Thursday, October 24, 2013

Telling a story: The so called Head-hopping

The more I learn about writing, the more I dislike the rules people are giving. One of the reason why I dislike those rules is that they are often contradictory from one writer to another, confusing and at best ready to be broken.

I want to talk about something that a lot of writers look upon with disgust while others, like me, like to embrace it, to give another dimension to the story. I'm going to talk about "head-hopping."

First let me define what is Head-hopping

When writing a story, writers chose a point of view to tell it. It can be the first person, the third person restricted to a character or the third person omniscient or what we would call head-hopping. Head-hopping, the topic of today consist in changing point of view to feed the need of your story.
Choosing a point of view is a very important step when deciding to write a story and so is changing it during the story.

The main complains of the one who don't like "head-hopping" are as follows,

1) It's confusing
 2) You don't know in who's head you are
 3) You need to share too many feelings
 4) The reader can't relate to the character
 5) The reader wont care/bond about the characters

If those concerns are louable and might make sense, it is very unclear what the experience of the reader will actually be like with or without head-hopping.
Image from Hyberbole and a Half
As a reader I have to say that I personally don't stop at every sentence to ask myself in which character's head I am and what is the point of view. I believe that the writer is actually giving me the information for a reason, that's his job to analyse, not mine. For a personal experience, I have to say that there is only one time when the change of point of view actually annoyed me. It was in "Red Mars", I read about 60 pages in mostly Maya's point of view and at the next chapter it changes suddenly to Nadia's point of view, while calling her "she" first for a while. At that time I truly believed that I was still with Maya. I remember asking myself where the hell is Maya, who is that. I closed the book and gave myself few days to get back. That kind of change of POV is apparently acceptable because it's "clear", well I would have highly prefered a smooth transition even if I got used to Nadia and maybe even liked her better as her personality is closer to mine. 

Here are the reason why I like the "head-hopping."

 1) More flexibility: when dealing with a group of character, it's very easy to have from time to time a character with a more appropriate POV. It is way more efficient to tell epic stories with complicated plots and subplots involving a lot of characters. (You must remember that I like having a lot of characters in my stories.)
Image from Hyberbole and a Half
 2) Staying with the action even when a character leaves: You can look at it in the same way you would have a conversation with several people but at some point the conversation split in two groups and you need to decide which one to follow. I
 3) Your characters are talking to you for a reason: Writers often say that the characters are talking to them. If a character tells you how he feels at a particular moment maybe it's a good idea to give him/her some attention.
 4) It makes the narrator more reliable. Being with only one character at a time of intense emotion is very difficult for the reader as well as because as a person they are able to catch the emotions of others. By letting the point of view change you give your reader a more accurate version of what everyone feels.
 5) The thoughts verb use against head-hopping. Thought verbs are something that I tend to avoid because it falls in the category of telling instead of showing.  is really bad because it makes your character do assumption on others behavior and mislead the reader, it makes the narrator unreliable. It gives him a self centered personality like everything is about him.

Here are few posts by others about change of POV:

3 Tips for Using Mulitple Point of View Characters
The Rules of Writing: Switching POV, or “Head-Hopping”
Head hopping done right
What Makes Omniscient POV Different from Head-Hopping?

 These are of course no restrictive. 
Just a warning when you read blog posts with rules, the writers tend to write the example with the broken rules badly so that it actually defies the point of the all post in my opinion. 


The only thing I would recommend if you are confused about your writing point of view and if you are doing it "right" is to grab few of your favorite novels and see how they do it in there. Frank Herbert, Hemingway and Stephen King can go with Head-hopping, well I think I'm good to stick with it.

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1 comment:

  1. I'm in complete agreement with you. In my current WIP there are two POVs and both are narrated in first person historic present. It's tricky to write but so much fun :-)