Tennis Match Head Hopping

 One of the most irritating things I’ve ever run across in a book is head hopping. It’s even worse when there’s head hopping without anything to identify the speakers.

First, we’re going to identify what head hopping is.

Imagine you’re in a conversation with your friends. Everyone is talking at once. Your head is moving back and forth, back and forth, so you can keep track of what’s being said. Kind of reminds you of a tennis match, doesn’t it?

Now imagine you’re reading a book you really love. The author sets the characters off in a conversation, but doesn’t include vocal tags. You’re supposed to discern who is saying what and keep track of the flow.

Confused yet?

I am.

This is called head hopping. Much like a tennis match, your head is moving back and forth throughout the conversation. Unlike a tennis match, you have no idea who is doing or saying what without a vocal tag to let you know. You’re lost and angry. At that moment, you’re ready to close the book and walk away. No book is good enough for you to discern what’s happening in this conversation.

As authors, we have devices to keep the reader interested. One of those devices is to remember that no one just stands around talking back and forth. We move constantly. Action is happening around us, even if it’s a bird flying past. Our attention can split from the conversation at the right moment and we can be caught up in an activity that will turn the scene in another direction.

Remember, use vocal or action tags. Break up long chunks of dialogue with narrative that keeps the reader interested. Allow dialogue to enhance the plot, not detract from it when your characters decide to talk to each other.


J Q Rose said…
I agree. Nothing more frustrating when reading and I can't figure out who is talking, so I have to leaf back or click back a couple of pages to trace back who began the conversation.
JQ Rose
Rachael Tamayo said…
Yep, dialog tags are an art form that early or novice writers sometimes don't realize they need to research. They get hung up on plots and descriptions when bad dialog and tags can ruin an otherwise decent story idea.

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