Kelly Mortimer

Kelly Mortimer of Mortimer Literary Agency represents clients in both the ABA and the CBA, and is diving into screenplays and TV scripts. She’s in the top 5 of the Publisher’s Marketplace Top 100 Dealmakers - Romance Category, 2008; and is a two-time nominee and the winner of the American Christian Fiction Writers “Agent of the Year” Award for 2008, and her agency is Romance Writers of America recognized. Kelly is also the Founder and President of CMA; Christian Media Alliance.

Off with Their Head (Hopping)!

Well, I can’t start my column as I usually do. “Headhopping, head-hopping, head hopping” isn’t in the dictionary, so no formal definition. I’ll just give ya mine.

Head-hopping: An annoying, aggravating, exasperating, drive-me-up-the-wall (wonder who thought of that phrase) way to present characters’ points of view. Changing the point of view of the characters mid-chapter, mid-scene, mid-paragraph, or mid-sentence without warning.

Okay, so “mid-sentence” is pushin’ it, but I can’t help it. Every time I haveta read a manuscript with heinous head-hopping, I need to hop for my Xanax or my head will explode. You’d think as a person with bipolar disorder, head-hopping would be a natural. A great fit. I’m bipolar, not schizophrenic.

So, what choices are there when it comes to point of view (POV)?

Most authors write in third person. I like it. Sic, dudes. My fave. Lets the reader see the story through the perspective of different characters, but not every other sentence. Writers let us in on the switch with scene breaks, or by starting a new chapter:

Mary couldn’t believe her mother could be so cruel. What made Mary so unlovable to the woman who bore her?

(Use a blank space or *** to denote new scene because of a POV shift, new time, or new place)

Mary’s mother couldn't believe her daughter could be so thoughtless. What made her mother so unlovable, the girl insisted she read books fraught with head-hopping?

Some authors write in first person POV. Perfectly acceptable if it fits the story. It’s the “I” way to write. It limits perspective to one character:

I couldn’t believe my mother could be so cruel. What made me so unlovable to the woman who bore me?

Some authors write in omniscient POV. Ugh. All narrative. That’s headless, meaning the scene isn’t written from any character’s POV; not from inside anyone’s head (mayhap that makes the writer empty-headed? An airhead? Sorry.):

The mother was unbelievably cruel to her daughter. (. . . yada, yada. I’m getting’ sick of both of them.)

But unscrupulous head-hoppers fool ya. You think you’re reading in third person POV, then something strange happens. Next stop: The Twilight Zone. You’re in a character’s POV or head, then realize you aren’t anymore, but the writer didn’t warn ya (by adding a scene break). Bad writer! Bad! This causes frustration and re-reading to try to figure out who’s thinkin’ what:

Mary couldn’t believe her mother could be so cruel. What made Mary so unlovable to the woman who bore her? Hadn’t she given her mother everything? Even her used paperbacks?

If she had to read one more of those head-hopping novels, she’d lose her mind. Maybe that was Mary’s intent.

Yeah, so it works for some authors (if you’re such an author, I’m sure you write so beautifully, one simply doesn’t care whose head you’re hopping to), so someone must like to read that style, or no one would sell those types of books. Actually, I should get mad at the reader, not the writer. Listen, people, if you’d stop buyin’ horrific head-hopping novels, no one would be writin’ them!

Okay, so who am I to judge? Well, it is my column. I can write what I wanna write. (Oh, the power.) Those head-hopping pages make me wanna go outside and grab my blowtorch (yes, I do have one) and put those manuscripts with multiple personalities out of their misery. (Or mine, depending.)

Listen, everything in this business is subjective. But I’ll bet the odds weigh heavily that most editors and agents don’t like head-hopping. So writers-who-have-yet-to-sell-a-manuscript, take heed. Why chance losing a deal because ya can’t keep your heads straight?

As for me, I’m imploring ya. Don’t send me any more submissions featuring hopping heads. I have enough trouble controlling my shifting mood swings already. Next stop: Lithium. Now, you wouldn’t want me to lose my fun-loving, enthusiastic, sarcastic, caustic personality and turn me into a Night of the Living Dead zombie, would ya? (Those who don’t like me need not answer that question.) Have a heart. Only one head at a time, please. Well, time to head out. (Sorry.)

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