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AN ORGY OF HEAD-HOPPING

July 17, 2013

            The last article talked about passivity from big name authors. In it I mentioned briefly that I also noticed, because of the use of began to by one author, his use of too much head-hopping. The head-hopping was annoying but nothing that stopped the story.

            I just read what should’ve been an outstanding novel. It was written by one of my favorite current authors and a personal friend. He’s someone I’ve looked up to because he’s been one of the cleanest writers I’ve ever known.

            Something’s changed.

            His last novel was a collaboration, so not only did the subject matter disappoint me, but the writing quality lagged his usual high standards. I figured that was the influence of the co-author. Now, after reading his latest regular feature, I’m not so sure.

            He’s always written in solid third-person, past tense. His grammar and syntax have been flawless, some of the cleanest I’ve ever seen. Then I eagerly got hold of his latest offering. It didn’t take long for the shock to set in at the downturn of quality.

            Once I finished the novel, I had to think hard about what I’d just read. I loved the story and premise. I loved the science and conjecture behind it. However, the way it was put together had a lot to be desired. To put it bluntly, the story was an orgy of head-hopping.

            The author made no pretense, whatsoever, of keeping the story in any one character’s point of view. When each scene commenced, it started with one character. As soon as another character did something, he’d pop right into their head, at will, with no regard to who was driving the scene. By the time the scene was over, it might or might not have switched back to the character that started it. Several main characters drove the story, but every time someone else came along or did something, pow! Right into their head.

            The story lost a lot of impact. First, because there were so many characters, he got into all of their heads, at will. Second, there were at least six main characters, four main good guys and two main bad guys and a few more semi-major characters. There were at least thirty, maybe more POV characters total. That’s a lot to keep track of!

            Could you get an emotional investment in that many characters? Could you keep track of that many? Somehow, I managed, but it was weak and my enjoyment of the story lost a lot of impact because I was so disappointed with the degradation of the writing. At times, I thought I was reading a novel but another author that I’ve consistently slammed for being such an amateurish writer that still keeps getting published.

            I must emphasize that I have no issue at all with lots of characters in a story. Any story of scope is going to encounter a multitude of characters. My problem is too many POV characters. You can’t get into everyone’s head just because they’re there!

            Is the publishing world just going for the lowest common denominator? From what I gathered at the last writer’s conference, every agent I talked to would still reject stories like this in a heartbeat from a first-time author. Yet here we are again. Another established author, throwing away all the good habits that make stories better and going for this mishmash and thinking it will sell better. Hell, maybe I’m wrong!

            I’ve read the reviews so far. Funny thing is, most people are slamming him for the science and routine action rather than the weak characters, though I found several that said there were too many characters and they were glad he killed a few of them off so they wouldn’t have to hear from them again, but then complained when he added two more to take their place.

            Apparently, head-hopping is perfectly okay, as long as you are not a first-time writer!

            Personally, I think it sucks!

            Call me the champion for stopping this crap before it takes over. It’s shoddy writing. Next thing you know, spelling errors will be okay because people only scan the pages anyway. Right?

            Happy writing!!!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Peggy West permalink
    July 21, 2013 11:33 pm

    As a reader, I feel a little burdened by headhopping. I’m reading an excellent historical fiction right now but the writer has made me aware of the motivations of many, many people, most of whom I’m betting I will never meet up with again. Point of view is a commitment and one that the writer has to make. It involves egoless writing and the delete key far more than a reader might imagine. I’m fine with a lot of characters in a book. The protagonist may have a point of view about them, but not the other way around.

    • July 22, 2013 1:54 am

      Peggy,

      Exactly! The author can’t get into everyone’s head and their motivations, feelings, etc. It’s too much to keep track of. It weakens the story and makes it a muddled mess. It’s much better to have that come from a main character’s POV either from them sensing, guessing it or having those other characters relaying it to them some way.

      Thanks for the feedback!

      Fred

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