When Headhopping Goes Wrong

Some writers want to express every single detail of what their characters are thinking and feeling. They want it revealed all at once in every single scene. It’s called headhopping when this writing style is implemented.

They hope that the readers will care for their characters this way, but sometimes the readers actually get lost and unmotivated to continue reading. Instead of the story being engaging, it just becomes confusing.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers said it best, “Readers need some time to settle into a given emotional state, so when you move quickly from one passion-charged head to another, you’re likely to leave your readers behind. They’ll know what your various characters are feeling, but they won’t have time to feel like any of the characters. And that kind of emotional connection is exactly what you’re after.”

I teach a 10-week creative writing course, and during point-of-view week, my student Lyle said it best when he explained that headhopping was like when a person walks into a room and all of a sudden, several people start talking at once. It’s hard for that person to concentrate on what they’re saying–it’s hard to pick out the important parts–because he’s bombarded and confused. Once he yells, “One at a time”, he clearly understands what everyone says. They each calmly speak, and he gets all the different perspectives in a clear way. If people are patient and wait their turn, then it’s all good.

Now, the stories I read back in the day had headhopping (and I don’t mean self-published books; I mean books on shelves at the library or bookstore), so I assumed it was the right way to write for third person point-of-view. I’m used to writing in first person point-of-view.

I didn’t learn that I was wrong until I lurked on Absolute Write and read the discussion about this issue. Some authors were saying it was flat out wrong while some were arguing that its an acceptable way if done right, giving examples of Nicholas Sparks and Nora Roberts.

  • I’ll stick with using no headhopping ever again because I find that a scene can be more engaging if it just focuses on one character. Tension can be built especially if the character perceives something inaccurately. The readers will get to see that in a later scene or chapter while the character remains clueless.

For all the readers out there, do you mind reading scenes with headhopping all over the place? Writers can debate this topic all day long, but ultimately it’s up to the readers because they’re the consumers and more willing to buy your book. They call the shots hee hee.

Keep smiling,

Yawatta Hosby