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Head Hopping

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Head Hopping

Postby glorybee » Sat Apr 09, 2016 9:07 am

Before I start in with this lesson, I have three brief paragraphs for you to read. These are excerpted and slightly modified from one of my recent challenge entries; for background, Joelle is a new foster child, Lynn is her foster mother, Chuck is the husband, and Kelsey is their biological daughter.
***
Lynn watched carefully as they started playing the game. Joelle stayed in her own universe for the first few turns; Kelsey popped the bubble for her and moved her little yellow pegs, keeping up an optimistic narrative. “See, Joelle? You just gotta get around the board, and then you go up this thing, and then you’re home, see? And when you get all four of ‘em home, you win! You try it, it’s fun!” Lynn finally let out a deep breath when something about Kelsey’s enthusiastic description finally registered. After several rounds, Joelle reached out and popped the plastic bubble herself, moving her peg the correct number of spaces.

Chuck and Lynn exchanged glances. Chuck really hoped this was a breakthrough. Now what do I do? He had a sudden urge to go read the foster parents’ manual again. Chapter 7: How Not to Totally Blow It When You Finally Make Some Progress. Unwilling to startle Joelle with his excitement, Chuck just said, “All right, then.”

A few turns later, Lynn popped a three. “Uh-oh, Joelle,” she said. Her throat was tight from the strain of desperate wishing, but she tried to make her voice light and fun. “I’m going to land on you. You have to go back to start.”

***
If you read the title of this lesson, or if you’re an astute reader, you’ll see what the problem is with those three paragraphs. The first paragraph establishes Lynn as the POV character of this story. The 3rd person narrator is occupying Lynn’s head, and can only report what Lynn knows, perceives, or infers. However, the second paragraph hops into Chuck’s head, showing us his feelings about Joelle’s participation in the game. Then in the final paragraph, we’re back in Lynn’s head. If you didn’t catch that the first time, go through and re-read it, and try to see where the ‘head hopping’ occurs.

The POV style in which only one character’s perceptions are known is called 3rd person limited, and it is the default POV of the great majority of contemporary 3rd person writing, and is generally preferred by contemporary publishers and readers. Another POV—3rd person omniscient—was preferred in times past.

3rd person limited POV is the POV that makes the most sense for the Writing Challenge, and is the one that’s most likely to be viewed favorably by the judges. After all, in only 750 words, you really only have room to fully occupy one character’s head. When you hop from character to character in such a short piece of fiction, you run the risk of not fully developing any of the characters. Choose the one who is most fully invested in the events of the story, or who will be most changed by what happens—that’s your POV character. In my story above, both Chuck and Lynn had an equal investment in their little foster child, so I just picked one; in this case, since I’ve been a mother, it felt more natural for me to write it from a mother’s viewpoint.

There might be times when you really need to fill the reader in on something that happens when the POV character is not ‘on stage.’ If that’s the case, one easy solution in tiny fiction like the Writing Challenge is to set aside the section that’s written in another POV with three asterisks. In longer fiction—a novel, for example—some writers give each POV character their own chapter or their own section within the chapter. For the challenge, I’d advise you against doing this too often—one switch is probably enough, and make sure that you signal it to your reader. Don’t do it like I did in the example at the beginning of this lesson. If it’s a matter of exposition—setting the scene or reporting on events that happened before the events of your story—an opening written in an omniscient POV could work (as in the epic novels of James Michener).

I looked through my old challenge entries for an example of an entry that switches POV in an acceptable way, but I couldn’t find one—maybe someone will leave one in the comments.

To summarize:

1. 3rd person limited POV is a good choice for the Writing Challenge and for contemporary fiction.

2. When writing in 3rd person limited POV, choose one character, and stick to narrating only what that character thinks, perceives, or infers.

3. Be careful not to hop into the heads of any other characters. Report their actions or behaviors as they’re observed by the POV character.

4. If it’s absolutely necessary to report something that happens when the POV character isn’t around to observe it, signal your reader, and give that event its own section.

I haven’t been giving ‘homework’ assignments recently, as they’ve gotten very little response. However, if you’d like to try something, re-write that second paragraph from the opening story, but stay in Lynn’s POV. I'd be happy to comment on your revision if you post it here.

