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Help! Multiple POVs

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Andrew Okey

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Hi everyone -

Could anyone recommend novel(s) which successfully employ multiple points of view; I'm thinking particularly of instances where the action is followed in third person (and perhaps in close focus) but where the reader is permitted occasional direct access to the thoughts of multiple other characters, rather than only to those of the protagonist.

Cheers,

Andy.
 

Tim James

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I'm trying to think of a popular book that does what you are describing (only occasionally jumping to another POV) but I'm not coming up with any. Which may indicate it's not a wise thing to do.
If a book is in third person close then it should ideally stay that way. To suddenly jump to another character's POV and then back again would, if it came within a chapter or section (or, heaven forbid, within a single paragraph), could cause confusion and/or annoyance. Especially if this happened some distance into the book when the reader had assumed the whole book would be close third.
If you are going to jump occasionally to another POV then one such occasion should be done as soon as possible near the start of the book, preferably within chapter 1, so that the reader knows this may happen.
Also it needs to be done in a way that makes it clear to the reader that the POV has jumped. A double line break between paragraphs as a minimum, I would say.
A multiple third person book will always try to establish this fact early on and also the method of POV change (either by alternating sections, or more often chapters, between different POVs)
Of course if the book starts off with an omniscient POV or "head hopping" as some call it, then fair do's, the reader knows that from the start.
 
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Kitty

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Stories utilising more than one POV are very common. For example I’ve just finished reading Station Eleven and that story is told through a number of POV characters and very effectively too. However what you describe, slipping in and out of other character’s heads during a scene is not advisable as it is likely to confuse the reader. Tim’s advice on this above is sound :)
 

Paul Whybrow

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A recently published novel by Benjamin Markovits might be of interest to you, Andrew, as the Daily Mail reviewer praises the author for his "scenes in which multiple conversations conducted simultaneously are masterfully done."

LITERARY FICTION | Daily Mail Online

Looking online, I was pleased to see that my local library has a copy in stock, which I'll be borrowing when I visit next week; I'll get back to you with a report.
 

Andrew Okey

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A recently published novel by Benjamin Markovits might be of interest to you, Andrew, as the Daily Mail reviewer praises the author for his "scenes in which multiple conversations conducted simultaneously are masterfully done."

LITERARY FICTION | Daily Mail Online

Looking online, I was pleased to see that my local library has a copy in stock, which I'll be borrowing when I visit next week; I'll get back to you with a report.
Thanks Paul - sounds interesting!
 

Amber

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This young adult list: Multiple POV

Goodreads List: Popular Multiple POV Novels

I've read some of the books on both of the lists. I didn't find the one I was looking for. It's a young adult dystopia or techno-thriller where the first person narrative characters die. Each chapter was narrated by a different character. One character managed to stay alive throughout but didn't narrate each chapter and I never got attached to them. That's why I didn't like it. I also didn't character about the other characters. Each time a chapter opened from the point of view of a new character, I knew they were about to die or something was about to happen to them.

Which shouldn't discourage you in what you want to do. I only thought to post it as a good example of a popular book. I certainly didn't learn the lesson 'not to do it' from the book because my story has multiple povs.

Good luck.
 

Amber

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Stories utilising more than one POV are very common. For example I’ve just finished reading Station Eleven and that story is told through a number of POV characters and very effectively too. However what you describe, slipping in and out of other character’s heads during a scene is not advisable as it is likely to confuse the reader. Tim’s advice on this above is sound :)

Maybe that's what he meant but its not what he said. He said, "occasional direct access to the thoughts of multiple other characters". There's nothing about him doing it within a scene. Although, again... perhaps what he meant.

But that one pov per scene drum is worth beating isn't it? Feels good.
 

