Head Hopping

Let’s start with a basic truism: a reader desires to merge with the point-of-view character. We participate vicariously through that person’s actions and thoughts. During the course of a scene that process deepens. If you then jump to another person’s thoughts during the scene, though, the process is truncated. The reader is confused: why am I switching away? I liked being inside that point-of-view character’s head. 

If you are just starting off as a writer, you should be concerned for a more systemic reason. Writing in the omniscient voice is, frankly, much easier than writing in the I-voice. You can report about what the characters are doing rather than telling the story from within. The head hopping is just the most obvious indicator of how far away from inhabiting the character you are. 

You should be pushing yourself. Try limiting the number of points of view within a manuscript to roughly 3-4 tops. That way you get the multiple experiences, but all are viewed through a specific character’s prism. The reader can dig in with each one, even if she doesn’t like, say, the villain’s point of view. That revulsion then forces yourself to create a villain that the reader can understand, at least on some level—one with more complexity. 

Omniscient doesn’t mean lightweight. If you look at a great novel with multiple points of view like War and Peace, you will see that you empathize with each lead character, even though flighty Natasha couldn’t be more different from philosophical Pierre. That’s the bar you should set for yourself. You won’t achieve as much depth as you would with a single protagonist, but the reader is still wading in with each one right up to his neck.

Exercise: Examine the individual scenes in your manuscript. One character should rule the proceedings. This extends not only to actual thoughts but more subtle mental states as well. For example, “She wanted to consider . . .” is an interior state. You should make sure that any act of volition from a secondary character is indicated by physical means. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.