Jami Gold, Paranormal Author

7 Methods for Handling Point-of-View Changes

by Jami Gold on July 4, 2013

in Writing Stuff

Relay race baton pass with text: Point of View: Handling Hand-Offs

Today’s a holiday in the U.S., so I’m dusting off and updating a post from the archives. While you’re here, don’t forget to comment on my Blogiversary post for a chance to win “me.” Want me to beta read for you or pick my brain about a writing or story problem? Now’s your chance! *grin*

The old version of this post recently came up in one of my writing loops because many beginning writers want to share everything they know about their characters and their story. We see this issue in information dumps of backstory or story research. And we also see this issue in the desire to share everything that every character is thinking and feeling.

However, once we gain experience, we realize it’s good for readers to have questions and to figure things out from the subtext. The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi is excellent at giving suggestion on how to show emotion, both from the point-of-view (POV) character as well as from a non-POV character. Simply wanting the reader to know the emotions of another character is not a reason to switch POV. *smile*

Once we’ve determined a POV change is really needed—think emotional arcs, plot turning points, or who has the most at risk—we need to know how to do changes in close third person POV properly. I hope you enjoy!

How to Avoid Head-Hopping

We’ve learned that head-hopping should be avoided if we want to maintain a strong connection between the reader and the characters, and we’ve learned that just calling something omniscient doesn’t solve the head-hopping problem.

This brings up the obvious question: How do we avoid head-hopping?

The answer might be different for each story we write. Remember how we defined head-hopping previously? If a story uses a character’s voice for narrative introspection/internal monologue, we need a transition between each character’s point-of-view (POV). Otherwise, we risk confusing the reader, taking them out of the story, and breaking the reader’s connection to the characters.

So let’s look at our options, starting with the smallest transition and continuing up to the biggest.

Paragraph Break

The vast majority of agents and editors consider a paragraph break to be an insufficient transition for a POV change, especially for a character-focused story.

In contrast to plot-driven stories, character-focused stories are page-turners because the reader cares about what will happen to the characters. It’s harder to create a sympathetic/empathetic relationship between the reader and characters in one-paragraph chunks. If the characters don’t matter, they might seem little more than puppets to the plot.

Baton Pass

Some best-selling authors look like they’re getting away with merely a paragraph break transition, but a) they’re best-selling, and b) in actuality, they usually include some action or prop as a “baton” to pass between the characters. This technique is taught as the correct way to do a mid-scene POV shift without head-hopping. Here’s the example I posted in the comments of that previous post:

Cynthia stared at Maurice in disbelief. Who would think wearing a neon-green shirt with mustard-yellow plaid pants was a good idea? Her gaze then landed on the mismatched button on his shirt.

Maurice looked down to see the button she’d noticed and shrugged. Like he cared what that know-it-all thought.

There the button and the action of first her looking at it and then him looking at it acts like a baton passed in a relay race. However, in general, non-big-name authors aren’t “allowed” to do this because agents and editors don’t trust them to know what they’re doing.

And honestly, I got confused when I read the main author held up as the prime example of how to do this right, so I don’t think it can be done “right enough” to not take some readers out of the story. Even the best-selling author I read used this method only once in the whole book.

Camera Zoom Out/Omniscient

Sometimes omniscient POV is used as a transition between close third POVs, like a camera pulling back from one close-up to zoom in on another. Note that these stories are still considered close third person and not omniscient.

This technique can be used mid-scene, with omniscient paragraphs of observation between the deeper POV of two characters. More commonly, it’s used as one scene ends and another begins. Here’s my no-talent-for-omniscient example:

Thank goodness that day was over with. She pulled the covers up to her neck and prepared to sleep like the dead. But she didn’t know that more was in store for her.

Across town, her meddling soon-to-be mother-in-law had other plans. Kathy tapped her pencil on the list of extravaganzas the wedding planner had put together. Why, oh why, had her son found the most high-maintenance woman in the county to marry?

Notice that the first line of the first paragraph is written in the character’s voice. The next two lines each pull back a step to an omniscient viewpoint. Then we do the reverse in the second paragraph, going from omniscient to a deep third person with the new character’s voice. Check out my friend Simon C. Larter’s blog post for more (better?) examples along these lines.

Line Break

This is as simple as it sounds: Add a blank line between one character’s POV and another’s POV. At the very least, this lets the reader (including editors and agents) know that we meant to change POVs and aren’t changing perspective willy-nilly.

Scene Break

With this technique, the line break signals both a POV change and a scene change, interrupting the reader as efficiently as possible with a two-for-one.

This is the method I use, although my definition of a scene might be different from that of others. For me, a scene ends not only when the setting (In the next room…) or time (Two weeks later…) changes, but also when a character’s emotional arc ends. So I insert a line break and change POVs when one character’s arc ends and another character’s arc begins, even though the setting and time might continue from the previous scene.

