Bunnies hop. Feet hop on hot pavement. Toddlers can hop and hop and hop . . . Dr. Seuss likes to “hop on Pop.”
But readers should not be forced to hop between characters while reading a book. This is called head hopping, and it is one of the first mistakes emerging authors will make. And nothing, I mean NOTHING, screams “amateur” like head hopping.
So what is it? After all, the average reader tossing that book against the wall will not give it a name, they just know they cannot follow the story.
First, let’s identify a viewpoint character. A viewpoint character is the person whose head the reader is in during the scene.
Head hopping, then, is when the writer changes viewpoint characters within any given scene, usually with no warning.
Now, for an example:
John looked into her eyes. They were beautiful and clear, and he lost himself in them. She caught her breath, wishing to lose herself in his eyes, wanting his kiss. But all he wanted was to study her eyes, for he had seen none like that in his college courses, and, after all, he was going to be the best optometrist to ever walk the face of the earth. But when he looked away, the laughter bubbled from her throat. Who did he think he was anyway?
Clearly, the viewpoint jumps from John to the woman and back again, leaving the reader nothing but confused and ready to go find another book.
The problem for authors, of course, is that it is not unusual for books to have multiple viewpoint characters. So how can an author ensure they are not head hopping?
Tip #1: Have a clearly defined goal in each scene for your viewpoint character.