Posted On June 22, 2012 by Print This Post

Virginia Kantra on POV, Part 2: Switching POV

I’m very excited to welcome back New York Times Best Selling author VIRGINIA KANTRA. I’ve been a huge fan ever since I read the first book in her Children of the Sea series. I had the opportunity to read an advance copy her new release CAROLINA HOME-it’s so good I’m going to have a hard time waiting for the next one! Today Virginia is back with Part Two of a series on Point of View. Don’t worry if you missed Part One-you can read it here.

In my April guest post Who’s on First? about the basics of point of view, I emphasized that in writing there is no “right” and “wrong.” There is only “works” and “does not work.”

In first person point of view, readers experience the story through the eyes, emotions, and experience of the narrator, the “I” of the story. Third person point of view allows the reader to view the action through more than one character. Its broader camera angle is great for scope and action. Close third person point of view (often called deep POV) combines the emotional intimacy of first person point of view with the convenience of third-person omniscient point of view. The main advantage of deep POV is that the writer can choose different viewpoint characters at different moments of the story to deliver maximum emotional punch. Switching POV allows the reader to experience the story from different emotional angles.

There are no hard and fast rules for when to switch POV. However, a writer might choose to change the viewpoint character
1. To give the reader a “witness” to the action. (The viewpoint character must be present in the scene.)
2. At moments of high emotion, when the emotional stakes change. (Which character in the scene has the most to gain or lose?)
3. To reveal information, strengthen motivation, or create sympathy by putting the reader in the viewpoint character’s heart and mind, revealing thoughts and feelings that would otherwise be unexpressed.

In CHARACTERS AND VIEWPOINT, Orson Scott Card writes, “trading view points requires a clear division – a chapter break or a line space. The limited third-person narrator can never change viewpoints in mid-scene.” (Card, 155) Obviously, Mr. Card does not share my attitude about “No rules.”

I admit that I change POV less frequently now than when I began writing. Any time you switch point of view, you ask the reader to disengage from one character and engage with another; you risk losing the reader. Fortunately, the same points in the story that call for a point of view switch – a change in time or setting, a pivotal emotional moment, the revelation of an insight or secret – also make great scene and chapter hooks. The line space or chapter break prepares the reader for the switch.

Using the viewpoint character’s proper name and quickly establishing his or her frame of reference and dominant mood makes the emotional transition easier for the reader.

Compare these three chapter openings from my upcoming Carolina Home:

Matt Fletcher didn’t go looking for trouble. Most times, it just found him.
His life was changing around him, slipping away like the sand of the Carolina coastline, and there wasn’t a damn thing he or God or the Army Corps of Engineers could do about it. But a day working on the water gave him something to hold on to. Sweat and salt cured everything in time.
*
They were talking about her like she wasn’t even there.
Fine. Taylor stared at the plate of cookies until they blurred. Her throat ached. It’s not like she wanted to be here anyway. She wanted to be home in her little blue bedroom in the house she shared with Mom.
But she couldn’t think about her mother without crying. She swallowed hard.

*

The period bell buzzed. Released from their seats, Allison’s students rose like a flock of gulls, more interested in flight than the consequences of Hester Prynne’s doomed passion for that weed, Dimmesdale.
At sixteen, they were still blind to the connections between their own struggles with conformity and identity and poor Hester’s fate.
It was Allison’s job to help them see.

*

Each of the above examples is prefaced by a chapter break. Each uses the viewpoint character’s proper name and draws on that character’s experience and emotions to create a connection with the reader.

There are times, however, when the dramatic action of a scene calls for a point of view shift, where a break or line space would look awkward and interfere with the scene’s flow. Many writers manage to switch POV mid-scene quite successfully without angst or line spaces.

How do they do it?

Guideline 1: Use distancing action.
In Character A’s viewpoint, the reader sees/experiences the scene through the eyes of Character A. (The camera is mounted in A’s head.)
When switching POV, pull the camera back to a “security camera” view of the room/scene to establish setting, action, and distance before going in close with Character B.

