Head-Hopping

What you’ll learn:

  • What is a viewpoint character?
  • What is head-hopping?
  • How can you fix head-hopping?

Have you been told by an editor or your beta readers that you are ‘head-hopping’? Has your editor indicated that you need better “transitions between points of view”? 

If so, we’ll help you on your way to a head-hopping-free manuscript! 

The viewpoint character is from whose lens the story is being told or through whose eyes we are watching the story unfold. 

If your scene or chapter is written in first person, the viewpoint character is easy to spot: It’s the “I” character. 

If you’re telling your story in third person (Jane/John, they, he/she/them), it can get a bit messier.

When writing from a viewpoint character, you are portraying the scene through that character’s five senses: what they can see, taste, smell, touch, or hear. You can also get into their thoughts and how they respond or react to things. Viewpoint characters have their own personality; they speak certain ways or use certain words. The viewpoint character can see or hear other characters. 

Jane hesitated slightly before pushing open the boardroom door. All eyes were on her. She could feel her heart begin to race and the all-too-familiar flush of her cheeks. Surely John was too professional to tell anyone. These were his buddies, she knew. She took a deep breath and mustered up all the confidence she could. “Good morning, gentlemen.”

We cued the reader that Jane is the viewpoint character. She touched the door. She can see everyone looking at her. She can feel her own nervous reaction. She knows the secret she’s trying to keep. As a reader, you can relate to her anxiousness.

Head-hopping happens when you unintentionally have more than one viewpoint character’s perspective in one sentence, paragraph, or scene. (It can also refer to switching between first person and third person point of view.) 

Jane hesitated slightly before pushing open the boardroom door. All eyes were on her. She could feel her heart begin to race and the all-too-familiar flush of her cheeks. Surely John was too professional to tell anyone. These were his buddies, she knew.

John thought he heard her sigh as she walked through the room. She was probably thinking about the amazing night they’d just spent together. 

She took a deep breath and mustered up all the confidence she could. “Good morning, gentlemen.”

Head-hopping confuses your reader. In the passage above, we were initially drawn into what Jane was experiencing in the first paragraph. In the second paragraph, we experienced an abrupt switch to John as the viewpoint character. Jane wouldn’t know what John could hear or what he was thinking. We pop back into Jane’s head again in the third paragraph. As the writer, you’re now going to have to work harder to get the reader re-engaged with Jane’s character. If you do this too many times, you could lose your reader entirely. Head-hopping is one of the biggest ‘tells’ of an inexperienced writer.

Head-hopping is typically addressed during a developmental edit. However, this is a step many authors skip. Copyeditors don’t always mention head-hopping or provide you with solutions. They are typically more focused on grammar, punctuation, and spelling. If head-hopping issues are apparent in a sample edit, your quote for copyediting might be higher than you anticipated.

Tips to Fix Head-Hopping 

Head-hopping is easy to fix once you understand the basics. 

  • Unless you are an uber-experienced writer, it is easiest to keep to one viewpoint character per chapter. You can cue your readers about viewpoint character changes between scenes, but don’t change viewpoint characters within paragraphs!
  • Identify who the viewpoint character is in each chapter, scene, and paragraph. You could unintentionally be giving headspace to the wrong character. It happens.
  • Read through your paragraphs, scenes, and chapters to see whose eyes you’re telling the story through. Ask yourself: Would that viewpoint character be able to see, touch, hear, smell, or touch whatever I’m talking about?
  • Consider whether you really need to have multiple viewpoint characters in a scene or chapter. Can you tell the story through a single character’s lens? 
  • If you need to use more than one viewpoint character within a chapter, do it in a new scene, and be sure to cue your reader with some type of transition. You can use the new viewpoint character’s name or use typography markers such as an added line break or dinkus (***).

Character Development

What you’ll learn:

  • What is character development?
  • How can you make your characters grow?
  • Why is character development so important?

Are your characters one-dimensional? Maybe they refuse to grow in the way you had wished? Or perhaps you just need to understand character development at its core? 

If so, we’ll help you to create your most well-rounded, natural, and interesting characters ever! And it can all be done with some simple changes to your views on how character development works.   

Character development is essential to any well-written work of fiction. A novel or a short story cannot work with boring characters who refuse to grow with the prose.  

Remember that all characters need their own personalities, so it is important to give them freedom. This is where most budding (and best-selling!) authors fall down. 

Character Development

Character development is the art of creating a character—whether the protagonist or just someone they meet along the way—then making them grow into believable people. This can be done by attaching the correct type of character to the plot you wish to develop. Each character needs realistic attributes, such as their history, appearance, and nuances. These will be the foundation upon which you build your characters from an image in your mind to well-rounded, three-dimensional people. 

  • Their history and backstory will show the reader what they have been through and where they want to go.
  • We all know that looks aren’t everything, but your character’s appearance will define so much more than their romantic exploits! 
  • Nuances and mannerisms will be key, as giving your villain a tick, such as tilting their head ever-so-slightly when they’re about to murder someone, for example, will be a great way to make them more memorable.

How characters react in a scene is vitally important. If the protagonist has just seen a ghost for the first time in their life but simply gasps and moves on, the reader will never get lost in the story. Your character needs to be allowed to behave as if they were actually alive. You can create this atmosphere by following some simple yet vitally important rules.

  • Don’t get obsessively technical concerning the finer details of your characters in the outline stage. This will only ever back you into a corner later on.
  • When it comes to dialogue, don’t hesitate. The longer you think of how a character will react, the worse it will sound when they do. Conversation in the real world is a natural thing, and so it should be on paper too.
  • Relax and allow your characters to have a life of their own. You will be pleasantly surprised where they lead you!

Character development should never be a chore. Allowing your characters to develop naturally is probably the most enjoyable part when writing fiction, yet it is often the aspect that a lot of authors dread. Some of the greatest characters created are done so naturally, and it is not uncommon for someone who was originally destined to be killed off to win over the very person who created them and survive! Let your characters help you in their growth. You can do this by letting go a little as you write.

This is not to say all the work will be done for you if you just sit back and let it flow. However, finding a happy medium when it comes to giving the characters and the prose freedom is key. Remember, we are dealing with character development here and not plot. Whatever idea you have come up with concerning the major points in your story will remain the same, only now, the characters living through them will be well-fleshed out and appealing to your reader.

Tips to Make Great Characters

Great characters are a must. Here are a few tips to get you started.

  • Every character doesn’t need to be beautiful, world-renowned in their field, or a billionaire! The most relatable characters are often regular Joes and Janes, as the reader often requires flaws to relate to more so than unattainable status. 
  • Speech pattern and the language used by your character are key to building who they are in the eye of the reader. If accents or dialogue are not your forte just yet, then do not fear: Our PDF will have plenty of tips and tricks on how to use facial expressions and gestures that will help you through!
  • Remember that when your reader first meets your character, they do not know them from Adam. Often an author will make the mistake of presuming their reader envisions their characters as they do. Make sure you get some of the more important details in early. You will find ways to do this without being too on the nose in our PDF!
  • We as authors need to understand that most readers will form a picture of your character in their head very early on. So, once you have described their features once or twice, you can rest assured that you are not going to change the reader’s mind after that! This gives you the freedom to concentrate on character growth.
  • Remember that this story is wholly yours and nobody else’s. Write characters as you want them to be and don’t worry about sales and pleasing others. There will be enough time to worry about all of that once you’ve written THE END!