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Author Topic: Shifting POV
Member # 9320

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Hello - I’m finalizing a 420 page novel but have hit a wall with a question about shifting POV. In very simple terms I primarily use two perspectives throughout the novel…

Third person limited (boy’s perspective – main protagonist)
Third person limited (man’s perspective – secondary protagonist)

Basically, there’s a troubled teenage boy whose father dies and he ends up running away. There’s a man who was the best friend of the boy’s deceased father and now becomes dedicated to finding the boy and helping him.

Using third-person limited works great all the way through the novel. We follow the boy in one section (in TPL from his perspective)… then there’s a section break or new chapter and we follow the man (in TPL from his perspective) as he searches for the boy. The stories weave around each other and move toward the end of the novel and resolution of the conflict. My question involves whether it is permissible to include a section (TPL or TP omniscient) where neither of the main characters are present.

An example (overly simplified) would be the two characters speeding down the highway in separate vehicles, and we cut to a section where there’s a motorcycle cop hiding behind a billboard to catch speeders. Let’s say the cop has been a part of the story earlier (he has appeared in sections told from the boy’s perspective and sections told from the man’s perspective). Is it permissible to include a brief section from the cop’s perspective, or would that be too jarring?

It seems like I’m falling victim to what happens in the movies where it’s no problem to show 90 percent of the film from the main character’s view, but suddenly cut to a scene where he is not present to show people conspiring against him. My struggle is that I sometimes need to tell the story from a different perspective or omniscient perspective because neither the man or boy are present… or I need to write around it.

Has anyone else encountered this? The little voice in my head tells me to write around it and not break out of the template I’ve established, but I wanted to make sure I’m not over analyzing and making it harder than it needs to be.

Any help much appreciated. Thanks!

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Member # 7977

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I don't think it would be that odd to have a "guest" TPL POV character. So long as you establish whose head we're in early and clearly, it doesn't hurt anything. People won't be expecting to hear your protagonists' thoughts if they aren't present.

I feel that switching to the omniscient viewpoint would be more of a break than having someone unusual carry the view. I switch among a limited number of heads as well, though my set is larger than yours: protagonist, secondary protagonist, protagonist's friend, proto's sister, antagonist, major subplot character, and finally two "guests" whose points are clear. So long as it's easy to tell, I don't think there's a problem.

One issue you have to deal with is that giving a person the POV for the chapter makes that character more important. For the first of my guests, it was easy to flesh him out as a colorful person and it really wasn't hard. The second is a one-off assassin from whom the reader never hears again, and it's only done in the epilogue, so anonymity was kind of the point.

Give it a shot with a new POV - you may develop a new third favorite character.

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Member # 9345

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I think it's going to depend on whether readers can easily slide into that 3rd character's head, rather than any Rule about how many POVs you can have. I've seen it done seamlessly and well, and have also had it jar me clean out of the book. I'd say try it, and if it doesn't work, you can always throw it out. OR... believe your little voice, if your experience is that your little voice knows best.

I do agree with micmcd, that switching to omniscient is more likely to jar the reader than would finding themselves with a different character. We get accustomed to a given viewpoint in a book, and we don't really want to be pitched out of that comfortable chair and onto the floor. Another chair might do, tho.

I've done a similar thing occasionally myself -- a section from a minor character because that was the only POV that made sense for that section, even tho it's someone who we seldom hear from. -- One of my secondary characters is introduced through his own POV midway through Book 6 of my Epic, then altho he becomes a regular, we don't ride in his head again for a looooong time (maybe never... I have one not-yet-written scene coming up in a later book that might need to use his POV). It works because he belongs there. If he were just a guy passing in the night, tho... probably it would jar something awful.

[This message has been edited by Reziac (edited February 12, 2011).]

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Member # 9390

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I think something to keep in mind is how smoothly you're switching POV's. Are you intending to make a sudden break in a build up situation or "scene"? If yes, then do it. But I also agree that it may become more confusing. Omni I also agree would be a better way to go. Best of luck! I wanna hear (or in this case read) back from you to see what you think.
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Member # 9183

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I ran into the same issue when I was writing my single view-point novel. I wanted to expand to a second pov, but after fooling around with the story, I was able to get around it.

If possible, i'd try to stay with the dual viewpoints, but as a reader, I wouldn't be offended if it is the best way to tell the story properly.

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Member # 8991

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I just finished a Patterson book where he had one chapter from a fairly small (in terms of importance, not size) character's viewpoint.

Granted, he does switch all the time and lets you know early where you've landed, so it wasn't jarring at all, even tho I only spent one chapter with that character.

In this case, I knew the character was done for. Sure enough, one chapter later she turned up dead. So, other than tipping people off you are about to bump off the red shirt who suddenly got screen time, I'd say as long as the reader has practice switching, go for it.


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Member # 9331

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In the problem you pose, you have two TPL POVs woven together. An isolated scene told from a different POV would draw attention to itself. A scene told is an altogether different narrative style would stick out even more. That's not necessarily good or bad, but drawing the reader's attention somewhere is something you usually ought to justify to yourself.

Suppose a scene is going to jar the reader out of the normal flow of the story. Is that what you really want the scene to do? Normally not, but sometimes yes. Can you do it effectively? That's the biggest question of all. The only way to answer it is for you to try what you have in mind, then get some people to read the *entire* story critically.

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Member # 9381

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When I am reading a book so closely involved in just two characters TPL POV an added 3rd POV better be worth it. If it is just the author trying to explain something that only the 3rd POV can, but it is not instrumental to the story I wouldn't like it. But, as others here have said, if it is done right and for important enough reasons to your story then go for it.

Just ask yourself is this 3rd POV really necessary.

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Member # 9320

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Thanks so much for everyone’s comments. This was a great help. After looking at the complete work more closely (with this issue in mind), it seems inevitable that I’ll need to have other POVs in addition to the two main characters. Great advice, though, on using judgment to ensure the section is necessary and warranted—as to the character’s level of importance.

Looking back, the biggest reason I began doubting my approach was that I uncovered several amateurish POV violations during the part of the novel. (I jumped into several different heads during the same section, without regard to consistency.) After I fixed those, I questioned the other “guest” POV sections as well.

I plan not to call it out to my test readers, but to listen closely and question them about it to see if they notice any problems.

Thanks again, everyone. I’m new to this group, but already impressed. It's great to part of like-minded folks. Can’t wait to share more.

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