Monday, December 16, 2013

Ten Writing Tighteners Series: Head Hopping

Photo by dbbent
Encompassed in my first real line-by-line critique were a lot of notes on all the things we've covered thus far in the Ten Writing Tighteners Series. None confused me quite as much as head hopping. Luckily, I didn't have to tell my shiny new critique partner I had no idea what she meant.

She must have sensed I was clueless. Very kindly, she noted the POV character couldn't possibly know what the other characters were thinking or their reasons for doing x, y, or z, unless the acting characters were to tell her. After all, my MC wasn't psychic, nor was she telepathically inclined.

At its core, head hopping means the reader is given information about the thoughts, emotions, or motives of a character other than the point of view (POV) character, without the information having been conveyed to the POVother than the writer endowing them with it.

Everyone possesses a certain amount of intuition, along with the ability to read facial expressions and body language. However, a person can't know for certain what they see in another person's physical reactions to a situation actually translates exactly what that person is thinking or feeling at any given moment. One can only interpret the other party's response to stimuli.

Example (Mike is the POV, 3rd person):

Mike throws the toy and Penny runs after it, thinking she'll catch it mid-air.

Though it might seem Mike would know what his dog is thinking, can he really? What if the dog's thinking she'd rather take a nap, but her master seems so excited, she feels sorry for him, so she's running after that stupid toy?

The only way the narrator can know what's going on in other characters' minds is if he or she is omniscient. In that case, they know every other character's thoughts and reasons for every move. However, there's no way a normal POV can see into the other person's mind and know.

At most, a POV character can guess, think, assume, or surmise another character's thoughts or motives. Unless they are able to read the other characters' minds and emotions, or if the character they are reading is somehow projecting their thoughts and/or feelings into the POV character's mind.

Of course, no rule is unbreakable. There might be a time when it's okay to do a little head-hopping. I can't think of one at this moment, but this is just a guideline. In the end, each author has to decide what works best for their story.

How to fix head-hop problems.

In my opinion, it's fairly simple to correct these issues. Either remove the line completely or add a qualifier. The other options are to choose kick-ass verbs that say it all without making a description necessary, or use those showing skills instead of telling the reader what the character is thinking or feeling.

Non-Head-Hop Examples (Mike is still the POV):

Mike throws the toy and Penny runs after it, she must think she can catch it mid-air.

OR (here's the verb option)

Mike throws the toy and Penny launches herself into the air snapping her jaws as she nears the squeaky.

Example 2 (Mike is the POV, 1st person):

The poor pooch needs a playmate, she misses her litter-mates.

Non-Head-Hop Example (Mike is still the POV):

The poor pooch needs a playmateI bet she misses her litter-mates.

OR (here's a SHOWING option)

The poor pooch needs a playmate. For the last week, she's worn the carpets bare, nose to the floor, sniffing out all the places she and her litter-mates used to tussle. 

I really appreciate you stopping in. Please share on Facebook and/or tweet about it, if you found this post helpful. There is one more installment of The Ten Writing Tighteners Series to go. FOLLOW BY EMAIL so you don't miss it. I also invite you to join this site. Thank you for visiting.

Ten Writing Tightener Series includes
1. Filters 10/14/13
2. Dead-weight Words 10/21/13
3. Echoes 10/28/13
4. Sentence Structure Stagnation 11/4/13
5. Redundancy 11/11/13
6. Telling vs. Showing11/18/13
7. Voice Not Character Appropriate 11/25/13
8. Brevity Blunders 12/9/13
9. Head Hopping 12/16/13
10. Underestimating the Reader 12/23/13

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