One of the common pitfalls for novice novellists is ‘head hopping’, when the point of view changes from character to character within the same paragraph or sentence.
Many ‘how to write’ lessons offered to novice writers involve stomping, quite hard, on the practise – and for good reason. It’s often confusing to the reader, and it also breaks the flow of the narrative because, even in an ‘eye of god’ story where different characters become the narrative focus over time, that narrative has to be told in reasonable chunks.
And I guess that for writers early on the learning curve, that’s a useful way of getting into the habit of envisaging scenes from a single viewpoint.
Avoiding head-hopping is vital for first-person or third-person locked points of view – when only what the character knows can be included. But narrative viewpoint changes are sometimes a vital part of other third-person stories, or those written from ‘eye of god’ perspective, or where there might be several third-person characters, actually need them. The problem isn’t the ‘head-hopping’, it’s managing the pace of the transitions and retaining clarity of narrative.
I’ve seen novels where that has been done by discrete changes of voice – each character has their own distinctive styling.
But even in a third-person locked perspective – where there is a single narrator – it’s possible to have a character imagine what other characters might be thinking. It’s a form of recursive logic, and is a good technique for deepening the viewpoint.
Let me explain. Imagine a scene written in third-person locked – where the narrative is wholly from the viewpoint of one character. It’s perfectly feasible for that character to imagine what the other characters are thinking. That’s not head-hopping. But it could appear so, if it isn’t carefully handled.
As always, the trick to quality writing isn’t just knowing the rules – it’s knowing how to apply them, and where they can be bent for effect.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015