Amber

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I'm trying to think of a popular book that does what you are describing (only occasionally jumping to another POV) but I'm not coming up with any. Which may indicate it's not a wise thing to do.
If a book is in third person close then it should ideally stay that way. To suddenly jump to another character's POV and then back again would, if it came within a chapter or section (or, heaven forbid, within a single paragraph), could cause confusion and/or annoyance. Especially if this happened some distance into the book when the reader had assumed the whole book would be close third.
If you are going to jump occasionally to another POV then one such occasion should be done as soon as possible near the start of the book, preferably within chapter 1, so that the reader knows this may happen.
Also it needs to be done in a way that makes it clear to the reader that the POV has jumped. A double line break between paragraphs as a minimum, I would say.
A multiple third person book will always try to establish this fact early on and also the method of POV change (either by alternating sections, or more often chapters, between different POVs)
Of course if the book starts off with an omniscient POV or "head hopping" as some call it, then fair do's, the reader knows that from the start.

Yeah ... I think about this ... If you switch to a different point of view after say ... 50% of the book ... has some pretty obvious WTF potential.
 

Carol Rose

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All but a few of my books are written in both the hero's and heroine's POV, both in close third. I jump between them usually with a chapter break but sometimes a scene break. Though I am mindful of not changing too often. My litmus test is which character has the most at stake in that scene? That's who gets it. Or, sometimes I use the opposite POV to show the reader important info or backstory about the other character, as the POV character learns it through dialogue. Better and more interesting to do it that way than exposition or backstory, plus you get the other character's internal reactions to learning it.

When I have written books in one POV - first person - readers have not liked it as much. Although first person past or present tense is very popular, readers still seem to prefer third person, at least in romances. And of course they really prefer to have both the hero's and heroine's POV in a romance. :)

Other genres may have different reader expectations, so I'd advise looking at the genre to see how other authors handle the POV in them.

One thing about switching too often - it's called head hopping, and unless you're super skilled at it (Nora Roberts, Sherrilyn Kenyon) and can make it seamless, don't do it. It's distracting and confusing to readers. :)
 

Amber

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Nora Roberts head hops. She's world famous for it. Of course, she's a romance author.

If you didn't already know ... head hopping is switching POVs within a scene. You might try reading some of her scenes and trying to pinpoint where she does it. Everything she does is pretty dependable. I think she uses body language (something one character does) ... dialogue ... (one of the characters says something) ... and then the new pov character does or says something .... she works it like it's a handoff within the scene and I imagine uses rather heavy handed dialogue attributions.

It seemed to me switching to different points of view is more common in certain types of fictions. Thrillers and mysteries ... suspensful novels ... seem to like to show glimpses of the bad guys point of view. Bonus points if the bad guy is totally of their rocker. I've seen it done in the beginning of chapters ... usually in short sections. Sometimes it provides a little bit of background information to help the reader empathize with the crazy dangerous person.

But I don't imagine it has to be done with scary or crazy bad guys. It could be used to tease the reader, to give a glimpse of what's really going on when the reader doesn't know everything. And when you think about it... shouldn't there always be a mystery or something hidden? But it might be ideal for world within worlds type of situations.

I think I just remembered one I read decades ago ... Fast Times at Ridgemont High ... which was written by a journalist if I recall. Anyway, it was written from different points of view because it was showing what it was like to be in different groups in high school. Classic movie actually ... the book was good too...

At least it was when I read it 35 years or so ago.
 
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Kitty

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Maybe that's what he meant but its not what he said. He said, "occasional direct access to the thoughts of multiple other characters". There's nothing about him doing it within a scene. Although, again... perhaps what he meant..

Hard to tell without seeing an example.
 

Kitty

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What we can say for certain is we don't know whether he meant changing point of view in the same scene. It remains unclear.

Hence advice for both eventualities.

@Andrew Okey if you haven’t already do check out the writing wiki section. There may be some links that you will find useful. And once you have access to the writing groups why not post an example of what you are trying to do and we can tell you if it works.

