1. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    POV switches within chapters

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Tenderiser, Aug 17, 2016.

    I'm doing something with my new book that I haven't done before - changing POV within a chapter. I'm separating them by scene breaks with no more than two switches per chapter (i.e. not head hopping). I don't want to make each break a new chapter for various reasons.

    There are two POV characters, one male one female, which simplifies things somewhat.

    I feel there are two options for making this work (please tell me if you can think of others?):
    1) Engineering the very first sentence of a scene to make it crystal clear whose head we're in.
    2) Labelling the scenes with the POV character's name.

    I feel like 1) is the more elegant option, and that's what I've gone for so far, but I'm finding it restrictive. Sometimes I want to phrase the opening sentence a certain way for comic or emotional effect, and that phrasing doesn't make it clear whose POV it is.

    I'm iffy about labels for a few reasons. It feels lazy, it feels like a constant reminder that the reader is reading a book rather than living the story, and I don't recall seeing it in published books (though that may be because I didn't notice it).

    So I'm looking for reader opinions rather than writer. When reading a book, would labels bug you? I'm thinking it would look like this:

    Chapter 3

    Jane

    A really amazing scene from Jane's POV that wins me a literary award.

    #

    John

    Another incredible scene from John's POV that wins me a billion pound movie deal.
     
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  2. SweetOrbMace
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    SweetOrbMace Member

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    I think you are right that no labels is the more elegant option. I think labels work best when they're at a chapter level (i.e. different chapters for different POVs) I don't think it's that uncommon for POV switches within chapters and I'm sure as you write that you will develop smoother ways of doing it.

    As a reader, I would say that I don't need to know necessarily in the first sentence of each POV switch that the POV has changed. Especially if the first sentences are sufficiently comic and/or emotional. Do that sentence, then throw something in that makes the switch clear.
     
  3. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    from personal experience ...

    I write like that, with more than one POV and I have a name header every time I change POV. I also start each chapter with a name so the reader knows whose head they are in. The only difference, is that when in my female mc's POV, I write in first person present, whereas for my male mc (and everyone else in the second book) I write in third person omni past. (I know, sounds crazy but it works).

    I've not had a bad review yet for the POV change, in fact, a few have said it makes the story better to be able to see things from different angles while still allowing the reader to immerse themself from the personal view of the female MC.

    A few years after publishing, I began to read the fourth installment of a series of books by a big named author. The author had tried to do the POV change thing and had tried to write within the first sentence of each chapter, whose head they were in. I was already disappointed with the third book in the series anyway, but the way the fourth was written left me confused to the point that I put the book down 30% in and have never picked it back up again.

    BUT! I think there's no right or wrong answer. You need to find the best way for you to tell the story.
     
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  4. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I think it's only "head-hopping" if the POV change occurs within the same scene. Tom Clancy, especially in the later books in his Jack Ryan series, changed POVs within chapters incessantly. He always immediately oriented the reader at the beginning of the scene to the new POV so it was never confusing. No labels necessary. In fact, the only novels I can recall in which POV changes were specifically labeled were those in which there were multiple POVs in first person, in which case not only is labeling the better way to go, it's really the only way to go.
     
  5. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    It's bugging my critique partners (not knowing whose POV it is right away) and I think it would bug me too as a reader. I'm not dismissing your comment--it's what I've been doing--but it doesn't seem to be working :(
     
  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, you really do need to show whose POV we're in right away.
     
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  7. Scot
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    Scot Active Member

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    POV changes within chapter is one of my pet bugs as a reader. I hate finishing a paragraph, or chapter, and then discovering I have the wrong 'voice' in my head because a) either I'm too thick to notice or, b) the author got it wrong.

    What can make it work, where dialogue or thoughts are concerned, is if the two characters have very different personalities. One may be assertive and confident, the other more timid and cautious. Accents could play a role, or one may be more articulate than the other.

    You can certainly set the scene with POV observations about the other character's appearance; dress, height, hairstyle, shaven/unshaven, the possibilities are endless. But within a paragraph? Very difficult I think.
     
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  8. karldots92
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    karldots92 Active Member

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    Fantasy writers do this all the time and it works well without the labels. IMHO most readers would be fine with switching POVs. I do this a lot in my fantasy WIP. In fact, so far pretty much every chapter has at least two POVs. In some cases I include the name in the opening sentence - "Thelas stepped out from behind the trees as he watched the young warrior ride off". In some cases I describe the environment as being entirely different from the previous scene e.g. describing a bright sunny day in a forest in one POV and then switching to a dank smoke-filled room in the next.
     
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  9. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'll be very curious to see how this all shakes out because my next novel will be multi-POV.
     
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  10. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    My first was dual perspective but I did it by alternating chapters - Jane's chapter, then John's chapter, then Jane's chapter, and so on. I intended to do that again but now I want to try something different.

    I'll let you know how it goes!
     
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  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Are you writing first person? It's usually pretty easy to orient things when it's third person, because you use the character's name so often.
     
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  12. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Third, but unless I put some introspection in the first line it could be either. E.g. if I start the scene with John steered the boat towards shore. then it could be either's POV--if they're both in the boat, it can easily be Jane observing John steering the boat. Whereas John steered the boat towards shore, praying that he'd get there in time. is clearly John's POV. But sometimes I don't want the introspection.

