I recently read a New York Time bestseller that was all the rage for a time. It was reviewed by all the best reviewers, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist (starred review), all the major newspapers. Even Oprah got a word in. They made a major motion picture about it, and for awhile, it was a darling of all the book discussion groups–which is where I read it. I must admit it had a great premise, and the first part 50 pages of the book had me riveted. Then the author did something I found well, unforgivable— and I’m a pretty forgiving person. The author started out with one character internally reacting to the other character’s actions. Then in the next paragraph, the other character also reacted internally. Ohhhh… I felt that internally myself, because what this author’s characters’ did was what’s unaffectionately referred to as head-hopping, otherwise known as switching points-of-view in a middle of a scene. And to me that is simply unforgivable.
To some people this is no big deal. They like being in everyone’s head at once. But to me head-hopping is almost as bad as inserting the phrase, Little did Carl know but he was just about to… Yeah, that kind of omniscient stuff. Call me a prose snob. I DON’T CARE. It’s just lazy-writing. It’s much easier to let your readers know at every minute what your characters are thinking, feeling, wanting, desiring, lusting than to actually postpone that understanding by having them deduce subtle reaction cues. Actually I could probably cut a 300 page book down to 150 pages if I do enough hopping. But there’s a certain magic in letting your readers come to their deductions, to allow one character’s time in the spotlight, to hold back some information to let it drop like a bomb later.
Part of the joy of reading–and writing–is the build up of suspense, to have that pay-off after we get to know our characters, get acquainted with their milieu, become invested. If you know everything all the time, every tic, quirk, and innermost feeling, we lesson the thrill of discovery, and in turn, write–and read–a less satisfying story. So it’s okay in writing to hold back, dispense info on a need-to-know basis, maybe even create an unreliable narrator. If the payoff is big enough, your readers will thank you for it later. And your writing rep will remain intact.