Viewpoint: Should You Switch?

A new crop of novel writers reports to class this week, and I’m expecting a lot of great ideas, some good writing, and a lot of viewpoints. Writing Tip for Today: So many novelists are doing multiple viewpoints these days. While some stories require a switch to give the reader essential info that the main POV character cannot know, others hop around for lesser reasons. Here are some things to keep in mind if you attempt a multiple viewpoint (MPOV) novel:

  • MPOV takes more skill. If you are writing a first novel, you’ll have enough work in mastering the kind of storytelling a good novel requires. Why bog it down with lots of viewpoint characters? I often recommend that first-novelists stick to a single viewpoint, to give that writer a chance to learn the shape of a novel.
  • Answer this question: Why do I need more than one POV? If your answer is something like, “It’s more interesting,” you may not be using this technique for its best purpose. Some legitimate reasons exist: as stated above, to give the reader critical info the main character can’t know. In a generational saga, the form itself dictates passing the story to descendants. If you are switching viewpoints just for the fun of it, think again. A skilled novelist writes MPOV that deepens and connects the story in ways a single POV can’t.
  • With every addition of viewpoint, you risk diluting the reader’s sympathies. This is huge. If your reader is confused or torn about which character to “root for,” that reader may end up not particularly engaged with anyone in the story. If you are going to write a MPOV story, you must decide whose story it is, and make that clear to the reader right away. Don’t make your reader guess which character has most to lose.
  • If you write a baddie’s viewpoint, don’t stay in that character’s voice very long. Most first-time novelists don’t yet have the skills that Thomas Harris uses in The Silence of the Lambs. Readers get creeped out if they have to be a murderer or nefarious character for long. Get in and get out.
  • Finally, a MPOV novel can’t be a series of scenes where each POV character rehashes the same scene. The next viewpoint might begin at the same time/place, but should pull the reader forward in the story by the end.

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 “Viewpoint: Should You Switch?

  1. Stephen J. Cannel, in At First Sight, started the manuscript in 1st person POV for the protagonist. As the protagonist fell into evil, stalking a heroine, the author began to introduce her story in her POV.

    As the reader finishes the last 1/3 of the book, you realize the author has very skillfully changed the 1st person POV from the protagonist/ stalker to the heroine in 1st person POV.

    A so-so story, but an incredible writing/ reading experience.

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