Skip to content

Tag: first person

Head Hopping and POV Slips

I’d like to discuss a problem that I see a lot when I’m wearing my editorial hat and that I try to avoid when I’m wearing my writer hat. It’s actually two problems—head hopping and slips in point of view (POV)—but they stem from the same cause. Let’s start with head hopping.

What Is Head Hopping?

In fiction, head hopping is a POV problem.

To clarify, I’ll start with a little explanation of third-person POV. Third person uses pronouns like he and she to describe the main characters instead of I (first person) or you (second person). (I cover these in more detail in my series on point of view.)

To break it down further, third-person omniscient allows the author to hover above the story, dipping in and out of the minds of all the characters and showing all the action and thoughts as if she is an all-knowing goddess.

Jackie approached the alien craft, sweat beading on her forehead and dripping down into her eyes. From his craft, Jo Ahl watched her approach, double-checking that the doors were sealed tight. They were terrified of each other, but they did not know that their meeting was ordained. Without it, the future of the very universe was at stake.

In contrast, third-person limited shows the story through the eyes and experiences of one or more characters and does this one character at a time. This is a very popular POV today. It gives the author the flexibility of moving between characters if he wishes while maintaining the intimacy of first-person POV.

Jackie stepped up to the ship and laid a hand on the cool metal. Her heart pounded as she added the other hand and searched for a crack or a button, anything that would show her where the door was. This was the first sign of life she had found since her pod had crash-landed on this rock. Nothing. It was like a giant metal egg, except she could see the little window ten feet above her head and the landing gear that held it steady on the uneven ground.

To use third-person limited POV effectively, the author must set limits on how often she will change POVs. In my experience, the smallest POV division should be the scene. The most common divisions are either scenes or chapters (that is, sticking to one POV per scene or per chapter).

Some authors use the paragraph as this minimum division, but it’s harder to pull off and can often be confusing for the reader. At worst, it can feel like the author can’t make up her mind about which type of POV she wants to use and keeps slipping into omniscient.

Head hopping, or moving inappropriately between one character’s head and another, comes into play when the author either doesn’t know how to use different gradations of POV or does it inconsistently. The reader is happily following the adventures of Jackie when suddenly he is tossed into the head of Jo Ahl without any warning, such as a scene or chapter break.

Jackie began pounding on the metal with her polymer-covered fists. “Who’s in there? Come out, please! Maybe we can help each other,” she yelled.

Whoever was in the ship must be stranded, too. She had seen nothing for miles on this barren planet. There were no spaceports or anything. She made her way around the pod, pounding her fists like drums against the hull. It was giving Jo Ahl a headache, but she kept going.

To prevent head hopping, have a plan. Decide on your point of view before you begin to write. As you plan each scene or chapter, decide who will be your POV character.

What Are POV Slips?

Head hopping is a POV slip, but some slips are more subtle. They often involve sensory transfers, a lack of thought about a character’s presence within a particular setting, or big assumptions on the part of your POV character.

The temperature was mild, and a light breeze blew, but Jo Ahl refused to leave his ship.

In this example, no evidence is given to the reader that Jo Ahl has ever been outside. As far as we know, he’s been locked up tight since he landed. How does he know what the temperature is? Fix this by adding a little information.

The console still worked and told Jo Ahl that the temperature was mild and there was a light breeze blowing. He still refused to leave his ship.

Alternatively, just cut the offending phrase or make it clear that the character is making assumptions.

The few leaves on the spindly trees in the distance fluttered fitfully, and the ship had remained an even temperature since he had powered it down. Still, despite this evidence of a possibly friendly atmosphere, Jo Ahl refused to leave his ship.

The Bottom Line

The basic rule in limited POV—first person or third person—is this:

If the POV character cannot see it, taste it, touch it, smell it, feel it, or think it, throw it out.

head hopping, pov, point of view, third person, third-person limitedRemember that unless he is a mind reader, your character cannot know what other characters are thinking, feeling, or sensing. So, when you are writing from his POV, stay out of other characters’ minds and bodies.

