Close Third POV vs Head-hopping

I am writing a novel in close third person POV. At what point can we assume the reader understands that we are looking through our POV character’s eyes? I’m consistently accused of head hopping when I’m presenting my MC’s opinion of what the other person is thinking, feeling or doing. How long do I have to say, In her opinion, he was mad, even if he wasn’t showing it? Or some other qualifier. How do we convey thoughts like this before the POV is firmly established?


One of the best tips I’ve heard for staying in POV in a case like this is if your POV character notices something someone else does/says and attributes motive/emotion to it, you can signal it in the prose in various ways.

Using your example of the POV character noticing someone else being angry:

  • She thought he looked angry.
  • In her opinion, he was upset.
  • He seemed upset.

All of these examples lean toward the “tell” side of prose. Which isn’t always a bad or unnecessary thing, however…

Personally, I would consider whether or not an absolute statement of the other person’s perceived emotion was necessary. [<< Telling] Often readers can glean how another on-scene character feels based on what the POV character notes about how they’re acting, what they’re saying, how they’re saying it, etc. [<< Showing] Which means you don’t have to outright say, “John was angry.” Instead you can have John snap back a reply to something he usually wouldn’t have trouble talking about, or maybe show red creeping up his neck, or fingers clamped around something.

On the “before the POV is established” part, POV should be established as early as possible to avoid confusion. If you feel you absolutely have to categorically state a non-POV character’s feelings before mentioning your POV character… I would consider restructuring the scene. Is it possible the person with these big feelings should be the POV character instead of the person noting them?

That’s my opinion, anyway.

Character expressions or body actions. Personally, I bought this book called The Emotional Thesaurus. Examples of In her opinion, he was mad She watched his eyebrows draw together as he jammed his fists in his jacket pockets."

External Dialogue “What the hell do you mean, Daphne?” “Why do you care, you are nothing but a liar. I could just…gahhhh. I’m so pissed.”

Internal Dialoge: He is so pissed right now his toes are probably curling. Its fight or flight bastard and I’ve got my gloves already laced.

1 Like

Yikes! Head hopping is doing exactly what you are describing in more than one head in one section of the book! Do those accusers know what they’re on about?