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  1. #1
    A J

    a question on POV

    I'd read somewhere recently that a third person story shouldn't change POV meaning (I think) that if character A is your lead character, then you can't switch over to character B or C perspective. I don't understand this. Isn't the point of a third person story that you CAN switch POVs?

    Are there any guidelines as far as this goes? Should you never change POV, or only change with the chapters? Is it okay to change mid chapter/mid scene?

    Sorry if this has already been covered here. I looked through the archives and didn't really see anything that covered my question. Thanks for your help!

  2. #2
    M. Lee

    Re: a question on POV

    I don't know that I've heard that "rule", AJ.

    I've read lots of books where the POV changes. My books two and three do it, and I haven't heard anything negative about it from my agent, or any of the publishers who have looked at it.

  3. #3
    Robert Raven

    Re: a question on POV

    Nonsense. It's done all the time. The only "rule" is that it has to work; that is, you have to do it in such a way as not to confuse the reader.


  4. #4
    Robert Raven

    Re: a question on POV

    Addendum: I don't mean to say you can't do a 3rd person POV through only one character's eyes. That's done all the time, too.


  5. #5
    Jeannine Garsee

    Re: a question on POV

    You don't even have to wait for the next chapter. Scene breaks can work quite nicely. But I am AMAZED at the number of published authors (well-known, too) out there who think nothing of jumping from head to head in the same scene, sometimes in the same paragraph.

    My first novel was written strictly in the first person, and I'm having fun experimenting with alternate POV's in my current WIP.

  6. #6
    Cathy C

    Re: a question on POV

    Probably what the person who told you this meant is that you shouldn't "head hop." That's not the same as switching points of view. It means that the character who is speaking/commenting isn't clear to the reader. Here's an article that I wrote about it for a workshop I gave, with examples of the same scene in different POVs. I think you'll see the difference really quickly:


    Aspiring authors often have problems with points of view (POV). Because you're thinking about multiple people in a story or book, it's easy to get confused on who is thinking and saying what. Now, there's nothing wrong with switching POVs. Authors do it all the time. No, when critiquers, agents or editors look at a manuscript with POV problems, it's usually because the writer is switching TOO often or in the WRONG place. This is referred to as "head hopping," and can quickly get your story -- regardless of how good a plot it has -- rejected.
    So, how do you know what POVs will work for you? How do you know which one you're writing right now? How many POVs can you successfully integrate into your WIP (Work in Progress)?

    Well, for a short story, two to three is pretty much the most that you can successfully sustain. Novels can handle three to four, and sometimes five (but that's tricky unless it's epic length.) Here are the primary types of POV, to help you know which one you write.

    First Person Point of View: This is very simple. "I went to the store. Afterward, I drove home." You're writing through the eyes of ONE person, and one person only. Nobody else gets to play.

    Third Person (Limited) Point of View: This is the most common form of story. You're speaking through the characters, but NOT using "I went to...." Instead, you're saying "Bob went to...." Third Limited is where a lot of people accidentally switch POVs mid-stream.

    Third Person (Omniscient) Point of View: A lot of people confuse the word "omniscient" with "omnipotent", and for a very good reason. In Third Omniscient, you're GOD! You're telling an overview of the story through mechanisms that aren't available in Third Limited.

    Here's a little exercise I wrote up to help you see the difference between them, and what happens when you mix them up:


    Omniscient third person:

    Bob opened the front door and there stood Tammy. Earlier he had been thinking about just this scenario, and last night as well. He took her into his arms and kissed her, enjoying the sensation of her fingers through his hair. Tammy fought not to tell him about her affair with Antonio last week. Antonio had only wanted her body. He didn't care about her nor want anything more. But Tammy didn't know that, so her guilt was misplaced as she returned Bob's kiss.

    The bolded portion is how you KNOW this is Third Omniscient. If Tammy doesn't know, and Bob doesn't know, then the narrator -- GOD -- is telling the reader this is true.

    Limited third person (Bob):

    The doorbell rang for the third time before Bob could get there. He turned the knob and felt his breath catch in his throat. Tammy looked radiant with the sun behind her, making her red hair glow like fire.

    "What are you doing here? I thought you---" She looked contrite, but he couldn't understand why. Her fingernails tapped on her faded blue jeans.

    "I wanted to see you." The words were soft and sounded nearly embarrassed, but he didn't care why. She was here and God, how he needed her!

