POV Changes in Chapters: When To Properly Use Them!

Points of view (further referred to as POV) can be complicated when drafting a novel.

All you need to do is glance inside a writers’ group – the question will present itself in the archives, or haunt you by popping up at the top of the group.

I’ve seen this question asked multiple times a month (to say a week would be an exaggeration) and I have a different approach on this than most writers inside these groups.

You will hear two sides to this argument: either switch the chapter out completely before changing points of view or have a line break mid-chapter to represent when to change the character.

My stance on the issue: As long as you give readers a clear expectation you are switching the point of view (or camera lenses), this should not present an issue and jar your reader out of the story.

The sentence is key. You must transition the reader smoothly into the next point of view, especially if it is within the same sequence of events.

This method is risky because readers are used to a certain method in each genre of books. I’ve already crossed the boundaries with some things in urban fantasy, such as using multiple points of view when the norm is first person limited. Therefore, my stance is a bit different, but it has been met with positive feedback when I implemented this in Turbulence.

Since I have three sections of this in Drift and have been considered to teach this at an upcoming engagement (more information later there), I am using my own work as examples in this blog post.

I will list certain questions writers should ask themselves when assessing the need for POV changes.

 

#1: Does the reader need to see both sides or will one suffice to move the scene forward?

This question is important because it will answer two things: if you need the extra 2000-5000 or so words within your scene (I say this roughly due to my average scene count, not of anyone else) or if you have enough information for the reader to properly follow the story.

If you do need both sides, consider carefully how much to show, tell, and foreshadow to leave to the readers imagination. Remember, they do not like being spoon-fed or feeling like they’re not smart enough to comprehend your story.

 

#2: Will bringing two POVs in the same chapter (or scene with a break) elect the feeling and response you want from your readers?

When we write about certain characters, we elect an emotional response from each reader. Men will react differently to certain situations than women, such as when confronted or in harm’s way. Women react worse in emotional situations, confrontation or when they’ve made a mistake versus the opposite sex.

Therefore, it’s best to consider each character’s reactions, emotions, and stances when electing to use a point of view.

 

#3: Will changing POVs seem forced or natural to the scene and character in question?

This is tricky to answer because only the writer can gauge this. However, they need to have beta readers and their editor answer this question honestly. Using this method can detract existing and future readers away from their work. Therefore, I suggest using the two to three try approach.

Yes, try writing it in both points of views and figure out which goes better, or if you need to keep the second POV within the same scene.

This might drive you batty, but trust me – it’s worth ironing it out if you’re unsure what to do. The last thing you want on your reviews is several readers complaining you didn’t do this right. It’s jarring to the reader – akin to having a headache when moving too fast, for example.

My favorite one is this:

 

#4: What do I do if I wrote in the wrong POV?

Simple – change it. Do not save the material if you cannot use it later.

It sucks, but I have a file of over 50,000 words because I used the wrong point of view at certain points. At the very least, you can laugh at it later, but forge your way through. The story won’t finish itself.

If you want some examples, I have some below you can reference.

 

E.M.’s examples

In Turbulence, I used this method four times. However, for this blog post, I’m using Drift’s examples, because they are more suited to these examples.

There were three different times I elected to do both points of view within the same chapter. In each instance, I left an opening for the reader to breathe at the end. Two of them are from the third chapter, and the last is from chapter sixteen, where a climatic clue is given which the character has wondered for almost two entire books.

You don’t want to use this all the time because the reader won’t know the difference between when it’s necessary or a style preference. Keep this in mind when assessing your scene.

Here are my examples with explanations below. Please note that these are screenshots, so the entire scene isn’t there. However, it’s enough to get the point across.

Also, scene break markers were made by my awesome cover artist, which was purchased exclusively for marketing this series.

 

Example One: Shifting with movement and dialogue

 

In the first example, readers know three things: the reason for the different point of view, the response of both characters forced to attend this event and why the scene changed instead of made into a new chapter. By transitioning it smoothly, I was able to continue the scene and stay within my point of view while using this method.

For that particular character, his nature is investigative, so watching behind the scenes and letting the woman take over is the natural response when they work together. It was also normal to have something humorous or facetious at the end, since he’s tired of being the buffer between their fighting coworkers.

The beginning of this chapter showed the male meeting with his boss, who finds out meeting with his partner is a tense situation (years of separation and family relation). By using this method, I was able to stay within character and switch the camera lenses to show her tension at meeting her father again.

 

Example 2: Direct transitions

 

This is the final scene to Chapter Three, but the transition is more defined.

Here, the woman holds out her hand and invites the male to voice his opinion regarding their interaction. The reader is guided by the character into the next point of view sequence, and readers understand she is too overwhelmed to respond objectively to his questions.

This method should be used sparingly but can invoke a powerful emotional response. In this instance, I wanted the readers to feel bad for her because she was given a choice which ends unfavorably either way. However, because the male did not hear the entire conversation, this opens the next scene for his analysis and inner monologue while engaging with his partner.

 

Example 3: Witnessing Key Events/Aftermath

 

This was from Chapter Sixteen, and this took me two weeks – there is one part pending and with my beta readers now for assessment.

In this instance, the scene dragged on too long, but it is a climatic part of the book for all three characters in said unit. The main male is their buffer and just saw two turning points – a semi-truce between said people and a revelation the female hid for almost two books. Because this moment builds up to the main plot encompassing book three, it was important to give the readers a glimpse of this.

Now, this is where some people would debate to just have a different chapter, but it would be jarring to do it in this matter. (I tried this as well and it didn’t keep the momentum the way I liked.) However, I kept it this way for several reasons.

Using the criteria listed at the beginning of this post, I kept to reasons one and two before deciding to keep this particular scene. Readers at this point in the book know the dynamic between the entire unit, so it was important to show that in crisis, they wouldn’t screw the other person. Also, it elected the emotional response I wanted from readers – to feel for the female lead and define a reason for her masked persona, despite her physical limitations she presents.

Last, it showed one other thing – a moment of weakness that she could not control. It was an important theme to the book because the parties who bickered kept arguing about it throughout the entire story. In this instance, seeing it through someone else’s eyes and through the other POV shows how powerless they were over the situation, and that both parties arguing were right in their own regard.

I’m not going to lie – exposing her is a plus – but wasn’t the entire reason I did a POV change mid-chapter.

 

POV changes are tricky devils, but with a bit of maneuvering and trial and error, you’ll navigate through them like a pro the more you practice writing.

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