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Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Gryphos, Jun 12, 2016.

  1. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

    For a project I've been working on for literally shitloads of time, I opted to use 3rd person omniscient, since the novel consists of four main characters travelling in a group who I want to be able to get in the heads of.

    But now I'm worried that the way I've executed this might be considered head-hopping, and I want to avoid giving the reader 'whiplash' as it were. Does anyone here have any experience with writing omniscient who could share any wisdom as to how to smooth the transition between different characters' thoughts?
    KC Trae Becker likes this.
  2. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    Head-hopping as an idea assumes being within only one, then only in another, and then in only another character's head. I.e., there's an assumption of separation, when a reader feels the narrative is coming from one POV, gets used to that fact, and suddenly there's another POV.

    Omniscient typically doesn't hold to a single POV for a great length of narrative before hopping to another POV.

    Quick example:

    Heather passed the dossier to Malcolm and watched as the tiny man opened the folder and began reading. His calm demeanor broke as he read, his brows raised and eyes became round disks, and at one point he took a step backward while flipping the pages in rapid succession. She was relieved to see that he understood the situation completely, although she set her face to hide this fact.

    Malcolm glanced up at Heather and saw the smirk on her face. The younger woman, far from being the novice he had believed her to be, had outflanked him and everyone. In the minute he had read through the papers, the world had shifted. He didn't know what to expect for the rest of the day–or what might happen in the next few minutes. Heather extended her hand, and he passed the dossier back to her.​

    Here, each paragraph is from a single character's POV, and these are two different POVs. Each focuses on that character's sensory input but also on that character's mental impressions, thoughts, perspective.

    The "omniscience" comes from the fact that the narrator knows all these impressions and thoughts of both characters and can deliver those things for the reader's viewing. This isn't exactly the kind of "head-hopping" normally thought of as a negative for the limited/intimate 3rd person approach. In a way, an omniscient narrator isn't "hopping" because he's kinda, sorta always in the heads of the characters whose POVs he'll be delivering, even if he delivers the narrative in small bits from one to the other–at least, the overall impression for the reader is that there is no clean break between narrative in an isolated POV and then narrative from a different character's POV. Technically it might be a kind of head-hopping, given that the narrator goes from one to the other, but there's no whiplash because the narrative doesn't build for long periods on only a single POV and then suddenly switch to another or give impressions that only another character could have.

    But–and I'll have to break here because I'm nearing the limit of my understanding–there can be long stretches from a single POV in an omniscient approach. How one does that while occasionally breaking that POV, without causing whiplash, will require some finesse, and I don't have the experience to split those hairs for you. :cool: I will say this however: It's not just individual characters' POVs that lead to the "omniscience." Other events, the environment, and so forth may be known by the narrator even if these aren't known by a character:

    Martha fidgeted when Michael entered the room; he appeared angry. Neither knew that an extraterrestrial ship had begun to hover over their home.​

    I would suppose that bringing in that sort of omniscience while having impressions and thoughts from only one character for an extended length of narrative could alleviate any sort of whiplash when another character's impressions and thoughts shape the narrative later.
    KC Trae Becker and Gryphos like this.
  3. Velka

    Velka Sage

    I used to write in 3rd person omni, but eventually found that 3rd person limited suits my style much better. I think the reason for this addresses your head hopping quandry.

    The biggest difference between the two I've found is character voice. When I'm writing 3rd person limited, every scene, or chapter, in which I change POV I have to make sure I'm using the appropriate character voice. In Jane's head? Ok, got to make sure her thoughts are analytical and devoid of a lot of emotion. Short, succinct sentences. More action, less words. Constantly evaluating and reevaluating. Now in Bob's head? Ok, back to irrational and impassioned drive for revenge. Long winded diatribes. Actions driven by emotion and not strategy.

    I like that.

    With 3rd person omni, there is always only one voice; the narrator's. When the narrator head hops, the characters thoughts and feelings need to be conveyed through the singular voice of the narrator, not through the flavour of the character it belongs to. I'm not sure of what specific 3rd person omni technique you're using (an actual storyteller, god-mode with no identifiable narrator, etc.), but if you're going with a storyteller, one way to strengthen the onmi POV voice as a character itself and make it less likely to be seen as head hopping, is to add the storyteller's impressions, biases, etc to their revealing of the character's inner thoughts.

    Another tool you can use is transitions. If the characters are coming up with a plan, have the narrator focus on the leader's inner workings. Then when you switch to the other characters discussing the plan (subject/scene transition) the narrator can be in the head of the person in the group who is always questioning the leader.

    Or you can be in one character's head, then pull out with a omni description sentence (subtle transition), before moving into a different character's head.

    Third person omni is hard! Good luck!
    KC Trae Becker and Gryphos like this.
  4. Butterfly

    Butterfly Auror

    I'd recommend Self-editing for Fiction Writers, (Browne & King). Chapter 3 goes into depth in regards of POV, and omniscient narrators and gives examples of head hopping (which, BTW, is an unexpected, accidental or jarring jump between characters heads) and a planned shift of POVs. It also talks about the need to master narrative distance, (how zoomed in or out to each of the characters you wish to be), as well as setting up the transitions that make the shift from one character to another less jarring to the reader and to being an expected or set-up shift.

    Basically, it advises to master narrative distance in order to achieve an engaging shift between multiple character viewpoints.

