other things to read.

caw


Yes, I did find it irritating. I finished the book, but I much preferred Bel Canto to Run.

Cathy C
12-02-2007, 08:34 PM
I actually don't mind frequent POV shifts, because that isn't how I define "head-hopping." To me, head-hopping occurs when the reader ISN'T CLEAR on who is speaking. It's not just an issue of "Bob thought this" and then "Tom thought that" but more this sort of thing:

"Do you want to go to the store with me?" Lips twisted with loathing, he walked away.

So who made the motions? The speaker or the listener? It could be either the way it's written, and since the words don't really match the facial or body movements, you're left scratching your head. THAT'S head-hopping to me and it's what editors loathe.

But with proper attribution of:

"Do you want to go to the store with me?" He barely noticed Tom's lips twisting with loathing as he walked away.

Now it's obviously in Bob's POV. He's NOTICING the actions rather than making them.

JMHO, of course. But unclear actions are what make head-hopping for me, not merely frequent POV shifts. :)

Judg
12-03-2007, 05:54 AM
Seeing as I am an unpublished author, I am going to make a concerted effort to avoid "POV violations". But I do believe head-hopping can be pulled off well (there is a chapter in A Canticle for Leibowitz where Miller does exactly what Bart is referring to and does it so masterfully it took my breath away) if by head-hopping we mean more than one POV within a single scene. Doing it well means keeping everything crystal clear and very smooth so only people consciously looking for rule-breaking would ever notice. And it would also mean that the passage in question is enriched by it.

Any time a reader has to read a passage twice in order to understand it, I consider the author to be at fault. If I'm the reader and I'm very tired or distracted, I admit the possibility that maybe this time, I'm at fault.

Indirectly
12-03-2007, 07:13 PM
Shifting POV, like any other writing tool, works when it works.

It's neither an example of bad writing nor good writing, in and of itself. If done well, it serves a purpose and is seamless from the reader's POV; if done badly, it's jarring and confuses the reader as to who's thinking or speaking.

The trick is to learn how to use it well -- not remove it from your toolbox because it's difficult to deal with.

IMO, of course.


I could not agree with you more if you added pie.

And I love pie.

Oliveman
12-05-2007, 02:28 AM
In the first chapter of my current book I head hop around 6 times as a literary tool: it shows the connection between the people in the community I'm writing about. This works because the last head hop goes back to the first, completing the chain. In the mean time the chapter is full of funny, engaging scenes, that keep them from thinking about boring things like literary devices ;)

seun
12-05-2007, 04:22 PM
If a book features an obvious narrator who tells the reader what each character is thinking, what is this called?

maestrowork
12-05-2007, 04:41 PM
If a book features an obvious narrator who tells the reader what each character is thinking, what is this called?

Omniscient.

seun
12-05-2007, 04:43 PM
Thanks. Thought it might be but didn't want to get it wrong and look like a prat. :)

IceCreamEmpress
12-05-2007, 07:28 PM
I don't see this as "head-hopping" at all--I see this as omniscient narration. Being omniscient, the narrator knows what each of the characters is thinking.

"Head-hopping" to me is when the narrative changes point of view AND there is no continuing third-person omniscient thread.

There are two kinds of omniscient narrator--the omniscient narrator who always hovers above the shoulder/in the mind of one character (I like to call this the "guardian angel" omniscient narrator) and the omniscient narrator who floats above the whole story with perspective on all the characters (I like to call this the "recording angel" omniscient narrator).

If the narrative has perspective on multiple characters, there's nothing wrong with showing multiple characters' thoughts and feelings.

swvaughn
12-05-2007, 07:36 PM
Just as a for-instance, I'm reading Terry Pratchett at the moment. He head hops his way through his narrative, and it never feels like a mis-step. In fact, the shifting perspectives keep the stories moving along at a fast and entertaining clip.

ohmygodIlooooveTerryPratchett.

That is all.

Birol
12-05-2007, 08:26 PM
I don't see this as "head-hopping" at all--I see this as omniscient narration. Being omniscient, the narrator knows what each of the characters is thinking.

"Head-hopping" to me is when the narrative changes point of view AND there is no continuing third-person omniscient thread.

There are two kinds of omniscient narrator--the omniscient narrator who always hovers above the shoulder/in the mind of one character (I like to call this the "guardian angel" omniscient narrator) and the omniscient narrator who floats above the whole story with perspective on all the characters (I like to call this the "recording angel" omniscient narrator).

If the narrative has perspective on multiple characters, there's nothing wrong with showing multiple characters' thoughts and feelings.

This is actually called "limited," not "omniscient." If your POV is the 3rd person (he/she), then it is 3rd person limited.

IceCreamEmpress
12-05-2007, 08:38 PM
This is actually called "limited," not "omniscient." If your POV is the 3rd person (he/she), then it is 3rd person limited.

No, I'm thinking of an omniscient narrator who nonetheless gets inside the head of only one character.

In other words, the omniscient narrator relates EVENTS that the focus character wouldn't physically be able to know about, but only relates the thoughts and feelings of that character.


I see why my post was confusing on this. I should have said "internal perspective" rather than "perspective". The guardian angel narrator knows and relates the actions of all the characters, whether the protagonist is aware of them or not, but only knows and relates the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist.