Head hopping is a common problem for writers who think they’re writing in omniscient. Often, they want to do omniscient because of the perception that all the viewpoint does is show what all the characters all thinking in a scene.
This is what beginning writers trying to write in omniscient do:
Paragraph 1: George’s POV
Paragraph 2: Jane’s POV
Paragraph 3: Jim’s POV
Paragraph 4: Jane’s POV
It’s basic head hopping. We’re just jumping from one character viewpoint to another and likely confusing the reader. Compare with omniscient:
Camera follows main character for several pages.
Dips into the thoughts of another character for paragraph. Makes a transition.
Returns to follow the main character again, likely for several pages.
There’s some key differences between the two. With head hopping, we’re looking through the character’s eyes and experiencing the scene as they see it. Head hopping also tends–at least from my critiquing experience–to occur rather frequently.
With omniscient, we never leave what the camera narrator sees. Remember my earlier entry on word choice? Careful word choice keeps the reader in the camera narrator’s POV. But the narrator also tends not to touch other characters’ thoughts too often.
I’ve read all of Tamora Pierce’s books. Her Lady Knight series does omniscient very well. The narrator primarily follows the main character, but occasionally drops in on another character. Her Circle of Four series–and please note that I still really like the books–leans more towards head hopping. She has four main characters who carry equal weight, and sometimes the narrator switches too often between them.
But there’s another piece to preventing head hopping and that’s next: Making Transitions in Omnscient Viewpoint.