Hedda Hopper began her career as an actress in silent movies. She was a beautiful woman who appeared in more than 120 movies in twenty-three years. In the 1930's her acting career began to wane and she needed to find a new source of income. On Valentine's Day in 1938 she became a gossip columnist and Hedda Hopper's Hollywood appeared for the first time in The Los Angeles Times. Her career made her a household name and she made regular appearances on radio and television. She wrote a regular column until her death in 1966.
Hedda Hopper was a remarkable lady with a stunning career, but this column is not actually about Hedda. The plan is to use her name as a segue into a favorite writing topic of mine...
Today we are going to talk about Head Hopping!
Yes, Head Hopping.
What is Head Hopping, you ask.
Head Hopping is when for no apparent rhyme or reason, you switch your Point of View character. It tends to be a novice mistake. Many of our favorite authors did this when they first began, but editors and readers both dislike the habit. It jars them out of the story, and once a reader is jarred out of the story, she may never return. That is not good.
For the basis of this article the romance genre is going to be used as the primary venue, but head hopping occurs in all fields of fiction.
In a romance there are two primary characters. The hero and the heroine. If a romance is written in first person, you only get the POV of one character. (We are not going to discuss omniscient point of view in this column, because it is obsolete in romance.) In the last century most romances were told only from the point of view of the heroine, but sometime around the mid-eighties or early-nineties, the hero started getting more of a point of view and the readers ate those romances up. Sometimes you can throw in the villain's thoughts, but if you do this, you want to give him/her a strong presence, not just throw them a line of two in order to describe what the heroine looks like, how buff the hero is, what kind of shoes she is wearing.
When you show readers the world as seen by the point of view character, make sure it is important to move the story along, for the reader sees the world through that character's eyes.
Do not switch heads in the middle of a scene. A scene should be told by the character who has the most at stake in that scene. That way you can include their inner thoughts, their inner turmoil, which you cannot do if you give the point of view to the wrong character. (Or-heaven forbid-an outsider!)
In my current WIP, The Billionaire's Counterfeit Bride, I have a scene that has six people in it. Three are window dressing and have no dialogue, the other three characters are the American Ambassador, the hero, and the heroine. It would be easy to tell the scene through the Ambassador, but he doesn't have any skin in the game. In order to engage the reader she has to know what the heroine is feeling. This scene belongs to Cassidy and no one else.
Later in the book, Cassidy has been attacked and is unconscious. Because Cassidy is out of it, there is only one person we can live this scene through, and that is Theron, Cassidy's hero. Sure, we could later learn what happened by having Theron explain to Cassidy what happened while she was knocked out, but then we would not learn how he felt while the action was happening and the reader doesn't have the chance to see what has occurred because she is being told about it later.
Point of view is how we engage the reader, how we immerse the reader into the plot, the feelings, the adventure.
If we want to tell the reader how a character smells and we give the dog a point of view, he may tell us she always reminds him of rolling around in a field of lavender. In this instance, will the reader really relate? Especially if that dog never appears with a point of view again?
Which scene of the following scenes do you think would evoke the reader's compassion more?
A pregnant woman staggers up to a no-name cashier at the local grocery chain and the cashier thinks, "Oh no! This woman looks like she's going to have that baby right here on my conveyor belt. Gross."
Dulcie felt another sharp pain in her lower back. The baby had been pressing hard on her sacroiliac for months, but it had never felt this bad before. The cash register looked like it was ten miles away. She put most of her weight onto the shopping cart and allowed the wheels to carry her down the aisle. Just a few more steps and she would be able to pay for little Chelsea's lunch. Just a few more steps. A gush of hot liquid exploded down her legs. The sound of water hitting the floor was followed by her heart also dropping to the floor. It was too soon. Much too soon. The baby wasn't due for two more months!
Finally the register was only two steps away. The cashier would have to get the manager to call 911. Dulcie looked into the cashier's eyes and the girl crumbled onto the floor. Dulcie's warped sense of humor kicked in as she suppressed a giggle and wondered who needed 911 more.
Point of view is important. Don't throw it away. Give it to the important characters. You can always find another way to let your readers know that the hero has a tattoo over his heart or the heroine is wearing Jimmy Choo's.