Beware: Head Hopping or P.O.V Shifting

Head Hopping is also known in certain circles as P.O.V (Point of view) shifting. These jumps can be overt or even jarring to a reader. Sometimes head hopping can be subtle and therefore difficult to spot in an editing pass. Can you spot the head hopping / P.O.V shifting instances in the following passage?

Of course I tossed in some changes in narration as well, just for “poops” and giggles.

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If done correctly, head hopping is perfectly fine. In the Game of Thrones series, George R.R. Martin titles his chapters after different characters. And that named character commands the P.O.V for that particular chapter. Also, you can use a page break, which is probably the technique most often used. Page breaks lend themselves well in third person narration. They are like flags which will prevent confusion between text and reader.

Which head hopping occurrence was the most difficult to spot? How about the shifts in narration?

Every Time You Reply – Little Frankie Doesn’t Cry

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9 thoughts on “Beware: Head Hopping or P.O.V Shifting

  1. I have a number of primary characters in my Wolves of Vimar books. It’s difficult to prevent a certain amount of head-hopping in cases like this. I try to keep to a chapter for each individual, or have a break if I need to change POV.

    In one chapter, I have my characters battling a group of humans and trolls. I have them split up, and take each character one at a time, describing their thoughts and actions before going on to another character. I put a break between each section. I think it works. At least I hope it does.:-)

    Sometimes it can get dizzying if too muck head-hopping goes on, as well as confusing. It’s almost as if you are continually spinning round to see who’s thoughts you are listening to.

    In the above passage, it is confusing between Bill and Michael. Who is the ‘he’ referred to? That is the question every time. I got confused in the second and fourth psrsgraphs in particular when the narration jumps from Bill to Michael without any explanation.

    Good post.

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    • Hi V.M. Always good to see you.
      I use page breaks and independent chapters as well to change POV. Although not too often. I generally stick with my MC and third person. I’m always amazed at how Frank Herbert did it in “Dune”. I think I’ll stick to the standards:-)

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  2. This head-hopping can toss someone out of the story and make them think,”How can Bill be looking between Bill and Susan? Is there another Bill in the scene?”

    I have great beta readers who point out POV in my work. Over the past eight years, they’ve pretty much cleansed me of head-hopping. I strictly stick to one head at a time because not only is it confusing for readers, it makes it more difficult to write a scene. More words to clarify exactly who is thinking, speaking and moving are needed, which usually means the overuse of names.

    That said, I have switched POV mid-scene on rare occasions in (I hope) slick ways (only in my fantasy novels which have many characters, but only three to four POVs in their own individual scenes). I do this when a scene is only in one head, and then that head leaves, and one of the remaining heads watch the head leave and reveal their thoughts. It’s as if the actor walked off stage leaving the lone actor to end the scene in some plot-revealing moment.

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    • Hi Diane
      “…and then that head leaves.” I’ve only used that method once in a short called “A Most Generous Man”. I used a POV relay race, once it shifts to another, it never returns, like the baton in a relay race. So far, two critique groups didn’t even notice the changes and they followed without a hitch. It’s a flash fiction and will be in my next shorts collection.

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  3. This is an interesting topic because the difference is so nuanced. The passage strikes me more as omniscient pov versus head-hopping because the narration “voice” doesn’t really change. The narrator hovers and describes the entire scene which opens and closes with something none of the characters knows (the bomb) – a clear indication of an omnipotent perspective. Personally, I don’t care for the “distance” that omniscient pov creates – telling us about the characters and what they’re experiencing rather than letting us experience the characters inside their heads and hearts, but it’s a legitimate form.

    I understand head-hopping to be a switch from one character’s inner “voice” to another character’s inner “voice” – basically jumping from inside one character to inside another character. That can be very disorienting because the pov is so deep.

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