Head-Hopping Hurts Readers’ Heads

Even in our fast-paced digital age, readers are still looking for stories that encourage, engage, and entertain them in the midst of a changing world. What makes a good story hasn’t changed, and on the flip side, what ruins a good story hasn’t changed, either.

In this series of three articles, I will focus on the three main problems I see with novel manuscripts from my day-to-day work as an editor, which will hopefully give you some food for thought when it comes to not only self-editing your story, but also writing it as well.

PITFALL NUMBER 1: ABRUPT POV JUMPS (AKA HEAD-HOPPING)

Take a look at this piece of prose:

“Would you like to sit down, Sammy?” Mary asked. She really hoped he didn’t, but politeness came first, after all.

Sammy looked at her, trying to read her intentions and wondering if she wanted him anywhere near her.

“Sammy?” she said. Now she felt butterflies in her stomach. Why wasn’t he answering?

“Oh! Sammy!” Nora said, bursting through the kitchen doorway. “When did you get here?” she asked as she remembered that she never took off her dirty apron after baking cookies.

“Uh, I … Uh …” Sammy said. That did it. He could barely think of hanging around with just Mary, but Nora, too? No way. “I … um, I need to be going. Bye.”

Okay, so that seems like some decent writing, right? Punctuation looks good. Grammar (at least for fiction) is solid. Even sounds like an interesting scene with some obvious tension and lively characters. So what’s the issue?

Answer: Abrupt jumps in point of view (POV)—head-hopping.

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