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  1. storystitcher
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    storystitcher Member

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    Occasionally using different POVs to give the reader extra information??

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by storystitcher, Jan 16, 2016.

    I'm writing a story which is written in 1st person, from the MCs POV. However because there is just so much she doesn't know about what's going on (and when she thinks she does she is often wrong) I'm tempted to have a few short scenes here and there that are written in the 3rd person, from another character's POV, who knows more than she does and doesn't want to share it with her for whatever reason. That way the reader would have a little more info than the MC, or at least enough to have a guess at why she's in danger etc, which I'm thinking could be used to create suspense. The story version of 'dramatic irony', I think?

    Could this work? Also, how would I differentiate between the 1st and 3rd person scenes to stop the reader from getting confused? I'm currently reading The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, where there are frequent POV changes, and it is quite hard work to read!

    (apologies if this is in the wrong section, I wasn't so sure)
     
  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it can work, but I'd be cautious about thinking you need to give your reader too much information. Like, if you think this approach adds to the suspense, maybe it's worth trying. But often it can actually lessen suspense, because the reader won't share the MC's confusion.
     
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  3. Electralight
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    Electralight Member

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    I agree that it can work, but in my opinion I don't think it's the best way to go. It can get very confusing very quickly. Another approach to take could be writing the whole book from 3rd person, but with an insight into your main characters mind. This way the reader would know what is going on inside your main characters head, but also give you the ability to add scenes without your main character in them.
     
  4. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    I would definitely look for basically any other approach than that one. The whole point of going into first person (with all the problems that implies) is exactly so the reader only knows what the character does. First person makes for an intimate connection between the reader and the character. We build trust with them and a we always want to be sympathetic for them because we know why they do what they do. That's fundamentally what it's good for.

    So breaking outside that to deliver plot critical information that isn't at all in the main text is not a good idea. It's the very cheapest form of dramatic irony and it'll show. It means that suddenly we don't want to trust the protagonist because we know that he can't tell us what we need to know. He'll read as oblivious and that just isn't sympathetic. Instead of being shocked at the inevitable betrayal we'll be thinking 'Can we just get it over with?'.

    I can appreciate what you're doing. Going for that kind of 'slow motion train crash' thing, and that's cool, but not like this. Do it in third person. You can get into your characters heads just as well, but we'll have more distance from them, less filter through their perception so you'll be able to plant lots of clues to hint at the truth that the protagonist see's but doesn't understand. I think that's the right tool here.

    First person demands a really close relationship with the character. If we aren't feeling along with them then we don't have much reason to care. Part of what makes really great first person books like Catcher and Fight Club work is that we do trust the narrators even when we probably shouldn't. We're so close to them that we want to sympathize with them. And you can use that to subvert expectations or give a really deep insight into character. But that's lost the second you cut away.

    The power of first person is that it'll make us want to sympathize even with dark, troubled characters (trust me; my current project is first person from the perspective of a girl who lies about having cancer) and gives writers a lot of scope to really bear someone's soul. We're forced to trust them and just accept that sometimes they'll be wrong. We'll sympathize because we thought they were right too. But introducing an objective source of information removes all the uncertainty and leaves us feeling the character should have known. We did, after all.
     
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  5. storystitcher
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    storystitcher Member

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    Thanks a lot for the replies, people :) You've given me a lot to think about.

    @BayView yeah that was exactly what I was worried about. I wasn't planning on making the 3rd person scenes too informative, they would be more like blurry snapshots into the other character's (usually the villains') lives, to aid characterisation and world building (its urban fantasy) as well as to give the reader clues about the MC's predicament.

    @Electralight I have considered 3rd person! But I feel that for my MC, 1st person fits best. But that could be just that I haven't had enough practice writing in 3rd person, I've never liked it much...

    @LostThePlot thank you for such a detailed response! :) You are making me seriously reconsider using this technique. Or maybe 3rd person really is the best for my story. I think what I'll do is continue writing as I am, write one or two of the 3rd person snapshots, and take them out if it doesn't work.
     
  6. Electralight
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    Electralight Member

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    @storystitcher I'm exactly the same. I don't really enjoy writing in third person (I have been doing a lot of practice though!). Maybe you could try having a "mini chapter" (for lack of a better word) that is a few hundred words in between every two chapters of first person from the MC. You could use those mini's to give a small insight (maybe one conversation or something) of the other characters lives without giving too much away. That way readers would get used to the format. (You could also give the mini chapters different kind of names, like name the chapter "Harry Washer" if its about harry washer)
     
  7. storystitcher
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    storystitcher Member

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    'Mini chapters' were exactly what I was thinking! Except that they would probably not be as often as once every two chapters, but I guess it could work to have them at regular intervals, to allow readers to get used to the format, as you say.

    I'm still undecided, but the only way to know is to try. I can always take them out if it doesn't work.
     