Chapter Break

Here the POV switches only at the break between chapters. With a multiple-first-person POV, this technique is often used with the name of the POV character as the chapter title.

Only One POV Character

Sometimes the entire story is told from the perspective of one character so the POV never changes. This is often the case with certain genres (women’s fiction, urban fantasy, cozy mysteries) or when the story is told in first person.

Which Method Should We Use?

There is no one right answer for which method to use. The best method for a first-person POV story is going to be different from an epic tale with a large cast of characters. In most romances, both the hero and heroine’s POV are expected, but other characters’ perspectives are not typically used, except in some romantic suspense or thriller stories.

Any story that changes POV should anchor the reader in the new POV as soon as possible. Note that in the examples above, I started the new paragraph with the POV character’s name along with a thought or action.

With whatever method we use, we need to be consistent. We can’t train readers to think that a baton pass equals a POV change and then suddenly do one without a change. Specifically, in stories using the paragraph break or baton pass method, writers have to be careful not to accidentally signal a transition at each paragraph starting with a character’s name.

A scan of some of the recently published books piled on my desk revealed that some authors used only chapter breaks (and some of those chapters were very short). Other authors used scene breaks—typically only when the time and place changed—and at most, once per chapter. Only rarely did an author use just a line break—again, usually once per chapter.

Other than one best-selling author who used the baton pass technique, no published books I checked used anything less than a line break. The vast majority used either the scene or chapter break methods.

Does this mean we can’t use anything else? No. But just as with everything we write, the choices we make have consequences. Choose what will work for you, your story, and your readers.

Which method do you prefer when reading? Which method do you use in your writing? What does a scan of your library reveal as to the most popular methods? Does it depend on the genre or publication date? And don’t forget to comment on my contest post!

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53 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Melissa Maygrove July 4, 2013 at 8:10 am

Woohoo! The browser auto-fill setting worked!
*smooths lapel and blushes* Sorry for that outburst. 🙂

When writing in close third, I switch POV at chapter breaks, scene breaks (###), and occasionally during a scene, but I leave a space if I do. I try, whenever possible, to make a new POV clear with the very first line. Definitely within the first paragraph.

While I do sometimes ‘zoom out’ for a more distant POV when needed, I do not cross into omniscient. As a reader, I don’t like it. Lines like ‘Little did she know…’ make me grit my teeth. The writer/editor in me chides, “If she didn’t know, then how can she tell us?” It totally yanks me out. And, honestly, it’s more chilling (tension-producing, whatever) to just make the shift and *show* us what’s going on ‘across town.’

I have seen authors (Nora Roberts comes to mind) switch POV mid scene without leaving a space. She did it well and, once I got used to the pattern, it didn’t bother me.

I second the recommendation: Whatever you do, do it consistently.

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Jami Gold July 4, 2013 at 10:40 am

Hi Melissa,

Yay! And LOL! Believe me, I understand about the outburst. I fight with technology so much I often want to do a fist pump after making it do what it’s supposed to do. 🙂

I’m with you on the omniscient issue. That takes me out of the story far more than a simple line break or a less-close 3rd person POV.

In my manuscript, I haven’t been in the habit of using ### or *** for scene breaks because most agents and editors I’ve seen talk about it say they’re unnecessary. The only people who have told me to use them were contest judges. *shrug* I chalk it up to being one of those house style things. Some publishers or agents might want them, but it’s far from universal.

That said, in my CreateSpace experiment I did a couple of weeks ago, I did use a symbol at every line break and change the text formatting on the first line of the new scene to make the change clearer for the reader. So I understand the need for a marker at the final formatting stage, but I’ve heard so many different formatting “rules” about it at the manuscript stage that I’ve thrown up my hands. LOL! Thanks for the comment!

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Melissa Maygrove July 4, 2013 at 2:55 pm

I was taught to do the ### by a large crit group I belonged to when I first started writing, and it became habit.

Formatting is not something I’ve studied much yet. (I’ve been too consumed with learning the craft.) I will probably self-publish, so I don’t have to pleased anyone but me and my readers. When I get closer to publishing, I’ll look into it and decide what to do. I’m sure I’ll be scouring your blog for information come then. 😉

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Jami Gold July 4, 2013 at 4:31 pm

Hi Melissa,

Good to know! Yes, I wonder if the ### is an old-school vs. new-school thing too, like the arguments about Courier vs. Times New Roman or italics vs underline. 🙂

I’ll be reading all of Joel Friedlander’s The Book Designer blog when I reach that formatting point for real. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee July 5, 2013 at 10:22 am

Key to any POV is consistency—but even then, some methods (like the baton-switching) I almost always recommend writers to avoid, because a large (or at least loud) percentage of readers believe that all head-hopping is bad writing, even when it isn’t.

