Tuesday, April 24, 2012

When did Head hopping become a dirty word?

I was reading Christopher Moore's latest novel, Sacre Bleu, the other day, and I suddenly realized that on one page he had three POV's. Count 'em - three. I didn't notice because it bothered me, upset me, or confused me. I noticed because recently there has been such a brouhaha about head hopping in the writing community, to the point where publishers throw  your work back and pontificate, "Thou shalt not headhop!"

But seriously, wtf?

Some might argue that Christopher Moore's a best-selling author and his publishers let him do what he wants because he knows what he's doing, blah blah blah. I suspect it's more than that, though. I think this is a phenomenon that is not exclusively, but largely, relegated to the romance writing community. I don't remember seeing it as an issue somewhere else. So what are publishers saying? Romance readers are too stupid to follow a change in POV?

What is head  hopping? It's supposed to be illogical changes in POV that impede the reader's understanding of the situation and the novel. But it has grown to encompass anything more than one POV per scene.

When I was first learning to write, many years ago, back in grade school, you know what they called that? Third person omniscient point of view. So, what changed?

Like I said, I had no problem with following Mr. Moore's story, despite switching POV's. If he were a struggling young author, and this was his first work, would he be so lucky as to escape censure? Hard to say, isn't it.

Now, having said that, no, it's not all right for one character to know what another one is thinking just because the author knows. Real life doesn't work like that. However, people do make conjectures and guess - and yes, assume - all the time. It's human nature. We think we know it all.

I'd like to know who decides these things, and what do they base their decisions on? Like the spacing thing. I was taught to have two spaces after a period, one after a comma. Now it's all one. That took some getting used to and I had to ask why? Did reducing that space save on paper or what?

The same with this new anti-head hopping campaign. Some people don't do it well, I admit. But t hen again, some people can't write, not matter what their POV. So that means everyone needs to be tarred with the same brush?

I think it should be a case by case basis. If it works, don't throw it out because someone has decreed that it's not in vogue at the moment, not allowable.

I can remember a time when everything was written in past tense, usually third person. Then first person present started popping up, and although at first I balked, I got used to it. Not only that, I decided to try it. And now it's one of my favorite POV's.

Not everyone is going to write the same way, or read the same way. But the point is, if you like it, if you can do it well, and if your readers enjoy it and follow it, then why not? Whoever came up with this no head hopping rule should find other pursuits to occupy his time.

What are  your thoughts on so-called head  hopping? Find it confusing? Embrace it? Or do you even notice it? I'd love to hear from you!

Until next time, take care!

♥ Julie


  1. I tend not to head hop, but that's mostly because I had it beaten out of me at an early age by editors. So I will address this as a reader: I don't mind multiple POV in scene as long as it doesn't throw me out of the story.

    I too grew up when 3rd person omniscient was widely used, and I'm perfectly comfortable with it, but it has to read smoothly and it has to be subtle. If I'm constantly trying to figure out whose thoughts I'm supposed to be in, that takes me out of the story. If I get yanked out of the story enough, I get irritated, and if I get irritated, I stop reading. That doesn't happen often, because I'm mighty forgiving when the story is good, but it shouldn't happen if a book has been crisply edited.

    I think one thing that's maybe happening is the creation of a generation of readers who don't have exposure to (and therefore have no tolerance for) good 3rd person omniscient. Or even good 3rd person. I've actually had people tell me they won't read anything but 1st person, because it puts them inside the romance. And I scratch my head, because that's not how I respond to 1st person. Nothing puts me farther outside the romance. I never feel like I am the narrator. Never. I just feel like I'm reading someone's diary, or a Penthouse letter. I'd much rather head-hop.

  2. That's just it, if it's done well. But you can say that about anything - it has to be done right. I think publishers take the easy way out and just say no to everyone.

    Part of the problem is that too many people regard the classics as something they cram down your throat in school and once graduated to be thoroughly avoided, rather than the enduring timeless tales they really are.

    In fifty years, where will most of today's romance writers be? Long forgotten. But Melville and Faulkner and Austen and Bronte and the rest will still be standing proud.

    As for 1st person, I think that depends on the writer's ability to draw you into the character so that you are inside their skin and watching the story unfold and you forget that you aren't the main character.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I just read a Nora Roberts book the other day that had a small amount of head-hopping in it. It wouldn't have bothered me had I not had creative writing professors teach me to dislike it!

    I used to write 3rd person omniscient, but now I have pretty much switched over to 3rd limited or 1st person because of what I've been taught. I hate to say it, but now when there is head-hopping, it really sticks out to me and detracts from the story, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. I have to go, "Wait a minute here, I thought we were getting this from so-and-so's POV," and I have to readjust my mindframe.

    The angel book that I wrote under a different name was originally a big head-hopper because I wrote it before I learned the "rule." I chose to go back and painstakingly change it so that it became 100% clear whose head we're in at any given time. And you know what? I like it better. I think it reads smoother. But that's just my opinion. The people who read it in its original form never mentioned having a problem with it that way, so I think it all boils down to personal preference.

    Bottom line: growing up it never bothered me. But ever since it's been pointed out and taught to me, I do notice it more, and it does take me out of the story somewhat.

    1. So who made this decision to teach it this way? And what makes them the arbiter of what is right and wrong in literature?

      Whatever works for the individual writer, I say.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Okay-for me I like 3rd person Omniscient. And my writing tends toward that. Yeah, I head hop. LOL.

    But... I'm noticing I seem to be one of the few. So, I'm leaerning the more accepted style. But I still like 3rd POV Omniscient best. ;)


  5. I, too, have noticed many 'famous' writers from the 60s-80s who head hop all the time.
    As an editor, I have been told to make authors eliminate POV shifts. But I think, if they can be followed there is no problem. If you can't keep up with who is thinking what, it is a problem. If everything is clear, why the need to change it?
    Many e-publishers seem to disagree, though, and want it taken out completely.

  6. I've read books recently where I had trouble deciding if the author was shifting into 3rd person omniscient badly, or just throwing in the occasional head-hop. Dan Brown comes to mind. I think 3rd person omniscient isn't as effective for a genre like romance where you want to draw the reader into close identification with the characters. It's much better for things like epic fantasy, thrillers, and mysteries.

    I see a lot of writing/editing advice on the internet that is really very genre specific without saying so. It seems possible that the authors don't even realize that the "rules" they're expounding don't apply universally.

    I will say I don't like micro POV shifts which don't do anything except make the author's life a little easier. That shift for half a page into someone else's viewpoint so you can describe the main character? I struggle with that problem too, but switching viewpoint to get it done seems like almost as bad a cop-out as the dreaded admiring himself in the mirror scene.

  7. Hey from another Silver author!

    I have a horrible time head hopping. Now that I'm becoming more aware of it, and trying to keep it to just one POV per scene, I find that I miss things that the other person would be feeling or thinking. Like I want to jump in with what the other is thinking but I must reel it in and see if I can use it later on... somewhere... I agree, it does seem to be largely a romance idea though.