Questions or comments about ‘head-hopping?’ I’d love to hear them.
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Re: Head Hopping

Postby itsjoanne » Sat Apr 09, 2016 10:21 am

I found one for ya, Jan. (Maybe too much POV shift, but it was definitely done to make a point)
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=16737 (I also probably should have made the names less similar, as it is hard to follow who is who, I think - though I probably did THAT to make a point too LOL Oh, how I have grown!).

Just one comment to add - if you are writing romance (especially full-length romance novels or novellas), the most acceptable/common POV is also third person limited - but you often tell alternating scenes or chapters from two different points of view - the woman and the man.

Great lesson, Jan. And thanks :)

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Re: Head Hopping

Postby Allison » Sat Apr 09, 2016 12:12 pm

As you said, with third person, third person limited works best for the challenge due to limited word count. For me, 3rd person omniscient, where you hope from person to person, only works really well in fantasy/sci-fi. In fantasy and sci-fi, you are creating an entirely new world, and the only way to fully immerse people in your new world is to let people see a bit of it from various characters.

Homework:

original wrote:Chuck and Lynn exchanged glances. Chuck really hoped this was a breakthrough. Now what do I do? He had a sudden urge to go read the foster parents’ manual again. Chapter 7: How Not to Totally Blow It When You Finally Make Some Progress. Unwilling to startle Joelle with his excitement, Chuck just said, “All right, then.”


My new paragraph:

Lynn glanced at her husband, who had been watching the exchange. His expression conveyed everything she was thinking. Was this the breakthrough they were hoping for? What this really progress, or was it a one time fluke? Although they had been given a guide when they became foster parents, there is no real instruction booklet when it comes to raising kids. She turned her attention back to the game. "Great job, Joelle!" She hoped her voice didn't give away her uncertainty.
Last edited by Allison on Sat Apr 09, 2016 1:28 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Head Hopping

Postby glorybee » Sat Apr 09, 2016 12:24 pm

Thanks, Joanne and Allison!

Allison, your revised paragraph is excellent. No suggestions for improvement here.
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Re: Head Hopping

Postby lish1936 » Sat Apr 09, 2016 3:24 pm

Jan, I'm remembering a Challenge piece that I wrote where the idea of "head hopping" was first brought to my attention in a critique comment. Your term wasn't used, but I think it applies.

When I got into the head of one of my characters (Tory), I prefaced it with, "perhaps he was thinking..." Is this phrase skirting the issue and unacceptable or acceptable?


"My hunk of joy kept walking and I kept smiling, hoping to see in him what I could not always see in myself – a willingness to get up and start over again. Sometimes he tottered on the brink of “bottoming” out, but he never let go of that Mickey Mouse grin.

He’d almost made it, when confidence got the better of him.
Perhaps, he was thinking:

Hey, this isn’t so bad after all. Let me try going faster. Right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot..."



Thanks,

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Re: Head Hopping

Postby glorybee » Sat Apr 09, 2016 3:27 pm

Lillian, I feel like I need more, to determine the context and the POV character. Can you post a link to this story? I'll be happy to give a comment once I've read the whole thing.
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Re: Head Hopping

Postby lish1936 » Sat Apr 09, 2016 4:05 pm

Jan, I was reluctant to post the link because I didn't feel comfortable revealing who wrote the comment. If it's okay with you, I could send you a PM, and then you can post (for the benefit of others) your comments here; after you've reviewed the piece.

Thanks,

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I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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Re: Head Hopping

Postby glorybee » Sat Apr 09, 2016 4:12 pm

That's fine.
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Re: Head Hopping

Postby glorybee » Sat Apr 09, 2016 5:24 pm

lish1936 wrote:"My hunk of joy kept walking and I kept smiling, hoping to see in him what I could not always see in myself – a willingness to get up and start over again. Sometimes he tottered on the brink of “bottoming” out, but he never let go of that Mickey Mouse grin.

He’d almost made it, when confidence got the better of him.
Perhaps, he was thinking:

Hey, this isn’t so bad after all. Let me try going faster. Right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot..."





Lillian, by adding the speculation (Perhaps, he was thinking...), you've kept this firmly in the POV of the narrator. Even later on, in the part that isn't excerpted here, you have the baby's thoughts, but it's obvious that those are also speculated thoughts.