And then there’s the detail that most writers who try to use that method do so because they think it’s easy…and they end up producing more proof that the method is to be avoided. Or some writers think they’re using one POV when they’re actually using another, which can really screw them up.

Omniscience and such are okay, in my book, as long as it appears throughout the book. Don’t use a close third person limited, then drop a “little did she know” in chapter three. That contradicts the POV you’ve spent the previous scenes setting up. If you’re going to use that, do so from the start, and sprinkle it throughout.

Considering I’ve actually sold a story written in 2nd person, I firmly believe that any POV or method can be gotten away with. But if you’re going to buck convention, there should be a reason for it. The POV should be selected to suit the story, especially when you’re using something other than the standard close third (or first) person limited.

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Jami Gold July 5, 2013 at 11:00 am

Hi Carradee,

I’m with you. Whether a technique is “legal” or not doesn’t matter as much as how readers react to it. If it takes readers out of the story–either for confusion issues or to complain that the technique is head-hopping (even if it isn’t)–the method is working against the author’s goals.

I also agree that many beginning writers start with the paragraph or baton methods because they think it’s easier than trying to rearrange their story for a tighter POV. But those methods aren’t easier to do, at least not well enough to avoid those above issues.

In addition, if those methods feel easy, that’s often a sign that the writing might be too much tell and not enough show, or might not be deep POV (which is fine for some genres, but not for others). As you said, consistency is key, as is having a solid story-reason for the POV choices. Thanks for the great comment! 🙂

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Serena Yung July 6, 2013 at 10:21 am

Yeah, I personally like scene breaks or chapter breaks best, in both my writing and reading. Line breaks seem weird and abrupt. Paragraph breaks I actually prefer to line breaks, though they can still be a bit disorienting.

But sometimes, for some reason, even when the POV change is within the same paragraph, we’re not confused! It’s very strange how things that are usually bad sometimes do work–at least on certain readers. Unfortunately, I didn’t pay much attention to what exactly helped me to be not confused whilst I was reading those books. 🙂

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Jami Gold July 6, 2013 at 11:39 am

Hi Serena,

Interesting! The only time I’ve not been confused by paragraph-by-paragraph changes was during a love scene. Even then, I still noticed it enough to take me out of the story a bit.

I’m just very sensitive to changes–and even methods that others claim are unobtrusive, aren’t so to me. Which I guess is why my message is that whether or not a method follows the “rules” is less important than whether the POV change accomplishes something important enough to justify taking readers out of the story. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung July 6, 2013 at 5:22 pm

Yeah, as writers, we need to be prepared for every type of reader (as much as possible.) There’s this example with the POV change sensitivity, and there was the issue we talked about before about how some readers are more accepting of “strange language/ expressions” whilst some readers onlyaccept conventional expressions. And of course, there’s the character development example again, where some people dislike literary classics because there tends to be not enough action and too much character-development—yeah, some people actually prefer plot-driven rather than character driven stories! Lol! (Though I like it when it’s both character and plot-driven :D)

Yup, being a writer can be tough! :O

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Jami Gold July 7, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Hi Serena,

LOL! So true. 🙂

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Melissa Sugar July 8, 2013 at 5:59 pm

I’m querying my first novel and in the early stages of my second so I fall within the category of ” not yet able to break the rules.” This is one rule, I don’t foresee me ever veering too far off track because doing so is just too dang confusing for readers. I write in third person deep POV and I only switch POV characters at scene or chapter breaks.

None of the authors come to mind at the moment but I clearly recall reading the work of best selling authors and making a mental note of the mid scene POV changes. I’m not sure how much this bothered me in the past, but the more I learn about the craft of fiction writing, the easier I am distracted by this. My husband ( a lawyer – non writer ) just someone who loves to read fiction, recently stopped reading a book by a well known published author and when I asked him why, he couldn’t give me a concrete answer. He just told me that he could not put his finger on it, but something wasn’t clicking for him, with the book. I didn’t think too much of it until a week or so later and I was out by the pool, without anything to read and I saw the book on the table and I picked it up and began reading. I immediately noticed the mid scene POV changing- the pass the baton method. So, while my husband who does not know the writing lingo and terminology, was still put off by the POV changing and head hopping, enough to quit reading the book .

Thanks for the examples and tips.

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Jami Gold July 8, 2013 at 6:22 pm

Hi Melissa,

Ooo, that’s interesting about your husband. And I’d bet that happens more often than we think. As you said, readers might not know the terminology for different techniques or be able to put their finger on whatever made them feel disconnected from the story, but the effect is the same.

My number one rule for writing is not taking the reader out of the story, and POV choices can work against that goal. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your insight and thanks for the comment!

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Taurean Watkins July 9, 2013 at 3:53 pm

I’m of two minds on this.

