Head-hopping

Jeroen Steenbeeke  
Posted
I am currently reading a novel by a fellow indie fantasy writer, who shall remain nameless. I was reading this book during my commute after my netbook ran out of power (should have remembered to charge it last night). The story is pretty good so far, but one thing in particular is driving my bat-shit insane (more than usual, I mean): the author is constantly head-hopping.

For the uninitiated: head-hopping means a switch of viewpoint in the middle of the scene. For a more elaborate article on the subject, check out Beth Hill's article. Imagine reading a story about Bob talking to Sue, and the writer describes Bob's thoughts as he struggles to keep focusing on her eyes instead of her largely exposed cleavage. Then *boom* the writer suddenly switches to Sue who keeps thinking "gee Bob looks nervous". Wouldn't you think "Hey wait a minute, weren't we in Bob's head staring at exposed cleavage a second ago?" (I am aware that this is more likely to be the male response than the female response).

The point I'm trying to make is: you're frustrating your readers while gaining nothing. Sure, we are now aware of both streams of thought, but we're having terrible difficulty keeping them apart. Not only that, it's poor writing. Why spend so many words on the thoughts of each character when you could stick to a single character, and let that character observe changes in facial expression, body language, etcetera. It gives the reader a better understanding of what is going on while being easier to read.

Did I mention that the book in question does this every other sentence for a whole chapter?

It's actually the first time I've ever seen such a bad case of head-hopping. I've never noticed it in a traditionally published novel, and most indie works I've read aren't guilty of this either (I think I spotted exactly 1 instance in a David Dalglish book once, but it might just have been a formatting issue where a scene break was obscured by a page break). Hell, any editor worth his/her money should point this out and tell you to fix it.

I'll still finish the book, since it's an interesting story so far, and maybe this was an isolated incident, but it does make me wary.