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Writing Tip: How to Fix Head-Jumping in Your Novel--And Why It's a Problem



Head-jumping, or head-hopping, is one of the most common issues I see when editing novels. Today I'm here to give you some writing tips for how to fix it when revising your novel.


What exactly is head-jumping? It's when you jump around between the perspectives of multiple characters--it can be two, three, or more--within the same scene/chapter in a novel, when writing in third person.


For example: In one paragraph, you might describe how character A is thinking about how in the world he's going to find a new job now that he was fired, and then in the next, you jump over to character B and describe how she's so glad character A got fired because she hates his guts.


These kinds of jumps are incredibly jarring to readers and make it so that they have to put a lot of mental energy into keeping track of which perspective you, the writer, are telling the scene from. The way to fix this is to, first and foremost, make sure you understand the difference between the third-person perspectives and which one you're using. There are two types:


  1. Third-person limited -- When the book is written in third person but focuses on the close, limited perspective of one character per chapter. This is the most common third person perspective used in novels nowadays.

  2. Third-person omniscient -- When the book is written in third person from a bird's eye view, and the narrative does jump around between different character perspectives. The key here is that you need a strong, distinct narrative voice--think Lemony Snicket in A Series of Unfortunate Events. The narrator in these books usually acts like a character of their own, someone who is telling the story from the outside and is privy to all of the thoughts, feelings, and motives of the characters. That distinct narrative voice is what helps carry your readers through the story and keeps them from experiencing the jarring feeling I described above.


If you don't have a distinct, omniscient narrative voice in mind, it's usually better to write your story from a third-person limited perspective. You should make sure that each chapter is told from the perspective of one specific character--usually your protagonist, but you could include a couple of different characters if there are several main ones who have their own plot threads.


If you've found yourself slipping into head-jumping in your writing, pause and consider which character in each chapter is the most important person in that scene. Who is dealing with the main conflict? Who has to make a decision? Who will your readers care about the most? Then, picture the chapter through that specific character's eyes. They wouldn't know what anyone else in the scene is thinking (unless they have a mind-reading superpower, of course), but they may notice things about others that make them wonder what they're thinking. You can describe other characters' expressions--a slight frown on a woman's face or a look passing between two people. An exercise you can try is to write out the scene using first person, as if the main character is telling the story to someone else, and then change the writing back to third person. This can also help you strengthen the voice in your story by drawing out the unique aspects of your main character's way of thinking.


The most important thing to remember when using third-person limited is that you should only share information with the reader that the main character in each chapter knows. Their thoughts, their feelings, their ideas.


If you need further help, feel free to contact me via my website or at editorstephanieslagle@gmail.com with any specific questions about your manuscript! I offer developmental critiques, line editing, and more editing services you can learn about here.

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