Heading-Hopping For Beginners – Creative Writing Tips

This week I've been trying to explain to my creative writing students the concept of head-hopping and why it isn't usually  a good idea.

Usually, it isn't something they've thought about before, although its use may well have played a part at some stage in their not enjoying a book without them even being aware of the fact.

So what is head-hopping? And why is it such a no-no?

Put simply, it's when from we move quickly from one character's view of the world and events to another character's view of the world and events within a scene.

It's probably best to illustrate it with an example. Here's an extract from my novel The Goddess Workshop, rewritten to include head-hopping.

‘He’s got no clothes on!’ Janet hissed to Estelle and Kate as the man continued to pose and smile, obviously under the impression that he was giving her a treat.

Reenie puffed to her side. Didn’t Janet know anything about the area? ‘This part of the beach is for nudists, love,’ she said.

‘Goodness!’ said Janet, still not moving.

‘Come on,’ said Kate, giving her a little shove. She was getting impatient with them, standing around the way they were. ‘Let’s get away from here before I lose my lunch.’

Janet responded to the shove, and they wandered on towards the sea. When Estelle and Reenie began to giggle, it was difficult not to smile.

Reenie smiled. Janet was starting to get some colour back into her cheeks, thank goodness. ‘Feeling better now, love?’ she asked, and Janet nodded.

‘A bit, yes thanks,’ she said, and it was true, she was. She had only known these three women for a short time, but they were all so dear to her. In a funny kind of a way, they were almost like a second family.

‘Well,’ Estelle was saying, grinning at them all, ‘I can think of something to cheer us all up,’ she said. ‘Not to mention Droopy over there!’ and with that she threw her bag down onto the sand, kicked off her shoes and began to strip. To hell with it! Life was for living.

Phew! In all, we get to discover the thoughts and feelings of FOUR different characters in this extract, and that's a lot to take in.

While the scene might still entertain the reader, it makes us feel a bit jittery and on edge. Let's face it, in real life we just can't know exactly what anyone else is thinking or feeling. To do so, we might need to wear something a bit like this:

The Goddess Workshop is told from all four women's viewpoints, but at different times, not all at the same time. Each time I wrote a scene, I deliberately decided whose viewpoint it would be best for it to told in. Sometimes this was just a question of balance for the story - maybe I hadn't had Kate's viewpoint for a while, for example. But usually, it was because the scene would work best from a particular character's viewpoint to advance the story or to show that character's development. In this case, I chose to tell the scene from Janet's point of view, because it's an important moment for her - the moment she fully commits to making a change in her life and to shedding inhibitions and old habits that are draining her self-confidence.

Nude on beach self-confidence confidence

Here's the scene as I originally wrote it.

‘He’s got no clothes on!’ Janet hissed to Estelle and Kate as the man continued to pose and smile, obviously under the impression that he was giving her a treat.

‘This part of the beach is for nudists, love,’ Reenie told her, puffing up to her side.

‘Goodness!’ said Janet, still not moving.

‘Come on,’ said Kate, giving her a little shove. ‘Let’s get away from here before I lose my lunch.’

Janet responded to the shove, and they wandered on towards the sea. When Estelle and Reenie began to giggle, it was difficult not to smile.

‘Feeling better now, love?’ Reenie asked her kindly, and Janet nodded.

‘A bit, yes thanks,’ she said, and it was true, she was. She had only known these three women for a short time, but they were all so dear to her. In a funny kind of a way, they were almost like a second family.

‘Well,’ Estelle was saying, grinning at them all, ‘I can think of something to cheer us all up,’ she said. ‘Not to mention Droopy over there!’ and with that she threw her bag down onto the sand, kicked off her shoes and began to strip.

If you don't tell your story from one viewpoint at a time, the writing becomes clunky, and the reader doesn't truly have the chance to engage with your characters. And I don't know about you, but I really want my readers to do that. I want the reader to care about my characters and to root for them. Maybe even to feel as if they are them, or at least to be able to empathisize with them.

It's all a part of the glorious experience of an absorbing read.

The Goddess Workshop - four women on a quest to become sensual.

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