  8. Electralight
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    Electralight Member

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    Good Luck! @storystitcher
     
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  9. John the ninja
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    John the ninja New Member

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    I would say, if you plan on telling the story from the MC's point of view, then stick to it the entire story. If your MC doesn't know something, then the reader doesn't know it
     
  10. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    A few of the books I read occasionally have something at the end of the chapter like "Karris would never know Pria actually meant her."
     
  11. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    While my situation was different, for my first fantasy novel, I used what I called 'chapter starts' which started the 2nd chapter and continued until the 28th or so, when the storylines (with the first person POV) merged.

    So, there are many ways to approach this, but the key element to consider is whether it's really necessary to use the additional POV to supplement your 1st person POV. While it may be 'easier' it may end up detracting from the readers' experience rather than enhancing it.
     
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  12. Aster
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    Aster Member

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    It will work. In the same way that cheating will work.

    Why do we need to know what these other characters know that your MC doesn't know?

    Consider the fact that you don't know what other people in your life know. You're not living your life from their POV but you still manage to get through the story of your life.

    I may not be making sense. I'm very tired.
     
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  13. TheoremAlpha
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    TheoremAlpha Member

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    You can do it, but keep in mind:
    If you do it incorrectly, it can very much give the wrong impression.

    Usually when there is a sudden POV change, it either confuses the reader for a moment and they don't get the information you want them to as they are distracted, or they usually percieve it as a mistake.

    There are correct ways to do it, for sure. I saw a good example in a good a read rather recently called "The Passage," in which it was not sudden, but a little self contained section of it's own. It went from the usual Third Person character perspective, to a first person monologue type bit that gave you more perspective on the deeply broken antagonist.

    Otherwise, I feel that usually changing POV isn't all that beneficial, and either first or third person, there are ways of writing to get all the information you can across.

    Personally speaking, I think it's great when a character isn't in the know about what's fully going on, because it's a more realistic perspective and lets you learn the character better by seeing how they adapt on the go to new information. It makes them more relateable, as we've all been places in life in which we had no idea what was going on until further information came to us.

    You could have other characters, but I'd still advise you to stay with the same perspective.
     
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  14. storystitcher
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    storystitcher Member

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    Thanks again for all the replies. It sounds like the consensus here is that POV changes are definitely something to avoid, so I'll adapt my plan to not include them. I might try writing a couple of scenes from other characters' POVs, though, just to play around and experiment a bit. Who knows, I may even swap them in later, just to see what its like, but I suspect I'll take them out again anyway. This whole story's a bit of an experiment, really. Thanks again for the help.
     
  15. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    Never hold yourself back from writing more. Even things that you don't put in the finished version can be really helpful to write out in whole or in part so you know in your own head exactly what the characters did and saw and felt about something. Sure, that might not be something that the reader sees immediately but it informs your picture of the character and that can give you a better hook for a later scene or let you write them in more nuanced ways.

    As an example - I don't like sex scenes in my work. I just don't. That's just not the stuff I'm trying to write. But I do write those scenes out and I only cut them at the last minute. Whether the reader can see it or not they will always have happened that way so I can call back to them or joke about it or whatever, but the reader isn't going to see it most of the time because frankly it feels gratuitous to me. I write very character focused stuff with lots of pain and anguish and while sex can be a nice happy beat, taking 5000 words to say 'they had sex and it was lovely' is a bit bleh. Now, it's not really a huge imposition to write sex. Writing porn gets two thumbs up from me. And having that knowledge of what happened when these typically quite vulnerable people slept together helps inform how relationships change and develop behind the scenes even after things fade to black. Even if they both had a great time just knowing if someone was nervous or confident and the reasons for that like bad (or good) experiences in the past all informs how they are going to act in the morning in a way that I don't think you can know without actually putting it to paper and saying what happened.

    So do it. Words are cheap. Write it and see what happens. Even if you don't use it informs your character going forward and that's absolutely not time wasted. I still think it's not a great device for a finished work but for you as a writer taking the time to write 'between the pages' as it were is a great thing. It's why I don't beat myself up for going on big digression or writing big chunks that basically do nothing between scenes. Stuff like a car journey or wait at a station can be really revealing. Having your characters talk together about nothing particular is really revealing. Not just small talk, not just plot-talk; just being themselves for twenty minutes on the way to a meeting and seeing how they laugh or take the piss or wind each other up is the essence of character. It gives a picture of who these people are when the camera isn't looking and just working in little thoughts and feelings and jokes from these cut parts can go a long way to showing a more rounded character.
     
