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I have a story that is primarily told from one POV character (third-person limited). However, plotted within this story are a few chapters from other characters.

Most of my multiple-POV research relates to dividing the whole book into alternating character POVs. The articles suggest that each POV character should have a character arc, be unique, etc.

In my case, I'm exploring adding a few chapters with a different POVs and largely not returning to these POVs later. The characters may continue to exist and be pertinent to the story, though they may not tell the story.

Q: Is this okay? Will this be jarring? Is it odd?

Examples

1 -- A side-character is struggling with a moral dilemma. I want to show one chapter of her reflecting on the protagonist's advice and making a change. This plays strongly in her decision to help the protagonist later. Benefits: rounds out the character, provides more world information, foreshadows information.

Alternatively, I could get creative with showing some of this detail from the main protagonist, though potentially lose the closeness of this side-character's thoughts and trials.

2 -- The community manager of a popular tournament is interviewed live on TV. Besides the interview, this character won't be seen much in the story. This allows me to hype the upcoming events. That this is a once in a lifestyle experience for thousands of participants. It also allows me to info-dump in a more creative and interesting way.

Alternatively, I could show the interview on TV that my character is watching. I don't get to show the effort, stress, and work that's going into the event, though I could portray a lot of the required information.

Q: Given that most of the book is from one POV, would you skip using other POVs for a handful of chapters? Or do you feel that you could add more to the story by switching POV, even if it's done irregularly?

Thank you for your help!

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Using a certain character's point of view to describe a particular event in your story is nothing more than a technique.

Q: Is this okay?

Of course, it is. It had been done time and time again, and it will be done as many a time as there are stories to be told.

Selection of the point of view to me is akin to choosing a right file from my tool cabinet. Do I use a flat one, square one, round one, or triangular? That largely depends on the kind of a hole I am making so the peg I have will fit.

If you have a well-developed cast of characters (where every person is actually different from another), it would be a great time to employ multiple POV and choose, through whose eyes you allow the readers to see some events you are describing, because you can thus add a layer of subjectivity of each of your cast members to the perception of the said events.

If you are unveiling a complex who-done-it mystery, you might employ multiple POV technique, because it shows the limits of the single person's knowledge of the situation, thus keeping the tension going, etc.

The reasons for switching POVs are many.

Q: Will this be jarring? Is it odd?

Only if you make it so, and here are no recipes, but try and see for yourself. Changing POVs is often tied to a chapter/scene breaks, to give the reader a chance to take a breath, but I have seen it done in one scene as well, and it was not always head-hopping jarring; it all depends on how you write it on a sentence level, and there are, again, no recipes, except for... ahm... write well.

If you tell your story for twenty chapters through the eyes of the pirate ship captain, and then, all of a sudden, switch the POV to the one of his only friend--his pet parrot--you better have a good reason to do it (like the captain gets whacked) and the way to set it up and prepare your reader for the abrupt switch, but, once again, it is only for you to decide, if you need it or not.

Best of luck.

  • I feel that this gets to the point of the matter. Switching viewpoints is common in fiction. It's a technique of story telling. If you want 80 chapters from one POV and then 1 from someone else, that's perfectly fine. The question you need to ask yourself is, "Do you have a good 'reason' to do this?" In my case, I feel that I don't have a good enough reason to break the pattern. It provides some information, though I can provide that information elsewhere with a bit of creativity. Thanks for your reply! – Akaishen May 30 '17 at 18:41
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Two things will make it less jarring.

First, establish the pattern early, so the reader quickly learns what to expect. And once you establish the pattern, maintain it to some extent.

Second, follow up on the POV characters so we know how things turned out for them. Readers will expect viewpoint characters to matter to the story. And they expect the events in those chapters to matter to the story. If you don't show how those people and events turned out, they become "loose ends", and readers will feel vaguely (or distinctly) unsatisfied.

If the protagonist witnesses how things turn out, you can show these things in the protagonist's viewpoint. I think it's less satisfying if they happen off stage, and protagonist merely hears reports about them, but that may be a matter of personal preference.

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    Alas, in this case, there's really no pattern to the POV switch. For instance, in Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archive books, he has interludes where he jumps into seemingly random characters. His other chapters are largely organized in a pattern between the main characters. In my case, I just want to jump into a few characters to give more depth, though feel that may be unexpected and confusing. – Akaishen May 30 '17 at 1:56
  • @Akaishen It is Brandon Sanderson. Rest assured--all the seemingly distant and irrelevant interludes will be tied together into a neat round piece of the storytelling. Nothing in his books is ever random. :-) – Lew May 30 '17 at 13:24
  • @Lew Haha, that's quite true. Stories within stories. I'm sure it'll all come together for an epic conclusion. :) – Akaishen May 30 '17 at 17:59
  • I agree, but would emphasize that the ‘jarringness’ comes less from the changes than from when the changes occur. Using a regular shift does help the reader expect it, but the biggest danger comes from disappointing readers when they want to follow a certain character and are shifted over to one who is less interesting. Balancing suspense, resolution, and good storytelling, in addition to appreciating your readers — just as you mention. – can-ned_food Jun 6 '18 at 2:00
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I just hate the common categorization scheme for point of view and voice. It is so misleading and causes so much unnecessary anxiety, not to mention awkward narration.

