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Monday, March 14

Changing Views: Take a Second Look When Switching POV Styles

By Janice Hardy. @Janice_Hardy
Different stories call for different point of view styles, and sometimes we don’t know which one will be the best one until we’ve written a scene in the wrong one. Trying different styles to see which works is a great idea, but if you decide to switch, think about what that really means for your story.

Having Third Thoughts

I’m a fan of first person, so naturally I began writing my new novel that way. I’ve plotted it thinking of it as my protag’s story, planned goals for her, conflicts for her, etc. But the other day I started thinking that another POV style might be a better way to tell this story. Third person, alternating POVs.

And that opened up all kinds of new things to think about.

Suddenly my outline wasn’t accurate, I didn’t have enough goals, my conflicts had to be reworked some. Because it was no longer just my protag’s story, but this other POV’s story as well. He needed his own character arc and goals and conflicts and plot.

Adding a new POV changes things.

It’s like adding another story to your story. How you weave that extra story into the book you want to write will determine how effective this POV change is going to be.

Things to Consider When Adding a POV

What plot events belong to this character? This character will have his own plot and story arc, but it still has to connect back to the core conflict of the novel. So he’ll need an end goal that will be resolved by the ending of the novel, and major turning points of his plotline all throughout the book. Since the protag probably already has those events scheduled for their POV, some shifting will likely be needed. You might consider:
  • Is there one set of major events, or does each POV have their own set?
  • Does one POV drive the plot forward at these moments or do the POVs share them?
  • Does one set of major events occur, but they mean different things to each POV?
  • What goals will this new character have?
These goals will be connected to the core conflict, and not just show the same problems the protag has from a different angle. And with alternating POVs, a lot of the tension of the novel will come from these two sides having different information and thinking different things. Dramatic irony is a great way to keep the story moving forward. So the goals should:
  • Move the POV toward the end resolution, but in a different way from the protag.
  • Conflict with the protag in some way, but not necessarily in an antagonistic way.
Not being the antag could cause some trouble, since you want to maintain conflict and tension, but not have this other POV be the bad guy. (Unless of course the new POV is the antag). It’s easy to make POV-A to directly oppose POV-B, but since these two POVs need to work toward the same end goal, their conflicts should probably come from other areas. Internal goals are a good thing to work with here. Both sides want the same thing, but they have very different ideas on how to get there. So consider:
  • What is important to each POV?
  • Is this also important to the other POV?
  • How might you make each POV feel strongly about something the other doesn’t care about?
  • What is each POV willing to sacrifice to get their goal?
  • How might those sacrifices conflict with the other POV’s goals?
The trick is to butt heads without fighting. It’s not about being against the other POV, but for something else and trying to work around the other person.

How will the stakes work? With different goals, each POV will have different stakes. At the core, these will likely be similar since both are working toward the same end resolution. But there will be subtle differences that can cause friction between these two.
  • How might each POV’s stakes cause trouble for the other?
  • How might risking one side cause the other problems?
  • How might avoiding one consequence cause the other’s to occur?
  • How might you play one side against the other to escalate the stakes?
How will the pacing work? Multiple POVs are always a pacing challenge because traditionally you end a chapter or scene at a high point in the tension. But when you switch POVs, you usually start that scene at a lower point and raise the tension again. Trouble is, this kills your overall tension because you effectively waste your forward momentum every time you switch POVs. You want to raise the tension on both sides at an equal pace so the entire story is moving forward as one. So pay close attention to:
  • How you end each scene or chapter.
  • How you handoff the scene or chapter to the next POV.
  • What types of enders you have: cliffhangers, reveals, foreshadows, fears.
Adding a new POV brings a lot of extra work, but it can help deepen your story and add richness to the tale. If you pay attention to how that new POV will advance your story and work with your plot, you’ll help make their addition go a lot more smoothly.


  1. I haven't written a story with alternating POVs for a long time, and trust me, I could have used this advice at the time.

    Switching POVs can be really tricky. As a reader, I'm pretty picky about it, but I've definitely seen it done effectively.

  2. This came at the right time for me, Janice. My current WIP has multiple viewpoints, and the way you've broken it down will help me make sure I keep the tension and intrigue going amongst my ensemble cast.

    I've experimented with multi-POVs before and I a trick that helps me is to change tenses between characters.

    I think this would only work if you had at most 2-3 viewpoints without your pacing getting confusing or contrived.

    With two narrators you can do-

    1 third person, 1 first person
    1 third person past, 1 first person present tense
    1 first present past tense, 1 first person present tense.

    I wonder if though if there are any books be they YA or not that have one narrator in third person omniscient and the second in first person, past or present tense?

    This also could double as an aid in helping you streamline your query letter, and even if you don't mention other POV characters to avoid wordiness and confusion, you can better see where your MC's arc laid out more clearly, so hopefully you can snap the bullet points of the core story without being as frantic about what to say and what let the manuscript say for you if you get beyond the query stage.

    Something that's only happened to me once in two years, and this year I'm working hard to get my work after my last WIP into submission shape, and get two full requests if only to know that despite the trauma queries put me through, they don't speak ill of everything I am and strive for as a writer.

  3. Hi Janice.
    You've written some really helpful posts on POV, and 'telling not showing'. Thank you. Linked to the 2 POVs you mention, I am really interested to know how you might balance the overall 'voice' of the book, with the fact that you are looking out through two different sets of eyes if they are both in a close 3rd, for example. (I am clearer how this would work in 1st, because I would expect two radically different 'voices' linked directly to the character.) Does that make sense? I'd love to hear any thoughts you have on this. Thank you so much.

  4. Christine: It's great when used well, and can be a very effective way to tell a story. I'm looking forward to doing it again.

