So What’s Wrong With Head-Hopping?
Over on Scribophile, one of the groups I follow devotes itself to studying Point of View, or POV.
But, what the heck is Point of View?
Forgive me for resorting to film examples. Imagine filming a scene where the camera substitutes for the actor, experiences only what our POV actor encounters. Robert Montgomery filmed Lady In The Lake using this technique. Watch it to see why it’s not commonly done in film.
But it’s very common in writing with most books adopting either First Person (I did this, I said that, I, me, and so on) or Third Person (She did this, He said that, and so on). Written this way we think, see, hear, feel, taste or smell only what our POV character can experience. If they aren’t in the scene, we, as writers, cannot write about it. If they pass out or die, we can’t write about it.
Somehow, early on, I stumbled into writing this way. From time to time I got very creative finding ways to get information to readers that the POV couldn’t otherwise know. How? They talk to characters who were there, read a message, or hear something on the radio.
So, what is head-hopping?
We write something which the POV character cannot know. That can happen at a huge level, dropping completely into another character’s head for a time. We can easily spot those and fix them. What I’m more worried about are subtle slips. Here’s an example from my writing.
In the silence that followed, Kuha Kaun stared at his foe. Wind rustled through the trees and birds still called to each other. Far down the hill a woman sang as she prepared food, giving no thought to the drama above her. Kuha Kaun nodded and drew his knife.
I bolded the minor head-hop. Ask yourself, how could our POV character know the woman was giving no thought to what was happening? Could he infer it or guess? Yes. Could he know? Probably not.
Was this a vital clue I could think of no other way to introduce?
No. I wrote it out of carelessness.
Did it destroy the story?
Of course not.
Would it pull a reader out of the scene?
What’s the harm?
Readers take in details at a subconscious level without ever being aware of them. And I rely on this to create mood, tension, suspense, unspoken conflict. Over the course of a story, it adds up.
What happens when I make a mistake, even one so small at the one above?
I subtract just a tiny bit from the overall effect I’m creating, canceling out something else I wrote.
Do it enough times and I’ve undone everything.