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EDIT TIP: Head-Hopping Gives Readers Whiplash

Updated: Aug 7

Who is telling the story? Moving from one point of view (POV) to the other and back again is often referred to as head-hopping. As an editor, I’ll mark “whip lash” to remind the author they have unexpectedly changed POV. Some writers try to pass their narration off as Omniscient POV, all seeing, all knowing. Few writers can pull it off without much practice, and then their writing lacks clarity. Try as we might, not everyone can nail omniscient narration like Jane Austen. I encourage new writers to focus their writing in Third Person Limited (pronouns: he, she, his, her) as they hone their craft.

Understanding who is telling the story strengthens or weakens the connection to the reader. A reader wants to immerse themself in the POV, follow the story, and understand the plot without being jarred from one voice to another. Consider writing the entire novel from one character’s perspective, whether it’s first person or third person limited, to fully engage in what that character sees, feels, understands, and doesn’t understand… That can lend much toward authenticity. To show a contradictory point of view and create tension, change the voice in a new chapter or a scene break so the reader is given notice of your intent.

First Person narration creates the greatest intimacy between reader and character. The character is inherently biased. It’s pretty easy to write from this POV. But know all the exposition is also told from this one single POV, limited to only what the narrator knows. First Person: My sister made not the slightest objection, and the pianoforte was opened; after a few moments, I was sorry to hear her exhibit and could feel the heat rise to my cheeks.

Third Person Limited only reveals what the one character sees, feels; the writer employs a distinctive voice unlike any of the other characters. Similar intimacy to first POV, the reader learns the information as the main character does, but the writer must remember to only reveal what the main character knows. Third Person Limited: His sister made not the slightest objection to play her new music, and the pianoforte was opened. After a few notes, Darcy could feel the heat rise to his cheeks.

Third Person Omniscient allows the narrator to reveal anything about anyone at any time. The author can fall into a pitfall like head-hopping, and this technique also lessens the intimacy between the reader and the character if the reader knows everything all the time. Omniscient: His sister made not the slightest objection, excited to exhibit her newest music, and the pianoforte was opened. After a few notes, Darcy’s cheeks pinked in embarrassment.

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