While I get the logistics of what Caradee is saying from the writer’s perspective, as a reader I’m personally not as averse to multi-POV stories in general, but I know as a writer it’s hard to do well, but it’s NOT impossible, to parrot someone who told me this more than I wanted to hear when I was struggling with query letters, and I still hate writing them because they turn me into a person I’m not proud of. But I won’t go there today…

I have more problems getting through dialect-heavy from pre-my-birth books of the 19th century and before, and even many 20th century books have this frustrating feel to them that’s hard to access as a reader.

I’m not pressed to call it “Bad” because there’s obviously reasons why Dickens and Shakespeare are force fed to students, and learning curve for the modern reader aside, not being EMOTIONALLY ready for those author’s works is part of why there can be apathy toward certain authors and/or their books, stories or poems.

I wish more educators at the high school and college level understood that not being ready to read Tolstoy sometimes has NOTHING to do with technical ability, but emotional readiness, that’s NOT just relevant to preschoolers and elementary kids, it’s true for ANY kid, or adult for that matter.

At least in elementary school, teachers are more sensitive to this aspect of reading, sometimes to overzealous extremes (Prohibiting books read in class because words like “Stupid” are now in the same level of vulgarity as the F word or N word, etc) but they at least understand that emotions IN COMBINATION with technical ability determines the best books for a reader.

Or to put it simply, nuance working with preference, rather than the ideals of either working against each other. A reason I feel many kids or adults lose touch with or never find the joy of reading.

As writers, we can risk losing it simply because we have to read differently than lay readers (Who aren’t writers or in publishing) do, and those who say otherwise are either overly naive, or incredibly fortunate to never feel that disconnect, but it’s REAL, it happened to ME, and it’s a pain I wish on NO ONE.

I’m still recovering from the initial scarring of that experience.

To use a modern book with a similar period feel, could I technically read “The Thirteenth Tale” by Diane Setterfield when I was a teenager? Yes.

Was I ready emotionally to venture into that world? NO! I might’ve developed loathing for the book if it had been forced on me (Read this book or flunk) in school before I was ready.

I recently listened to the unabridged audiobook for “The Whole World Over” by Julia Glass, and while I love her work, this is a book that would have traumatized me had I read it (Or listened to it) before I was ready.

That said, there is something to be said for taking that road when you feel the story benefits and you have the skill to do it.

Take one of my favorite series for instance-

In the first book, “Time Stops For No Mouse” the author stays in our protagonists POV with not switching, though there is a part in the middle comprised of journal entries of another character we don’t physically meet, you NEVER get confused about where the journal ends and our POV character begins, otherwise it’s all Hermux to the end.

But in the second book, “The Sands of Time” and in every book since, we
get insights to other characters that to me don’t feel like filler, and helps the reader who likes to solve the mystery before the characters involved do (I’m one of them, and usually I’m wrong, but in this series I’m sometimes able nail it!), but it never felt gimmicky AT ALL, and as much as I love spending the majority of the story with Hermux, there are things about the story, its world, and characters not directly linked with him I’d miss if we only saw things through him.

Not to sound overly cocky, but HP certainly deviated from Harry when it mattered, and yeah genre plays a part in what works and what doesn’t, but even just as a reader, when well done, deviating from the main POV character doesn’t have to be “Evil” and disorienting.

Plus, comics do this ALL THE TIME, as much as they may have a legitimate through-line and a central character. Exploring other characters in-relation to whatever the main plot is does work and have it’s place, it’s just harder to do when you work words only.

Comics, movies and televisions have that advantage. I believe novels can do it to, it’s just HARDER.

After all, Jami, you talk about how most stories need a strong cast of characters , a whole book about only ONE person is way too limiting and you (As the writer) risk backing yourself into a corner with your reader.

That’s why (Exceptions aside) most people get annoyed with stories starting with the main character alone with no one else to interact with.
I don’t mean to make light of what you and Caradee warn against, but I’ve read too many stories where this worked brilliantly to deny it as a viable method to telling a story. Doesn’t mean it’s right for every book, you’re right there, but I say whatever works for the reader and writer is a win-win. Do you find there’s validity in that, too?

Even if as a writer I struggle with single POV, that doesn’t mean I’d want to write a multi-POV story any less. I just feel that as the writer, it’s hard to craft an engaging story as it is, why limit myself?

Even though I work hard to maintain a single POV in my soon-to-be published debut novel (pub. date unknown to me right now), half the story would be lost if say my antagonist wasn’t in it at all.

By which I mean, there are challenges and disadvantages to single POV, showing other characters key to the plot as three-dimensional, while still staying in your protagonist’s head with no wavering. You can only gleam so much from external dialogue and intonation, when writing strictly from your main character’s POV only.

