1. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Style Shifting Viewpoints mid-scene

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Commandante Lemming, Jul 25, 2014.

    So I've noticed that I have a (bad?) habit of following one character's mind into a room, having them have a conversation, then have them split up and follow the OTHER character out of the room.

    That's one of those things that of viewpoint advice usually tells you not to do - even with multiple viewpoints - and I'm trying to hone and tighten my style.

    Personally I enjoy passing the viewpoint around like a hot-potato and enjoy when movies do that, but I get that it's potentially jarring.

    So, should I work on making my viewpoint more static? Shift to full omniscience? (not sure I want to do that, I only like access to one head at a time, I just shift too often). Or is there a way to hone veiwpoint-passing? Any good books that do that as examples?

    I'm pretty open-minded and just musing. Lots of musing lately :p
     
  2. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    You need to decide what you should do, I can't advise you on that, but these are my thoughts, maybe they can help.

    1. Sounds like you aren't in control of your POV. "I have a habit..." is really 'I do this without noticing'. It's the same thing as mixing up tenses, flipping involuntarily between the past and the present when you already decided to write in past tense, for example. All that needs to happen in this case is improving, paying more attention as you go and fixing errors in editing.

    2. Omniscient, which is really any POV that involves 3rd person and 'head hopping' within the same scene, is my personal least favourite perspective. Unless it's done by a master, such as in Dostoyevsky's ' Crime and Punishment', which is in my top 10 all time favourite books. If you haven't read it, do, but make sure you get the new translation. He does it very cleverly, all the way to crafting sentences differently depending on whose POV we are reading. So we are never confused and it flows beautifully.

    Absolute worst version of omniscient POV is when it feels accidental. I'm reading a novel right now in which the author 'head hops' occasionally, amidst otherwise clear 3rd person limited POV and I feel a little let down each time she does it. If you're gonna do it, do it consistently and throughout, commit to it fully and make sure it isn't an accident.
     
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2014
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  3. domenic.p
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    domenic.p Banned

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    Shifting view points is dangerous. I few good writers have done it, and gotten away with it…it’s not something a publisher likes. If it stops a reader for just a few seconds, you could lose them. It is always best to find a view point you work well with, and stick to it. Some writers believe if they do something bold it will show an agent they are a great writer. Not so. Agents work with just a few publishers, and publishers only work with agents they trust.
    An agent can lose a publisher over a book that does not sell. A publisher will be on the street looking for a new job if he/she loses money for the house.
    An example was the book, Whisky Soar by a first time author who was given a $600,000 advance. The book was a flop. Heads rolled, and the authors career came to a stop.
    If you put your work out as an Ebook, it is left to you to do all the things a publisher would be required doing. If you have a well written story, seek out an agent, and go for a standard publisher. You may receive 100, or so rejects, and do three, or four rewrites…but that is the business. Those who stick with it win, those who don’t lose.
    If you write for the fun of it, it does not matter what you do.
     
  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I am not a personal fan of head-hopping within a scene. As a writer I never do it, as a reader I find it irritating at best, totally confusing at worst. I'm not saying it can't be done, but I'm with @jazzabel, in that it should never be done out of habit or by accident.

    Even head-hopping within a chapter can be disconcerting. It can be done between scenes, but I do think you need to bend over backwards to make sure your readers follow you into that scene, knowing who the POV character is, if that character has just changed.

    One of the first 'rules' of writing that I try to stick to is 'always orient the reader at the start'—of a book, a chapter or a scene. Make sure the reader knows who is involved, where the scene is taking place, and also the time-frame.

    It's a good idea to say something like: "Ten days after the hurricane, Thomas woke up in the new apartment in Rawlings and still couldn't believe..." whatever...

    The reader knows immediately whose POV they are in, where the scene is taking place, and how much time has passed since either the previous scene or the last time we were 'with' this character. The reader doesn't notice you've pulled this trick, but they are eager to move on, to find out what Thomas couldn't believe.

    Compare that to this scene opener: "He woke up and still couldn't believe ..." whatever.

    You immediately want to know 'who.' So you read on a bit, to try to figure out who. If you're lucky, Thomas's name will come up a couple of sentences on, and you'll know who. Then you want to know where he is sleeping, where is this taking place? And you find out, several paragraphs later, that this scene takes place 10 days from the last time you saw 'him.' By now you are totally confused and annoyed. And the author has achieved ...what? Not much. No point in keeping this information back, is there? Just orient the reader at the beginning, and they'll happily follow wherever you lead.

    Head hopping within a scene? I would avoid it, unless it's crucial. I'd say figure out beforehand which character's viewpoint is best for a scene and stick to it. It's not a rule that can't be broken in the hands of an expert, but I think it's one that's difficult to break without losing your reader.

    If you genuinely need to portray a scene from two different POVs, then it's possible to do so by backtracking and giving the second character a shot at the same event in a later scene or chapter. However, this can also be annoying to the reader (as I've just found out from a beta reader who didn't enjoy the fact that I did this in a couple of places in my own novel.) It's better to choose a single POV for each scene. Another character can reflect upon the scene during a subsequent one, revealing their own take on what happened, but it's not a good idea to do a scene twice.
     
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2014
  5. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    I write mostly in 3rd Person Subjective Omniscient. The kinds of stories I tell almost require it. The reason writers are told to avoid it is that it is hard to do well. It's as simple as that. But it also has many advantages.

    Rather than write an essay, you can have a look at this one : http://io9.com/5924661/how-to-write-an-omniscient-narrator-if-youre-not-actually-omniscient-yourself

    The thing is, are you able to write in such a way that your reader is never in any doubt about WHO is doing the talking? If you can, then Omniscient is fine for you and don't listen to nay sayers.
     
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  6. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks for all the input. I think I'm just going to be mindful of it when I write in the future and see how it comes out (and there's always editing - but to edit one first needs to reach the end, which I haven't :crazy:)

    I really liked that essay on different ways of approaching omniscience - I'm very much a "camera lens" guy and so I may purposefully write a few scenes that way and see how they play with my readers. But I write by watching a movie in my head and describing what I see (it even has a soundtrack - no freaking joke), so I do tend to open a scene with a wide-shot of the setting, slowly zoom-in on a character, follow them for a while, then bump into someone new and follow the other person away. But I may also re-write some stuff in a single POV and see if it still works - the story has multi-viewpoints as a necessity but I can tighten it.

    For instance, the scene I wrote last night has two characters who are roommates (call them A & B) and both are having important thoughts. A is finding out that B is on psychiatric medication for the first time, while B is actively trying to decide whether or not to take her meds today. So I did that by following A into the kitchen, where B is staring at her Aderall and not taking it, and I stayed in her head to feel some minor shock at the revelation. Then B walked out onto the patio, pretended to take her pill, but actually spit it out in the flowerbed. So for that I jumped into B's head and played out her inner turmoil trying to decide as she swirled the pill around in her mouth. I like how it turned out - but I also could do the whole thing from A's point of view, and not realize that B is off her meds until later when she starts bugging out.
     
  7. WesleyRobinson
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    WesleyRobinson New Member

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    You are creating a work of art. It can only be up to you. You make the rules. If you enjoy it, then do it. There is nothing wrong with that. It is all about preference.
     
  8. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    True - but art is meant to be appreciated. Especially with writing, it matters that the point gets across. That is why we focus on craft.
     
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  9. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    When I'm writing a POV, I try to get in their head. When the character is having a conversation, I focus on that character's reactions. The other character is only how the POV character perceives them. So, I'll add internal thoughts. By focusing on the POV character, the scene ends in his or her head.
     

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