by Stephen Woodfin)
I never heard the term head-hopping until a year or so ago when I saw it in a blog about writing.
If you are unfamiliar with the term, I would tell you that head-hopping is the in way of saying changing point of view without rhyme or reason. A writer is going along describing things from one character’s point of view and the next thing you know she’s hopped into another character’s head.
The common wisdom is that head-hopping is a big no-no.
I understand the sentiment.
One of the pieces of the writing craft to which I am devoted now is consistency of point of view, at least on the level of individual scenes, which I believe brings greater power and clarity to writing.
It puts the reader in the shoes of the character who is on stage and limits the reader to the character’s view of the happenings.
If the character can’t see it or know it, the author can’t write it.
I’m with you on that.
The question I have, however, is more historical than technical.
Who said writers shouldn’t head-hop?
Take this scene from a wildly popular book.
And the Lord sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor.
The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds:
But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.
And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.
And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die:
And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.
And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man.
I’ll give you hint.
What’s your point, Steve, you may ask?
Well, as I understand it, head-hopping occurred when the passage shifted from Nathan’s story to King David’s reaction.
And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man.
To prevent head-hopping the writer of this passage would have written:
“And Nathan saw King David’s face turn red and figured he was mad about something.”
I like the original version better.
That’s not fair, you say.
You can’t quote the Bible and say its language gives us any guidance about fiction writing in the twenty-first century, in the new world of digital publishing, in the genre-fiction-trumps-all world.
Yeah. I can.
When our current genre fiction has remained popular for three thousand years or so, head-hop back on over and we’ll talk about it.
*Blogger's note: I did not know that is what it was called. Can you remember a book where you noticed head hopping a lot? And did you understand who was saying what or were you confused?