I’m being extremist to make a point, but I hear what Jami and Caradee are saying, and it’s valid, but just like storytelling and writing aren’t always joined at the hip, neither is preference for the lay reader, or the reader part of EVERY writer.

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Jami Gold July 9, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Hi Taurean,

I understand what you’re saying, but I certainly wasn’t advocating for single POV stories. I write romance, where the norm is to write about half of the scenes in the hero’s POV and half the scenes in the heroines’s POV. 🙂

I have written some single-POV stories, but those are in a different genre, where the expectations are different. As you alluded to, many stories also include the antagonist’s POV.

So I apologize if any of this post or the comments seemed to imply that we should use only one POV per story. Rather, Carradee and I were discussing the benefits to the reader if authors use only one POV per scene.

The issue we’ve found is that it can be difficult to maintain a connection to the reader if they don’t know who’s head they’re in because the narrative is switching POV from paragraph to paragraph in the same scene. That’s extraordinarily difficult to do and not confuse the reader. And even if they’re not confused, some readers will be taken out of the story anyway. So it’s a stylistic risk that the author should be aware of and use only if they have good reason.

However, switching POV characters at scene or chapter breaks are almost always accepted. Some genres might expect a single POV, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head. Even some first person POV stories switch from one character’s first person POV to another character’s first (or third) person POV. And as long as those switches happen only at scene or chapter breaks, I don’t think anyone would complain. 🙂

I hope that clarifies the issue Carradee and I were discussing. I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Taurean Watkins July 10, 2013 at 6:24 am

Thanks for clarifying, Jami. I just wanted to speak to my experiences as a reader about multi-POV beyond romance novels.

Yes, some books lend themselves to single or multi-POV for various reasons.

That said, there are great romance novels that use only one POV, but it’s true most you read are multi-POV.

I did misunderstand. But was merely sharing my own experience on the subject.

As the writer, I also try to only change POV during chapter breaks to avoid confusion.

But I’ve read so many novels lately where the POV changes in the same chapter. One of the novels I mentioned, “The Whole World Over” does that to great effect. But I’ve been too afraid to try it for the very concerns you and Caradee, and even outside romance this is hard to do, I wasn’t disagreeing with you there.

It’s more common in YA and adult novels, and since I mostly write children’s books, any (INTENDED) POV shifts you do see are via chapter breaks for the sake of simplicity if nothing else. But I have seen some YA novels do it with adept skill.

but the only thing as a reader that pulls me out in that way is dialect-heavy stories a lot of “Classics” are full of.

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Jami Gold July 10, 2013 at 9:27 am

Hi Taurean,

Ah, that makes sense. Yes, what’s acceptable or not, or what’s normal and non-confusing or not, can be very dependent on genre.

I haven’t read “The Whole World Over” to be able to comment on its use of POV. As I mentioned in the post, I use scene breaks to change POV. Sometimes that means different POVs show up in a chapter, but they’re all indicated by ending the previous scene, formatting, and then establishing the new POV in the new character right away in the following scene.

I’ve never had anyone get confused, but I have had some contest judges say that I switch POV too many times in a chapter. Well, in the story they read, the chapter was really long (for the best cliffhanger ending 🙂 ). If my chapters were shorter to match up with more of the POV changes, I’d have oodles more chapters. I could do that, but it doesn’t feel like my style, so I’m trying to stick with my way. *shrug* We’ll see. 🙂

The point is to be conscious of the choices–and the risks–of the choices we make. Thanks for the comment!

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Amanda Martin July 25, 2013 at 5:57 am

I recently got my novel back from my beta readers and one of them pointed out that I shifted POV all the time, once both protagonists were together. I hadn’t even noticed, because it was natural to me: I’d been writing from both their perspectives so, once they were a couple, it seemed natural to continue writing from both their perspectives.
No other beta readers commented on it. I suspect the person who did noticed it because their own novel is from male and female POV.
Once it had been pointed out, I went through and made (where possible) each complete scene focus on one POV. Where it was necessary to keep both, I left a paragraph break. The best part was that it cut nearly 10% off the length of the novel, which it needed because it was massively over-length. I think I was so desperate to show both characters’ perspectives I got a bit carried away! It’s definitely something I’ll be watching out for in my next novel.

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Jami Gold July 25, 2013 at 8:33 am

Hi Amanda,

Great example! Yes, just as how we can want to share all that research information we know about a story, we can want to share all the POV perspective information we know about a story. 🙂 Thanks for the great example and the comment! 🙂

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Jessi (@WriteRead_Think) September 23, 2014 at 9:13 pm

This was so very helpful. Thank you very much for taking the time to write this.

