1. Kroni
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    Kroni New Member

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    Character points of view

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Kroni, Nov 12, 2010.

    I was just wondering if there are any guidelines that can help me decide whether my story should remain from the MC's point of view or skip back and forth to different characters. If I did skip between characters, would it be awkward within the book to focus more heavily on just the main character and only do it on occassion?
     
  2. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Don't switch pov characters without at least a scene break, if not chapter break if a novel. Can get confusing.

    And you can have as many pov characters as you want, really, but keep in mind you'll probably end up with one or two characters who're the 'focus' characters. So even when you're in a different non-focus character's pov, they're still telling the story of a focus character.

    Gets tricky deciding which characters will be pov for which scenes telling which focus character's story, but you'll have to work this out. Otherwise you'll just end up with a meandering story/novel where everyone is doing everything and you aren't really building toward anything specific.

    So if you have a story about a kid who overcomes his fear of corn dogs, you can have a scene through the mom's perspective, but if it's not relevant to the kid's story about fear and corn dogs, it's just wasted space (some people will call that 'flavor', but usually if it's not building to tell the story you're trying to tell, then you're just wasting a reader's time). This happens a lot where you think 'that was nice, but what was the point again?'

    Not awkward at all to have one focus character (the main character by default if there is only one focus characters), and multiple points of view. I'm reading a novel right now that does that, and side characters have their own stories and pov scenes, but it's always working (usually in subtle ways) toward the 'real' story dealing with the main character.

    It's kinda like how Star Wars movies (older good ones) have a ton of different cool characters and stuff, but it's still kind of always working toward being Luke's story, in one way or another, even when he's not on screen.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Frank Herbert was able to smoothly switch character POVs within a single scene. Read the gom jabbar scene with the Reverend Mother, Lady Jessica, and Paul Atreides in Dune.

    But most authors can't pull it off. As popsicledeath said, it can confuse the reader, and it inhibits the reader from making the empathic connection with the current POV character.

    Better to let the reader settle in and experience the scene, or better yet, the chapter, from a single POV.
     
  4. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I wrote about 50 pages into a novel and then realized that none of my protags are relatable enough because I had too many POVs and wasn't drawing the reader in deeply to connect with any of them. Now I'll have to go do some major tweaking to fix it. My current novel is 3rd-limited with one POV MC and it's going way better.
     
  5. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it depends on the complexity of the plot. It might be easy to assume having a massively complex plot would be the perfect time to have mulitple viewpoints, but it is actually far more confusing for both you and the reader to know what's going on. A single view point is a lot easier to control how much information is revealed at once, and to keep the flow of events in order, so that no one gets confused.

    The only stories I've written with multiple viewpoints are extremely simple romances which boil down to "A likes B who is dating C" and then when D comes along and runs through a basic set of actions to shake that up, the plotline is so simple that anyone can tell it, really, and it won't be confusing as long as everyone's still clear on who is dating who, and I'm free to emotionally develop whoever I think would be most interesting in a given situation. In fact, it would be boring not to, especially when the main character (if there is one) isn't around to see everything that happens.
     
  6. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree completely with pop & cog on the mechanics of switching. As for deciding whether to switch I think the only reliable way to tell is to try it both ways & see which works better. The experienced writer probably develops a feel for it, but if you're having to ask I guess you haven't yet. Nor have I.
     
  7. Show
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    When writing in 3rd person, I find it difficult to not switch POVs within a novel to a point. Life has lots of people with different POVs and I find it difficult to just focus on only one person's POV the entire time unless the story is really about THEM(and my stories are always about how relationships effect a variety of people). I do tend to switch scenes for major POV changes.

    If readers get confused, I'll try to make the changes smoother. But I feel a world with multiple POVs helps keep the story real. And I honestly have yet to see how it'd get too confusing. Maybe it's just me. xD I've never gotten confused about what is going on and my few readers haven't really done that either. I truly feel limiting my focus to one character alone would butcher the entire heart and soul of my novel.

    I understand keeping everything relevant, but I feel everything I do from the most apparent of filler to the biggest moments are perfectly relevant. That includes showing the world from multiple POVs. Yeah, I'm a stubborn rebel writer. :p Maybe my stories are confusing messes, but until I pick up on that sense myself, I ain't gonna just betray my instincts on the chance that readers COULD become confused.

    As for whether you should do it or not, that is up to you. Do what you can do successfully. Nobody can really tell you how to write your story. Don't switch for the sake of switching POVs but if you feel the story calls for it, then by golly, just do it and don't worry about what others think. In my experience, not being true to what you want to do will hamper the reading experience far more than the reader experience your world through the eyes of more than one character. So do what YOU think you should do and see how it works. If you don't like it, then you know you made the wrong decision but I've honestly found that you as the writer simply have to go with what you think is right. The times I've always been the most confused as a writer are when I start trying to write my story the way somebody who hasn't even read it tells me to. This could be just me, but I really don't think anybody will be able to give you a true answer about which choice is right for you, except for you. (Or you could try asking your characters and see what they think. ;) )


    Anyway, that's my two cents on the matter. Probably many will disagree but oh well. :p
     
  8. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    That seems pretty much mainstream "omniscient narrator", and could be argued to be the default storytelling style. It could be worth practicing other styles, because it's always useful to have a variety of tools at your disposal, but the one you have is perfectly serviceable.
     
