Head Hopping and Author Intrusion

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* Head Hopping and Author Intrusion
* Of Interest

Quote of the Day

“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it, we go nowhere.” Carl Sagan

Head Hopping and Author Intrusion

First, these are two different problems.

In today’s “Of Interest” there’s a link to an excerpt of a post about head-hopping. The post is by Susan DeFreitas.

What Susan writes in her post, which is basically a response to a question, is probably good advice. To be honest, I didn’t read it. Just be sure to toss out anything about consciously revising, rewriting, and any of the other myths.

What interested me was the question that spurred the post: “I’m new to writing fiction. I’m wondering whether I’m guilty of ‘head hopping,’ or of author intrusion, by allowing the reader to peek into the thoughts of minor characters of the story.” signed Ready to Revise

The way the question is written, it sounds like Ready to Revise believes “head hopping” and “author intrusion” are the same thing. They aren’t.

But then, it doesn’t matter. You won’t have either problem if you remember this:

Every word you put on the page must come through the POV character.

That’s every emotion, every physical sense, and every word of description or dialogue. Every word, period.

You can only describe what the POV character thinks, sees, hears, smells, tastes, and feels, both physically and emotionally, plus his or her opinions of those things. This alone will keep you from “head hopping.”

(About that “opinions” thing: The presence of cherry pipe tobacco in the library of the home of a wealthy decedent is a bit of description. Anything more than that is an opinion. More on this later, in the section on author intrusion.)

So if your POV character et al are approaching the front of a barn, s/he might hear a sound that seems to have come from behind or inside the barn, but s/he (so you) can’t describe what happened to cause the sound because the POV character couldn’t see it.

Now, one of the other non-POV characters might say in dialogue, “What was that?” indicating s/he heard the sound too, or s/he might reveal what s/he heard and even offer an opinion aloud as to what caused it. But you (the author) can’t reveal any unspoken thought of any characters except the POV character.

But wait. How can every word of dialogue come through the POV character?

Great question. Here’s some next-level stuff:

When the POV character speaks, the writer records what s/he said.

When another character speaks, the writer records what the POV character heard. Or misheard.

Every word of the story comes through the POV character, remember? The POV character is the reader’s sole source of sensory input for the duration of the story.

As you might imagine, this can create some interesting and complex scenarios and situations. All sorts of misunderstandings and all levels of conflicts have been caused by one person (the real-life POV character) mishearing what someone else said.

That should immediately spur some story ideas. (grin)

Author Intrusion is a whole other matter. It has nothing to do with the POV character. In fact, it has to do with the writer, consciously or subconsciously, shoving the POV character aside.

Author intrusion most often happens in description. It is the result of a writer inserting what s/he believes should be in the setting or scene rather than simply recording what the POV character thinks, sees, hears, smells, tastes and feels (physically and emotionally) about the setting. And don’t forget the POV character’s opinions of those things.

First, let me just get this out of the way:

If you “cycle” back through any part of the manuscript while remaining in the creative subconscious (that is key) and allow the CHARACTERS to touch the story, that’s fine. It’s their story, so no harm can come of that.

But if you consciously revise and rewrite what your characters have given you, or if you force the characters to conform in the first place to a “character sketch” or outline by any other name, you are continually guilty of author intrusion. The world won’t end. If that’s what you want to do, go for it. But you are constructing a story, not creating one.

If you do any of that—if you, the writer, consciously decide how a sentence should read or what items should be in a setting or what a character should say or anything else—and if you’re staunchly committed to that process, you can stop reading now if you want to. Probably nothing else I write here will register.

Author intrusion is the infliction of the writer’s values, descriptions, and opinions into the story (and thereby onto the reader). As a fiction writer, your job is to entertain, not to browbeat.

Earlier I mentioned the smell of cherry pipe tobacco lingering in a library in the home of a wealthy decedent. If the POV character has no opinion about it, the writer will record that the POV character “noted the presence of the smell of cherry pipe tobacco.”

If the POV character has a positive opinion about the smell, the writer will record that the POV character noted “the sweet aroma of cherry pipe tobacco” or some such thing. And if the POV character has a negative opinion, the writer will record something like “the stench of cherry pipe tobacco.”

Whether that smell is present is simply a fact of the setting, but whether that particular smell is a “sweet aroma” or a “stench” is a matter of opinion. And that’s fine, but it has to be the POV character’s opinion, not the writer’s opinion. If you pay attention and trust them, you will soon learn that—like your family, friends and acquaintances—your characters do not all have the same values and opinions that you have. And that’s just refreshing.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Scientist claims he has made the ultimate unhackable voting machine” at https://interestingengineering.com/innovation/ultimate-unhackable-voting-machine. If I could, I would take out a personal loan for a million dollars to bet politicans will never approve such a device.

See “How Big of a Problem Is ‘Head Hopping’?” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/how-big-of-a-problem-is-head-hopping/.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1050 words

Writing of The Stirchians (novel, tentative title)

Day 11… 2337 words. Total words to date…… 30836
Day 12… 2115 words. Total words to date…… 32951
Day 13… 2242 words. Total words to date…… 35193
Day 14… 1325 words. Total words to date…… 36518
Day 15… 1006 words. Total words to date…… 37524
Day 16… 2532 words. Total words to date…… 40056
Day 17… 2759 words. Total words to date…… 42815

Total fiction words for November……… 9684
Total fiction words for the year………… 171389
Total nonfiction words for November… 6350
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 181980
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 353369

Calendar Year 2022 Novels to Date…………………… 2
Calendar Year 2022 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2022 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 68
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: Because It Makes Sense, I preach trusting your characters to tell the story that they, not you, are living. Duh. This practice greatly increases your productivity and provides a rapid ascension along the learning curve of Craft because you get a great deal more practice at actually writing. This is not opinion. It is all numbers and facts.

3 thoughts on “Head Hopping and Author Intrusion”

    • And you can switch POV characters as often and as much as you like, though there is a craft to it. And if anyone IS going to be omniscient, that should be a character too. God, maybe. Or someone who thinks s/he is.

  1. I’m plain vanilla, 3rd person, deep pov for now – the more experimental stuff leaves me twitchy.

    Realistic fiction is my purview; haven’t planned any farther than that. I’m interested in the story, not the format.

    There are plenty of more adventurous authors out there; they may have all those sales.

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