To all you brave and wild NaNoWriMo people: Ever onward! I’m cheering for you!
On September 16, 2017, Melissa Mead wrote, What does everybody think of changing viewpoints? If there’s more than one POV character in a book, do they need to take turns in a predictable pattern, or does that not matter as long as the author makes it clear whose head we’re in at the start of each scene?
I asked for more info, and Melissa Mead added, The first book starts out with chapters from several viewpoints, then settles into the MC’s viewpoint for the last 2/3 of the book or so. I did it because:
Prologue- the MC’s only a few weeks old, so the POV is more “camera eye.”(MC’s POV for a bit.)
Then the MC is blind and in a cage, so he’s limited in what he can take in. Also, I want the reader to feel sorry for him, but not for him to feel sorry for himself. So I switch to the POV of a demon-hunter-in-training who sympathizes with him and has more freedom to act.
Then we see him from his uncle’s POV, so we can get a feel for both of the cultures the MC’s struggling to live in.
Then we see him from the POV of an innocent child.
It’s pretty much the MC’s POV from then on.
It works logically in my head,, and agents haven’t complained about it, but I worry that it could be jarring for the casual reader. (Especially since the demon-hunter-in-training doesn’t turn up again right away.)
(And the agents may not have complained, but they haven’t offered to represent it, either.)
These ideas followed.
Christie V Powell: ‘Bella at Midnight’ by Diane Stanley does this. I actually really liked seeing the story from different perspectives, but I know some reviewers were critical. It added more depth to the story. I think it would be far worse to throw in a new POV at the end than to start out with multiples and then settle into one. ‘Bella’ also works because the storyline is the same even though the POV is different. I think several people have commented before that we had some trouble with ‘Lord of the Rings’ because of the jumps between two plotlines.
So far I’ve stuck with one POV, but I’m planning on jumping between several for my next NaNoWriMo novel. I’m not planning on sticking to a predictable pattern, although I did appreciate it when Brandon Sanderson’s ‘Elantris’ did that.
Melissa Mead: I’m having trouble with the plotline thing in the second book. For the first, I’m hoping it’ll work as long as I keep things really, really clear.
Song4myKing: I don’t think it matters if there’s a pattern or not. Patterns are nice, but I would think they would be more difficult to write, depending on the story, of course. Without a pattern, you can choose which character would show this particular scene best.
I think if part of the story seems to call for single POV and part seems to call for multiple, it would work best if there is some kind of clear division. I don’t know how a typical “Part One, Part Two” division works for submitting a story, whether that’s cumbersome to do, or if there are any reasons to not do it. There could also be ways of making a division clear without the use of a hard and fast “part” break. You’ve mentioned having a twenty-year gap somewhere in the story. If that corresponds to where you go from multiple to single POV, I’d say you’ve got a natural break. Another possibility is to title the chapters with one theme for one section, and switch it up for another section. Basically, I think acknowledging that there’s been a change of some kind is better than breezing on through.
Does your MC have any POV scenes between the Prologue and where he takes the single POV? If not, the very fact that you’re now switching to him would be a clear enough change.
Melissa Mead: You remembered the twenty-year gap! Nope, that’s after it’s all him.
Yes, it’s his POV until he gets imprisoned, and mostly afterward, except for the bit from the child’s POV. In the cases where it’s someone else’s POV, he’s generally too physically incapacitated to do much more than be really miserable. Plus, it gives us a look at both how others see him, and how he sees himself. And in the beginning, there’s a big gap there.
Whenever the subject comes up, I say how much I love this blog, and one reason is wrapped up in Song4myKing’s recollection of the twenty-year gap. Here on the blog, we pay attention!
I agree with Melissa Mead’s pledge to be really, really clear. If the reader is invested in a story and knows–effortlessly–what’s going on, he won’t mind plunging into other POVs. If he’s confused, he’s likely to be annoyed and we may lose him.
Multiple POVs can be fun to write and to read. Obviously, the POV of a character is determined by the character’s personality. For example, say the demon-hunter-in-training is hyper-alert. The tiniest sound or smallest movement captures his attention. When we write from his POV, we reflect that attentiveness. We should also think about how each POV character thinks so we can make each voice a little different. A book that’s a masterpiece of this (though I read only a little of it) is The Poisonwood Diary by Barbara Kingsolver (high school and up).
I agree with Christie V Powell that it’s best to introduce POV switching early, when the reader is still discovering the world of our book and will more likely be open to anything.