  9. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am currently contemplating changing a first person POV and having a story within my main story. I need to find someway to have my character observe a relationship between three other characters - I could just sit him under a tree and have him listen or maybe find another way of telling a tale. Or Alice or Merlin can take over telling the story from Socrates - I am not sure I can do it from Lewis Carroll's POV hmm decisions, decisions lol

    I think as long as the characters are distinctive enough it works. It becomes confusing when they don't have enough distinction between them.
     
  10. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Unless I misunderstood, it sounded like multiple povs in limited third, which isn't omniscient. As in several third person points of view, but all limited to that character while in their pov.

    I don't get to read a ton of 'mainstream' anything at this point, but that's been the default for a while now as far as I know.

    Highly, highly recommended these days to write in a limited, not omniscient third, unless writing comedy where omniscient works quite nicely:

    Being able to quickly get everyone's perspective is good for comedic setups that don't rely so much on deep understanding of characters so much as establishing comedic situations.

    Err, but most omniscient points of view, or having a narrator present enough that they're a character even if they aren't omniscient, isn't really done much these days I don't think.

    It's mostly third person limited even with multiple pov characters, or first person. I'd actually say it's more likely to have a first person pov that isn't limited these days via the use of a reminiscent narrator, than it is omni third.

    And I know someone will say 'but soandso uses an omniscient third person,' but we're talking general norms, right? ;)
     
  11. Show
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    Probably right, although I consider it my character's POV too. I'm an arguer so I can probably argue against any label anybody tries to slap on it or any other 3rd person story. :D

    It never hurts. I just write what comes so it's the advice I give to others. Work with what's there.
     
  12. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    The only difference I can see is how quickly you change POV:
    "She wanted to go south" -- her POV.
    "and he was determined to head north" -- his POV.
    "and they stood on the trail arguing about it." -- could be the POV of any of them.
    "The only one happy was the horse who was glad the idiots had started arguing again because he was tired and didn't want to go anywhere." the horse's POV.

    Or do you mean something different by "POV"
    Why? The only reason I can think of is that it's too easy to drop into "telling" mode with omniscient narrator, but as long as you avoid that I don't see any issue with it.[/QUOTE]
     
  13. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Sure, the rate of changing POV makes much of the difference. If you change the pov characters in a single scene, it's omniscient because we're getting more than the perspective of a single character. We aren't limited to a single character's pov, so it's not a limited third person. This can happen via a narrator telling us things the character couldn't possibly know, or worse when the character seems to know things they couldn't.

    There are two types of omni third person POVs, though. One is where you have an active narrator who's overseeing the action and knows all the thoughts and motivations of each character. And the type where jump into the heads of each character in a scene, but there isn't an omnipresent narrator telling us what's happening outside of a scene.

    The example I gave is omniscient pov of the head-hopping variety. Though add commentary on what was occurring up north, or south, or what would happen to the party if they didn't move, would then add more of an overseer narrator. Either way it's still omni.

    With head hopping, though, the difference is in fact the rate of jumping. If you jump into a new character's head without a scene or chapter break it's omni. If you indicate and establish a pov switch with a scene or chapter break, then it's limited third as long as you stay limited to that one character in that scene or chapter.

    But that only difference makes all the difference.


    And the reason not to write in omni is that it's not in fashion (at best) and can become confusing or provide a barrier from empathizing deeply with a character (at worst). Whether it causes confusion and a lack of empathy because it's out of fashion so people are no longer used to it, or if became out of fashion for these reasons, is up to interpretation.

    For these reasons I would still highly recommend not writing in omni of any sort. Sure, when you're famous go for it, but it'll be a mark against most new writers trying to break into the industry. Whether that's right or wrong, justified or not, shrug. It's just a fact. I've seen a ton of aspiring writers work in an omni point of view, but I've very rarely ever seen it done even serviceability, much less very well.

    Sure, Neil Gaimon does it sometimes... I think that's who, there's some famous writer that does so everyone goes with the 'but HE does it, why can't I.' Probably because you aren't already established, I guess. I mean, most well established writers that broke into the industry in past decades are doing a lot of things you shouldn't bother trying to get away with now if you're trying to break into the industry. They don't have to be perfect, you do. It's not fair, perhaps. And writing in omni is one of the most basic red flags agents and editors talk about. Usually it's so hard to handle well, it's not worth the risk an new writer can maintain it for an entire novel. You have to do it SO well, that is it really worth the extra hurdle in an industry that's already so competitive?

