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Writing Tip: Head Hopping


Lugh

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How To Recognize a Head Hop

Some of you may be asking, what exactly do you mean by a “head hop”. Head hopping is something that many of us have been accused of at one time or another. In this lesson we are going to look at how to recognize a head hop and ways in which to correct it.

What is a head hop? A head hop is when you have a chapter or story that is from one characters point of view but you find that you have unintentionally included things such as thoughts of another character. These are things that your main narrating character couldn’t possible know unless they are a mind reader.

Perhaps the easiest way to show this is by an example. I have taken this example from my own story, Chance Encounters. The one way that it’s not considered head-hopping is when the story is 3rd Person Omniscient. The below story is supposed to be 3rd Person Limited.

Quote
Simon glanced around as he looked for a place to sit and had to do a double take when he noticed a guy sitting alone at one of the small round tables. Something about the way the guy was looking at him made Simon wonder if he had met him before. He seemed familiar to Simon for some reason but no matter how much he wracked his brain, he couldn't seem to place him. Noticing that there were no other tables free, and many of the people there had companions, Simon decided his best course of action would be to introduce himself to the man sitting by himself.

Decision made, Simon weaved his way through the tables scattered throughout the room. As he approached the table where the man sat he was surprised to see the guy stand up. He quickly took in the guy's appearance as he neared. The jet black hair that curled around the collar of the black button down shirt the guy wore, the full lush mouth that curved up in a slight welcoming smile, and the hands that seemed to clench and release in what Simon could only guess was nervousness. As he got closer he was slightly disconcerted to see that the guy's eyes were an unnatural golden color.

"Do you mind if I sit here?" Simon asked, indicating the chair across from where the guy sat.

"Not at all, have a seat Simon," Richard answered before nearly kicking himself as he realized that he had slipped up by using Simon's name.

(This is head hop #1 for this scene: The chapter up to here has been in Simon’s POV, this shows Richard’s inner thoughts. Simon could not possibly know that Richard was inwardly berating himself for the use of his name.)

"Have we met before?" Simon asked as he sat down. He felt sure that he would have remembered meeting the guy, but despite the feeling that they had in fact met before, Simon couldn't recall anything about him.

"Somewhat," Richard answered evasively. "I'm Richard," he finished, holding out his hand over the table.

"Nice to meet you Richard," Simon answered as he took the proffered hand. He tried his best to ignore the warmth that seemed to encompass his body as their skin came into contact. "So what did you mean by somewhat?" Simon asked as he took a sip of his latte.

"I kind of helped you home one night," Richard answered cautiously. "You were kind of out of it though, so I'm not surprised that you don't remember me."

"When was this?" Simon asked.

"A couple weeks ago," Richard answered as he avoided meeting Simon's gaze. He hadn't planned on reminding Simon of that night two weeks ago, but once he had slipped up and called Simon by name he didn't know any way around it. It never occurred to him to make up something else, in fact, he didn't know enough about Simon to make up anything plausible.

(This is head hop #2 of this scene: Simon couldn’t possible know that Richard had no intention of telling Simon about that night. He couldn’t know that Richard wished he had made something up. All of these are Richard’s inner thoughts.)

"I wondered how I'd gotten home that night," Simon answered as he contemplated Richard's answer. "I had to go back to the club the next day to retrieve my car. So did I pick you up at the club?" Simon asked.

"Not really," Richard answered, purposely not mentioning exactly what had happened.

(This is head hop #3 of this scene: Unless Richard actually TELLS Simon that he purposely didn’t mention the details, Simon couldn’t know this.)

"So what did happen?" Simon asked. "I don't remember much from that night. Don't remember when I left the club or how I got home and I only remember having two drinks. I'm not a heavy drinker but that's not enough to cause me to forget."

"I'm not so sure you want to know," Richard answered and was slightly taken aback to see the sparks in Simon's eyes as he rested his elbows earnestly on the table.

(This is head hop #4 of this scene: While Richard was slightly taken aback, Simon couldn’t know this. Richard does nothing to clue Simon into the fact that is how he is feeling.)

