Head Hopping

Chris is writing a novel in the first person perspective and he realized while working on it, that he could not tell his story only from the main character’s viewpoint because there are scenes happening a reader needs to see but that his main character isn’t present for.  

I wrote a book with close third-person narration from the perspective of my protagonist, Roxi, and antagonist, Gerry.  I struggled to alternate perspectives in a way I hope fulfills a reader.  

This past year I read  The Numia Series where Charlie N. Holmberg uses first-person split perspectives to tell her story.  In the first book I found it annoying and unwanted because I didn’t care about or like Rone.  He was not compelling, and his chapters didn’t seem necessary.  In the third book, Rone had his own story, and I thought to myself “have I been reading his junky perspective this whole time because I’d need it in this part of the story?”

So yes, I want to talk about split perspectives.  How does a writer divide time?  How much do you need so a perspective change doesn’t feel random or lazy but thought out?  Do you need to follow a pattern like every other chapter or every other scene?  Is it hard to follow split perspectives or a good shake up? 

Some basic “rules”:

  1. Use chapters to change perspectives, the pause can help to alert readers to a change.  
  2. If one needs to change perspective mid-break use ***** or a similar line break to alert readers when they are switching perspectives aka “head hopping.”
  3. Make the two characters feel like separate people.  They have opposing views of what’s happening.  Don’t just head hop for a better angle on the action, make it a whole different take on what’s happening.  Maybe the characters are so different they don’t even agree on what’s going down in the scene.  

Now onto the tricky things: 

  1. Is it lazy to head hop?  I mean, should writers use a single voice to tell a story instead of “cheating” and using an otherwise unused perspective to give the reader information the main character doesn’t have.
  2. How often does a writer have to head hop?  Can I tell a 30 chapter story and have all the chapters be from a single perspective except for one?  
  3. Does every chapter have to change perspective?
  4. Can I change perspectives mid-series?  Using the Numia and Kingmakers’ War series here.  Could Holmberg have cut Rone’s perspectives from the first two books and only introduced it in the third book when it was relevant?

None of these questions have one simple answer, but I’d like to explore some thoughts in further posts.  Meanwhile, share your opinions.  Do you like a single or multiple perspective?  What voice(s) do you write in and does it line up with your taste in reading?

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