    For me, it's not. Just like my future tense second person story won't be getting worked on until I've already been established, maybe as a throw-in story when I have a short story collection coming out. I'm certainly not going to shop it around as what I'm capable of a writer, because it would have to be the best thing an editor had seen in years to even be taken seriously, much less put into their publication. Why create extra hurdles? Prove you can write in expected ways, and then once established do the unexpected. It sucks, but that's the situation most writers wanting to break into the industry should adhere to, imo.

    (last paragraph about a future tense second person story and collections coming out is all hypothetical, heh)

    Want to switch to a new characters pov, to give their perspective? Use a scene break.
     
  14. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the point about a barrier to empathising is valid, but that all goes into the mix of how much is plot driven and how much is character driven. I wouldn't exclude any POV; the question is always "is it the best choice in this case".
     
  15. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Aren't the best stories driven by both plot and character? It's like a football team saying they're going to skimp on defense, because they're offense driven. Meanwhile, other football teams are doing both extremely well, and who do we think will win in the end?

    And the more plot, the less room there is to establish empathy, so the more important it is to do well (which imo is much easier and 'better' usually with limited POVs, as you can dig in to one character without distractions or confusion).

    Yeah, deciding what's best for a story is important. I could argue that most up and coming writers aren't qualified to even make that judgment, though. Sure, it's their story, they can do whatever they want, but that doesn't mean it's the best choice, only that they have the choice.

    The best advice I've ever gotten was to learn the conventions, prove I can be successful within those conventions, as that will buy me the credibility to succeed outside of those conventions.

    But shrug. All my opinion, and stuff. Unless a story for some reason for the first time in history 'requires' an omniscient point of view, then I don't see the point in ever advising an aspiring writer to use it, as there are other conventions that are not only more accepted (sadly, an important part of trying to make it as a writer), but are also easier to control and maintain, which means less functional mistakes, which means learning other aspects and not just sinking yourself with POV struggles, which leads to learning more and becoming a better writer, which leads to being able to tackle things like omni POV with a better chance of success.

    It's one of the last things I'd advise a writer to 'work on,' but again, just my opinion of course.
     
  16. Show
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    Eh, I disagree that such a thing is always necessary. If anything, that's what could set up my barrier as a reader.

    So again I say, write what works for your story. And I disagree that inexperienced writers aren't qualified to make a choice. They might get better at it with time, but to say they aren't qualified to tell their story doesn't sit right. Besides, if you have to do something you honestly don't like in your story, I think that will set up a barrier more-so than anything else. Trying to be somebody else only hurt my own writing. If I wouldn't read it, I can't expect anybody else to. And I honestly would not read a lot of the stories written the way I've been told is "the way" to write it.

    So in the end, be true to your story. Go with what you think will work, and if it doesn't work, hammer it out until it does. POV changing has to be done carefully but whatever the best choice is for a particular story is something the author will have to figure out.
     
  17. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    As a reader, a barrier goes up at a scene break? I'm not sure what that means.

    You're right, a writer can decide to do anything they want with their story. True enough. They don't even ever have to listen to any advice at all, much less follow it. And sure, eventually some writers will figure it all out for themselves.

    Having power to make a decision doesn't automatically make one the qualified to make it.

    To any writer who isn't yet a professional (and some pros too, heh), my advice will always be to go with what gives the best chance to learn craft. It's much easier to hammer out things that aren't working when one isn't starting with things prone to not working even for the most experienced writers.

    Learn to do the basic, then learn to use the basics in advanced ways, then the advanced in basic ways, then learn to use the advanced things in advanced ways. If a writer is even asking which pov to use, or how to use them, then they're probably not ready to do much beyond the basics.

    Sure, if you're just writing for personal pleasure, there are no barriers or expectations or conventions except what one puts on themselves.

    Sucks, but there are standards and expectations on the business side of things, and it's best to master those first (usually just the basics, anyhow). It's hard enough to get noticed as a writer, why make it harder? Cormac McCarthy gets away with not using apostrophes. Good luck also doing that while trying to make a name as a writer.

    But you're right, people can do whatever they want with their stories. Shrug.
     
  18. Show
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    No, as a reader a barrier can go up with requiring a scene break to explore more than one POV. Least I can find it as such.

    I would say anybody who isn't writing their story also is not qualified to make the decision either. The only one qualified to dictate the direction a story truly goes is the teller.

    You won't make a name as a writer ever if you aren't true to your stories. Why make it harder to get noticed as a writer? My sentiments exactly. It's hard enough to get noticed, no use to make it harder by boxing your story until it chokes. Be true to your story and use common sense.

    So again I say, the writer has to decide what is right for their story. If they aren't qualified to decide how their story goes, nobody is.
     

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