Doing The (Head) Hop; or, Whose Line Is It, Anyway?

(This posting originally appeared on The Melt-Ink Pot)

(Sigh. This is actually last week’s entry. This week’s entry is still to come.)

Yesterday, I got out one of my older works-in-progress, a Regency romance that I started way back when years started with “19” instead of “20”. It’s so old that the original filename had only 8 characters, because that’s all DOS would let you have. Yeah, that old.

Now, this story has some problems. Problem #1 is the length. The original version came out to be about 230,000 words. That’s about 130K-150K more words than any Regency publisher — or even any romance publisher — will even look at.

I went through and gave it a pretty stringent edit pass, but it’s still at about 188K.

In a sci-fi/fantasy story, the solution would be simple: Split it into two books. There’s even a spot where it might make sense to do that. However, Regency readers are not usually well-disposed toward series. They want the tale told in one story, from the once upon a time to the happily ever after, and that’s that. In rare cases, you can come back and revisit a world, maybe focusing on different characters the second time through, but the main characters from your first story should be peripheral characters in the new work, at best.

So that won’t work.

I’m still trying to trim the story down. I think there are places where I ramble (who, me?), and places where scenes start too early or go on too long. I’m hopeful that I can make more edits.

But Problem #2 is even more insidious.

One thing that going back to read older works does for me is to show me ways in which I have grown as a writer. Like most writers, I developed some bad habits early on. One of my “bad habits” is to write in first person. I really do feel more comfortable in that POV; it just comes naturally to me. And with first person, you only have one POV to worry about. If it didn’t happen where the POV saw it, or could learn about it some other way, then you can’t show it. Your MC doesn’t know what other people are thinking. He/she has to discern it from their speech and actions.

The Regency story was one of my first attempts to write in third person. I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t very good at it when I started out, though I think I’ve improved some since. (Practice, practice, practice!) And one of the most egregious sins I committed, back in this earlier work, is Head Hopping.

I’ve since learned that, while a story can be written in an omniscient POV, meaning that there isn’t really a main POV character, and the story is told from a narrator’s perspective, this is not what I had done. A story can also be written with a shifting POV, meaning that in one scene, the reader is seeing the story from one character’s perspective, while in the next, they may be seeing it from another’s.

I had done neither of these Instead, in almost every scene, I moved from one character’s head to another, showing what he/she was feeling at the moment. In other words, Head Hopping. Thanks to my on-line critique group, I’m much better at recognizing it when I do it (they won’t let me get away with even the tiniest little hop!), but back when I wrote this story, I obviously didn’t have a clue. It’s made even more complicated by the fact that the female MC (Annalise) spends the first third of the story dressed as a boy (I know, I know, but I did it anyway). So in one line, I have her employer/love interest (the Earl) referring to her as “lad”, and then the next line will start with something like, “She thought…” Very confusing.

Here’s an example, where I move from one character’s head to another, to another, to another, in the space of about five paragraphs:

There was no telling how long the two of them would have sat there, gazing into each other’s eyes, had Latham not chanced to spy a pair of riders approaching them. [LATHAM’s POV] Blast the man, he thought to himself. Did he to be so damnably prompt? Before he could think of a way to explain the Earl’s presence to Miss Mannerly, the two riders were upon them.

The two men exchanged greetings. Then the Earl noticed Miss Mannerly’s presence for the first time [THE EARL’s POV] and tipped his hat to her. “Miss … I apologize, I don’t believe we’ve met.”

Latham jumped in. “Miss Mannerly, please allow me to present William Waverley, Earl of Farlsborough. Farlsborough, this is Miss Sarah Mannerly.”

Sarah felt a cloud of doom settle over her. [SARAH’s POV] An Earl. She would never be able to complete the day’s ride without making a spectacular fool of herself. Preoccupied, she missed the Earl’s cursory introduction of his new tiger.

Annalise, meanwhile, had recognized Jasmine from afar, and quickly identified her cousin Sarah as the mare’s rider. [ANNALISE’s POV] She pulled her cap down over her eyes as far as it could go and tried to shrink down into her saddle. Fortunately, a tiger was expected to follow along well behind the other riders, and Sarah’s attention seemed to be absorbed by the two gentlemen riding on either side of her. Annalise could only hope that she would escape detection after all.

Yup. Almost every paragraph starts with a new POV character.

It can be fixed, of course. What I’ll probably do, in the case of the scene above, is take the preceding material up to “the two were upon them” and put it in Latham’s perspective, and then put in a scene break and recast the rest from Annalise’s POV.

Doing this will probably help with the word count problem, too. Instead of having a paragraph on how Sarah feels a sense of impending doom, I can have a single line where Annalise sees her cousin fidgeting nervously, and let the reader draw her own conclusions. It’ll be stronger writing, too, because I’ll be showing you what Sarah feels, instead of telling you.

So has anyone else committed the sin of Head Hopping? How did you go about fixing it?

Hoppy Easter!


About sheilamcclune

Aspiring author, sharing the tidbits I've learned along the way.
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