I'm giving my newest story a bit of break before I go back and fix the tense issue in it, and going back to the story I started last April.

I am unfortunate enough to have about 180k words of novel (still unfinished) sitting on my HDD (plus multiple local and remote back ups) that was written with no concern for tense or whose reference frame the narrator is using. I am now editing that mess. Fortunately, it's written in a the past tense style using present tense verbs. Easy fix. The issue of head hopping, however, isn't.

In many cases I can simply say "that character doesn't have anything especially significant to add," and simple remove that character's explicit thoughts and feelings from the narrative and rely on "showing" that they are angry by the color of their face, or that they are shocked by a stutter in their voice. However there are those cases where more than one character has something meaningful going on up stairs.

I have come up with three potential solutions

  • Remove one character's frame of reference from the narrative and make it a flash back.
  • Remove one character's frame of reference from the narrative and have them give a long exposition, detailed in a later scene.
  • Just clean it up and make the head hopping as clear as possible with frequent scene breaks.

Of these, I favor the long exposition, but I can see how some readers may tire of that. My least favorite among the options is the flashback mostly because I just don't like them. I think they are trite and gimmicky even though I am aware they can be used effectively. The third option would be the easiest and the only one that isn't certain to require significant amount of rewriting. However, I feel it is likely to lead to the most confusion for the reader and also end up feeling choppy from all the scene breaks. I for one dislike scenes shorter than 300 words unless they are at the beginning or end of a chapter.

I haven't actually read any books that utilized the last two options, and first has only been used sparingly, so I don't have much personal reference. I've read amateur fiction that has taken all manner of approaches including ignoring the issue all together and head hopping all over the place. Google hasn't been much help. It gave results which told me how to write a proper flash back, or how to handle multiple reference frames in a single story. I did find a reddit thread comparing flashbacks and exposition, but in the context of a movie. In the case of a book the reader's eyes can actually start to glaze over and skip words or whole paragraphs, which is worse than simply zoning out during a film.

I intentionally left off baton passing as a way of handling this issue. First off, I don't trust in my ability to pull it off. Secondly I'd be doing it so frequently it would still end up jarring. Better than what it is (I have paragraphs with three reference frames), but that isn't to say it's good.

In my new story I tackle this by avoiding it all together. Those character who are likely to have something interesting bouncing around their brains are kept apart from one another so that it's a none issue by design. This story, however, by design, frequently has two or more especially interesting and distinct characters in the same room at the same time.

The question, then, is what would seem like the preferential method among the three mentioned above, or do you advice something else?

  • 1
    Thank you. I thought it was evident from the title, but you are right. No questions appears in the body of the text. Fixed. Now imagine what the body of my stories are like. Perhaps my earlier estimate of 70% exposition falls short.
    – Nero gris
    Feb 19, 2018 at 0:47

1 Answer 1


My WIP was begun before I knew what I was doing. I had to hammer about 5 PoVs into 2 (two heroes). I was finding hopping heads for months, sometimes these were one-liners, and about three or four were significant chunks and scenes.

  1. The prologue, omniscient, was removed and the important pieces of it were brought in throughout the body of the story. A comment here, a foreshadowing there, a 'let this one go' somewhere else. One piece of the prologue went into exposition through dialogue (see 4.)

  2. An argument between 2 minor characters which I felt was pivotal was removed, and I found no good way to add that information back. But what I did, to replace it, works in a different way. At supper that evening, following the now-invisible argument, the tension at the dinner table is palpable. Slamming silverware between the two minor characters and so on. Everyone else does not know why these two are so angry, but it is clear they argued and left to the reader to sort it out from the clues. (The clues are the surrounding context - what happens in the chapter preceding and following the tense mealtime.) I'm happy with the solution, the angry supper was an opportunity for humor, and since these are minor characters their actual argument was probably a distraction from the MC arcs, anyway.

  3. A romantic evening romp between 2 other minor characters had to go as well. That was sad. But the important parts of their discussion were easy to resurrect - After their romp (which happened off screen, outside, actually) they hold their conversation on the way back into the house and a MC can hear them talking as they come back in. So, all the important info is overheard.

  4. The best re-work was one of the pieces of the prologue becoming exposition from a secondary character to a MC. They had a long travel scene and I was so tired of describing what was going by outside the window and small talk, so it actually worked out really nicely to have this long uninterrupted stretch of time during which the secondary character could muse out loud about things that happened in the prologue. This way it was not simply the information, but also a dialogue (so, exposition through dialogue) and there was the opportunity for the reader to discover the information at the same time as the MC AND it broke up that long travel time.

  5. Another scene, of just one minor character sleuthing around, had to go. Some of that info was worked into other scenes, again shared through dialog. Other info was simply lost. It's OK in the end.

I didn't use flashbacks for these, since flashbacks are still in the MC PoV. So of your three, I guess my solutions are closest to #2 but I'd say the idea of identifying the info you need and weaving it in elsewhere is what you should aim for.

  • 1
    So you answer is ``none of the above, but rather work it in through other means or remove it?" Fair enough. It requires more of a creative touch, but this is creative writing. I can't complain about that now can I? The result is much higher in quality. On a side note, I'm dreading three chapter from where I left off in my newest story. I've never done a travel scene before, and I'm a bit scared. Well, I'll find out how I do soon enough. Thanks
    – Nero gris
    Feb 19, 2018 at 1:11
  • Maybe. I think my answer is all of the above? :-) I'm not a professional fiction writer. Identify why you need the scenes - Dissect them, and figure out what you need to keep, and then see the challenge as an opportunity.
    – SFWriter
    Feb 19, 2018 at 1:20

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