    That's not a real example (I don't have my WIP with me at the moment to put a real example), so it's difficult to show why sometimes I want a certain phrasing that is ambiguous.
     
  13. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    So I do this in my WIP and I think option 1 works very well - the key to making it it less restrictive is to not limit yourself to the first sentence. First two or three sentences definitely - but not always the first - and the caveat being that you usually have to be careful not to drop another character's name in those two or three sentences.

    I'm not sure option two could work inside a chapter without being clunky. Obviously it works fine if you write full chapters from each point of view and use it as a chapter label (See: Martin, George R.R.) but inside a chapter would be hard.
     
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  14. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Option two is not as hard - or jarring - as you think. So long as it's not done too often. (like every other paragraph). More often than not, when I change POV (and therefore change character and put a character name in) it stays in that POV for a few (or more) pages. I find it very handy for being able to tell the story from more than one perspective, which I think is difficult to do if you're working from a first person POV for one character.
     
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  15. newjerseyrunner
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    newjerseyrunner Contributing Member

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    There was a great story that I remember reading a long time ago that might help you, but I can't remember what it was. It was a story about a well off family who loses everything. I think their grandmother died during it. There was a younger person who was mentally challenged. There were some black servants, I think it was the south after slavery but before desegregation. It was written as stream of consciousness and was constantly switching characters. Was a famous writer, but I can't remember who.

    Anyone have any idea what story I'm talking about? I think it'll help Tenderiser.
     
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  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    @Tenderiser, I think option 1 is the best of the two for POV switches within a chapter. However, I should point out that such overt transitions aren't necessary if you decide you want to go a different route. One of the more popular books on writing (might be Burroway, I can't remember) uses an excerpt from a Virginia Woolf story in a section on POV, and in that story Woolf is basically going through different POVs mid-sentence, and she's trusting the reader to keep up with her. I think that's a perfectly valid approach, and an alternative to providing the reader with explicit cues.
     
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  17. theamorset
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    theamorset Contributing Member

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    Why shift POV so often?
     
  18. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Head-hopping isn't an option for me at all.

    Looks like the consensus is for 1). I'll just have to get better at it!
     
  19. newjerseyrunner
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    newjerseyrunner Contributing Member

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    I found it. The Sound of Fury by William Faulkner. Check it out, it might help you.
     
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  20. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I think it depends on the kind of story. Personally speaking, I like books which tell me the stories from different peoples points, so I can maybe get two peoples thoughts and feelings on one event. That kind of thing is quite difficult to do if you are telling a story in first person as you will only ever see things from one person's viewpoint.

    As an example, (you may not think this is a very good example but, each to their own ...) Fifty Shades of Grey was written from one person's view, Ana. And so the whole story is based on what she thinks/sees/feels/wants/does. We don't see how her actions or inaction affect other characters, apart from when she sees the affect. This is why James' book "Grey" did so well. That book was just a re-write of Fifty Shades but from someone else's point of view, in that case, the male MC, Christian. An excellent marketing took but, as with most books, it's a gamble. Will it pay off or not?

    Personally speaking, I like the first person POV, but I wanted the luxury of telling the story (or parts of it) from a view other than the MC in first person. Also, because I write sex scenes, I wanted to be able to see the sex from another person's POV. So it wasn't always the same sex scene because the last thing I wanted to do, was stray into including sex toys, BDSM or multiple partners. (Don't get me wrong, I'm no prude, but those situations wouldn't suit my story.)

    As with everything about writing, from an artistic point, there's no right or wrong way to write. However you choose to tell your story, is the way you should tell it.
     
  21. Elven Candy
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    Elven Candy Contributing Member

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    I was going to do this once between two POV characters. When I switched POV, I just used some asterisks and put a space before them to make them easy to notice. Using something like asterisks also keeps the option open for you to use a space between paragraphs for time skips.

    Spearis wanted to eat a money, but monkeys were hard for a dragon to catch. She yawned and lay down. She'd need plenty of energy to catch one with, and sleeping was the best way to gather that energy.

    The next day, she started her hunt.

    ***
    Vergil was glad the dragon didn't see him. Monkeys were especially tasty to them, and he didn't feel like being eaten.


    I recently read a book that did it this way, only the author used a line instead of asterisks, and I never got confused on who the POV character was because I knew to look for who it was (and he had several POV characters, not just 2). He did, however, make it obvious who it was within the first few sentences of the first paragraph after the switch.
     
  22. Laurin Kelly
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    Laurin Kelly Active Member

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    This is exactly how I write my dual POVs.
     
  23. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Works for me. Though it is far less confusing with only two MCs and in third person. 3 MCs in first is a pain in the ass.
     
  24. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Funny I should trip over this thread. I picked up the comments from one of my latest beta readers today, and she says she's pretty sure that general writing convention forbids POV swaps inside a single chapter, even when marked off by a break (#). That isn't what I've observed, and I'm not going to rewrite the whole book to keep each chapter to a single POV. But I will go back and make sure it's obvious from the first of each scene whose head we're in.

    To answer the OP's question, I think doing it that way is smoother than heading each scene with the POV character's name. The latter would draw too much attention to itself, IMHO. I could see getting away with it in a courtroom novel, maybe, but not in a romance.
     
  25. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    @Catrin Lewis isn't it funny how people pick up these non "rules" and then judge others' work by them?!
     
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