Thinking POV


In getting back to writing a story I have in progress, after a couple of weeks of world-building and outlining, I’ve found myself in a point-of-view (POV) dilemma.

Most writing coaches/advice gurus warn against using an omniscient narrator to switch back and forth between character points-of view in a single scene. The advice is usually, (for commercial fiction anyway) “get inside one character’s head and stay there.”

Here’s an article that advises just that from Robert J. Sawyer, an award-winning author: Two Heads Aren’t Always Better Than One .

Can switching POV within a scene be done? Yes, but it’s tricky. In the last book I read about writing, the author gave an example of Larry McMurtry switching POV in one of the first scenes of Lonesome Dove. The POV changes from Gus’s thoughts to that of the pigs in the yard and back again. The transition is hardly noticeable. I had to read it twice to see how McMurtry had done it.

I’ve done it too (not that I’m comparing myself to a Pulitzer Prize winner). In “Damsel Apostate” the two main characters are a damsel and a dragon. A third character appears later. I began the story in third person omniscient, but switched to the damsel’s POV when the dragon fell asleep. I stuck with the damsel’s POV until near the end. I changed to the dragon’s POV briefly while the damsel was “off stage.” When the damsel returned, it was easy to transition back to an omniscient POV to end the story.

The story I’m working on now is different. In it the two main characters meet up, sometimes with years intervening, to discuss their separate though inter-twined stories (which will converge at the end).

I’m thinking that the story will work best if I can relate the thoughts and feelings of both characters. In this story, however, the POV transition points are not so easily found. The time the characters have together (and the space where they interact) is limited by a magic spell, so I can’t have one character going to sleep or leaving the room in order to make the POV switch.

I can begin each scene with one POV and switch to the other’s POV in the next scene, as suggested in the article above. But which scene should be set in whose POV? I’m still mentally chewing it over. What I’m especially hoping to avoid is writing the entire story twice from separate points of view and then trying to cobble the two together.

Even as I am writing this blog post, possible smooth transition points are developing in my head:

As Edy turned away to prepare the XXX, Joyce began XXX.

Then switch to Joyce’s POV. That could work…

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Catana
    Oct 17, 2010 @ 14:02:46

    I’m beginning to think that POV may be the most difficult part of writing a novel. This year’s novel will have more characters than I’ve dealt with before, and deciding how to handle POV is driving me a bit bonkers.

  2. lorettacasteen
    Oct 17, 2010 @ 15:06:36

    I agree, but as long as it’s only driving you a “bit” bonkers, you’re doing okay. 🙂
    When I first started writing, POV was the main reason I wrote so many of my stories in first person. It’s hard to have many POV slip-ups with first person.

  3. Catana
    Oct 17, 2010 @ 16:09:12

    I’ve never written first person, except for one story that I’ve had to put aside until NaNo is over. I usuall write from the point of view of just one person, but I’m beginning to find that too limiting. Have to be more adventurous. If I’m not completely bonkers by December, I’ll consider this year’s NaNo a success.

  4. bbrasseaux
    Oct 20, 2010 @ 00:55:24

    Lo, I’ve always been of the mind that their is no gov in writing, meaning POV switching is intolerable. The modernist did it seameslessy to the point that POV, in some cases, was not even conceivable (i.e. the end of Joyce’s Ulysses to name just ONE). I think it is all about earning the narrative pace. If broken off by chapters or hiatus, and consistently done, that seems to be a less jarring approach. During a continuous drama? Well, that’s where the realism cynics give up. My thinnest advice would be to think about transitions beforehand and not use them to “move” the narrative along, but to push them “consistent.” Again, there is no authority, but the best of what you have described that I have encountered are those that progress seamlessly.

  5. lorettacasteen
    Oct 20, 2010 @ 10:37:49

    I agree. POV switching has to be seamless or it confuses the reader. It brings to mind Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, which left me so hopelessly confused that I decided I wasn’t smart enough to read it on my own. 🙂
    I can’t help but feel, at this point, switching the POV in an alternating pattern will give the story a clunky “ping-pong” feeling. But not switching the POV will force me into “info dump” dialog between the two characters. What I may have to do is expand the setting and reduce one character’s story to a more secondary role. Really I just need to dive in and start writing and see what unfolds.

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