The truth about head-hopping

narrator point of view Jul 06, 2022

Writing in the third person raises complicated feelings in some writers! There are just so many possibilities.

Some writers cling to the side of the pool and write in third while sticking closely to a single viewpoint character. They toggle in and out of that character’s head, and that’s as far as they’re willing to go. 

This is called writing in close third (also sometimes called limited third). It’s a good and necessary thing to know how to do, but if that’s all there is on the page, it’s sometimes a sign of that a writer lacks either the craft or nerve to venture into the deeper expressive waters of third person POV. 

And then there are the daredevils! Into the deep end of third person they dive. Every character is a viewpoint character! With “omniscient!” as their battle cry, they zip freely from the inside of one character’s head to the inside of another. In between, they offer all kinds of description, backstory, and interpretations, but we readers are not always sure who’s telling us all this stuff. 

This latter, freewheeling approach is often flagged as an error, and its pejorative nickname is “head-hopping.” It’s confusing to the reader, we are told. Don’t do it. 

But wait a minute, these boldly head-hopping writers say. Isn't that the whole point of writing in third? If we're not omniscient and able to switch viewpoint characters, why bother with third at all?

Personally, I love writing in third person, and I like to take it out for a spin when I do.

So what are the rules, here? Is head-hopping always wrong? If not, what is the “right” way to do it?  That’s the subject of this livestream. 

Good writing is my jam! Put me on the mailing list, please.


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