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What do Nora Roberts and Ernest Hemingway have in common? Head Hopping!

What do Nora Roberts and Ernest Hemingway have in common? Head Hopping!.

Nora Roberts is famous for her head-hopping.

Hemingway Head Hopped in The Old Man and the Sea.

Alexander McCall Smith  head-hops in his Botswanna series.

Sylvain Reynard is hopped up too in his book, Gabriels Inferno.

Sherrilyn Kenyon head hops.

Danielle Steel head hops.

Judith McNaught gives good head hop.

Stephen King head hops.

Julie Garwood insanely head hops.

Lisa Kleypass? Yep she head hops too.

 What is that you say? They can do it because they are bestsellers? Ya, I’ve been fed that load of crap too. Maybe they ARE bestsellers BECAUSE they give excellent head hop. How do they become excellent? They practice. They actually do it. They don’t avoid it like the plague it’s been touted or live in fear of being shamed because of it.  The web makes it sound like being clubbed over the head like a baby seal is preferable to being caught with your head hop down around your ankles.

And don’t even think about arguing that adding *** between POV’s is a tolerable approach. It’s about as stupid as putting on a condom after you’ve entered the portal of paradise and enjoyed yourself for a while. It’s disruptive and distracting and ineffective. (Didn’t your sex ed teacher tell you anything?) If anything is going to take you ‘out of the story’, that will. It’s like the author  jabbing at your eyeballs three times saying,   ” *wait for it*here it comes*bang! I just changed the POV aren’t I helpful?” 

Deep breath and moving on. If you examine the following little head hopping passage I promise that you won’t come down with some kind of STD.  From

(The italics text is Brian’s point of view and the bold is Kyra’s.)

Brian watched Kyra’s car back out of the drive, an expression of sadness on his face. A deep pain settled in his chest as he watched the love of his life drive away. Kyra was going to miss him terribly, but she needed to follow her dream.

Well it didn’t make me break out in hives how about you? No, it’s not perfect but from a readers point of view, I got it. Brian and Kyra are sad that they are parting so that she can follow her dream.  I couldn’t resist tweaking it a bit to test out the purists objections to it below. What do you think?

Brian watched Kyra’s car back out of the drive and felt sadness wash over him. A deep pain settled in his chest as he watched the love of his life drive away. Kyra knew she was going to miss him terribly, but she needed to follow her dream.


Brian watched Kyra’s car back out of the drive. A deep pain settled in his chest as he watched the love of his life drive away. Kyra caught an expression of sadness cross Brian’s face in her rear view mirror. She was going to miss him terribly, but she needed to follow her dream.

Writing purists will tell you these things about the first version of the paragraph. Is it still true in the second or third?
1. If Brian is watching the car, he can’t possibly see the expression of sadness on his own face. ( Not this one passes)
2. If Kyra is watching Brian’s face, then she can’t see her own car. (Nope not anymore …so this one passes)
3. Only Brian can feel the pain described in the second sentence. ( Nope the pain is clearly Brian’s in the later versions so this is a pass)
4. Only Kyra can do the missing described in the last sentence. (Yep Kyra is the only one missing and Brian is the one in pain got it pass)

Can I suppose, that if I pass the ‘test’,  I’m allowed to head hop? And Yep it’s all still head hopping. What was missing from the first that made the others easier to digest? Cues. I’m gonna call them “emoti-cues.” (It’s my term, all mine, but feel free to use it, just make sure you link back, credit me and tell your grand kids 50 years from now where you heard it first lol)

Anyway, I just made the “emoti-cues” clearer. You know like the old ‘he said or she said’ tags when you are writing dialogue.  But in this case it’s, Brian watched/Kyra knew or saw, instead of the he/she said tags. Something they are doing or feeling that you can cue readers to their POV.

If you think of this passage as an emotional conversation it makes sense. Their thoughts are linked by the experience they are both sharing. You wouldn’t write conversation dialogue with just one character, then wait for the next chapter for the other character to finish his part of the conversation would you? No that would be stupid….and confusing as hell.

I find, a lot of times, that I wish an author WOULD head hop. I want to know what the characters are thinking and feeling about in the scene as it unfolds. Not rehashed in the next chapter dedicated to the other character. You know, like when a character ‘remembers’ the conversation or they talk about it to another party later etc… By then I already know what’s happened and what everyone has said and done. I feel like I’m wasting my time re-reading the same scene just to find out how the other half feels all to avoid ….sigh…head hopping.