    He released the door knob and stepped into the doorway, gathered her into his arms and kissed her gently. She responded with near desperation and it set his mind on fire. He leaned into her, tightened his arms around her and let himself revel in the taste of the flavored lip gloss that reminded him of cherry cough drops. The feeling of her fingers running through his hair reminded him of his dream last night, and part of him wondered whether this WAS a dream. But if it was, he never wanted it to end.

    Limited third person (Tammy):

    Tammy pressed the doorbell one last time. Maybe he wasn't home. She hoped he wasn't home. But her heart wanted him to answer, to forgive her and take her back. It wasn't fair to Bob to come here out of guilt, but only being with Antonio had made her realize how much she loved Bob.

    She looked up frantically as the door opened. Bob looked stunned. "What are you doing here? I thought you---"

    She couldn't look him in the eyes. God! Why had she even thought this might work? Her gaze lowered until his black cowboy boots filled her vision and her fingernails tapped against her jeans as she fought not to just throw herself into his arms. "I wanted to see you."

    She heard a sound and then she was just suddenly in his embrace. He leaned in and kissed her gently, his lips tasting her. It was too much. She couldn't stand it anymore and she threw herself against him, pulling him closer and opening his mouth with hers. Even if he never forgave her for Antonio, she needed to feel this one last time. She needed him to know that he was the one she WANTED.

    Mixed Limited POV:

    The doorbell rang for the third time before Bob could get there. He turned the knob and felt his breath catch in his throat. Tammy's heart had wanted him to answer, to forgive her and take her back. It wasn't fair to Bob to come here out of guilt, but she was here.

    "What are you doing here? I thought you---" Bob was ecstatic to see her, but feared for his heart if he gave into what he was feeling. Tammy's pulse pounded as she looked at his confused expression.

    "I wanted to see you." She was massively embarrassed, but she didn't care. She needed him, and God, how he needed her!

    Now, you can see what happens if you mix Bob's and Tammy's POV into adjoining sentences. You end up wondering who is thinking what. Does Bob somehow KNOW that Tammy had hoped he would answer the door? How could he? Since they both want each other, the reader is going to quickly get confused by this back and forth. Did Tammy know that Bob needed her? Again, how?

    Generally speaking, you should wait for a scene break to switch points of view, and designate the switch with an extra line or a hash mark (#) between the scenes. In novels, you can also use chapter breaks to switch, but few short stories have chapter breaks.

    If you find that you're having a hard time staying in one POV, try writing the same scene from first person in the character you've chosen to write in. I find that really helps me focus on what THAT person is feeling and doing. Then I can go back to third person and incorporate the emotions and sensations quite a bit easier.


    JMHO, as always. Hope this helps a bit.

    Cathy Clamp
    Moon's Web - RT Reviewer's Choice Award Finalist
    Touch of Evil, coming soon from Tor Books, March, 2006


  7. #7
    Andrew London

    Re: a question on POV

    Cathy C. I write in third person limited and usually go into between six - eight different characters.

    "Head-hopping" is horrible.

    But if done correctly, you can create on incredibly fast moving novel.

    The huge pitfall with 3rd person limited is that you lose sense of who the main character is.

    But 3rd person limited is the easiest of all the tenses to write in, and I have had some really fun books.

    You go "in and out" Hit the highest action/climatic part of the scene then get out and go to the next.

    I am not the next Tolstoy or Hemingway, but for entertianment purposes 3rd person limited all the way, baby.

    And these are usually the books readers like the most.

  8. #8
    Cathy C

    Re: a question on POV

    Six to eight is a LOT of characters. If you can pull it off, you're right that it would be a wild ride. Congrats if you can manage it! But it is easy to lose track of the individual plot threads.

    I prefer first person personally, for much of the same reason (wild ride). When a person is having a bad day, it can be a REALLY wild ride.

    But on general principle, I think it's best to stick with three or four in third limited. There are always exceptions, of course, but the majority of novels tend to stick with this (if nothing else, for the reader's sanity! LOL!)

  9. #9
    Angel Kemory

    Re: a question on POV

    So, how does anyone feel about third person, one POV?


  10. #10
    A J

    Re: a question on POV

    ah, I'm so glad to hear this. I know that I've read novels where the POV switches between characters, and that's how i tend to write, so when I came across this bit (i don't remember where, it was online somewhere), I was completely confused. I wondered if it was something new that was being considered a no-no, or if this was just one guy at a computer saying 'this is how the future novel should look'.

    And Cathy C, the examples were wonderful. thank you.

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