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I'm trying out a style where I switch POV very often. It's written in third person, but everything described is things that are visible to the POV character, and you can hear their thoughts.

Now, because the characters are in a group of five, I thought that it could be interesting to keep switching between them. Sometimes I stay with one character for one-and-a-half pages, sometimes for only half a page. Once I described a character waking up, sluggishly interpreting what had passed in the night, and going back to sleep - only to then switch to the character trying to wake the first one up.

Obvious things are taken care of: I mark the transitions with some centred asterisks, and start off the next section with the first sentence revealing whose perspective this part has. I switch at logical pauses in the conversation, or when character A has decided to do something - so I can switch to character B reacting to that action. The question is if this technique can be considered inherently annoying to some or many readers.

And some objective questions, just to prevent this question from being closed as opinion-based: Do any professional authors use something like this? Do any style or guideline books warn against it?

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    The book Salt to the Sea is an amazing example of a novel that frequently switches POV. – Andrew Brēza Dec 16 '19 at 13:55
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You certainly can do this. A better question is whether or not you should. Does your story actually need multiple POVs? Especially if the characters are all together, I question whether it is worth the cost in decreasing your attachment to any one character.

There are cases like a romance or morally grey conflict in which the second perspectives add something, but so much of the time it makes the story harder to follow and draws you out of the action just when it is getting good. A notable example of I can think of this comes from Leviathan Wakes, in which we cut away from Holden's story in the middle of a space battle.

If the character's aren't all together, a worse problem is that you often wind up with characters who are solving different problems and thus aren't really part of the same story. There needs to be a reason for more than one perspective in a story. While I previously criticized Leviathan Wakes for the POV shift, it is an example where it is justified, as it is established from the beginning that Holden and Miller are following different parts of the same underlying investigation. The TV series even adds a third POV without it feeling redundant because it is a different bigger picture perspective on the same events(and because Avesarala is awesome). The Martian is another case in which it is justified by the nature of the story, because if we didn't know what NASA was doing it would make less sense.

Multiple POVs can be extremely effective, but they are also hard to get right. It is vastly easier to tell a good story with only a single POV than with multiple ones. It is far too easy for writers to add redundant and unnecessary characters, so if you do use this, be very careful with it.

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  • Thank you for your answer. I thought that the multiple views would help because each of the characters has their own perspective on things. For one, one of them is blind. Each of the other ones have their own emotions when the same things happen - and those emotions may not always be visible on their faces to an outside observer. – KeizerHarm Dec 15 '19 at 21:33
  • Or there's a case where one character is examining something closely while the others are standing behind her. If the POV is with her, I cannot describe what the others feel (because she has her back to them) unless they all make comments which would drag out the scene. If the POV is with someone else, I cannot describe what she's examining because her body is physically in the way. – KeizerHarm Dec 15 '19 at 21:35
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You can switch POV as often as you wish. Talented writers can pull off virtually anything. However, without knowing your skill or experience, I'd probably advise against it. And, if it were me, I certainly wouldn't attempt to write the piece the way you propose.

Reader can follow and adapt to logical patterns.

Consider the action tag, the association between action and speech: the dialogue belongs to the person performing the action.

Bobby kissed Katy of the forehead. "Goodnight, my love."

Katy smiled. "Goodnight, sweetheart."

  • To smoothly switch POV's simply follow the same logic.

Bobby kissed Katy of the forehead. Goodnight, my love. In the morning you'll be served a champagne breakfast, after which, I shall, on bended knee, ask you to be my wife.

Katy smiled before closing her eyes. Bobby was sweet, a gentleman, but her heart and real passion was for Daisy, Bobby's sister. She slowed her breathing and pretended to sleep. Please, just leave - this is killing me.

Bobby stood up straight. How angelic she looks as she sleeps.

  • That seemed easily followable to me.

For the record: almost every style and guideline article will frown upon your proposal. Head-hopping is a greater sin than masturbation.

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    I thought that head-hopping was when you switch from one person's thoughts to the other's haphazardly, without any indication? I'm clearly marking it, with a horizontal divider. It's also always more than one paragraph per section. – KeizerHarm Dec 14 '19 at 16:54
  • @KeizerHarm No, head-hopping is switching back & forth between characters for no specific reason. It's bad for several reasons: (1) We go through life never knowing what anybody is really thinking (other than ourselves). (2) It's a little juvenile. Effectively, you've got all your dollies out and you're playing with them, telling your friends what every doll is thinking and feeling. The style leaves the reader without the use of their own imagination. Unless done well, it it is the polar opposite of 'show don't tell'. – Surtsey Dec 15 '19 at 23:37
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    Well, from reading a couple articles it looks like there's no consensus on what head-hopping is exactly, but thank you for your insights nevertheless. – KeizerHarm Dec 16 '19 at 7:02

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