Tuesday, January 12, 2016

POV - One or More

A while ago, I decided to read over my first NaNoWriMo success. I like to read the rough drafts on occasion to remember how it went and see how I feel about the overall results. It's not fantasy but it's the first novel attempt of mine that made it to 50k. Have to admit, it's rough. Since written during NaNoWriMo, that is expected but it's also from 2008. I have written so many words since then, it's crazy (such as the 180k novel first draft). However, I happened to notice something in the novel that I have been asked about in the past on a writing web site and that deals with having more than one character POV in a single scene.

I did not do it well in that first draft partly because I wasn't trying to change point of view on a conscious level. Instead, I had random bits of information that were not from the main POV character's perspective simply because I was new at writing and trying to get the story down on paper/word. Which is fine in a first draft but later requires finding ways rewrite and edit the thing so that those don't exist anymore because it's a one POV novel. Ah the fun of rewrites and edits.

While I'm going to edit out my little slips, it is possible to do novels with more than one point of view and in fact, I have a few that are two or more. So, let's talk about those. In the past, the omniscient point of view was popular and came in handy because it meant the reader could see the thoughts of different characters without sticking to one for too long even though one may have been the main focus a good part of the time. However, the popularity has decrease and far more common now is limited point of view approaches. But to the actual question: Can you use different POV in one scene?

Possible, but there are variables to consider. And note, all recommendations will be general and on there are times when someone will be able to do something I say not to and that's just fine. If you can make the difficult work then go right ahead and do you.

1. Are you writing first person POV?
If this is the case, it is not recommended to have different pov in one scene or even one chapter. If doing a short story with multiple first person pov, know it will be hard work and some readers won't like how much you'll have to jump around to get all of the views involved. And if going that route, at least try to have some way to indicate when the POV changes (even if not short story or first person narration). There needs to be enough space, asterisks, or something to give the reader a heads up that there is a change occurring, especially in first person because it is difficult to tell the different voices apart when every POV is "I". For novels, separate chapters works better though one I read had a boy and a girl POV and the boy sounded like a girl part of the time, so know it's not easy even if separating by chapters. But that's more for a topic on voice and such, not just point of view.

2. Are you writing third person POV?
Then it might be a little easier for you to do more than one point of view, dependent on how deep you go in the pov as this can get closer to the omniscient level a little. This is easier in part because people will get less confused even when there is a change in pov because it's more obvious when it's a different character. There are names involved and don't have the whole "I did this" type of situation. However, I still don't recommend just jumping between characters when it comes to a scene. It's possible to do and some people will do it very well, but many readers also complain about those stories because the jumps start to feel accidental and amateur like when done with less indication for the reader. Part of the success will come in the writing and in having ways to show the change so that it doesn't have that random, not on purpose feeling. Other parts will just be in taking the risk and having it be needed for the story.

When a scene has jumps in POV with no space or warning, it's easy for the reader to get confused. They might struggle to keep up and if the characters are in different situations/locations, the fast change will cause a sort of reading stumble, like a foot hitting a curb the person didn't notice was there. That's why having the space or separating helps, because it lets the reader know there is a change. And it's worse if the jump is short term and goes through a couple of characters all within the same scene. That, in particular, is where it looks more accidental even when we know stories are edited and such.

Plus, what we might think important to convey may not be as needed after all. I read one story where the two main character pov were fine and often split by chapters though even when it changed during a chapter it wasn't too hard to tell. However, the very beginning of the novel had a couple random moments where it slipped into the best friend's pov and I did not care for that at all. Sure, I could see the author was trying to show us something about the main female character by adding in the thoughts of the friend, but it really wasn't needed and just pushed it into head hopping territory instead of helping set the situation up for what was going to happen.

Which brings us to the end and my main point if you made it past my rambling. While doing different viewpoints can come in handy, we also have to consider who might read it (including ourselves cause I read my own and don't like the head hopping I did back then). Jump around too much and you'll get the "head hopping" situation, which is often frowned upon because the confusion it causes and the fact it jumps without much warning. Fantasy is great for having more than one viewpoint in a story but even the big name authors will limit in the beginning and will write in a way that shows a change is about to occur when they do switch. So, don't be afraid to do different points of view, but also remember to give the readers something to indicate the change. That way you can have the best of both worlds.

So what are your thoughts and experiences with varying points of views in stories?
Do you write more than one point of view in a scene?
What are some good examples of times where it worked for you (reading or writing)?