All writers have a process that allows them to create. However, the art of "Writing" is often mistaken for that "Process." Hopefully this blog explains the difference, and inspires people to develop their crafts, become writers, or just keep on writing.

Friday, October 13, 2023

What's "Head-Hopping"?

Every career field, every profession has its jargon and those special words that become catch phrases or little inside jokes shared just by people in that specific business niche. During my days in economics, we had all kinds of terms - "Heisenberg uncertainty (the economics version)," "squishy data," and my personal favorite, "granularity." Just bringing out those terms awakens fond memories of my days in finance. And now during my writer's days, I get terms like, "white-room syndrome" and "there's no there there." However, my favorite is, "head-hopping," and I think it's worth discussing.

Sadly, it's not as interesting as it sounds. Head-hopping is when the point of view (PoV) shifts around from character to character without staying in one place very long. Some call this the omniscient perspective - where the reader is allowed to see all the information - but often it's just the result of sloppy writing. If one is deliberately offering the omniscient PoV, then go with it. However, most stories are written from just a few perspectives, and there's a reason for that.

Think about the following piece:

They saw the creature lying motionless on the leaves and assumed it was dead. Tom said it was a bat. Laura poked it with a stick, thinking it was a bird. Phil shook his head, believing it to be a flying squirrel that didn't make it.

We have our basic components - three people finding a dead thing and wondering what it was. However, we don't really attach with any one character or their thoughts. We don't take sides, because the writer has just offered information but no individual perspective. As a writer, they can load the dice by offering one person's PoV and allowing the others to offer input to challenge the situation, leaving the reader to decide. Here's the same piece:

They saw the creature lying motionless on the leaves and assumed it was dead. It's a bat, Tom thought.

Laura poked it with a stick. "It's a bird."

Phil shook his head. Nope. "This flying squirrel just didn't make it."

This piece is now from Tom's PoV. We see the thought in his head, while the other perspectives are only offered as open dialogue - things Tom would hear. As readers, we now take this situation on as Tom, and engage by thinking about whether he is right or wrong. And when readers engage with a piece, they have a better appreciation for it. When a writer starts head-hopping, they do not offer the reader a chance to engage from any one perspective, and interest is more difficult to hold onto.

Omniscient PoV is much easier to write and we see a lot of it on TV and in movies thanks to the visual medium and various scene-hopping techniques. Storytelling through writing, however, is much more intimate, and therefore requires more detailed, nuanced approaches. This does not mean you are restricted to one character exclusively; you just need to break into a new section or chapter when you introduce a new perspective. The important part is to not pass up a chance for the reader to connect with the story through one character's eyes. It's the secret to engagement.

And for those who were wondering, Tom was wrong. It was a flying squirrel.             

1 comment:

  1. Do you consider The Measure an example of head-popping?