Look at this excerpt from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, The Waste Lands. The emoti-cues are in bold.

He was wearing a weird little Lord Fauntleroy outfit, complete with ruffled white shirt and velveteen short pants. There were ribbons in his hair. Eddie felt a sudden mad urge to wave his hands above his head and scream But-wheat say, “Lud is o-tay!”

“Come on!” the kid cried in a high, piping voice. Several sprays of the green stuff had gotten caught in his hair; he brushed absently at these with his left hand as he ran. “They’re gonna do Spankers! It’s the Spankerman’s turn to go to the land of the drums! Come on or you’ll miss the whole fakement, gods cuss it!”

Susannah was equally stunned by the child’s appearance, but as he got closer, it struck her that there was something extremely odd and awkward about the way he was brushing at the crumbles and strands of greenery which had gotten caught in his beribboned hair: he kept using just the one hand.

See? Simple. Did your head explode? Didn’t think so. (Although Stephen King might like that.)

Here’s an annoying tidbit. In a  post on Writer Unboxed,  editor Victoria Mixon wrote about the need to limit this type of exposition. In a long-winded answer, to a comment poster, about authors like  Michael Chabon, (a head hopper apparently…shame shame shame) she responded.

(OK. You don’t have to read it all, I’ll sum it up. But it’s just below if you must. She didn’t say it was illegal in the writing world, such as not using punctuation correctly. (I’ve probably broken a hundred laws in this post….shoot me.)  She couldn’t even say that head hopping was wrong or bad. She said it was an “intensely sophisticated technique.” So what? Everyone tells us not to do it because it’s hard????? WTF? That’s what the problem is? Whew thanks for clearing that up! My 16-year-old thinks certain math problems are hard. Should he just avoid them? NO he should practice and gain skill. Du? )

“When we focus upon writing in scenes and save our exposition for certain, special lines, that throws the exposition into high relief, so it can serve its special function of a peek behind the curtains.

“However, when we ‘tell all,’ then we must have developed an enormously smooth and solid stylistic voice with which to carry the weight of all that exposition. Then the reader falls for the voice more than the story.

Those stylistic voices take years and years and years to develop properly, and they take line-editing by a professional editor like you simply would not believe… ”

“Head-hopping POV such as you described in Chabon’s novel is actually an intensely sophisticated technique. It’s so easy to lose reader investment in our protagonist(s) or, worse, confuse the reader about who the protagonist actually is when we keep switching perspective on them.

“It’s not that you can’t learn to do what Chabon does. Obviously he learned it.

“It’s that it takes a really long time and a ton of writerly dedication in order to learn the most sophisticated techniques of this craft. And it takes a knowledgeable mentor.”

 Personally, I like Randy Ingermanson’s take on the argument. From his site

I’ll bet that 99% of my readers don’t know or care that I’m a non-hopper. Readers just care about whether the story is working for them.  But I have plenty of friends who hop heads all the time. “…”As far as I can tell, this works for my head-hopping friends. I’ll bet that 99% of their readers don’t know or care that they’re head-hopping. Readers just care whether the story is working for them. Po-tay-to. Po-tah-to. What really matters is how it tastes in the soup.

HEAR HEAR RANDY!!!! And I’ll add for those of you who hate head hopping. Nobody’s forcing you. If you don’t like the story, use your safe word.

Although, I have ‘writerly dedication, I may not have reached, ‘intensely sophisticated technique’. However, I feel qualified to write about this personal preference subject, from an expert reader point of view. Because really that’s what head hopping is, a personal preference or a style thing.

Are you going to tell me my preference isn’t valid if I say I like cake rather than ice cream? Of course not. It’s my preference. I own it. Nobody can tell me what it should be. Therefore, I’m not going to let anyone choose my preference to write or read head hops. You shouldn’t either. I say just tell your story the way you want to tell it and make me like reading it! If that means the dread head hop so be it.

Shit we wear white after labor day now don’t we? Who made up that stupid rule? Probably an overworked seamstress that was looking for a way to turn away too many clients during a winter rush. Makes you think about editor ‘pet-peeves’ don’t it? Maybe it’s just an easy tool for them to use in order to weed through that slush pile. Who knows. But I think *** surely makes their peeve easier to see.


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Filed under fiction, head hopping, jet michelle, POV, Writing, writing advice