    Unfortunately, copyright will prohibit me from posting the chapter, so you'll have to go out and buy it/borrow it from a library. The rest of the book is also very useful.
    KC Trae Becker likes this.
  5. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    I have multiple POV's. My rule here is:

    'One chapter, one POV character.' Usually told from 3rd limited.

    In shorter works that don't require chapters, I still keep the POV's in their own blocks.

    Borrowed this from Martin's 'Game of Thrones.'

    Intent is to reduce confusion.
  6. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    Heliotrope once began a thread called Ye old Storyteller that touches on creating a compelling narrator.

    In it, I brought up the opening to the first Harry Potter book which I think is written in a fairly subtle and interesting 3rd omniscient voice.

    Velka mentioned "there is always only one voice; the narrator's," but as I pointed out in that thread, Rowling's narrator is able to mimic the Dursleys:

    Mrs. Potter was Mrs. Dursley's sister, but they hadn't met for several years; in fact, Mrs. Dursley pretended she didn't have a sister, because her sister and her good-for-nothing husband were as unDursleyish as it was possible to be. The Dursleys shuddered to think what the neighbors would say if the Potters arrived in the street. The Dursleys knew that the Potters had a small son, too, but they had never even seen him. This boy was another good reason for keeping the Potters away; they didn't want Dudley mixing with a child like that.​

    "Good-for-nothing husband" and "a child like that" are very Durselyesque, from their combined "voice." So I think that a narrator can have a separate, individual personality—be an interesting storyteller—but also can do a sort of ventriloquism, assuming the voice of characters.

    Here is one type of omni transition she used. A great length of the chapter is from Mr. Dursley's POV, but then the narrator pops in with an observation Mr. Dursley could not have and then proceeds to write with a second set of characters, Dumbledore and McGonagall.

    The Dursleys got into bed. Mrs. Dursley fell asleep quickly but Mr. Dursley lay awake, turning it all over in his mind. His last, comforting thought before he fell asleep was that even if the Potters were involved, there was no reason for them to come near him and Mrs. Dursley. The Potters knew very well what he and Petunia thought about them and their kind. . . .He couldn't see how he and Petunia could get mixed up in anything that might be going on — he yawned and turned over — it couldn't affect them. . . .

    How very wrong he was.

    Mr. Dursley might have been drifting into an uneasy sleep, but the cat on the wall outside was showing no sign of sleepiness...​
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2016
    KC Trae Becker and Malik like this.
  7. Malik

    Malik Auror

    This. Think of it as telling a story about people you know, and doing impressions of their voices and mannerisms to the best of your ability. It doesn't have to mimic them exactly, but the audience should know whose eyes they're looking through.

    As the author, pay attention to your characters' values. Cue in on the things that are important to them and see events the way the characters see them. Our perceptions are shaped by our experiences. No two people see the same thing the same way.
  8. bdcharles

    bdcharles Minstrel

    For myself, I have third person omni, with POV's - along with perspective and a light dusting of voice - changing perhaps after a few chapters though in some cases in the middle of a chapter, at a natural break or over as smooth a transition as I could manage. In that respect, head hopping is an integral part of the narration, but it has to be done right, otherwise you keep your characters and readers a little too separate from one another. This might be okay for children's books but for older readers, whose attention span is greater, it seems amateurish - the whiplash. Pay attention to the expected attention spans of your readers - which if you are writing in 3rd person omni will probably be a lot like yours - and write to that meter. When you feel it is a natural break, break smoothly and convincingly. It can be done. It's just whiplashy if it's too much too fast.
  9. From what I've seen, each paragraph sticks with a POV at a time. So, you have paragraph A be about Andy then B is about Brandy. Of course you can have multiple paragraphs in a row about A or B, but once you switch to another person's head you should switch paragraphs. Fifth view mentioned a common easy transition, but it doesn't apt to a majority of paragraphs. Most of the time I've seen the author use the name of the character who's head we are in within two words.
  10. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    I just listened to a Writing Excuses podcast that addressed 3rd person omniscient that's pretty good. They discuss different types of 3rd omniscient, even a way that a writer can break into omniscient in an otherwise limited 3rd person (footnotes, introductory paragraphs/sections, etc.)

    Writing Excuses 7.12: Writing the Omniscient Viewpoint

    They call the final type they discuss the "head hopping" variety. Here's an excerpt:

    [Mary] I want to talk about head hopping before we finish [garbled]

    [Brandon] Okay. That's the last one. The last, and this is the hardest to do, but it is brilliant when it works. This is the Dune style. True, power omniscient, which is where you come in and say, "I'm going to withhold no information from the reader. I am going to show everyone's thoughts. I am going to head hop." So in a given paragraph, you are limited. That's it. Next paragraph could be another character's viewpoint and thoughts, and jumping from person to person to person in a given scene.

    [Mary] Well, you can actually do this within a given paragraph, but you have to... This is why it's so hard, and why it is... Head hopping is generally considered a flaw, because most people don't do it right. You have to sign post really clearly whose thoughts you are in. When it is done wrong, you... What happens is someone will have a thought, but it is not clear to which character it could belong. That's when people talk about head hopping. Because you get a little bit of whiplash. Jane Austen does this beautiful thing in Sense and Sensibility where she's giving you the thoughts of two characters who are in conversation and they both think they are talking about something different. It goes back and forth, like on a line by line basis, but she's very clear. There is never any doubt about whose internal thoughts you're getting.​
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2016

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