Posted by: Jodi | September 10, 2010

Point of View Discussion

Let’s make today’s post a sounding board, shall we? Yes? Fabulous. I’m fighting with some POV issues. I’m hoping that some of you wise writers (and wise cracks) out there have opinions to share, or are at least willing to make something up – I won’t know the difference.

[For a POV refresher course, click here]

The issue is this:  My manuscript uses third person limited. I like to cruise around in the heads of my characters, letting them drive the scene.  Here is the problem, I am of the opinion that only certain characters get to drive the action.  If they appear in the scene then the reader gets to see the scene  from their perspective.  So, what do you do when two of these privileged characters appear in a scene together?

It happens often enough that I worry it will leave the reader confused when the lead protagonist appears in a scene and it isn’t written from his perspective. My intuition wants certain characters driving the scene because the story pivots around them at that moment.

Is this an issue that anyone else has faced?

My current solution is to ignore the problem until the draft has time to rest and then do a read through.  Hopefully if the POV doesn’t work it will stand out as something that needs to be fixed.

I really, really, really, don’t want to rewrite these chapters again if I can avoid it by a simple switch at the outset.

Ideas?  Comment them below!

Thanks Nancy!On a totally different note, Nancy over at Spirit Lights the Way has awarded me with the blogging “You Rock” badge.  It is always a lovely treat to know someone out there likes your work.  There are so many fabulous blogs out there that I am having a terrible time deciding who to pass this bit of blog bling.  That, and Nancy used most of my picks! A big kudos to the bloggers she awarded.  I would like to pass this on to the following individuals, they are free to do what they like with it.  They can display it proudly, pass it on, and brag about it all they want because they deserve it!

Alannah at “Here Be Dragons” – Gets a huge congrats on entering the querying stage of her novel, I can’t wait to hear about how it goes.

Julie at “Write Up My Life” – Currently is sharing all sorts of goodies on how to make life more centered, based on what she learned from Eckhart Tolle.

Arvik at “Intergalactic Writers Inc” – I recently stumbled upon this blog and thought the content was great.  Go check it out.

If time and the small monkeys permitted, I would have another handful of blogs to add to the list. I wish I had more time to spend discovering new blogging gems, there are so many great writers out there. Congrats to all!

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Responses

  1. Jodi

    Based on your caveat, you probably won’t care for answer, but here goes:

    Mostly, going into the minds of more than one character per scene is a recipe for failure. This is not to say it can’t be done. Charles Williams, a friend and club-member with Tolkein and Lewis, wrote an amazing scene where he spent a few moments in the minds of several characters in a sitting room, and then focused down on a single character at the end of the scene. It was masterful, but so difficult to even imagine that I’ve never tried it.

    The typical way to do it would be a scene break, a “***” or some such between sub-scenes, if for no other reason than to tip off your reader that the rules have changed.

    Switching in the same physical scene, “willy-nilly” is asking to make your reader stop and re-read a scene, and anything that robs from forward motion is a mistake.

    But of course, this is only my opinion…

    • Hey, I like your opinion 🙂

      I can imagine switching mid scene as a big “no no” if done wrong but having potential if done right. That said, I agree that it would be really hard to do it right.

      So, clarity when then POV character using a line break or chapter break is a good thing. Got it.

  2. Hmm . . . dueling protagonists?

    It might be interesting to see some scenes from two different perspectives.

    Sorry about stealing your picks. That was selfish of me. ; )

    But . . . it forced you to point me in the direction of new-to-me blogs. Yay! Off to have a look.

    • Hope you like them, I love finding new blogs to read.

  3. In order to avoid premature insanity, I’ve adopted a strict use of 3rd person limited that I don’t intend to violate – I will only be in one head per scene. Switching POV mid-scene annoys me in reading so I won’t inflict it on my readers. George R.R. Martin sticks to this in his “Song of Ice and Fire” series, even naming each chapter after the POV character. What if any combination of protagonists/antagonists appear in the same scene? I would stay in the head of the one who has the most at stake in that scene. Of course, the “other character” can’t just be a prop in that scene. Their own story must progress, but it will be through dialogue and action rather than POV.

    • Naming the chapter in your POV character comes across as a bit heavy handed, isn’t that something that should be a given when reading the text? I agree that having all characters being active in the scene is very important. As for switching mid scene, I’ll be leaving that to the pros!

  4. Yay!!!! I get a cool electric guitar on my blog thank you 🙂 By the way, the query letters are not quite done yet as I had a bit of a snag but it’s okay. Should have one ready to send soon so yes, I will definitely be keeping everyone posted on what happens.

    Okay, about your problem. I have had EXACTLY the same problem. What I decided to do was to just keep the perspective from my main protagonist even in those scenes. Even when he is with the main female protagonist. My reasoning behind that was the simple fact that the book is about HIM but I had to do tons of revision as I originally had both POVs going on and then I realised I could only show one per scene. See how it reads to you after you’ve left the MS rest, that is when you can catch things that make you go “oh no…that sounds so wrong”
    Good luck with it 🙂

    • That’s a really good point about keeping the perspective in the POV of the one the story is about. Now that you’ve gone through and made sure the POV was correct, do you find it reads better?

  5. It looks like I wasn’t clear enough in my post – I do know better than to switch POV mid scene. What is happening is that I use one person for most of the scenes and then I have to switch to a different person for the next chapter but he has to interact with the first person. Would that come across as strange or odd?