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  16. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Nothing to add to this really. I just 'wasted' a day on writing stuff that will never be in my WIP. Two people going on a journey to the seaside (not even characters in my WIP), exclaiming how beautiful the sand is, how they like the sound of the sea, how boring would that be in a dark fantasy novel?? Yet it isn't wasted, because I got to know these two better, I learned about the land and its beauty. I am also writing character-centered and it simply is impossible for me to go further without this background.
    A character is more than just an animated body who eats and sleeps. They react to other people, to a stone in their shoes, to stumbling on sandy ground, to a gull which wants to steal bread. They get moody in long winter nights, cheerful when a morning starts bright. And on and on. So sit down, get to know them through writing, there really is no better way that I know of. :)
     
  17. storystitcher
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    storystitcher Member

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    That's a very good point. I've written about my protagonist and antagonist in quite a few, very different, situations. None of these other stories are finished or particularly good, but they're characters I like writing about. So I completely agree with you and @LostThePlot that writing about your characters is the best way to get to know them.
     
  18. J. Johnston
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    J. Johnston Member

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    The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle managed to make it work fine. May reads aloud a letter that she's writing to the protagonist, thus updates both us and the MC on her recent situations. Granted, it doesn't follow her fully through events, but we get the imagery and information through her well-told recollections.

    Another option may be to end one chapter, with your MC sleeping or in a cliffhanger, then begin the next with your secondary character already narrating. This option could be more jarring, so perhaps trial and error to see if it flies?
     
  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Joining this thread late to vote for close third person (very, very similar to first person) for the whole book.
     
  20. Sack-a-Doo!
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    If you're going to use multi-POV, even sparingly, try to find a tempo for it.

    Like, for instance, in Robert Asprin's Phule's Company series, each chapter starts with a short intro in first person written by Phule's butler. The rest of each chapter is written in third person... by the butler as well, but it's distinctly different. He sometimes 'gathers information after the fact' to fill in details. Any 'conjecture' he always mentions in the first-person intro.

    But I think the important thing is to be consistent. Drop a short third-person scene in at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of each chapter (wherever it'll be most effective) and it should work.
     
  21. terobi
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    terobi Contributing Member

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    You can do it, but it's worth asking why it's written in first person, from one character's point of view in the first place (writing in first person from multiple POVs is just horribly confusing for the reader, who then has to remember whose head they are currently in - just look at the third Divergent book!) - and that is presumably because you want the reader to see the world through that person's eyes, with that person's knowledge and understanding.

    With that in mind, you might just have to bite the bullet and figure out how that character can get that information. Look at Harry Potter, with its use of devices like the Pensieve, Legilimency, and Riddle's diary, which are in the story primarily so that Harry can have access to information and first-hand accounts he otherwise couldn't possibly have. The "overheard conversation" is a basic version of this.

    Edit: Alternatively, you might be able to use a device similar to Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn books, where each chapter/section opens with an excerpt from someone else's diary/a book which goes into a little bit more detail about the world or events. You'd have to put it in very short bursts though, so it's not just a dry infodump.
     
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  22. storystitcher
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    storystitcher Member

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    I've started re-writing what I've written so far (only about 6000 words) in close third person. It's very similar to the first person version, with only very superficial differences like sentence structure/word choice, but I was surprised to find I actually preferred it aha.

    So I think I might write the story in close third person now.

    But I'm wondering if, due to its similarities with first person, I will still have the same problems if I choose to include the scenes from the other POVs - what do you think?

    Just to be clear on what I'm intending for these scenes: at first they would be written in distant (is it called cinematic?) third person, kinda like the reader is watching the scene through a key-hole, so that they only get a hint at what is going on. They should also serve to provide some extra atmosphere, and would be from the POV of one of the many villainous parties of the story. As the MC gets to know the main antagonist better, the scenes from the POV of the antagonist will become more like close third person (he becomes a semi-protagonist by the end of the story). However, scenes from the POVs of other villains would still be in distant third. They would only be occasional and short (under 1000 words). Does that make sense? haha.

    @Sack-a-Doo! I like your suggestion of having them at regular intervals to get the reader used to the format. However they wouldn't be once every chapter, more like once every three/four.
     
  23. terobi
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    terobi Contributing Member

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    Possibly - but it shouldn't be quite as jarring.

    Really, it depends on what the other POVs are doing. Are they there to give plot-necessary information? If so, might the main characters need that information too? Are they just for worldbuilding, or to remind the audience that those characters are still doing something? In which case you might be better off trying to show that in different ways. Remember that you're going to end up with the audience knowing information that your main characters don't, which is an added complexity for you if you're trying to preserve a mystery, and presumably you're going to have to have them find out about it at some point - which unless you're very careful might switch from "big reveal!" to "so what?"
     
  24. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It has been done plenty in fiction, and of course can work just fine when done well. The best way to answer your question is to write it with these other POVs as you envision them, and then see if the end product works or not. One can envision a variety of approaches, but since it all comes down to what the author can pull off the only way to answer for certain is to write it and see.
     
  25. MichaelP
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    MichaelP Active Member

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    There's nothing wrong with having some scenes told from another POV. It definitely works in storytelling. (Storytelling is all about telling a story, after all.) We see the POV-switch-to-reveal-info technique all the time in television and movies.
     

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