Head hopping is one of the best ways to lose and piss off your readers, because they will struggle to follow along with your story and might even give up and toss your book aside, labeling you as a writer who doesn't know what you're doing, especially if the rest of your manuscript is sloppily written. In short, if you're going to head hop, you would be well advised to make sure you know what you're doing and are talented enough to pull it off. It takes years of practice and work to master this skill, and that's only after you've mastered writing for story, sentence structure, story structure, punctuation, showing vs. telling, character development, and grammar, among other writing skills. And even then an author might not be able head hop effectively.
My point being, you have to have an expert handle on your writing mojo to master the art of the head hop.
If you don't know what head hopping is, it's when you write in multiple characters' points of view (POVs) without breaking between POV changes.
Micah thought Samantha looked ravishing in the black, gossamer gown he'd given her for her birthday. How many times had he asked her to wear it, and yet she had coquettishly declined each time.
Her slight curves beckoned for his touch, and her green eyes sparkled as she smiled and shut off the bathroom light, leaving only the lamp behind her to cast her inviting silhouette into shadow that showed through the thin fabric.
He licked his lips, sensing her mood.
Samantha knew what she was doing to Micah, and with the way his gaze raked her body, it was clear her plan to surprise him had worked.
Maybe now she would be able to put that sexy smile back on his face. He had been coming home from work in much too brooding a state as of late.
Did you see it? I started the passage in Micah's point of view, but in the fourth paragraph, without warning, I jumped to Samantha's. Imagine if Micah's POV had gone on for several paragraphs or even pages before the beginning of this short example. You would have been good and seeped into his mind, following his thoughts, seeing everything from his eyes, and then out of nowhere, you're no longer in Micah's POV, you're in Samantha's. It might even take you a couple of paragraphs to realize the change has been made, and then you'll have to stop and backread to figure out where the new POV started, then shift your mind into Samantha's and beginning reading again.
Ultimately, it's the decision of the author, so I bow out of discussions pretty early where it's clear the author's mind has been made up that they will arbitrarily change the POV from paragraph to paragraph if they want to. I've read scenes like that in books, and I get so frustrated that I either skip the entire scene or toss the book aside, because I can't keep up. On occasion, I will power through and will go back to read and re-read over and over until I can figure out who's talking so I can understand the action. Sometimes I can piece it together and sometimes I can't. Either way, as the reader, I shouldn't have to work so hard to follow a story, which should flow easily and seamlessly in a way that I can follow along and immerse myself in the plot.
However, there are authors who can pull off the head hop. They are talented enough not to lose the readers, and they can head hop almost from paragraph to paragraph.
Sylvain Reynard is one of these authors. I'm currently reading his book, Gabriel's Inferno, which a friend recommended to me, and I'm just blown away by his talent. From what I understand, he started out more-or-less as an indie author, but true to cream rising to the top, he has been noticed by the big publishers and has made the jump to the big leagues, and rightfully so. It's not often that I find an author who head hops with such ease that I barely notice it. But, as I've said, head hopping smoothly takes talent. And talent seems to be something Mr. Reynard has in spades.
Not only does he head hop, but he seemingly breaks all the rules of fiction writing, using an abundance of adjectives and adverbs, as well as big words I would normally need my dictionary to look up, and creating an obnoxious character, who, by all rights, I should hate.
However, Mr. Reynard's talent is so incredible, he's able to head hop smoothly, to the point that my reading experience isn't disturbed in the slightest and so that I can remain deeply immersed in the unfolding tale. The excessive adjectives and adverbs are barely noticeable and contribute to the visual image created in my mind. The big words are clearly represented and defined from the context of the sentence or scene, and I find myself falling in love with the obnoxious character for the subtle, you'll-miss-them-if-you-aren't-paying-attention hints as to just how vulnerable and likable he is under his thorny armor. My heart goes out to this obnoxious man, Gabriel, and my inner cheerleader is waving her little pom-poms: Gimme a G! Gimme an A! Gimme a B!...
At any rate, this blog isn't necessarily about Mr. Reynard, despite his genius and talent in the fiction realm. It's about head hopping. I'm only focusing so much on Reynard, because he is the kind of author all indies should aspire to be like, and because he has mastered the head hop where 99 out of 100 authors who try to, can't. It's obvious he works hard at his craft and meticulously hones each sentence, not rushing his books in an effort to build a back list fast so he can make lots and lots of money at the expense of quality and reader trust. No, Mr. Reynard comes off as the type who savors each scene, crafting and weaving them together so that the story unfolds bit by bit, drawing me further in.
Furthermore, it's clear that Mr. Reynard understands grammar, story structure, sentence structure, punctuation, and can spell. It's clear he edits and proofreads his work ad nauseum. In other words, it's clear he knows the rules of writing, which is the first requirement to breaking the rules. Only when you understand how to walk can you learn how to skip or shuffle your feet. But when you try to skip before learning how to walk, you'll fall flat on your face.
And therein is the lesson to be learned here. An author must first learn the rules of writing, whether they intend to later break them or not. Until they have grasped the basics and all the rules the basics entail, they can't successfully break them without repercussions.
I think this is the biggest issue indie authors should concern themselves with if they want to be successful: Learn the rules and practice them until they know them inside-out. Too many try to move into the advanced class before finishing the remedial one. Think about school and jobs. You don't start off in fifth grade, do you? You start off in first grade and learn everything you need to progress to second, then third, then fourth, then finally to fifth. If a child skipped and started right off in fifth grade, they would be lost. They have to learn all that comes before to succeed at the higher grade levels. Same with a job. I didn't get hired on as an executive assistant straight away. I progressed from receptionist to administrative assistant and finally to executive assistant, learning more from each role to prepare me for working as the right hand of the president, director, or owner. I needed the basics before I could progress to an advanced level.
Same with writing. Authors must know the basics before they can write at an advanced level. In other words, head hopping (as well as other advanced techniques) need to be honed before they are employed.
Just to note: In comparison to Mr. Reynard, I'm also reading a Nora Roberts book, and in it, she also head hops. Sorry to say, her head hopping isn't as seamless as Mr. Reynard's, and I wish she would take a lesson from the latter, because when she does it, it jolts me every time and I have to take a second to mentally shift gears into the new POV. So even well-written authors struggle with the head hop, not just those who are starting out.
With all that said, if you're an author and want to see how a talented author works the head hop, pick up Gabriel's Inferno. Be warned, it is a long book, and it is not the typical erotic romance. About 1 in 7 readers who reviewed it hated it, but the 6 out of 7 who liked it, LOVED it. But it's a great example of someone who understands the craft of writing very well, and for that reason alone, I think it should be required reading for every indie author.
Happy writing and reading!