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Jami Gold September 23, 2014 at 9:14 pm

Hi Jessi,

I’m happy to help. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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Cobalt-Blue December 25, 2014 at 8:31 am

Thanks. I’m currently in the process of rewriting one of my paranormal romance novels to change the setting from modern to pre-Victorian (The ascension of Victoria to the throne will be the end of the story arc) and was considering how best to handle POV changes. Head hopping is not a problem I experience, but I don’t want to knock the reader out of the setting with an abrupt change or cheat them with too short of chapters and the stress of writing in a new style can sometimes make that a problem. This gave me several good ideas.

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Jami Gold December 25, 2014 at 8:52 am

Hi Cobalt-Blue,

I hope this helps. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Laura Wilson-Anderson June 28, 2015 at 1:15 pm

So glad I found this! I have my novel up on Scribophile, and a critiquer has gone through saying that I head hop in many scenes. I have followed the line break rule, changing the POV with a break within the scene, and I am completely OCD about NOT head-hopping, so it has been very frustrating. She told me that I could only change POV at the scene break or by using a # symbol. I am planning to self-publish, so I don’t think I need the # symbols in the manuscript, do I? I do have *** in between scenes – not sure how that will translate when I self-publish…

Anyway, this made me feel much better. I would say it is an old vs new way to do things, but she is younger than I am. 🙂

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Jami Gold June 28, 2015 at 4:16 pm

Hi Laura,

Yeah, ignore the # thing. That advice is picky for traditional publishing (unless you’re working with an editor and know it’s required by your publisher) and completely irrelevant for self-publishing. With self-pub, you can do whatever you want. I have an image I use for scene breaks. (If you’ve picked up my freebie short story, you can see my method in the excerpt at the end of the book. 🙂 )

I’d guess that someone told her the hashtags were the “norm” (and it is the default for many publishers), and she’s interpreted it as an overall rule regardless of publisher or circumstances. But it doesn’t sound like you have anything to worry about. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Laura Wilson-Anderson June 29, 2015 at 9:57 pm

Thank you! Yes, she has a lot of “this way is the ONLY way” ifeas, I have found. 🙂 I love the image idea! Ooh, and I totally copied off of you. 🙂 I got my book cover and had the person make a bookmark file as well! Now to get some printed!! 🙂

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Jami Gold June 30, 2015 at 1:58 pm

Hi Laura,

I’m glad that helped. 🙂 Good luck with your story!

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Zona Rosa June 30, 2015 at 3:59 am

Thank SO much! I’m having all kinds of hell with POV in my novel, and this is one of the only sites I’ve found so far that actually gives helpful advice.

Because my story’s entire theme revolves around misunderstandings and people’s different backgrounds and points of view, it won’t work to limit it to one POV like “Harry Potter.” But because it’s also an adventure story, I often have more than one major character experiencing something very important during the same scene. (Unless I go the “DaVicni Code” route and make the chapters VERY short.)

I do try to *limit* the times I switch POV, find other ways to show what a character is experiencing before jumping into their head, but sometimes it just can’t be done. It’s really kind of aggravating, that movies can just nonchalantly show you whatever POV is necessary or entertaining at the moment, even if it’s a minor character, but books have such strict rules about POV shifts.

The “baton passing” is what I’ve been relying on lately; basically, make it seem like the end of one POV is leading up to the beginning of another, make the reader *want* to know what the next character is doing/thinking. But the fact that most editors/publishers dislike this is very…concerning.

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Jami Gold June 30, 2015 at 2:00 pm

Hi Zona,

I’m glad it helps. One thing to remember is that if it works, it works. Every year books are published by the big publishers that breaks “the rules” because it works for the story. 🙂 Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Kirk November 17, 2015 at 6:38 am

So, I have a short story which is basically about two kids in a room, and I’m trying to write it in what I think is omniscient third person–since I don’t really think the story is focused on any kid in particular, and their dad obviously joins in once he arrives too (so there’s three characters I’m constantly switching between as each one talks). And I don’t really want any of them to be the protagonist, as “outside” is kind of the real “character” of the story, as I see it. Am I doing it correctly?

