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I had this post requested a while ago, and I couldn’t figure out how to put it into words at first. But as I’ve been writing lessons for a mentoring program I’m working on, I finally figured it out.

So here it goes.

First, head hopping is when we dip into more than one character’s POV in a single scene. This isn’t omniscient POV, but rather a switch between close-third perspectives.

Most editors advise against head-hopping because when we switch mid-scene, we’re not often warned that the change has occurred, and the reader is more likely to grow confused. My argument is that writers should do their best to structure of everything clearly so that the work happens in creating imagery out of language, and the reader can delve into the world instead of staying on the surface to decipher what’s happening and where.

Now, it’s been said that head hopping is more acceptable in romance and erotica because the relationship is more important than the characters individually. It helps increase tension to have access to both of their thoughts.

Do I write my romance/erotic fiction this way? No. I’m not convinced. I have seen romance writers do this successfully, like Sherrilyn Kenyon does in her Dark Hunter series, but overall, I’m not a fan of it. It confuses me too often, and I have a harder time connecting with a particular character.

So, with that out of the way, let’s talk about how we identify head hopping.

The best way to identify is to categorize, or color code, a first draft. It’s easiest to do this to a first draft so that you don’t waste time making the parts you cut and have to redraft pretty.

You can color code on a printed copy or in your word processer. Simply section highlight the parts of the story that dip into a character’s POV. This will be their internal thoughts/dialogue, the analysis of the scene or characters, and their opinions of/reactions to what’s happening in the story.

Here’s an example:

Jennifer rushed into the room, adrenaline numbing her legs and burning her lungs. The giant’s destructive footsteps didn’t shake this far into the farmland, yet.

Her hair fell from her ponytail as she swung the door closed and grabbed for everything she thought might be valuable on the move.

Frank didn’t know yet, that a giant fell from a beanstalk that’d grown overnight on the other side of the city, so he shook his head and poured another cup of coffee. What is she looking for?

Note how we’ve gone from inside of Jennifer—as she’s the only one who knows about the giant—to inside of Frank, who doesn’t understand why she’s rummaging through their stuff. There are several places where small tweaks can keep this in Jennifer’s POV.

Jennifer rushed into the room, adrenaline numbing her legs and burning her lungs. The giant’s destructive footsteps didn’t shake this far into the farmland, yet.

Her hair fell from her ponytail, teasing the corners of her eyes, as she swung the door closed and grabbed for everything that might be valuable on the move.

A giant fell from a beanstalk that’d grown overnight on the other side of the city.

Frank, her husband, shook his head and poured a cup of coffee in the small, attached kitchen. “What are you looking for?”

In this version, no one needs to tell us that Frank doesn’t know about the giant, we can see that he doesn’t by his external reaction to her. The rest is a reflection of Jennifer’s reaction to her situation: she saw the giant; she’s freaked out; she’s searching; she places who Frank is for us; and she hears him ask the question.

This creates clarity for the reader to experience the situation rather than being told about it, another reason to stay in POV. Readers like to put the pieces together because they’re smart.

Another clue of a POV shift is description. If the character is describing themselves physically, we’ve shifted out of their POV. The camera-effect shifts us into the omniscient perspective. We can’t see ourselves, except in mirrors, and that’s often a cliché technique.

This may be a pesky task the first few times you try it, but seeing a draft in colors rather than chapters helps separate us from the story to see its parts.

Once you have the whole thing color-coded—or the parts you’ve identified as problematic—see what color is most present in the scene/chapter. That’s likely the POV character for that scene and the rest should shift to his or her perspective. Some of it may not make it. If it’s an important detail, find another way to include it—dialogue, a new scene in the other character’s POV, some prop that can provide the information needed.

Sometimes, all you need to do is split a scene in two and allow more than one character to describe what’s going on and fill in the gaps. I often like the tension that comes in a mid-scene cut to the other perspective. It’s a nice trick to use every now and again.

Well, there’s my opinion and advice.

How do you identify and/or fix head hopping? When do you feel like it works or doesn’t work? Got any questions? Let me know in the comments below.

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