Head Hopping

POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Head Hopping

By Nandy Ekle

Head hopping is technical jargon for writers. This is when the writer tells you what everyone is thinking and doing instead of sticking with one character. I’ve seen it work when used by a certain master novel writer, but most of the time it’s frowned upon by readers. The accepted rules are to change chapters if you must hop to another head, or you can show the needed information in dialogue, in body language, or by the actions and appearances of the different characters.

Another way to show your reader what all the other characters may be thinking and why is perception of your main character. And this method can be a delicious plot twist tool. I’ve seen this used more times than I can count, and when I recognize it, I usually fall in love with the author.

There’s the typical love story where the conflict is due to one character misperceiving the other character, which leads to heartache, which leads to either happily ever after or sadder buy wiser.

And then there’s the typical mystery. The bad guy can actually be hidden this way. He will be able to hide right out in the open if the other characters think he’s just another good guy standing around wondering who the bad guy is, when it’s him all along.

And, of course, this method is king in comedies. Some of the funniest stories in the world are built around a gross misperception. I know you’ve read and seen this happen, even in real life. One person gives his opinion on a subject. Another person walks in in the middle of the conversation and thinks the subject is one thing, when it’s actually something complete different, something so totally random that the audience is left wondering how could the misunderstanding have happened. After that, the whole story centers around each character acting upon what they believe the other has inferred.

But another interesting fact is when this is used on the reader. Now, we never ever want to lie to our readers. But if we make a statement, our readers are free to interpret it the way they want. So, if tell you “Jim walked in quietly with his white hat covering his head,” you might think Jim is cowboy,an introvert with a good sense of morals, and his hair is blond. However, you might not know he’s wearing a white baseball cap because he’s bald under the hat, and he’s quiet because he’s barely awake after spending a night killing his date.

Next week I’ll talk about the different points of view and why we might choose the POV we choose.

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