Sally let out a yelp from the other side of the room. “No, don’t. Daddy told us to stay in the room at night time.” She figured he maybe wasn’t bluffing after all.
“I don’t care. I’m going to go outside right now. I’m going to open the door.” Jack stomped forward—which became more of an edging forward as he got closer to the door. He raised his hand, as if reaching for the night latch below the door handle, faking bullishness but secretly feeling a little scared.
“Nooo!” squealed Sally, clasping her hands over her face and shielding her eyes. “I don’t want you to go outside. I don’t want to see what’s out there.” She spun around, turning her back to Jack. “Anyway, daddy will be upset with you.”
Jack stopped in his tracks. “Well okay. I’ll keep the door closed, but only because dad said so.” He lowered his hand, before noticing Sally had turned back around and was nervously peeking at him through a gap in her fingers. He quickly raised his hand toward the door again, as if to prove his point. “I’m not scared though.”
Sally dropped her hands down from her face. She’d caught on to his little act and was having none of it. “Hmph,” she muttered, and returned to her tea party.
Realising he’d been rumbled, Jack wheeled around and strolled back over to the foot of his bed. He plonked himself down on the floor and picked up the toy soldier and dragon figures again, ready to commence battle.
There was a noise outside the room, coming from downstairs. It was the sound of footsteps. Someone or something was coming up the stairs, getting closer.
Jack figured he knew who it was, but froze anyway. It wasn’t the time for banging toys together.
Sally whipped her head around in the direction of the door, paused for a second, and then, jumping around excitedly, shouted, “Daddy’s coming to tuck us in.”
“How do you know it’s dad?” asked Jack, only half joking.
Sally stopped bouncing. “Don’t say that. It’s daddy.”
The footsteps grew closer until they stopped outside the door. The door handle twisted, and the door slowly opened.
In the doorway stood a tall man, wearing a navy blue work suit, white shirt, and red tie. The suit was somewhat wrinkled and the bottoms of the trouser legs were a little grimy, like it hadn’t been washed in a while. The man sported stubble at least a few days old but not an unruly mess. He had the look of someone both world-weary and world-wise at the same time. It was Martin, Jack and Sally’s father.
“Still awake, I see,” said Martin with a knowing glint in his eye. “I can hear you two arguing all the way from downstairs, even with the TV on.”

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Jami Gold November 17, 2015 at 8:04 am

Hi Kirk,

Well, I’m not an omniscient expert by any means. LOL! But from what I see, there’s nothing there to indicate a deep POV or narrative in a character’s voice, so I think omniscient would be the best “label” for it. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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Kirk November 18, 2015 at 4:39 am

Ok, cool. Cheers.

Yeah, reading this link, and others like it, it’s still hard to tell if I’m getting it right: http://www.scribophile.com/academy/using-third-person-omniscient-pov

Basically, I think I do want to just tell the story as though I can see and know everything that’s going on, and even what each person might be thinking or feeling at times (within single scenes)–as that seems to be the style was instinctively writing it in from the start–but without doing it in such a way that it ends being head jumping.

Hopefully I’m not getting it wrong. 😮

Cheers.

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Jami Gold November 18, 2015 at 7:53 am

Hi Kirk,

Like I said, I’m not an expert in omniscient (I don’t write in that POV), but if you’re keeping your distance in the narrative, that’s usually safe for avoiding head-hopping. 🙂 Good luck with your story!

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Gale December 25, 2015 at 6:14 am

Generally, I like to keep to one point of view, be it close third person or first person, as I feel it makes the story more “real”—closer to the way we humans view the world. But every now and again I will pop out to an omniscient narrative when my POV character leaves the scene that needs something else to happen (behind her back, as it were), or when I need to include elements of the story that happen but not to her.
I agree with your analysis and appreciate your re-blogging about it today when I needed it! I’ll check out your other posts later on, too.
Merry Christmas!

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Jami Gold December 25, 2015 at 11:26 am

Hi Gale,

Merry Christmas to you too! I’m glad you came across this post when you needed it. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Chelsea March 3, 2016 at 2:40 pm

I’m working on a story that goes between times a sort of “Now and Then” setting rather than chapters, for the main character, so it’s usually her POV, however, later, I was thinking of inputting some other characters such as when I run out of “thens”, but I don’t know how to break that up suddenly since the story will all be told in the “now”. Would making the book two parts help that? Like Part one is the series of “now and thens” and part two is a sort of free for all?

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Jami Gold March 5, 2016 at 11:31 am

Hi Chelsea,

Oh yes! I could see that structure clue working really well with your story. (Until I got to the end of your comment, I wasn’t sure how I’d handle that situation, so I’m not sure I’d have thought of that idea. LOL!) Good luck with it! 🙂

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Carys March 16, 2016 at 11:50 am

I am writing a book and part way through I want to add a second POV just for one chapter, would it be better to extend the second POV to more than one chapter or add it to the whole story

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PeterR April 2, 2016 at 2:32 pm

Jami,

I think I have my question answered. It seems a bit hard to pin down.

I recently started writing again after a very long break (Better part of 20 years). Just a fanfiction right now, a little one off that made my inbox explode and compelled me to continue. After almost 45k words I took a step back and started researching just what the hell I’m doing…watched some lectures by Brandon Sanderson, read some sites but I was still fuzzy on one thing. I’m writing in subjective omniscient. A lot of action takes place in almost third person but I fairly often delve into the thoughts of the two primary characters and it deals a lot with the things going on between the two as they figure things out. My problem is when the start the next paragraph. Below is quick example of what I’m unsure of, but ultimately have gone with the latter:

Judy ‘hmmmed’ and kept her eyes forward. “I could call Fru, or her father,” she said thoughtfully. Nick’s eyebrows shot up and he looked down at her.