POV is something that many new writers, and some seasoned ones, struggle with. But once you get the hang of how to switch between POV characters effectively then showing another perspective can be a useful tool. However if you are relatively new to writing its best to keep it simple and limit the number of POV characters.
 

Carol Rose

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I think it's important to point out that head hopping and omniscient POV are not the same thing. There are important distinctions.

Omniscent POV is a deliberate, distant POV that authors employ to tell the story from a narrator's voice. The narrator knows all and sees all. The story is not told from inside the head of one or more characters. It's a distant POV in that we don't get a lot of internal thoughts or feelings. What we get is a bird's eye view of the action, looking down on it across the story.

Authors like Stephen King use a modified form of this as they are still the narrator, knowing all and seeing all, but they go into several characters' minds and give us more of a close view so we do have internal thoughts and feelings. We get that connection with one or more characters in the story, but the story is still told from a narrator's POV.

Head hopping is when an author is squarely in one POV, but then switches gears on us mid-sentence or mid-paragraph, with no smooth transition. This usually happens in close third. It's an easy mistake to make for both newer writers and seasoned ones, especially when you have to stop in the middle of a scene or chapter and take a break. I've done it myself. Forgotten whose POV I'm in. But it's also easy to fix in self edits. That being said, unless it's deliberately done or seamless (Nora Roberts, I'm looking at you!) it's jarring to the reader and doesn't flow easily or well. It reads like a mistake because it is one.
 

Amber

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Hence advice for both eventualities.

My response obviously only applied to what you said Kitty. You either didn't read what he wrote or assumed he meant something else.
Or, perhaps there's another explanation. It's not actually the part that matters to me. We don't need an example to understand what he meant. Clarification from him might be helpful. But we don't need that to understand what he didn't say, what he left out.

You said this:

However what you describe, slipping in and out of other character’s heads during a scene is not advisable as it is likely to confuse the reader.

You sound very confident in your belief you understood exactly what he meant.

It's okay to make mistakes Kitty. It's even okay to admit you didn't understand initially what he meant. No one will think less of you.
 

Carol Rose

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Let's keep the discussion on topic, please. Analysis of who said what to whom, and what they may or may not have meant in their response, is great if trying to clarify a point about the discussion in general. But when a post crosses that line and takes a jab at another Litopian, it directly violates @AgentPete's Prime Directive. If there's an off-topic, personal discussion that needs to take place, please do it via PM. Thank you.
 

Andrew Okey

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Let's keep the discussion on topic, please. Analysis of who said what to whom, and what they may or may not have meant in their response, is great if trying to clarify a point about the discussion in general. But when a post crosses that line and takes a jab at another Litopian, it directly violates @AgentPete's Prime Directive. If there's an off-topic, personal discussion that needs to take place, please do it via PM. Thank you.

Carol - I'm really sorry about that, perhaps my original post wasn't clear enough to drive pertinent discussion (as things stand, I know what problems I'm trying to solve, but that doesn't mean I'm at all close to settling on how to solve them, so I was really just casting about for interesting examples of multi-POV novels). If it's any consolation to any other contributors, I have absolutely no intention of shifting perspectives "in scene", or anything like that! I have some little material already written from one of the [up to] three [potential] voices/POVs, so perhaps I should give that a run-out at my local, non-virtual writing group instead...
 

Carol Rose

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Carol - I'm really sorry about that, perhaps my original post wasn't clear enough to drive pertinent discussion (as things stand, I know what problems I'm trying to solve, but that doesn't mean I'm at all close to settling on how to solve them, so I was really just casting about for interesting examples of multi-POV novels). If it's any consolation to any other contributors, I have absolutely no intention of shifting perspectives "in scene", or anything like that! I have some little material already written from one of the [up to] three [potential] voices/POVs, so perhaps I should give that a run-out at my local, non-virtual writing group instead...

@Andrew Okey my post was not directed toward any post you made.
 