You handled that quite beautifully, in fact.
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Re: Head Hopping

Postby lish1936 » Sat Apr 09, 2016 5:43 pm

Jan wrote:Lillian, by adding the speculation (Perhaps, he was thinking...), you've kept this firmly in the POV of the narrator.


Great! So to recap...It's okay to use speculation (when appropriate), in addition to the asterisk solution, to avoid falling into the "head hopping" trap?

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Re: Head Hopping

Postby glorybee » Sat Apr 09, 2016 5:58 pm

Yes, but I'm not sure I was quite clear, because the speculation does the exact opposite of what the asterisks do. When you speculate (or infer), you keep the POV firmly in the head of your POV character. When you use asterisks, it's for the purpose of switching to a different POV character. Let me see if I can give you short examples of both:
***
Jan's eyes followed Ben as he walked from the refrigerator to the couch with a pint of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, her favorite. Well, that's just mean, she thought. She glared at him while he ate each spoonful, but he seemed oblivious. The look on his face might as well have said, 'Well, I'm not the one on a diet.'
***
In the above paragraph, I've used the word 'seemed' and the phrase 'might as well have said' to point out that Jan is inferring Ben's emotions and his intent.

On the other hand...

Jan's eyes followed Ben as he walked from the refrigerator to the couch with a pint of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, her favorite. Well, that's just mean, she thought. She glared at him while he ate each spoonful.
***
Ben was oblivious to Jan's ire until he saw the look on her face. He took another spoonful and held it in the air, as if in a toast, before popping it into his mouth. She made a disgusted noise, but Ben just laughed. Well, he thought, I'm not the one on a diet.

Obviously, that's a very brief example--in a longer work, each new POV would have more than just a few sentences. It's not usually worth the trouble and resulting confusion to be switching POVs every few sentences or so.

How'd I do this time?
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Re: Head Hopping

Postby lish1936 » Sat Apr 09, 2016 6:50 pm

Jan wrote:How'd I do this time?


Got it. It seems less likely to head hop when you use the "as if's" or "seem to say."

Thanks, again.


Lillian
Last edited by lish1936 on Sat Apr 09, 2016 8:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.
E-Book - Retirement Lane - How to Celebrate Life After 60

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I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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Re: Head Hopping

Postby Allison » Sat Apr 09, 2016 8:06 pm

lish1936 wrote:
How'd I do this time?


Got it. It seems less likely to head hop when you use the "as if's" or "seem to say."

Thanks, again.


Lillian


Exactly. Because, to use Jan's first example, it's not really Ben's thoughts. It's Jan's thoughts about what Ben MIGHT be thinking. Everything is still Jan's thoughts.
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Re: Head Hopping

Postby CatLin » Thu Apr 14, 2016 7:15 pm

Hi Jan - I appreciate this lesson. I fought against sticking to one POV I first started writing at FW - it was new to me. And I actually liked how you shifted POV's in your story. You made it very clear who's head you were in, and the non-professional in me doesn't see a problem. However, I've done my best to learn this important part of the craft of writing and follow it. :)

I like how Allison re-wrote your middle paragraph. That's pretty much how I had it pre-written in my head, except I would have left the dialog the father's. She could hear him say it. I like his line.

Before Lynne could phrase a calm comment, Chuck simply said, “All right, then.”
(or something like that.)

This story I wrote for the Christmas quarter came to mind. The first half is told from one POV, and the second half from another. I separated the two with an asterisk break, but many commenters said the POV wasn't clear at first. They all said they liked it after they figured it out. The judges didn't appreciate it, though - it didn't place in the top 40.

(YOU, on the other hand, said you weren't confused and you loved. it :) )

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Re: Head Hopping

Postby glorybee » Thu Apr 14, 2016 7:57 pm

Cat, I stand by my original comments. :D

Switching POVs is a little bit trickier when you're writing in 1st person, because you don't have a narrator giving your POV character a name. That may be why your readers were having a hard time following your story--both of your narrators were "I." (I thought about covering 1st person POVs in the lesson, but it was already a bit too long.)

So if you do this little trick again, you might want to think of a way that you can have your POV characters identify themselves very early in their respective narratives, and that will help your readers.
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