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Basically what I'm wondering here is if it's distracting or poor technique to switch the view point character to one of the bad guys just for a few pages or a very short scene in a novel.

I'm working on a novel length piece of fiction and there is a time when the protagonist is captured by the antagonist. What happens then is that the antagonist gets the information that they want and decides it's better if the protagonist gets away so that no alarms are raised (the protagonist and company don't think that the antagonist has any important information that way).

I obviously want the reader to know that the antagonist let the protagonist get away to increase tension and raise the question of why but I don't want the main characters to realize this until much later, possibly not even until a later book in the series. What I've thought may be a good way to show this, without giving up too much information is by switching the viewpoint character to the antagonist but only for a very short chapter of the book. So far, the novel is written with two other viewpoint characters, both of whom are the main protagonists and even still, the viewpoint doesn't switch very often between the two.

So, will it be more of a distraction or even just poor technique to jump into the antagonists shoes for a brief scene?

  • If you're worried about it, you can work around it. Have the escaping character find a mysterious piece of evidence alluding to it - distinctive enough to seem odd and noteworthy, but not clear enough to be a giveaway. Then, when the truth is revealed, people go "AHA!" instead of "What the..." – DWKraus Oct 28 at 2:18
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This is common. As a reader, however, I deeply dislike this technique, and find it distracting. It breaks my suspension of disbelief, and reminds me I'm reading a story, not experiencing it with the character. So, knowing that at least some readers will feel that way, the question is a) whether or not it is worth it, and b) whether there is an alternate way to meet your goals without breaking POV.

If you are writing a close third-person POV or first-person POV narrative, you arguably don't ever want the reader to know things the main character doesn't. On the other hand, if you're writing a more distant third person POV, that restriction doesn't apply. In that case, however, I would expect you to be dealing with other POVs throughout the narrative, and not just in a single place. If you have established that as the pattern early, it won't shock or dismay the reader to find it here.

One alternate way of dealing with this is to consider what the POV characters would actually know/suspect. If their escape is too easy, one character might wonder aloud why. The characters could discuss this, consider the possibility they were let go, and then decide they can't know why, and they have to focus on the present. Another approach would be to use foreshadowing and irony --meaning you hint subtly in the storytelling that not everything is working out as well as the POV characters think. And of course, you could use a combination of the two.

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  • That's kind of what I was thinking. It breaks the immersion of the story. The story is a multi viewpoint story so it is a slightly distant 3rd person POV that switches between those of the main characters. The antagonist is however not one of those main viewpoints so it would be only that one place that we're seeing the world through their eyes. Do you have suggestions as to how to explain the situation to the reader without flip-flopping to a new POV and without giving away too much detail? – Bridgebot101 Oct 27 at 15:39
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    Given that this is already a multi-viewpoint story, I would find this MUCH less objectionable than I would if it was a single viewpoint up until now. If you still want to avoid it, however, I've added some more suggestions in the answer text. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Oct 27 at 16:35
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I see no problem with this and have seen it a few times before. As long as you make it clear that this new POV is not what it was earlier it will be fine. I would do this by starting a new paragraph with an extra empty line that clearly introduces the new POV OR putting an empty line with a few asterisks or other symbols between POV jumps. But whatever you choose to do, make sure it is consistent across your series so that it doesn't become to confusing.

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I read a lot. It’s just part of who I am. Whenever I read a book that uses this technique though, I literally get so frustrated that even if the plot is good I put it down. Eventually I finish the book, but it takes me about a month because I didn’t enjoy it, instead of about a week.

I don’t think this technique is necessarily bad, some people might really enjoy it, and these kinds of works have been published in the past. Most people however, think it is a horrible way to write a book and will simply stop reading.

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