Guest #1 - Fiction Crimes Part 6: Head Hopping

Author: Adele Published: over 2 years ago.
Tags: writing, fiction, crimes, head-hopping, Adele Jones, Point of View Category: Writing tips

Today it's my pleasure to welcome author Adele Jones as our first guest blogger. Having just had her first novel 'Integrate' published, Adele knows all too well the perils of those rascally fiction crimes and how to avoid them. In this post, she explains one of the more heinous problems involving Point of View.


Kate knew this felony was so deceptive even the most seasoned author could stumble into it. Fear addled her thoughts, converting the milky flow of words into rancid curds that clotted her creative arteries like chronic mental atherosclerosis. She shook her head to dislodge the plaque, but it persisted, inflicting such frustration a migraine began to pulse from her temple to the back of her skull. Her face paled.* Bernie, who still slouched against her office door, saw how she shielded her eyes and guessed something was wrong. Knowing women, he figured she’d soon be whining about it being that time of the month or some rot. Women were soft. A commodity. And whoever first decided they had a place in the cut-throat world of journalism was an even greater nincompoop.

  • Hang on, how does Kate know her face has paled? ^ And who the heck’s Bernie?

What’s happened here? One moment we were intimately connected to Kate’s inner thoughts and emotions, next minute we’re on the outside looking in, stuck with Bernie’s repellent ‘insights’. (Seriously Bernie, get a life.)

In the writing world this slip in point of view (PoV) in a given scene is called head hopping. It's seen all too frequently, even at the hands of well known, highly acclaimed authors. Head hopping essentially throws the reader from one PoV to another and has the nasty power to completely ruin the flow and emotional tension the author's worked so hard to develop.

The best way to understand the disruption of head hopping is to read an unfamiliar, but gripping passage where this occurs. Sometimes I’ve found myself barrelling along in a scene when I’ve suddenly realised I’m reading something completely external to the narrator – something that could only come from the head of another character in the story. This forces a reader to stop and backtrack to where the PoV has switched. Gone is the momentum and tension that was building.

Head hopping is different to third-person omniscient narration. That is, when the narrator knows the thoughts and feelings of all characters in the story. This form of narration is distinctly distant; God-like. Head hopping occurs when the reader is settled in a particular character’s head, only to be thrust outside (either subtly or forcibly) and hurtled into the opinions and emotions of another.

As a writer, the most difficult element of head hopping is the ease with which a slip can occur. In the above passage, we could have left the ‘hop’ at the paling of Kate’s face then delved back into her thoughts. As subtle at this would be, it’s still a switch in PoV. Even mention of an external reference can detract from intimate narrator insights and inner dialogue. Worse, mid-paragraph (or mid-sentence!) you can land in the head of another character. Abrupt – and annoying.

Why not take a moment to examine the latest scenes of your current writing project? Note the PoV character and consider if they would actually know all the thoughts, emotions and observations included. If not, perhaps you’ve fallen prey to a head hop. So watch out for these sneaky little slips and avoid making your readers hopping mad.


Adele Jones lives in Queensland, Australia. She’s had a variety of short works published and had her first contemporary YA novel 'Integrate' released in September 2014. A historical fiction novel is due early 2015. Her writing is inspired by a passion for family, faith, friends, music and science – and a broad ranging imagination. To find out more visit www.adelejonesauthor.com

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