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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Writing Tip Wednesday--Headhopping vs. Transitions

You've chosen to write your manuscript in third-person POV, using your two main characters to show the story. Just as the book is divided into chapters and chapters are split into scenes, the scenes are divided by scene breaks.

What happens if you want to change point of view within a scene??? Should you simply jump from one character's head into the other's and back again?

This is one of the most common problems I see when judging contest entries. Jumping from one POV to another POV and back again over and over in a single scene is called headhopping. Not only does the reader get confused from trying to figure out which character is in charge of the scene, any good editor/critique partner/contest judge will insist on a rewrite to fix the problem.

Here's an example of headhopping (*** denotes new paragraph since Blogger won't let me indent):

***Jane sprinkled the crushed leaves into the bowl of stew, glancing toward the great hall to be sure she wasn't caught trying to poison her captor. She didn't intend to kill him, only send him to the privy for a few hours. Then she'd have a chance to escape.
***From his hiding place outside, Callum peered into the window, shaking his head at his prisoner's ingenuity. She was trying to kill him.
***Not one to beat bushes, he strode into the kitchen. "What didya put in meh stew, lass?"
***Jane's heart leapt to her throat at the sudden appearance of her victim. "Why...just a bit of...seasoning, my lord."
***Would he believe her lie?
***Callum snorted and pointed to the bowl. He didn't trust her any more than he did the bloody King of England. "Laird, not lord. And I dunna like too much seasonin'. Taste it."
***"Oh, dear. I'm feeling a bit ill." Pretending to loose her balance, Jane shoved the stew off the table and onto the floor.


The scene switches from Jane's POV in the first paragraph to Callum's in the second and third. In the fourth and fifth, we're back to Jane, and then to Callum in the sixth, and finally we end with Jane. Did I give you whiplash???

Here's the same scene--rewritten to include a POV transition instead of headhopping:

***Jane sprinkled the crushed leaves into the bowl of stew, glancing toward the great hall to be sure she wasn't caught trying to poison her captor. She didn't intend to kill him, only send him to the privy for a few hours. Then she'd have a chance to escape.
***Heavy footsteps came from behind her, and the sudden appearance of her victim sent her heart leaping to her throat.
***The tall, broad Scot narrowed his eyes at her. "What didya put in meh stew, lass?"
***"Why...just a bit of...seasoning, my lord."
***Would he believe her lie?

***Callum snorted and pointed to the bowl. He didn't trust his visitor any more than he did the bloody King of England. "Laird, not lord. And I dunna like too much seasonin'. Taste it."
***"Oh, dear. I'm feeling a bit ill." The color drained from Jane's flushed face. Reaching for the table, she conveniently shoved the stew onto the floor.


Each character has his/her own section of the scene. I've double-spaced to show the transition from her point of view to his, but this can be done without the extra spacing. Some publishers prefer a POV break (either extra space or *** like a scene break) to an uninterrupted continuation of the scene. In any case, the transition should be clear, with no doubt about who the POV character is.

Next week, we'll take a look at POV glitches! Until then--Write, write, write!!!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

2 comments:

  1. Great post, Mellanie! 'No Headhopping' is one of the most important lessons a for new writers to learn. You've made the identification of the problem and solution very easy to understand and apply. Awesome job, as always! :)

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    1. Thanks, GaryLuvr! Glad you're enjoying the tips :)

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