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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Head Hopping

Most complaints Granny Kat hears about head hopping happen because the reader is pulled out of the story. If you can be more subtle about it, then it's usually not a problem. New writers often head-hop without realizing it and once they understand what it is, they can work to avoid it. An example of blatant head hopping would be:

Anticipating a kiss, Jane sighed and looked up into Joe's handsome face. He'd never seen a more beautiful smile in his life.

In the first sentence we are clearly in Jane's point of view (POV) as she sighs and admires Joe's handsome face while anticipating their kiss. In the second sentence we have head-hopped to Joe who is, in turn, admiring Jane's smile.

A possible fix:

Joe took Jane into his arms. Anticipating his kiss, Jane sighed and looked up into Joe's face. He'd never seen a more beautiful smile in his life.

These small changes (above) have muddied the waters for that (now second) sentence. This could all be in Joe's POV. If we do a solid job of keeping the scene in Joe's POV, then we have achieved limited 3rd POV. That is, Joe is telling us the story and along with that we are getting his thoughts and feelings. What we know about the other characters is limited to what Joe can figure out from their body language, hear in their words, or find as far as facts.

Joe can also interpret those facts for us in subjective or objective ways. For example, he could say, "Jane seemed relaxed and comfortable." (objective observation), or "Jane was relaxed and comfortable." (subjective opinion). If Joe's limited 3rd POV becomes too subjective, it may seem as if he actually knows what's in Jane's head, which morphs us into the omniscient 3rd POV. Omniscient means that the narrating character knows what is in every character’s head at the same time and it is shared with the reader as needed. By the same token, if Joe's limited 3rd POV becomes too objective, it may seem as if he's distancing himself (and the reader) from the intimacy of his narration, which also morphs us into the omniscient 3rd POV.

The differences are subtle and often interpreted differently by different readers. Generally, if a writer starts out with the intention of using omniscient 3rd, the narration is more objective and more psychologically distant (i.e. light on the deep inner thoughts and emotions). Are you having trouble with head-hopping? Ask Granny Kat a question and she’ll be happy to reply with helpful comments.

See you in print!

Granny Kat

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