In my twentieth installation of WRITING CHRONICLES, I went into great details about the various types of narrators and POVs that may be used in storytelling. A perusal will tell you that jumping POVs in the middle of scenes is one of my pet peeves. Of course, a scene may be told from the perspective of different characters but there are proper etiquettes to these things. When you are having a conversation with someone, how much would you enjoy being interrupted by the other person while talking? Or worse, if a third party straggler just decided to insert themselves into your discussion midway? The narrator and the reader develop a bond over the course of a story that requires similar decorum. Each character must wait their turn to have their say.
Having consistently opted for third person omniscient in my narratives, I understand why an author may rely on multiple POVs. Allowing more than one character to share their perspectives can make a story lusher by showing different sides to the same event/chain of events, adding and taking away from the conflict(s) as the plot progresses. Readers enjoy both a bird’s eye view from outside a character’s head as well as from within, providing a more ranged experience. Moreover, it creates a sense of irony as the narrator allows the reader to cotton onto the bigger picture before any of the characters and perhaps it even cultivates a sense of anticipation/frustration when characters aren’t as quick on the uptake, which continues to add to the conflict. Even more importantly, it allows the author the flexibility of hopping into a different character’s head if a certain scene is not working out quite the way hoped when looking at it from the initial standpoint. However, that’s when mistakes may occur.
If you decide that multiple POV is the way for you, it is very important to select the right character perception for each scene and to arrange scene changes in a way that adds to the fluency and enrichment of the reading experience and not to the confusion. The only confusions in the story should be the ones crafted for the plot conflict(s). Haphazard head-hopping should be nixed during the editing process because they can irritate the reader, make the author seem undecided, and really, why am I reading a novel when it’s not even ready? Proper planning and controlled experimentations while outlining and drafting a story can help avoid such kinks. But a few tricks of the trade never hurt anyone. I use the following checklist every time I start a new story:
Who are the most important characters? In order to decide which and how many characters should assist in the narration, the easiest route is to first isolate the most important and recurring characters in the story. The protagonist, the supporting role, the antagonist are some of the key characters to look out for but there may be others. If you have roughly plotted your scenes as to how each character, conflict, setting, etc. will be introduced and added to in the course of the story, then deciding on this list becomes easier. Then dividing up POVs according to character goals creates an invisible boundary for the author even as he gives the narrator godlike presence. What attracts the hero and heroine to one other? Can the best friend perhaps better illustrate why the hero is such a swell guy? Why has the ex-boyfriend returned to the picture? Once the POVs are shortlisted, these characters should be introduced early in the story, preferably within the first act of the novel, so the reader is able to quickly identify their relevance.
Whose story is it and who is best suited to tell it? Perhaps I should have addressed this first but it is not necessary that the MC is always the most suited character to tell the entirety of a story. For example, sometimes, for the reader to see the MC’s assets and flaws, someone else needs to step in. In any given scene, the question to ask oneself is who can present the clearest picture of what is happening? This also depends on where in the story we are, and again, what the goal of that scene is. Which character has the most at stake in that part of the story? The POV that presents each scene needs to be carefully selected according to what each scene’s goal is. As the story progresses, the selected perspective per scene should give us a sharper glance into the characters and conflicts being addressed.
Which character(s) will undergo the most change? I’m talking about the character arc, which I have always felt is the backbone of any story. Sharing the POV of the character(s) that experience the most growth or degeneration in a story can greatly enhance the reading experience. The reader is then able to go on the journey with the character(s). Obviously, multiple characters undergo changes in a story, whether in enhancement or detriment to their individual objectives. Those are the go-to characters when selecting the POVs. And often these developments occur simultaneously, so the scenes need to be arranged in a way where each of these characters receives an opportunity to share their perspectives on the changes in a close sequence of one another though separately.
Does the character whose POV is being used have an interesting voice? We’re not just talking about slangs and accents here, although those may add to the narrative dimension. Rather one thing about the omniscient narrator is that even while retaining the personality of the POV character for each scene, the structure of the overall narration of the story is standardized [remember swooping in and out of a character’s mind]. This is done by adding inner dialogues to the text. But when we select a certain character for the POV in a scene, breathing that character’s personality and tone of speech into the narration is very important to maintain character consistency. The reader should be able to distinguish each character POV from the other. Which is why the author must know whichever character he/she selects for the POV inside out. This is another reason why it’s a good idea to limit the number of POVs even in an omniscient narrative, selecting only characters the author knows well enough to give each an individual, distinct, and engaging voice.
For the most part, keeping an eye out for these markers help me select and separate POV per scene. If I do choose to add more than one POV to define a particular scene, I do so by starting a fresh scene for the second character like I would a new chapter where said character shares his/her perspective in hindsight.
Are there any particular guidelines you follow in order to keep your character POVs distinct and in check? Please feel free to comment below.
Finally, a word on the Author Toolbox Blog Hop:
#AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event, hosted by the gracious Raimey Gallant, featuring various resources and learnings for authors written by authors. It is open to writers at all stages of their careers and the rules of sign-up are available in the overhead link. Also, if you are just interested in connecting with actual authors and see what they have got to say, the sign-up page has a list of participants to direct you to their pages. Happy reading and writing, fellow authors!