Head hopping is where the point of view for the characters is not fixed and hops from head to head. One of the things we look for when we read is a narrator who’s voice we like. The narrative voice chosen to tell the story affects the tone of the story and how the story is perceived. Without a fixed POV the tone and perception is muddled. The POV is slippery and elusive.
Peter Selgin says in the August 2007 issue of The Writer, “NO POINT OF VIEW = NO STORY.” He goes on to say, “Of all the problems plaguing amateur works, none is more common or fatal than mishandling of viewpoint.” Not because the chosen viewpoint is wrong, “…but because no viewpoint has been firmly established to start with, so there is nothing to violate.”
No POV is not the same as Omniscient POV. There are lots of definitions of OPOV, Crawford Kilian says there are three types of Omniscient Narrative:
- Episodically limited. Whoever is the point of view for a particular scene determines the persona. (Italics added for emphasis)
- Occasional interrupter. The author intervenes from time to time to supply necessary information, but otherwise stays in the background.
- Editorial commentator. The author’s persona has a distinct attitude toward the story’s characters and events, and frequently comments on them.
I’m not here to argue that there aren’t scads of examples of head hopping in the classics. I know some who say that there are, and I like them. One such critic is my friend Lexi. Dickens and Shakespeare rolled around in heads like peas bouncing in and out of coffee cans .
Whether it used to happen (and still does for published authors) is beside my point. I’m saying today there is an industry bias against HH. Agents, editors, and contest judges want to see unpublished writers demonstrate tight control of POV and not jumping around within paragraphs or scenes. In his Flogging the Quill blog Ray Rhamey, “surveyed a number of New York publishing pros…and asked for their views.” One responded, “If you tell your story with recourse to everyone’s head at all times, you’re basically throwing out all the rules and permitting yourself everything.” That’s playing fast and loose with the rules. Click here to read his full post.