And I’m with Song4myKing that clear divisions can help. We can separate voices by chapter, even if we create irregular-length chapters thereby–another element that we can bring in early. We can even name the POV under the chapter heading. Doing something obvious like that can support the change in voice, too. The voice differences may be subtle. If the reader is told whose POV the chapter is in, he’ll be looking for the change and will notice it more.
We can use other POVs to inform the reader’s sense of our MC, a neat trick that Melissa Mead suggests she’s doing in the demon-hunter-in-training’s POV. The demon-hunter-in-training seems to like her MC. If the demon-hunter-in-training is likable, too, the reader will be swayed in the MC’s favor.
Another plus of multiple POVs is that more than one perspective can be lived by the reader. In Melissa Mead’s book, the uncle may accomplish this. He’s so embedded in his culture that he can’t help but reflect it.
So I’m fine and happy with multiple POVs if there’s clarity. As a reader I don’t think I’d care if the POV switch was regular or not..
In Stolen Magic and Ever I switched POVs. In Stolen Magic, since the three MCs are separated and can’t communicate, and what they’re each doing is crucial to the plot, I thought I needed three POVs. In Stolen Magic, the three POVs are written in third person.
In Ever, Kezi has no idea of the civilization Olus is part of and thus can’t experience it for the reader. Also, the two POVs allowed me to develop a love story from two perspectives, which was fun. In Ever, the two POVs are written in first person.
However, in both books I probably could have made other choices. I could certainly have told the stories in third-person omniscient, an option that’s always available. There would have been a single voice within chapters that jumped in and out of the thoughts and feelings of the MCs.
I could have told Ever entirely from Kezi’s POV. The reader would have made discoveries about Olus as Kezi made them. I can’t say if the result would have been better or worse.
There isn’t any right or wrong choice on POV–or, uncomfortably, any certainty, even after a book is finished and out in the world, that we couldn’t have done better. Oy, the writer’s life! But on the other hand, the more books we write, the better we get in whatever POV we choose.
Melissa Mead mentions that her demon-hunter-in-training isn’t active in the story for a while and then pops up again as a POV character. We can keep a character in the reader’s mind, however, even when she’s absent from the action, by having our MC think about her and have other characters talk about her.
Now let’s imagine we don’t want to shift POV. What can we do? In Ella Enchanted, I used Ella’s magic book to reveal events she couldn’t experience directly. In addition, Char’s letters tell her about Ayortha and also open up Char’s character in a kind of interior way.
We can use hearsay. A secondary character can tell our MC what went down, whatever it was when he wasn’t there. We can use newspaper reports, letters, diaries to convey information our POV character can’t know directly. Very judiciously, we can give him magical aids, like a crystal ball or a cloak of invisibility. We don’t want to get him out of jams with these, but we can use them to give him knowledge he wouldn’t have any other way. And we can use the magical props to get him into trouble, too.
If he happens to lose one sense as Melissa Mead’s MC does, we can sharpen the others.
Ella, Fairest, and The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre all begin before my first-person MC is old enough to remember, but the events are necessary for the plot. Ella in Ella and Aza in Fairest are able to relate the history because others have told them what happened. In Lost Kingdom, Perry finds out via a fantasy version of a movie.
In Melissa Mead’s book, I’m not sure what to do about the uncle or the innocent child, but I suspect there are options–not that Melissa Mead needs to change her course.
Here are three prompts:
∙ Your villain has a cloak of invisibility. Whatever your MC does keeps getting foiled because the villain is always one step ahead of her. Write as many scenes as you need to to have her figure out what’s going on. If you like, keep going with her attempts to capture the cloak–which is invisible, too.
∙ Write a scene in “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” from the first-person POV view of one of the enchanted princes. Write a scene, the same scene or a different one, from the first-person POV of the soldier. Then from the POV of one of the princesses. If you want to keep going, write one from the POV of the king. Make their voices different. Then, if you like, try a scene in which all of them are present in an omniscient voice.
∙ To get a little topical, write the saga of an election. Could be a race for class president or mayor or judge or best pie baker. Your MC is one of the candidates or her daughter. The other POV characters are the opponent’s campaign manager and someone hired to dig up dirt on one of the candidates. (Just saying, because I’m so tickled by this, in a local election here in upstate New York, the absentee ballots haven’t been counted yet, but one candidate is up by a single vote, absolutely giving the lie to the notion that the vote doesn’t count!)
Have fun, and save what you write!