Cute young couple playing leapfrog.Head-hopping is when a writer jumps from one character’s point-of-view (POV) to another’s without a clear break. New writers may do this without even realizing it. Their intent is to pass on enough information to the reader to make the story clear.

Here we have the inner thoughts of three people:

John looked at Tom and wondered what was wrong. “What’s up, Tom?”

“Nothing,” Tom said, turning away, not wanting John to know he got the promotion.

“You sure?” John asked. He knew Tom was keeping something from him, but what?

Mary listened to their banter, wondering why people thought it was just women who acted this way.

Can you tell which character is the protagonist? As a writer, you need to put yourself in one character’s POV at a time. Readers love to get inside a character’s head and live there. Head-hopping creates a lack of close, personal connection with the main characters.

Here is the same conversation with one point of view:

John looked at Tom and wondered what was wrong. “What’s up, Tom?”

“Nothing,” Tom replied, looking away.

“You sure?” John asked. He could tell Tom was keeping something from him, but what? He frowned. Could it have something to do with the promotion he had been promised?

He looked at Mary, who just sighed and shook her head.

The second version creates an element of mystery, even conflict. The reader identifies with the character.  As the writer, put yourself in the character’s head. While in his POV, you can only determine other characters’ attitudes through their actions, reactions and speech. You can’t read their minds.

So how do you manage multiple POVs?

It’s called the “handoff.” Sort of like a relay race where a baton is passed. The focus shifts to the new runner. This can be done with a scene change, but an even better method is to stay in a single POV per chapter, shifting only when the new chapter starts.

Shifting POV should be for a specific purpose, not random. Remember an important rule of writing: never confuse the reader.

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