Are you out of her mind?

So a common mistake seen in not only new writers’ works but in well-established writers’ stuff too is the “Head Hop”.

So what is it and how do you spot it and get rid of it?

The head hop is basically when a character “knows” something they can’t possibly “KNOW” usually about the motives of another character. But it can also be more subtle than that and I will explain in a bit.

Now when I say “know” that is exactly what I mean. This isn’t a character speculating, it isn’t when a character really, really knows the other character’s thought process or habits. So don’t think that you have to eliminate those. This is when a writer inserts some internal thought or hidden from sight action into a scene that is being written in a different character’s point of view.
Being that its best to explain with examples, lets go back to the Jack and Jill story like we started in the show don’t tell lesson.

In case its been awhile and you don’t want to look it up…. Everyone think back to the Rhyme Jack and Jill, this is still the day after the fateful “hill Incident” I’m still writing from Jill point of view (POV) simply because it’s easier for me. Here’s the recap of the story so far:

A bright shaft of light from the east window cut the room in half. Jill hesitated to enter even as the smell of fresh coffee beckoned. Perhaps it wasn’t just the otherworldly barrier keeping her back. Perhaps it was the way Jack was standing, back stiff, almost guarding the brewer. In profile she could detect the scowl on his face and tears burned the back of her eyes. A knot rolled in her belly and a lump formed in her throat. Here she was again, needing to tell Jack she was sorry, that she never meant for his crown to be broken, but it seemed at the moment that sorry might not be enough.

Now: The head hop

Watching Jack move to the table and take a seat, Jill moved to get herself a cup of brown courage and take the seat opposite him. Jack looked up, blinked at the fuzzy image before him. He dropped his head again and rubbed at his eye. He was mad and by the way he rubbed his eye he’d been angry all night.

Ok, can you spot the head hop? Read the sentence again and remember you’re in Jill’s POV. Do you see it? The moment you leave Jill’s mind? It’s right here, blinked at the fuzzy image before him.

Jill might have seen him blink, but she could NOT possibly know that his vision was fuzzy. Now she might assume things that could lead her to think that but it requires reasons. Something like:

…. Jack looked up, blinked, like maybe he was trying to focus on her or worse hoping she might
disappear. He dropped his head again and rubbed at his eye…..

Go back now and read the head hop example again. Are you wondering why that last line isn’t the head hop? The He was mad and by the way he rubbed his eye he’d been angry all night. Line? Well, because that is all Jill’s assumptions, based on what she knows about Jack and how SHE is reading his actions.

That he still hasn’t spoken to her or really looked at her… Maybe we can assume something in his
expression makes HER think that he’s angry… And of course, the whole broken crown from yesterday

From this point now you must decide how you want to follow it up. You could keep writing in Jill’s POV allowing her to get brave and say something that will either confirm or deny Jack is still angry. You can also do a scene/chapter break and pick it up in Jack’s POV. Something like:

Jack couldn’t wait for this first sip of the coffee. Taking a seat, he set the cup on the table and blinked. Damn this contact, Jack thought, rubbing his eye and sighing. He might have to wear his glasses today. Looking up he tried to put Jill in focus, but his vision was still blurry. He’d have to change to his glasses, and it might be for the best. If he’d wore them yesterday, he might have seen the rock that tripped him and caused him to fall. He’d have to also make a trip into town and get another crown.

Okay, so now you KNOW what Jack is thinking, feeling and SEEING and why… No head hopping needed to fill in the info for the reader.

Now I want to go on to the more subtle type of head hopping. This tends to be the one I see most in today’s writing. And I want to start by getting you to think about a question? Have you ever just been…. staring off into space and had someone ask you if you were… okay, mad, upset? And that question from them kind of startled you because really you were just thinking someone needed to clean the cobwebs out that corner near the ceiling. Maybe you responded with a laugh and a smile and say ‘No, I’m fine. Why’d you ask?’ and they say something about YOUR expression. Here’s were the head hop happens. You don’t make note of your own expression, ticks, or habits. So neither can your characters. To you and them they have no real significance. So if you have a blank stare YOU don’t know it. Your characters
don’t know it. UNLESS you make a conscious choice to give a blank stare. And of course writers do this all the time very effectively. Let’s look at the difference then.

Jill stared out the window frowning. How she wished that hill would just disappear. Who put wells at the top of a hill?

That first sentence is a head hop. Remove “frowning” and it’s fixed. The rest of the paragraph gives her emotional state and the reader gets to pick how they interpret those emotions. Maybe she frowns in their mind, maybe she smiled sadly. It allows the reader’s personal ideas, and makes for better connections with characters. Now that doesn’t stop you from giving purposeful expressions it just requires you show they have an intent. So the other way it can be done.

Jill stared out the window and gave that hill a frown. It ruined everything. All her plans with Jack, who builds wells on top of hills anyway. Stupid. She frowned more, squinted her eyes and hoped the hill crumbled.

I want to stress the reason these seemingly little things are so important is when you do them wrong you deny the characters an opportunity to develop and interact. You also deny the reader a chance to get way into the characters’ heads.
I have a character who constantly picks at her nails. The other characters around her see her do it and understand that she’s feeling unsettled by something. But they ONLY understand that because of consistent events or dialogue that proceed or follow the action. Oddly, at a much later point I confirm the understanding in the character’s POV only she doesn’t think she picks at her nails, she “smooths” the edges.
Again, the way you write, especially internals and during narrative, gives you the chance to draw your reader in. To pull them into the world your characters live and to become friends with them you MUST stay in POV. When you do this, readers have a more enjoyable experience and will come back and read you more often.

So until next time, Write ON!