It is distracting and cheapens the writing. That doesn’t mean I don’t like hearing what other characters are thinking. There’s just a way to do that correctly. As a reader, I love the way writers are experimenting with point of view and are trying a number of new, previously unorthodox things.
Here’s an example. Years ago when I wrote an early version of the e-Murderer, I thought I’d write the book in the first-person from my protagonist’s point of view. But, at the end of each chapter, I included a third-person point of view from the mind of the killer. Not much, just enough to add creepy suspense.
I did this and sent the book out for consideration. It came back with the note that I must decide to either write in the first person point-of-view or the third. I couldn’t use the format I described above. Reluctantly, I took out those bits from the murderer’s mind. Many edits later, I wished I’d saved them. Those snippets gave me more insight into the mind of the killer. Furthermore, many writers are doing what I’d wanted to do all those years ago. Liane Moriarty, for example, tests the reader’s attention by adding bits at the end of chapters or at the beginning (depending on the book) from different perspectives. The chapter progress, however, moves linearly. Very clever.
Writers must stay in the character’s mind throughout a scene or a chapter. If the writer hops from one character’s head to another from paragraph to paragraph or sentence to sentence, it is unacceptable in today’s writing worlds. Here’s an example of what not to do: He loved to drink red wine while eating, but he sensed her disapproval. Just as he took a sip, she frowned. Why must he always have wine with dinner? she thinks. Notice how we began in his mind and then moved to hers. Anytime a writer does this, he or she is head hopping.
If you write in the first person, you can only allow the reader to hear that character’s thoughts. Furthermore, what is learned in the story can only be detected by the first-person character. In other words, I can’t experience something unless I’m there or I hear it from someone else. The writer, therefore, must think of clever ways to get information to his/her main character.
If you write in the third person, you have the same restrictions as if you were writing in the first person. The difference is, there’s a bit more leeway. The he or she of your story can only think their own thoughts. They can’t jump into someone else’s head. But, it’s easier to go from one character’s head to another in different scenes or chapters. It is in this point-of-view (third person) that I see the most mistakes with head hopping. Here is where the writer must be especially cautious. For example, if you are describing the character’s appearance, you must do it in a way that character thinks. Not what everyone else may think about that character. You cannot say, “She had beautiful hair that shimmered in the sunlight” if you are in that person’s head. You could say, “She hoped her hair might shimmer in the sunlight and attract his attention.”
The omnipresent point-of-view is passed. There was a time when most books were written in the omnipresent point-of-view–that is the author talking to the reader. In today’s writing world, this convention has disappeared. Readers no longer want to hear what the author has to say. Instead, they want the author to show us through the characters.
In my next post, I’ll share some creative uses of point-of-view by some of today’s best authors.