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SNEAKY HEAD HOPPING

October 11, 2017

As many of you regular readers know, one of my big pet peeves is point of view (POV) and particularly head-hopping.

I’ve just about seen it all. No, let me rephrase that. I have seen it all, at least in the genres I regularly read. I can’t speak for romance, most westerns, gay porn and a few others I can’t even imagine. Oh, literary fiction. Almost forgot that one!

Anyway….

The genre-fiction I read includes a lot of different writers. I screen the books as best I can at the bookstore. On the rare occasions when I buy off Amazon, I screen the writing samples with the “Look Inside” feature. As you know, I won’t normally read first-person and never present-tense. I’m also no fan of omniscient. The problem is that when scanning a book for a few minutes, it’s difficult to detect head-hopping until you dig deeper. The same for omniscient. You have to read for a while to see it, unless it’s blatant.

I’m especially annoyed by overt head-hopping. To me, this shows…well…it dilutes the impact of the characters on the story (among other things) and indicates lazy writing.

That’s one reason I’m no big fan of omniscient, though…well, see below.

OMNISCIENT

Omniscient is more a style than lazy writing, but it’s a style I don’t like because there’s no focus on any single character and that “cast of thousands” approach dilutes the emotion and feel of being inside the head of each character, even though you are for short snippets. It adds a confusing picture you have to keep sorted out in your head all the time. It’s more of an accumulative effect.

No focus.

For me, that sucks.

Some writers are better at controlling omniscient than others. The ones that do I can tolerate and have enjoyed those books. Others, I find unreadable.

Omniscient is an orgy of head-hopping which is a quote of mine and the title of one of my previous articles. For the masters of omniscient, they keep the reins on it and the writing is good enough that the stories shine through. For those that aren’t, the writing is total chaos.

SNEAKY HEAD-HOPPING

Since I insist on reading solid third-person and shy away from omniscient, I get a lot of authors that are sneaky with their head-hopping. What I mean is there may be a main character POV but right in the middle of a scene, another character will pop in with POV for a paragraph or a few sentences, then it goes back to the main character for the rest of the chapter. You don’t see it again for several chapters. On the other hand, there’s a book I recently read. This female author of detective novels (the only clue I’ll give) has one central character that controls almost every scene. However, right in the middle of a particular scene, any random character can take over POV for a paragraph or two then shift back to the main POV instantly. THAT’s blatant head-hopping! It’s sneaky at times, because these pauses can be a sentence or two, but they’re there.

That’s the classic definition of head-hopping in what’s supposed to be solid third-person, focused POV.

This author gets away with it because she’s got almost more books out than I have articles on this web site. It’s irritating to have to deal with that. They’re short bursts “juss cuz,” but annoying and sloppy.

When you have a built-in audience, I guess you don’t have to abide by any particular standard. Since this is the first book I’ve read by her, maybe she was worse in the earlier ones? On the other hand, the story was pretty good. I finished it and it was worth a good four stars. It would’ve been five except for the head-hopping.

DOES IT MATTER?

There are always excuses for sloppy writing. The story is all that matters. Bla bla bla.

That’s a load of crap.

Your integrity as a writer should also matter.

Your legacy as a writer should also matter.

Maybe to the casual reader or fan, this is something they’d never even notice. Then again, keeping the POV straight makes for so much better of a read.

I’m certainly not the POV police here. On the other hand, POV has always been something that’s bugged me even before I knew what it was. There was always something about certain books that bugged the hell out of me but I didn’t understand what it was at the time. Now that I know, I can define it, describe it and at best, pass it on to you, the writer. You may simply ignore my advice and do what you want. These things that have bugged me for almost six decades don’t apply to everyone, I’m sure. However, as I became a writer and stopped to smell the roses, so to speak, I took the time to analyze the what’s and the where’s and the why’s. POV was a biggie, such as head-hopping.

Not giving a crap about the little things is just as bad as not caring about the big things. My goal is to write to the best of my ability and make for the best read possible.

After all, that is your goal, isn’t it?

Happy writing!

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