What tools or reminders do you use to maintain consistency in POV?


The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley

“How to Choose the Right POV (What I Learned Writing Storming),” K. M. Weiland, Helping Writers Become Authors

“Deep POV—What’s So Deep About It,” Beth Hill, The Editor’s Blog


The Importance of Point of View: Part II: First Person

“POV is going to affect every single page of your book. That’s not a decision to be made lightly.”

K. M. Weiland

In the first part of this series, “The Importance of Point of View: Part 1: The Types of POV,” I briefly introduced the three basic points of view: first person, second person, and third person.

In this installment of the series, I focus on the first person point of view. As Alicia Rasley, in her book The Power Of Point Of View: Make Your Story Come To Life, explains, “First-person POV explores questions of persona and identity: What of myself do I reveal the world? What do I conceal?”

In a novel, writing in first person does not mean that you can present only one character’s point of view. You can choose to switch characters but still remain in first person. As Rasley continues, “Multiple–first person…adds the dimension of contrasting views both of the world and of the self.”

The choice of point of view is more complex than it first appears. First, you must choose the character or characters whom you are using to tell the story. You must choose how reliable they are in telling it. Finally, you must choose how deeply you wish to delve into the point of view that you have chosen.

To illustrate first-person point of view on a fairly intimate level, I have pulled a scene from an unfinished story out of my own writing archive. In future installments, I will use this same scene to illustrate other points of view. This was originally written in third person. I noticed that as I wrote the scene from Sarin’s first-person point of view, I chose to share different details. Some things became irrelevant, and others became more important.


Excerpt, The Magician’s Wife by Janell E. Robisch

“Sarin, you must be careful.”

“Do not speak that way. There is nothing to worry about. It is just another spell. As soon as Kaleo arrives with the herb, everything will be fine.” My voice was shaking terribly, although I was trying desperately to be calm for Lew’s sake. I wrung a warm, wet cloth between my trembling hands and gently applied it to his cheeks and forehead. Oh, my darling husband!

“Look at me, at my face!” he said, pulling my wrist and the cloth away.

I didn’t want to, but I looked at his eyes, my own blinking back tears. His green eyes were bright, but the flesh around them was pale and drawn. I reached out to touch that bit of skin, as if by doing so I could bring the life back into it. I felt his hand touch mine, and he squeezed gently. “Sarin, this is the last time. The Guardians are calling me. It’s time to go.”

“No.” I shook my head hard and felt my hair brush the sides of my face. It seemed so unimportant.

“Listen to me. You have to be careful with the magic. Do not trust anyone. Do not tell anyone. If I had known . . . . I never should have taught you anything.” His voice was soft. “You must promise me to be careful.”

I touched his lips as they faded to a lighter shade of pink. It was as if all of his blood were rushing down to his ailing heart, but I knew the truth. I could feel its beat slowing as surely as if it were my own. Soon, it would stop. I thought my own would stop with it.

“I promise,” I nodded. “I promise.” The familiar emerald sparkle of his eyes began to fade.

I could feel warm tears sliding down the side of my nose as I made the four-pointed sign of the Guardians over Lew’s chest. “I love you,” I whispered, burying my face in his shoulder. I felt his cool hand rest on my neck with the lightest of touches. “Don’t forget me.”

“Never, my little star. Never.”

His hand slipped slowly from my neck, and I couldn’t help it. A sob burst from my mouth. I grabbed his tunic in both fists, wrecked by the knowledge that I would never hear his voice again.


In future installments, I will use this same scene to illustrate other points of view. As you read each, try to decide which point of view works most effectively for this scene and why. Alternately, is it the intention of the writer that decides which point of view works best?

Please share your thoughts in the comments.

The Importance of Point of View III: Second Person

Leave a Comment