“Why Officer ,” he said in mock shock, “Are you suggesting we use your questionable connections to a crime syndicate to intimidate some poor individual?”

VS

Judy ‘hmmmed’ and kept her eyes forward. “I could call Fru, or her father,” she said thoughtfully.

Nick’s eyebrows shot up and he looked down at her.

“Why Officer,” he said in mock shock, “Are you suggesting we use your questionable connections to a crime syndicate to intimidate some poor individual?”

I believe this could also go as:

Nick’s eyebrows shot up and he looked down at her. “Why Officer,” he said in mock shock, “Are you suggesting we use your questionable connections to a crime syndicate to intimidate some poor individual?”

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Jami Gold April 2, 2016 at 2:56 pm

Hi Peter,

That’s a great question. 🙂 In my experience as a beta reader and editor, when to place paragraph breaks can be very much a question of voice in some cases, as those breaks affect the rhythm of the words in readers’ minds. However, in other cases, we want to separate character actions, and a paragraph break is generally called for.

In your example here, I see these 3 versions as bringing up both of those 2 cases and that POV doesn’t really apply. Others might disagree, but let me walk through my thoughts. 🙂

The first example, with Nick’s action in Judy’s paragraph, breaks the “rule” about keeping a paragraph to a single character. We see that rule in place mostly for the expectation that we’d separate our characters’ dialogue into different paragraphs. However, I’ve heard from several editor/feedback-type sources, that character actions can apply when we think of “who is the paragraph about?”–not in a POV way but in a focus way.

In that first example, the first paragraph is about Judy, so Nick’s actions don’t really belong. I’ve sometimes broken that rule in a very quick way when it comes to reactions. Think of something along the lines of:
Judy ‘hmmmed’ and kept her eyes forward. “I could call Fru, or her father,” she said thoughtfully. When Nick’s eyebrows shot up, she continued her explanation. “That wouldn’t hurt anything, would it?”

By having Nick’s reaction in a dependent clause before more about Judy, that slides in something about him but keeps the paragraph about her. Therefore, it could all stay as one paragraph. In other words, the rule can be “bent,” and how much we want to bend it is up to us. 🙂

The second and third examples are simply a question of voice. They both separate Nick’s actions from Judy’s paragraph, so there’s no rule-bending going on. The decision there is just whether you like the rhythm better with the one-sentence paragraph or not, or whether you don’t like one-sentence paragraphs on principle for your voice.

There’s no right or wrong answer for between example 2 or 3. It’s just up to what you want. 🙂 With example 1, many would say that’s breaking a rule, but whether you care about the “rules” or not, the reason for the rule comes down to avoiding unnecessary confusion. 🙂 Either way, I don’t think a POV perspective changes the issues.

I hope that helps. 🙂 Good luck with your story!

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PeterR April 2, 2016 at 3:06 pm

Thanks a lot! That helps clarify things in a way I’ve not seen yet..especially the way to slip something in while still keeping the paragraph about the character…which I do do but I see where it see where it can be more useful at times.

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Jami Gold April 2, 2016 at 3:09 pm

Hi Peter,

Glad to help! And I don’t think I’ve done a post about this before, so I might expand this idea into a full post. 🙂 Thanks for the idea (and I hope you saw the second reply I just added with more info as well)!

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Jami Gold April 2, 2016 at 3:07 pm

Hi again Peter, 🙂

Oh, another reason for why we might go with example 2 rather than 3 is that depending on our writing style, we might prefer not to “bury” dialogue. Some readers skim paragraphs without dialogue, so writers who write for that type of target audience generally try to have any paragraphs with dialogue start with dialogue and the quote mark as the very first character–to get their attention.

Other writers expect their readers not to skim, and therefore would be fine with example 3. It’s just a personal decision based on what kind of writer we want to be and what kind of readership we want to/expect to have. 🙂

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Riley H. May 29, 2016 at 3:10 am

Jami,

I write as a hobby mostly for my own catharsis, though I’ll sometimes share with friends and family, and I’ve been wondering about the edicate on POV changes for awhile now, so it was great to read this. Thanks a ton for the tips!

As for which POV method I prefer, chapter and scene breaks, I think they tend to transition more seamlessly than the others you mentioned.

Chapter breaks I feel transition the best, but as a reader I often grow impatient/frustrated when one character is doing something very interesting (or is just personally more interesting) then there’s a chapter break and I have to read through something less exciting to get back to the interesting character.

I still do enjoy it as a reader though, I love getting multiple perspectives on things especially when it comes to characters on opposite sides of a conflict. Also personally as a writer using only one POV sometimes feels like being stuck in a box, so it’s refreshing and fun to switch and get into different mind sets once in awhile. I just worry about being to shallow and not being able to come up with enough to do for each character.

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