1

In the story I am trying to write, I have a question about character point of view. I'm writing in what I believe is omniscient style, and I've read that changing POV within the same paragraph is not something one should do, but in my story I switch POV, and I'm wondering if I shouldn't. I'll have to provide several paragraphs to show how I switched, with my primary POV being from a character named John to a boy he's traveling with named Sylar (although in the provided paragraphs it's in the middle of the story with Sylar's POV). If anyone can comment if I should be writing the boy's POV from John's perspective, or if what I wrote is just fine, please let me know. I am looking for critique.

Unable to see what was wrong with his pack, Sylar unslung it, placed it in the snow in front of him, then frowned. It was, indeed, open at the top. Grumbling to himself, he began tying it once more. “‘Snot my fault the bags bulging,” he complained loudly. “That fault lies with someone else. I said let’s go home hours ago, but some slave driver I know insisted we keep gathering. Then we see this wolf. A freakishly painted, icy-eyed massive beast at that. Can’t be seeing brown or grey or even green-eyed wolves, now can we? 'Twould be too normal, wouldn’t it? To have normal colored eyes, that is. I once heard blue-eyed wolves are an ill omen, but that’s only if you trust the tavern bards at the Iron Keg. Scoundrels; the lot of 'em I say.”

“Oh?” John murmured, as if Sylar had spoken something of interest and not merely grumbled out several complaints in a row as the boy was wont to do all day long. “Fascinating story you have there.”

Sylar gritted his teeth. “We could have been eaten, you know," he said, suddenly irritated that John wasn't taking the wolf as a serious threat to life and limb. Without warning, a frigid wind swept across the mountain, lasting quite a few moments before dying down. As it passed, it seemed to drain the boy of all his anger, leaving behind nothing but a cold chill to his bones.

“Young wolves have blue eyes, you know.”

“Oh, just shut it!” Sylar growled at the mountaineer, shivering all the while.

No matter how often he had accompanied John on gathering days, he never seemed to get used to the cold. All morning long they had scoured the mountain, filling their backpacks with herbs and roots and with the occasional rock-minerals. It was sparse pickings due to an unnaturally harsh winter, but still, if one knew where to look, and had the time, one could find flora that grew even in the most detrimental of environments. John, somehow, seemed to know exactly where to look, and whilst Sylar truly found the man’s talents amazing, his knack for constantly rooting out hidden herbs was also the reason they were still stuck out in the cold.

After this I return to primarily John's POV. Is this wrong to do, or confusing to a reader? I see where writing in the same paragraph switching POV is very confusing, but is it ok to do this in separate paragraphs when writing from omniscient perspective?

  • are John and Sylar both main characters? Do you alternate between those two primarily throughout the book? or do you give many characters' thoughts all along the way? – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum May 2 '17 at 9:48
  • 1
    To me, your excerpt reads as if it was written in third-person limited-to-close, not omniscient, and without switching POVs, which hardly illustrate the question. How can we tell if you are doing the switch correctly if you do not show us? – Lew May 2 '17 at 13:15
  • Perhaps I should have added more paragraphs to start with John's POV, but I didn't want a wall of writing. I could be writing in 3rd person limited to close, rather then omniscient, but I'm relatively new to those terms so that was part of my own confusion of whether I'm doing something wrong, or it is fine as written. John and Sylar are main characters, but most the perspective (when I focus more on perspective in some of the paragraphs) are from John's POV. I just found when I wrote the example paragraphs, that it swerved naturally to somewhat Sylar's POV. – Sasukekorlo May 2 '17 at 19:22
  • I'll add the remainder paragraphs to show the switch (or what I think is) back to John. As Sylar finished tying his backpack, he unconsciously looked up at the mountain’s crest once more. Inwardly, he knew the wolf wasn’t likely to return, but deep inside, in a place where dark thoughts dwelled, he harbored the fear the beast might have a sudden change of heart. Perhaps it had become bored of chasing one elusive rabbit around, or worse, it had caught the small hare and found its hunger still unsatisfied. Naturally, it would return to where it had last seen meatier prey; prey like John and him – Sasukekorlo May 2 '17 at 19:35
  • As he was looking up, his gaze fell upon something odd in the snow. Squinting, he scrunched his eyebrows together, peering hard at the spot. Unsure if he was seeing things, he rubbed at his eyes, then blinked several times, clearing them of any foreign objects that might be tampering with his vision. The oddity, however, remained. “John,” Sylar said softly, pointing. “Look.” – Sasukekorlo May 2 '17 at 19:36
3

Here is the thing about point of view. People always position themselves to get the best view of something they are interested in. If they can stay in one place and see everything they want to see, they stay where they are. If they have to move to see everything they want to see, they move. This is the most natural thing in the world and we don't tend to think about it much as we are doing it.

In a book, the writer is in total control of what the reader can see. If the writer handles POV well, then the reader will be able to see what they want to see and will not even think about POV. But if the reader needs to change POV in order to see what they are interested in, and the author does not make that POV switch at the right moment, then the reader will be frustrated. If the author does make the POV switch at the right time, however, the reader will not even notice because they always have the view they want at that moment.

Writing teachers often warn about "head hopping" -- rapid changes of POV from one character to another. But the fault is not changing POV rapidly. The fault is changing POV when the reader feels no need to do so. If the reader is being constantly jerked from one POV to another when they would rather stand still, that is frustrating. If the reader is being held in one position when they would rather move to a different position (a real problem in first person narratives) that is also frustrating.

It is probably not bad advice to new writers to avoid POV shifts, since POV can be difficult and new writers are more likely to handle it badly than to handle it well. But in the end the point is to get to being a good writer and a good writer has to learn to handle this well.

  • Thank you, that bit of advise actually is helpful since I'm trying to find a definitive right or wrong answer, but when I read my own writing I sometimes feel my shifts are seamless and feel "right", but at other times its clunky, which is probably due to a bad POV switch when its not needed. I'll continue editing with your advice in mind. Thanks. – Sasukekorlo May 2 '17 at 19:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.