To begin with, point of view and identity of the narrator are different things. You can have a character as narrator or the storyteller as narrator, but this has no necessary impact on point of view. The narrating character can choose to tell you of events they did not witness or report the thoughts of characters other than themselves. The narrating storyteller can choose to report only the things seen and thought by a single character.

In other words the choice to stay inside the head of one character is orthogonal to the choice to have one of the characters be the narrator.

Second, grammatical person has nothing to do with either of these choices. While a character as narrator necessarily speaks of themselves in the first person, most of what they narrate will not be about themselves and will be written in the third person.

Dave and I want to the Beach. Dave bought a hot dog and then went swimming.

That second sentence is in third person. QED.

Third, the whole notion of "omniscient POV" is bogus.

Dave and I want to the beach. Dave spent most of the day brooding about Laura.

How does our character/narrator know what Dave was brooding about? Are they God? Or are they, perhaps, simply a friend of Dave's who knows his history and his moods and can read him pretty well?

This is not to say that the novelist cannot have access to the private thoughts of a character, even those that his best friends could not guess at, but this is not a God-like power, it is simply the narrative privilege, and there is no inherent reason or rule why the the character as narrator cannot exercise the narrative privilege.

So, when you have problems in these areas, I think the first thing you should do is ask yourself is whether you have actually done something jarring, or if you are just in technical violations of these nonsensical POV categories. If you have not done anything jarring, you are golden. None but the most doctrinaire reader is even going to register any of these categories unless they are first jarred out of the narrative by jarring narrative flaw.

If you find you have done something jarring, then ask yourself, is this jarring because I have followed these nonsensical POV categories in a way that produces a jarring result. If so, violate the categories willfully until the result ceases to be jarring.

What you can never do successfully is decide if any narrative device is jarring or not based on this or any of the other paint by numbers writing rules, such as show don't tell. It is jarring if it is jarring. Studying narrative conventions is indeed a good way to train yourself not to be jarring, and to develop techniques that help you avoid being jarring. Unfortunately many of the paint by numbers writing rules actually force you into being jarring rather than keep you from it.

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I’m not a head-hopper writer. I keep view point characters focused in distinct scenes or chapters. Romance writers may make an exception and head hop.

I have a personal rule of thumb, the more viewpoint characters I explore the farther the narration takes place. In my opinion it depends upon the distance you intend to narrate your story. That’s key in my opinion.

For example: Take Game of Thrones, a 3rd person omniscient story exploring a variety characters. It must be distant with so many characters and switching plots all over the place, which may lead and tie into the final and ultimate conflict against the White Walkers.

Imagine if Game of Thrones were written in Deep point of view. Each book would be massive. Each character having an arc and exploring the world from their own point of view as opposed to an outside narrator telling you. I couldn’t even begin to imagine, but at the same time it sounds like a cool idea.

If you head hop, it may be frowned upon.

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    Thanks for your reply James. I have no intention of head hopping, which from my understanding, is Omniscient Third Person. This style of writing lets you tell the story from one anchor perspective per scene, though jump into other characters' heads briefly and as needed. – Akaishen May 30 '17 at 0:48
  • (Hah, Enter ends the comment.) I was going to add that, after reading tons of the POV questions here, it appears multiple POVs may not be too popular. They are good for long series / books. Otherwise, every time you leave one character, you risk annoying the reader who really just wants to know what's up with that character. Unless you have a good reason to do it, perhaps it's best to keep it to one character. I hope to receive more comments to discuss this as I can see the benefits of both. Thanks for your reply. :) – Akaishen May 30 '17 at 0:53
  • Imagine if Game of Thrones were written in Deep point of view. Each book would be massive.--and this is exactly how they are written and they are massive. It has been a while since I read the epic, and I might be mistaken, but I think the books are written from the 3rd close(deep), not omniscient POV. Can be wrong though. – Lew May 31 '17 at 13:10
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I've answered this question before. Changing POV is one of writing's simpler tasks. It need not be confined to a chapter or a complete novel. You change POV whenever it suits.

The narrative following an action by a character is that character's POV.

  • Lucy stared out of the window into the darkness. This night had been the longest, coldest night ever.

Assuming this is not a post-apocalyptic tale set in Antarctica. The statement following her action is subjective and can only be her POV.

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The best example of changing points of view was perhaps Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island." Most of it was told from the point of view of Jim Hawkins, the cabin boy. But when Jim was at sea, the POV shifted to Dr. Livesey, who remained on land, and discussed the land portion of the story "simultaneously" with Jim's sea adventure.. It made for a smooth, continuous narrative.

  • That's quite interesting and presents a new book I can look into. Thanks for your input! – Akaishen May 30 '17 at 18:48
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Any rule can be broken, the trick is to know why the rule exists. In this case, it is difficult (and potentially frustrating) for the reader to (a) follow/understand and (b) emphasize with too many different characters. It's also difficult for the writer to successfully distinguish them on the page. Remember, just because you can tell them apart, doesn't mean the reader can. All these things are as true for any story with many characters and a single viewpoint as it is for a multiple POV story, but the POV scenario adds additional challenges to successful suspension of disbelief (since it doesn't match our usual experience).

If you can solve these problems, then go ahead and do it, but you're setting yourself a difficult challenge.

  • Thanks Chris. I feel that the extra challenge and problems that adding these extra POVs create, don't provide enough benefit in the end. Cutting these extra POV chapters will remove potential confusion. Perhaps in a future work, I'll explore a more traditional Multiple POV story. :) – Akaishen May 30 '17 at 18:46

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