Barbara

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@Andrew Okey , have you read The One, by John Marrs? It is told from multiple POVs (I can't remember how many, around 4 or 5, methinks), one of which is a serial killer. It switches with each chapter; never within. I thought is was good in terms of the various voices; all fairly destinct and clear. I found the serial killer's POV the best and most exciting to read. If I remember right the POV swaping was in sequence so it was slightly predictable who was going to be next, but I enjoyed it and felt it stayed fresh. It might be the kind of thing you're thinking of doing.
 

Andrew Okey

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@Andrew Okey , have you read The One, by John Marrs? It is told from multiple POVs (I can't remember how many, around 4 or 5, methinks), one of which is a serial killer. It switches with each chapter; never within. I thought is was good in terms of the various voices; all fairly destinct and clear. I found the serial killer's POV the best and most exciting to read. If I remember right the POV swaping was in sequence so it was slightly predictable who was going to be next, but I enjoyed it and felt it stayed fresh. It might be the kind of thing you're thinking of doing.
Sounds great, will follow it up - thanks!
 

cgovender

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The notorious multi-POV writer is George Martin but, personally, I think he takes it too far. There's over a dozen different characters per book, and it's particularly difficult to remember each of them - and their storyline! (He doesn't help his cause in that he annihilates most of them each book, and then throws the reader another dozen in the next book.)

Another prominent POV jumper is Terry Pratchett, and he has been known to "head hop" as Amber put it, in several scenes.

Anthony Ryan's "Tower Lord" has three main POV's, which is interesting as the first book of the series is told strictly from Vaelin's (protagonist's) POV. Joe Abercrombie is similar, except his series starts out with three POVs.

One I quite like is Tamora Pierce, who's a fantasy YA author. In the Circle of Magic series, there are four main characters, and each instalment of the series is told from one of their POVs, which is a lovely way to jump without disorientating the reader.

These are all Fantasy examples.

I enjoy multi-POV books, which is why my own manuscript has some minor jumps every dozen chapters. However, I would be cautious as multi-POV books may not be common in certain genres. In Fantasy, potentially Sci-Fi, you could get away with it. Potentially a Murder Mystery/Thriller, but certainly limit the number and be careful in how you employ the technique.

I'm currently re-drafting my manuscript to minimise the jumping.
 

David Newrick

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Hi Andrew. It may be useful to state a genre as there may be even more relevant examples of what you are asking about than this one, but Music and Silence by Rose Tremain is a close fit for the writing stylisation you are asking about. It won the Whitbread award after publication around 1998. Standing astride historical and literary fiction it shifts POV as well as tenses.

Google it for more info, such as this Guardian article by John Mulan the English Prof at UCL - Music and Silence: the historical novel

It is still in print, so kudos to Rose Tremain!
 

Andrew Okey

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Hi Andrew. It may be useful to state a genre as there may be even more relevant examples of what you are asking about than this one, but Music and Silence by Rose Tremain is a close fit for the writing stylisation you are asking about. It won the Whitbread award after publication around 1998. Standing astride historical and literary fiction it shifts POV as well as tenses.

Google it for more info, such as this Guardian article by John Mulan the English Prof at UCL - Music and Silence: the historical novel

It is still in print, so kudos to Rose Tremain!

David - thank you! Spooky coincidence time - last weekend I more or less randomly bought a very battered copy of "Music and Silence" for a quid at a jumble sale, and put it aside as upcoming holiday reading, entirely unaware of its potential usefulness. It's A Sign!

And to answer your question about genre - my book is certainly historical, being set in 1576. The chief protagonist is a real historical figure, and his story stretches well beyond 1576, in ways that are essential to my themes and thus need describing. My other two chief characters (who don't make it past 1576) are my own creations, but access to the details of their thoughts (and certain crucial previous experiences) are equally essential to my themes - in particular, notions of fate, faith and magical thinking: all the stuff we do to 'control' a fate we actually have no control over.

Cheers
 
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