Why head hopping is good

Ages ago I ranted against those who say that switching point of views is evil and wrong. I did not give any examples demonstrating when pov switching not only works, but makes a scene a billion times more effective than it would have been trapped in one pov only.

So here is one. And from a fellow Australian, naturally:

There was more talk, more laughter. One moment Arabella thought that he would walk away with the other men. The next Lord Petre feared that she would turn back to the box with Miss Blount, and that his chance would be lost. The chance for what, he could not say. Neither of them heard a word of the conversation; each of them looked for a reason to address the other. They both wished, vainly, that everybody would go away. At last, as the audience began returning to their seats, they found themselves face-to-face. Lord Petre stood mute, looking at Arabella intently. She struggled for a pleasantry to break their silence.

—Sophie Gee The Scandal of the Season

No writing technique is evil and wrong. It’s all about the execution.


  1. Micole on #

    But that’s not headhopping! That’s a perfectly consistent omniscient PoV.

  2. Justine on #

    Micole and David: Read the earlier post, people! That’s what people keep calling head hopping. They are convinced that all pov shifts are wrong and do not understand that is how omniscient works. Omniscient is what my friend of the earlier post was railing against. The book she claimed was unreadable because of the “head hopping” was in clearly consistent omniscient.

    I keep hearing reports of US editors insisting that Australian and UK books they buy be rewritten to reduce the head hopping. The books in question are invariably in omniscient.

    Increasingly the invocation against head hopping (i.e. omniscient done badly) has become an invocation against omniscient. And thus the two terms are being used as synonyms. I continue that practice of using the two terms as synonyms but insist that there is nothing in the world wrong with head hopping unless you do it badly. Ditto for any other writing technique.

    And frankly, I don’t think separating the two and calling the well-executed shifting of povs “omniscient” and the badly done “head hopping” is at all helpful. All people learn from that is to avoid the technique altogether and not how to do it right.

  3. addy-wa on #

    hahah this one was confusing to me. lol!

  4. Lauren on #

    I didn’t actually like the book all that much but Bel Canto by Ann Patchett is an excellent example of effective head-hopping. I wouldn’t describe it as omniscient because she goes pretty deeply and exclusively into one character’s head then hops out and goes into another character’s head in quick succession. A good of example of bad head-hopping is Candace Bushnell’s Trading Up (also a bit of a stinker for other reasons) which head-hops in a way that is utterly bewildering. I wish I knew the mechanics of why Patchett’s head-hopping adds to the story while Bushnell’s detracts, but I’m not that smart. It might have to do with clearly establishing whose head you’re actually in so you can deeply experience the action from their POV rather than just being vague. Ennit.

  5. Diana on #


  6. steve buchheit on #

    omniscient is good. However, I have seen poor head-hopping done, it hurts, mightly. I tried to explain this to a writer receintly about how if they needed to change POV or give different thoughts, they can’t address those thoughts as “I” unless you have a thought attribution. Once that happens, you need to get locked into a single POV and if you skip around to several characters and have them each use the “I” it has the feeling of being schizoid.

  7. reality on #

    Just what I needed; someone who says that omni is brilliant. And like any other POV it needs to be done well.
    I have been stupid enough to follow some of the rules and each time it took away from my story.
    Here I am with a my first omni that I converted to first person and now that I am finished; i understand I was right to do it in omni.
    But all the friends tell me that New York publishing houses might not like it.
    Either way I am re writing my story in omni.
    Also read Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss. It is in omni and she changes POV in a paragraph. And she did win a Booker.
    And Justine I am here for the first time and love this place.

  8. Justine on #

    Reality: There are so many things that New York publishing houses might not like that you’re really better off not thinking about it. If your book works best in omni then keep it in omni. If it doesn’t sell write another book.

    My first two books (one in omni, the other in third limited) have not sold.

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