    Taurean: Oh good. I've read books that change tenses and I always find it jarring ad a reader (nothing wrong with it, that's just my tastes) Different tenses make it hard for me to stay grounded since I'm always jumping back and forth in time. But if you were writing a story in different time periods, it could work well.

    Skin Hunger does a first/third style, though both are past tense. I don't know of any YA that do a present/past.

    Anon: Oo, voice in different POV is a great topic, thanks. You would certainly approach those differently in a tight third. I'll do that on Thursday.

  5. Thanks for a very helpful post -- with lots to think about. It came at a great time, just when I'm grappling with it in one of my WIPs. Thank you again.

  6. Janice: I can understand that. But do you mean novels that do it within a chapter as opposed to only switching POVS in a chapter? Or just in general.

    If in general, again I understand, but I find books that do it well really reviting. Two of my favorite series have alternating POVs both within a chapter or from chapter to chapter, and they're excellent. I wasn't the least bit confused as to who was doing what and when. I certainly didn't struggle with reading them like I did the few times I've tried to read either Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn unabridged, and they only had one viewpoint, right?

    A lot of Dickens novels were single POV and I still can understand half the prose. Even with books I don't like, it's usually not because I can't understand what's on the page.

    Has that ever happened to you with books you've read, Janice?

    I love books that have a clearly defined MC, but it's also fun to see the world and it's conflicts through another pair of eyes of someone just as integral to the plot and of significance to the MC.

    It can also be a way to convey key info through showing, not telling, when you need the reader to know something the MC can't yet, but mentioning too late will leave the reader in the dark too long.

    When it's done well, it can give you a fresh look on the conflict that you can use to both engage your reader, and challenge them to figure it out before the antagonist and protagonists and their respective allies/followers.

    This works really well in mystery novels when you see the crime from both the detective and/or police officer's viewpoint, and sometimes even the antagonist's viewpoint, who may be the killer or robber, or know who is.

    You just have to be careful you don't make the hints too obvious, and like you said above, the other POV must bring new insight to the story and world and our MC, and connect to the core conflict, without being picture in picture mirrored plot which would be overly predictable.

    Some of my favorite books do this really well and I just knew in my gut that's the way I needed to go with my WIP.

    Because it is hard to well I did question it when the idea first hit me. But now I feel it'll be the best way for the reader to feel part of the adventure.

    That may change in draft two, but hey, even if this approach doesn't work, I'm learning to take risks in my writing again, and hopefully some of them will work out, even if it requires more time to do it right.

    I want my name to be associated with quality, not sloppiness, both personally and professionally.

    I hope my week-long feature of the F.U.N. factor method helps others as it's helped me as I start to live it. I hope you'll follow my posts on that this week, maybe I'll give you an idea since you've inspired many future blog topics for me.

    Ciao for now.

  7. This comes at a perfect time for me. Thanks for the advice!

  8. Just what I needed this morning. I'm editing a novel that is using multiple POVs. Great point about the pacing.

  9. Correction: A lot of Dickens' novels were single POV and as good a reader I know I am, I still can't understand half the prose. Even with books I don't like, it's usually not because I can't understand what's on the page.

    I know those books are a breeze to read but give me a more contemporary novel of comparable complexity and I can at least get beyond the first page without feeling like it's too esoteric to get beyond page 1 and know what you're reading.

  10. Interesting post and comments. My first published novel had a main POV with just a couple of sections from another POV.

    My present WIP has an ensemble cast with six POV characters. Initially I was counselled against writing it this way, so I did what you do with advice and feedback, thought about it and made my own decision, to go on with it in this way.

    I have kept the change in POV to clearly defined sections, and they are all in past tense. The feedback from my critique group, and my beta readers is good, and no one has had any problems with knowing which character they are with.

    I agree that writing in this way can give a much richer story, and there is a big difference in knowingly writing different POV characters, and head-hopping, which is confusing. A lot depends on the story and whether it lends itself to multiple POVs. The first draft of my next work is firmly in the hands of one character.

    I've only just come across this blog from another link, but I'm looking forward to exploring, and am in awe of the amount of work it must take.

  11. Julia: Most welcome :) I love when I post something someone is struggling with. Makes me feel extra helpful, hehe.

    Taurean: Switching tenses within a chapter (as in different scenes within that chapter) would be even more jarring to me. At least a chapter break is a clear delineation that things have changed. But just because it bugs me doesn't mean others don't love it.

    I'm fine with multiple POVS overall. It's just one of those areas that's not very forgiving if you don't do it well.

    Anna: Most welcome!

    The Writer's Salon: Awesome. I guess a lot of folks are in the same spot right now. Go us!

    Shauna: Six is a lot to juggle, but I can see it work if handled well. Good luck on that :) And welcome to the blog! Good to have you here.

  12. I had that issue when I crafted my first full narrative. I wrote the entire piece from a third-person perspective and in spite of a dark tone there was no real emotional connection to the characters. I switch to a first person and it was like someone turned on the light. The story made more of an impact and just made sense.
    The biggest obstacle for switching perspectives in a narrative is it means pretty much a rewrite. That task in itself seems daunting but a story has it's own life and it is meant to be a certain way. our challenge is finding it.

  13. This seems to be good timing for a lot of people.

    I am also struggling with POV right now. I finished a first draft of my first novel attempt and it's all in the first person POV of my main character. But, now that I'm in the revision stage, I'm wondering if it might be better in third person POV of my main character, or if I should do third person multiple POV's...

    I know going back and changing it is going to be a lot of work, but first I have to decide how I want to do this. It's probably why I've been procrastinating so much!

  14. P.W.: I felt the same way when I first tried first person. It was like I was home.

    Sharonholly: I knew folks struggled with it but i had no idea how many. It's an important choice, so I guess it makes sense that you'd have a lot of deliberation.