Another Common Mistake: Head-hopping

If you decide to use the omniscient third-person narrator (you all know I am less of a fan of this, and prefer the character viewpoint) you still need to remember this:

Head-hopping midscene is a real no no and throws the reader about too much. While this is a common problem with character viewpoints it also crops up with those who opt for the third-person omniscient. Because writers want to show the thoughts of all the characters in a scene, they will hop into the direct thoughts and feelings of one character, in their voice and then hop into the head of another character and assume their voice. Not only do you have to move between characters with great care, so the focus isn’t lost, you also need to remember if you opt for this kind of narrator, then it has to stay in the narrator’s voice.

So for example, you can comment as the narrator on the thoughts of a character like this: Billy stood and watched; thought how crazy the world was becoming. How he’d never work it all out. A glass of wine always made him think like that. See how this is the narrator showing you Billy’s thoughts.

In a character viewpoint you could still have this, but you can go deeper: Billy stood and watched. It was crazy. Nuts. The world was going insane and no way he was gonna work it out. It was the damn wine again, always made him think too deeply. See how here we don’t hear the narrator’s voice but the character.

So using the third-person omniscient and the first example, in the narrator’s voice, if you were to then bring in George you might do this:

Billy stood and watched; thought how crazy the world was becoming. How he’d never work it all out. A glass of wine always made him think like that. George watched him, hands buried into the pockets of his cardigan. He hated to see Billy looking so worried, thought how sad he looked when he drank wine.

Personally I don’t like moving between heads, but the all-seeing narrator can, so long as you stay in the head of the narrator.

If you’d done what you did in the second example with switching into Billy’s voice and then we hear George’s, you are confusing the reader and this is why you never head-hop in a character viewpoint scene.

Billy stood and watched. It was crazy. Nuts. The world was going insane and no way he was gonna work it out. It was the damn wine again, always made him think too deeply. George watched him, hands buried into the pockets of his cardigan. Poor Billy. Poor poor sod. Never could handle is wine, could he? Like how many times had he seen him get like this? Like how many bleedin’ times?

See how we hear slightly different voices, first Billy and then George. NO. DON’T HEAD-HOP. Don’t do it with character viewpoint narrators. You need to format for point of view changes and make sure they’re justified, so with chapter preferably, with scene at the very least.

With the omniscient narrator where you know all and have the license to show all thoughts if you wish, it has to stay in the words and the style of the impartial narrator.

Here endeth the insight for this morning.

headhopping

 

 

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