What About Alternating POVs?

Point of View (POV) comes easily to some writers. Others struggle to master a single viewpoint. And then there are writers who insist on using a Multiple View Point (VP) when it’s unnecessary. What’s the best way to handle point of view for the first novel?
Writing Tip for Today:
First, let’s revisit what a viewpoint does for a novel. A single POV allows the reader to not only “watch” the character doing, speaking or otherwise moving on the stage of your novel. A POV written correctly gives readers entry into the character’s feelings, thoughts, even stomach rumblings. Most mistakes in viewpoint come when a writer “head hops,” that is, we experience the inner thoughts of one character only to hop over to the character standing next to her. Head hopping is sometimes tolerated in genre novels such as romance, where the reader is anxious to know the feelings and thought of both female and male characters. But bouncing from one character’s inner life to the next usually results in the reader’s sympathies becoming diluted, caring less for any character or not knowing which character to root or pull for. Readers must become attached or at least interested emotionally in order for them to keep reading.
How can you decide if another viewpoint is necessary? Ask yourself whose story the novel tells. Even in multiple POV novels, most often it’s one character’s story and that character is the person who have the most at stake or the most to lose. Or, perhaps that character is larger-than-life, disagreeable or downright crazy. The secondary POV is a good narrator in these instances. In Melville’s Moby Dick, Ahab is both disagreeable and a bit crazy. Ishmael, the young boy, tells the story in a more reliable way. Or, consider Sherlock Holmes. He’s larger-than-life as it is. Boasting of his accomplishments and talents might be awkward, so with Watson narrating, Holmes sounds less egotistical.
Tips for POVs:
Avoid switching POVs within a scene.
If possible, clearly mark your transition to another VP, such as labeling a section or new chapter with the new POV character’s name.
Keep your VPs as few as possible to avoid diluting your readers’ sympathies.
First person POVs (the “I” voice) is intimate and personal, but all scenes require your POV character’s presence unless you switch to another to deliver information the main character can’t know.
Third person limited POV (he or she voice) follows one character but not as close or personal as First person.
Omniscient (God’s Eye view) is rarely used nowadays because although we can enter all or any character’s heads we are at a distance and readers can be confused on which character to sympathize with or follow.
I welcome your questions about POV in a novel.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

1 comment on “What About Alternating POVs?

  1. My book is third person limited, following my female character. There is a catch. I wrote this book with a prologue and the prologue is third person limited following the MALE character. Once I became more familiar with POV, I worried that perhaps I shouldn’t have done this but after reading and editing for many months nows, I’m kind of intrigued by the notion of getting a glimpse at what drives my male MC to act has he does.

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