1. Unsavory
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    Unsavory Active Member

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    Head Hopping

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Unsavory, Mar 16, 2009.

    In working on my fantasy novel, I've found myself in a difficult situation. I have read time and time again that going from one person's perspective to another is bad form, and while I can understand and agree with this philosophy to a certain degree, I feel that my novel needs to include the perspective of more than one character without completely getting into third-person omniscient point of view.

    Is it okay to switch the perspective character from time to time, particularly for different chapters? i definitely have a main character, but I don't think I can incorporate her in every scene, and when she's not there, I need someone else to follow. What kind of tactics do you use for situations such as this, and how might you advise me to solve this problem I'm having?

    Thanks so much, and I apologize if a topic like this has come up before. I did a search for "head hopping" but it didn't yield any real results.
     
  2. iolair
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    iolair Active Member

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    It's absolutely OK.

    Make sure there's a clear break when you switch from one character to another (chapter breaks are ideal).

    Try to develop a clear "voice" for each character, so the writing style seems subtly different for each one, and make it clear in the first couple of lines of each section which characters POV you're working from.

    Try to limit the number of different POVs you use. Two or three is no problem at all, but if you have many more than that it could be difficult to follow. (I've read good novels that have used, for example, seven or eight points of view, but I don't think this would be suitable for a fantasy novel).
     
  3. Dalouise
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    Dalouise Contributing Member

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    I have seen this done effectively in a number of novels, but like all things it needs to be done well. If I want to learn how to do something like this and make it work, I analyse how it has been done before and practice it a few times. I'm not quite there yet with this one though. :redface:
     
  4. Agreen
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    Agreen Faceless Man Contributor

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    Just so long as the head-hopping doesn't occur in the same scene it's fine- most fantasy novels I've read switch to different POV characters several times. If you want examples, George R. R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie and Brandon Sanderson all do this in somewhat different, but effective ways.
     
  5. lipton_lover
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    lipton_lover Contributing Member

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    I would say it's harder than just one person's perspective, but definitely possible and very interesting for the reader. I can't wait until I'm good enough to do it effectively, personally.

    One idea for you to consider if you do this, is to switch each chapter. This way the reader gets into the habit of knowing there will be a new character perspective when the new chapter starts. Also, you can have fun introducing each character this way. If at the beginning of each chapter the reader has no idea who the character is, even their name, you can introduce them naturally through dialogue and such, in a much more interesting way.
    Good luck, Nate
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Some writers can handle transitions between POVs in the same scene. Frank Herbert manages it pretty well - read Paul's gom jabbar trial for a good example.

    But most writers don't manage it as skillfully. His son tries to write in his father's style, and doesn't manage it anywhere near as well.

    You are generally best off sticking tightly to a single POV through a scener, or even a chapter, to avoid confusing the reader. The reader may not he confused at a conscious level, but his or her immerison into the scene may be weaklened by unsignalled shifts. The reader is forced to withdraw to a "popcorn POV", i.e. watching the scene play out like a movie as opposed to feeling like a present part of the scene.
     
  7. The Viendish One
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    The Viendish One Member

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    I suggest that you read Brisingr if you haven't already. That book makes EXCELLENT use of "head hopping" as you call it.

    Work on making smooth transitions from one character to another. I would switch character s in between chapters.
     
  8. g1ng3rsnap9ed
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    g1ng3rsnap9ed Contributing Member

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    Just wondering,are you writing this story in a first- or third-person narrative? That matters a lot imo, but both can be achieved if handled properly.
     
  9. -NM-
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    -NM- Active Member

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    The way i did it for my piece was i had two main characters, and before they met they had seperate chapters and so i wrote from their own perspective for each one, and then when they met one of them came to the front as the "Main" character and most of the time things were seen from her point of view, only occasionally switching over for a brief thought or emotion from the other one. I think if you try to get too many people's point of view you just end up confusing the reader.
     
  10. DimeADozenKid
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    DimeADozenKid Member

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    I write in third person, and I've noticed that I "head hop". I just make a point to concentrate on one character per scene. My chapters are full of different perspectives, but they're divided by scene breaks.
     
  11. Vayda
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    Vayda Senior Member

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    In the current project I'm working on, I head hop like MAD. Sometimes there is only a short, two or three sentence paragraph before going to another point of view. I don't know if this will stay in further drafts, because right now I'm still in the....shall we say...Idea-dumping stage. However, the feedback I've gotten from some preliminary readers is that head hopping between my seven main characters is adding something to the story. Each character's point of view is uniquely different and their voice is characteristic of them. One character, for example, is a sort of wallflower, and his narrations are more declarative, simple sentences where he says what's going on without a lot of emotion. Another character is very sensitive and tends to mention emotions and say things like "If so and so were here he would..." and still another is very much a naturalist and mentions snow-crunch sounds and breath curling and little nuances of the world around him.

    And yeah, it's a fantasy novel.

    It all depends on how you handle it - I had originally intended to fix all my pov "errors" in future drafts, but as it's reading now, I'm considering keeping it as-is. Time will tell, of course :)
     
  12. Unsavory
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    Unsavory Active Member

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    Thank you all for all the comments. I'm feeling more at ease with the situation now that I've read some of your comments, but I also realize that head hopping is delicate and can be confusing if done improperly.

    It was asked whether I was writing in 1st or 3rd, and I am writing in 3rd person, which I'm thinking will make the perspective issue easier than if it were 1st.

    I'll probably do some reading for tactful examples of how to change perspective properly, and I'll stick to my original plan. I'm almost ready to put a chapter up for review, so I'm looking forward to seeing how that goes.
     
  13. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    It's called multiple third person, and it is used often.

    Typically these types of novels only switch POV from scene to scene or from chapter to chapter. It is limited to a few POV characters. The MC gets most of the scenes.

    Dean Koontz does this a lot. Most chapters are written in the protagonist's POV, and some are written in the antagonist's POV.

    I wrote my sci-fi novel this way.
     
  14. Bongo Mongo
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    I was wondering if it would be ok to use slightly different fonts per person. The reason I want to do this is so I can make one character pop in for a few sentences every now and then.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Never depend on typography as a substitute for clear writing.
     

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