Sandra Gerth - author of the Writers' Guide Series

How to avoid head hopping and point of view violations

What’s point of view (POV)?

Point of view (POV) is the perspective through which readers are viewing the story. Through whose eyes–and other senses–are readers experiencing the events of the story?

What’s a POV violation?

When you’re writing in third person limited POV, you are limited to one POV character per scene. You can’t write about things your POV character doesn’t see, hear, feel, or know. You can’t show us what’s going on behind your POV character or what the person on the other end of the phone line is doing while the POV character is talking to him or her.

You can’t show other characters’ thoughts or feelings, at least not directly. But of course the POV character can speculate about other people’s thoughts or motivations and can interpret another character’s body language and facial expressions. How far you can go depends on who your POV character is. If he or she is great with people and a good observer, maybe someone who works in a social or helping profession, you can get away with a bit more.

What is head hopping?

Head hopping is one type of POV violation. In third person limited POV, you can switch POV only when you start a new scene (some authors even prefer not to switch within a chapter). If you switch within a scene, that’s “head hopping” and can become very confusing to the reader. The main advantage of third person limited POV is that it strengthens readers’ identification with the POV character. But if we’re yanked from head to head, from POV to POV, it’s hard to identify with any character.


Anna pushed open the door and glanced at her watch. She was early.

Lisa looked up from her desk, sensing Anna’s gaze on her. “Oh, you’re here already.”

“Sorry. I can wait outside.” She hadn’t wanted to be late, so she had left home half an hour early.

We’re going from Anna’s POV to Lisa’s and back to Anna. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting POV whiplash if I’m reading pages upon pages of this.

Readers do notice when something is wrong with the POV, even if most readers won’t be able to pinpoint it as a POV problem. It distances them from the characters and the story.

Examples for other POV violations:

Let’s assume for these examples that they’re all from a scene in which Anna is the POV character and Lisa is the non-POV character.

  • The irony of the thought escaped Anna. If Anna is the POV character, you can’t mention things that she doesn’t notice.
  • Anna’s expression turned cold. The POV character can’t see her expression. Instead, describe how she feels her muscles tighten or something like that.
  • Lisa eyed Anna, looking for any signs of a lie. Anna can’t know why Lisa is staring at her.
  • Teary green eyes locked with ice blue ones. This is switching into a distant, more omniscient POV. We’re observing both characters from the outside and are no longer in Anna’s POV.
  • Anna flopped down onto the bed and ran her hand through her silky black tresses. Unless Anna is a very vain poet, she would probably not think of her hair as “silky black tresses.”
  • Anna opened the front door and stepped into her apartment. Orange curtains suffused the living room in a golden light. In the corner was a desk piled high with books, files, and magazines. If this is her apartment, why is she paying so much attention to the furniture? She sees this every day, so she has no reason to look at it or think about it.

For more POV violations and how to avoid them, check out my book Point of View. It will help you to avoid head hopping and to pick the best POV for your book.

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7 thoughts on “How to avoid head hopping and point of view violations”

  1. Hi Sandra. After buying three of your books and studying your POV inside out. I was told by my online tutor that I violated the POV in my paragraph. I am writing from the pov of Peter but he said I am head hoping from Peter, to the woman and then to the narrator, but I don’t agree with him. Can you please just read this paragraph and let me know if he is correct please.

    “As Peter drew nearer to the inn, there was a woman standing at the door. She had braided hair, jewels around her neck with her eyelids painted black. She stood with a pose that could tempt any man to betray his beloved wife. Peter glared at her with a look that could pierce through iron armour. Surely, this can’t be the same damn wench who received a penalty warning last week for harlotry in the kings town? Is it? He pondered.”

    He said my 1st POV violation is I switched to omniscient because I wrote “there was a woman standing at the door. She had braided hair, jewels around her neck with her eyelids painted black”. My tutor said that said I should have wrote. “Peter saw/stumbled upon a woman standing at the door and looked/noticed her braided hair, etc”. He said I have to include peter as that is what he sees”.
    Then he said my 2nd POV violation is “She stood with a pose that could tempt any man to betray his beloved wife”. He told me I switched to her POV instead of Peter’s.

    Now I know my prose could be better, but do you agree that I violated Peter’s POV and switched to omniscient and then to her POV?

    I look forward to your reply

    • I have to say I disagree with your tutor. “Peter saw” and “Peter noticed” are called filters, and they actually distance us from the POV character. If you see a woman standing at the door, you don’t think “I see a woman standing at the door.” You think: “A woman is standing at the door.” So that’s what Peter should think too.

      You also don’t need “He pondered.” Readers see him pondering because you are sharing his thoughts, so there’s no need to TELL us he’s pondering.

      You don’t have to “include Peter,” as your tutor said, because you are not watching him from the outside. You are inhabiting his mind. So everything he sees, we see. Everything he thinks, we witness.

      I also don’t agree that you switched to her POV. I doubt the woman would think about herself “I stood with a pose that could tempt any man to betray his beloved wife.” It strays a bit into omniscient, but I can’t be sure because I don’t know if a thought like that fits Peter and his personality and vocabulary.

      • Thank you for your feedback, Sandra. I knew I was right.
        And yes you are correct. Peter is an unapologetic commander in the army, he would not use words like ” make any man betray his beloved wife”, so I will change those words that best suit his vocabulary.
        I wish you were my online tutor now. Lol.
        Thank you so much for your help. I really appreciate you taking your time to answer me.

        • Hi, Lucy. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to do webinars right now. If that changes, I’ll let you know!

  2. Hi, Sandra. I have bought a few of your books and I woukd urge you do do a book on dialogue. Do you have any plans for this subject?


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