So now we are going to look at what possible corrections could be done. I have shown both the original and what the rewrite COULD be.

Head Hop #1:
Old: "Not at all, have a seat Simon," Richard answered before nearly kicking himself as he realized that he had slipped up by using Simon's name.
New:“Not at all, have a seat Simon.” Richard cringed and motioned to the seat across from him. Simon wondered at the slight tension, but shrugged it off.

 

Head Hop #2:
Old: "A couple weeks ago," Richard answered as he avoided meeting Simon's gaze. He hadn't planned on reminding Simon of that night two weeks ago, but once he had slipped up and called Simon by name he didn't know any way around it. It never occurred to him to make up something else, in fact, he didn't know enough about Simon to make up anything plausible.
New:“A couple weeks ago.” Richard stared at something behind Simon, not meeting his eyes.
Simon glanced over his shoulder but didn’t see anything that would hold the other man’s attention and turned back to Richard. Two weeks ago would have been when he’d gone to the club. Maybe…

Head Hope #3:
Old: "Not really," Richard answered, purposely not mentioning exactly what had happened.
New: “Not really.”
Simon felt like Richard was holding something back, but wasn’t sure what it could be. His non answers were beginning to get annoying. He wanted the answers to his questions and he wasn’t about to give up before he got them.

Head Hope #4:
Old: "I'm not so sure you want to know," Richard answered and was slightly taken aback to see the sparks in Simon's eyes as he rested his elbows earnestly on the table.
New:“I’m not so sure you want to know.” Richard took a sip of his drink and stared down at the table.
Simon glared at his companion and felt a slight satisfaction when the other man flinched. He wouldn’t have asked if he didn’t want to know. He needed to know even if he was slightly apprehensive about the answer.

So, as you can see from the above examples, fixing head hopping can be fairly easy. It can also be very easy to recognize. Simply ask yourself while reading through your work if what you’re reading is something that your main narrator could possibly know. If it’s not, then it’s probably a head hop.

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I know people have mixed feelings about head-hopping, but I'll confess it is my biggest pet peeve. I pretty much won't continue reading a story if there is rampant head-hopping.

 

I read an article once that blamed head-hopping on TV . . . in television, we can follow any character at any point in time and get insight into their 'behind closed doors' thoughts. Following only one MC at a time in fiction means there's more mystery surrounding the other characters' emotions/motivations/reactions.

 

I like mystery.

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I know that I'm guilty of head hopping, not lots but It still happens. I try so hard not to, this is a good lesson...I need to take notes! :P

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We're reading an autobiography in one of my classes where something like this happens, and it seems like in autobiography--of all genres--it should be impossible, but yet the author speaks for some other characters's emotions and events she couldn't have actually been present for. I brought it up in class as kind of a turn-off, and I'm glad I know a word for it now.

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Head hopping is something that can easily happen in early drafts of any work. When i wrote the above story, I didn't know better, but my editor's and beta's have been really good about pointing it out to me in my more recent works and I've learned to recognize them, though I don't always catch them before I send a story out for editing. Head hopping probably isn't the technical term for it, that's just what I use. I do know that some people just call it a Point-of-View shift.

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This practice invariably gives me a headache.

 

I don't do it but, others can and do use the technique successfully.

 

Coincidently, hop-head is rather archaic slang for druggies- usually the ones that used speed.

 

The slang came about because hop-heads spoke in disjointed sentences which made them sound... pretty dumb.

 

Again in those days the drugs were called bennies, dexies and goof-balls so you would expect them to make you sound pretty dumb.

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that's why I like First Person. Less chance. I'm the world's worst, but the thing is, I like it. I like reading it and I like writing it. I think it adds depth as long as you make it absolutely clear who's speaking and it doesn't happen too often. Why not describe the way something seems from the point of view of more than one character. Unless you're writing first person there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn't do that.

 

I've read lots of published works where that happens and there doesn't seem to be any problems. Even the great JK Rowling does it in Harry Potter.

 

I'm unrepentent and have no intention of stopping.

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