Friday, July 30, 2010

Changing Point-Of-View

Changing Point-Of-View

from_my_point_of_view_king_681795 I’m working on a chapter of Steam Palace (still looking for more beta readers! email me if you’re interested) that my critique group thought was a bit flat. I basically follow my main character through a major event, and I’ve been thinking of ways to spice it up. I needed more emotions in play, more motivations for all the characters, and perhaps some additional backstory.

Most good scenes contain more than one character, as the various characters play off each other. They each have their own agenda which is generally not aligned with each other. It seems obvious that any scenes containing the main character should be written from the main character’s POV, but that deprives the reader any real insight into the secondary characters.

So what I decided to do was to switch POV on a couple of scenes in the chapter. All of a sudden, new ideas burst into my head. Previously, Viola and Mary were just sitting in the back room playing cards. Now, in Viola’s point of view, Viola is sizing Mary up as her next victim. Previously, Sophia gets reamed by Dunstan for her song selection. Now Dunstan is up to his neck in troubles, and the last thing he needs is some hitherto unknown woman messing up his fancy ball. The stakes are much higher, because I can demonstrate the emotional state of the other characters, while leaving enough POV scenes alone to still let the reader follow the main character.

It’s kind of a showing vs telling thing. Why have a secondary character just speak and act when we can just dive inside their head to really grasp their inner conflicts and motivations?

Sometimes there is so much written in our main character’s POV that each individual scene doesn’t add that much to their character development. Things become predictable. The readers know what’s going on for that character. But take an important scene for your main character and write it from another’s POV…suddenly the reader is like, “OMG, I can’t wait to find out what Sophia thinks about all this.” I think if the reader is sold on your main character, then they will feel the scene even without the inner dialog and insight of POV. It also can create more sympathy for your main character by exposing what others think about them.

Now don’t go to extremes…your main character should still have the plurality of the POV of the book. This is still the character readers should care about most. Their inner conflict drives the book and the story forward. But don’t starve out your other characters either. They deserve their moment in the sun too.

So if you remember this post, you’ll see that I included my character/scene map, with the POV scenes in red. I also have the scenes summed up at the bottom of the map so I can compare each character. With my main character in the leftmost column, you can see where I include POV’s from other characters. (Note that though the boxes are the same size, they don’t represent equal sizes of scenes so it’s a tad misleading). My goal is to take maybe ten scenes overall from the left column and distribute them to the other POV characters.

So my advice is just to try it now and then. Take a scene that’s a bit flat, and change the POV. You’ll be surprised what you learn about your other characters…and you can always change it back. Have fun!

character dist



  1. So far in my current work, it's been from one POV, but the story is told from two, so I might try switching to the other character in an earlier scene.

  2. Good luck. I'm still nervous when it comes to adding scenes in different points of view. My old critique group was set on one main character and that as the only point of view. One person was doing a book with more than one point of view/main character each with different chapters. But that's it. Anything else was seen as a slip in pov that needed correcting.

    I'm sure you'll do great with the rewrite of those sections. It sounds good to me from what you posted in this blog entry.

  3. Adding different POVs can really spiece up the story. Different people look at the same situation and see different things, so the reader will be getting a lot more information. Good luck :)

  4. Andrew, you have entirely too much time on your hands! Either that or you are the most organized writer I know.

    Have fun playing around with your POV. It can be challenging, but when done well, the pay off is grand.

  5. I normally shy away from a book with too many POV characters unless I've got a lot invested in them. That's probably because my favorite genre is mystery, and I like to stay in the head of whoever is investigating the crime, which is more "real life" to me. However, I write romantic suspense, so I always have two major POV characters, and determining which is the right character for the scene is part of what keeps things interesting. I even wrote a short story that was one scene told from each character's POV.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  6. @Alex: Give it a shot! You might learn some fun things!

    @Dawn: I try to keep each scene in one character's POV, and clearly mark the change in POV with a # on an empty line.

    @Lua: Seems to be working.

    @Cat: I really don't have that much time...just trying to make it better!

    @Terry: It can be confusing, but I only have a couple POV characters.


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