    • Okay…hmmm, it could work if it’s done well. Mlknudsen66 gives good advice, as he says, keep the POV on the person who’s got the most at stake in that particular chapter. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of experimenting and seeing how a scene reads from different POVs.

  6. I just read two good examples of this in book 7 of The Wheel of Time. In the first example, the main character that we are sharing minds with dies, and things kind of fade out and then our perspective shifts to the man who has just killed him. Interesting. In the other scene, a relatively minor character is observing a scene with the major protagonist, but we don’t get to see the protagonist’s thoughts, which is somewhat unusual. However, we know the protagonist so well that we can tell what he is thinking, which is cool but hard to pull off. Just thoughts-

    • Wow, I never thought of having the POV character die midscene and then continuing the scene. That is a great example. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Have you read the ‘Ranger’s Apprentice’ series? That author had something like your problem.

    He solved it by no caring whose mind he was in. He would rove through everyone’s mind when it suited him.

    For example: One character would be saying & thinking something. Then (in the next paragraph) the next character would take over thinking something as he/she listened to the first one.

    It may sound confusing but the author made it work.

    Also, I had that problem in one of own my stories & I solved it by re-writing the story in first person (that was fun…).

    • I have it on my ever growing list of things to read. I would go nuts with a roving POV, it would make it hard to get really deep into the story. Makes me feel better that people can get published and have that going on.

  8. Thanks for sharing with us your burning spirit in writing your novel. And congratulations for your blog award! Yes, I do read your entries and I wish I could be by your side every step of the way. Writing a novel especially one that you would want to be proud of is … I can’t even presume to find a comparison.

    Here’s my take on the subject of the POV. Unless you use an omniscient POV, thinking, seeing, feeling through all your characters at the same time in one scene would not work. The limited POV, (is that what the third person POV is called?) I believe is what you want. The characters would think and feel separately but would be linked in threads of such thoughts and feelings, weaving in and out of each other until you, the author, decide to clinch the story in a climax. I learned these from workshops I attended in NY where my classmates ‘cruelly’ tore my pieces apart.

    I would like to share parts of my novella-in-progress, which I started nine years ago–yes, that’s how long it takes for some writers! It has slumbered in its cocoon in my iBook until lately when I started working on it again. To get how regular readers (vs. critical) feel about it, I posted it in an English/Iluko (vernacular) website, iluko.com. So far, it’s been great.

    Here’s an excerpt from, “Lovers of the Interior”, my 24-hour novella-in-progress:

    “She had heard the crisp turn of the lock when Carlo came in at half past one. The luminous numbers throbbed in the dark. His first step seemed weightless. She had sensed him put down his attaché case and his keys atop the console with the same weightlessness. He lingered by the dining room and the bedroom door then he turned to the bathroom.

    She had waited, warming his side of the bed. She stayed inert as if asleep. The bed quivered when he slipped in to the edge his side. She stiffened up when she sniffed his breath.

    And then, his soft snoring had lulled her to sleep.

    She now cringes at the thought: how easily she falls into his rhythm.

    She remembers his smile at breakfast this morning. She had thought he flashed it on her. But when she looked in his eyes, they lingered past hers.

    And he was flushed: it strikes her now.

    He blushed this morning like he did the first time they faced each other up close when they were eighteen, and life seemed to flow only through the corridors of the university campus in Manila.”

    • Thanks for sharing your work with us, you have created a great visual scene in your writing. I’m feeling much better about my progress with the writing. There will have to be a few switches during the editing phase, but not as many as there could have been.

  9. I don’t normally have a problem, as a reader, with the switch when it is not mid-scene. I understand what you are saying though: If Jack is deemed the ‘main’ character and he is in a scene with Jill (the character of secondary stature), then will I, the reader, feel confused?
    I think not, provided you start the first sentence of the new scene with the relevant character’s name and dive straight into their POV. Even better if you can use Jack’s name in the sentence.
    For example: ‘Jill sometimes found Jack overbearing. She liked to be a little more laid-back, taking her time over the …’

    • Being very clear about who is doing what is vital, especially if the story uses multiple points of view. I have a bad habit of overusing character names. I will have to address that down the line.

  10. This is a tricky one. I have 6 PsOV, but these characters seldom interact in the same scene. There are a couple of chapters with dueling PsOV between the heroine and the cop. To me, it works, but perhaps I’m dead wrong.

    I never liked rules.

    I’m reading an Agatha Christie novel that switches POV multiple times in each chapter and it doesn’t bother me at all.

    • I agree with you.

      As long as the author makes the shifting perspective clear, I find it interesting to see the same scene unfolding through different eyes.

      Damn the rules, full steam ahead. ; )

    • You know me and rules – I like them much more than you. From what everyone says as long as it’s clear about who is doing what and there a reason for that character to drive the scene then go for it.

  11. Hi Jodie!

    Arvik here- nrhatch just clued me in to this wonderful electric guitar. Thank you so much! I look forward to reading more of your blog in the future.
    Cheers!

    • Yay! I wasn’t sure if you would see this or not – a big thanks to Nancy for letting you know. Hope to see you around here and I’ll be stopping by at your place whenever I can.

  12. I forgot to say the reason I use multiple POV, which is to avoid excess exposition. Instead of describing details about a character, I can show how that character is perceived by others.

    Now that I think about it, Agatha Christie does this in most of her books, such as when the Poirot is interviewing suspects, and those are usually the most fascinating passages.

    • That is a great way to approach multiple PsOV that I hadn’t considered. Anything to avoid unnecessary exposition!


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