Guideline 2: Pass viewpoint, literally, with a glance.

Guideline 3: Use proper names.

Guideline 4: Use anchoring verbs (tags like thought, felt, etc).

Guideline 5: Establish the dominant mood of the viewpoint character as quickly as possible.
This means, of course, that you, the writer, must be very clear in your own mind how that character is feeling/reacting to what is going on your story. Go back and read the last bit you wrote from that character’s POV. Or, if you are introducing the character, take the time to get to know him.

Read the example below (from my recently released e-book, The Comeback of Conn MacNeill) to see how these elements are used to switch point of view within a scene.

Conn cleared his throat. “Hurry up, or it will get cold.”
She regarded him a moment longer, and then one corner of her mouth dented in and her smile slowly spread. “I guess it’s up to me to warm things up, then,” she said, and closed the distance between them.
She smelled of soap and woman. The placket of her robe brushed his jeans. He could glance down the V in front and see where her smooth, golden chest rose to plump, pale breasts. His jaw tightened, his whole body tightened, in a downward spiral of need.
“Dinner,” he reminded her. His voice was hoarse.
Val drew back and studied his face a moment, his glacial eyes half-hidden beneath heavy lids, his stubborn jaw, his compressed mouth. A band of intransigence loosened around her heart. You decide, he’d told her last night, and this afternoon she hadn’t made up her mind. But his determination now to restrain his own needs, to consider hers, gave her the courage to take the next step.
“Dinner,” she agreed. “Do you want it before or after?”

Here’s the same scene, with the elements identified for you.

Do you need to use each and every element in the exact same order every time you change point of view? No. But if you or your critique partner, your editor or your readers have trouble identifying your point of view shift, see if applying some or all of these guidelines help.

***

How do you feel about point of view changes? Have you ever changed point of view within a scene? What works for you, as a reader and as a writer?

Join us Monday, when author H.P. Mallory discusses self-publishing.

***

Bio:

New York Times bestselling author Virginia Kantra has written over twenty books of contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and paranormal romance. She is the winner of numerous writing awards, including Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award and two National Readers’ Choice Awards. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of three kids, she is a firm believer in the strength of family, the importance of storytelling, and the power of love.

Her favorite thing to make for dinner? Reservations.

For excerpts and more, visit her at http://virginiakantra.com.
And on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/VirginiaKantraBooks

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Discussion

28 Responses to “Virginia Kantra on POV, Part 2: Switching POV”

  1. Virginia – Thanks for another fabulous post! I had the opportunity of taking one of your workshops at the Central Ohio Fiction Writers conference a few years ago. I still have my notes from it – I learned so much! Now I’m focusing on trying to apply what I learned there.

    I’ve already bookmarked Part One of the POV workshop. Now Part Two is added to my Writing Information I Wish I Could Download to My Brain.

    Thank you!

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | June 22, 2012, 6:07 am
  2. Morning Virginia!

    Great post! I can tell I’m going to have to read through that several times to make sure it gets embedded in my brain! I’ve seen the technique used before, but never realized there was a pattern to it – thanks so much! =)

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | June 22, 2012, 6:48 am
    • I’ve heard about this pattern, but it’s a lot easier to visualize it now.

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | June 22, 2012, 8:58 am
    • Thanks, Carrie!

      I didn’t make the pattern up. I mean, I wrote the guidelines, above, but you can see other authors utilizing the same techniques.

      From Sabrina Jeffries, THE FORBIDDEN LORD, 106-107.
      She headed off for the entrance, but before Emily could follow, Jordan caught her arm. Bending his head, he whispered, “We’ll continue our discussion when your protector is not around.”
      Protector, not mother. She glared at him, then regretted it. Looking at him was always a mistake. A man that handsome should be locked away from virgins.
      Fixing his gaze on her, he lifted her gloved hand to his lips. When he pressed a kiss to the back of it, a shock of awareness sizzled up her arm and exploded over her like Chinese fireworks.
      “You and I aren’t finished,” he whispered meaningfully.
      “Dear me, I’m all aquiver with anticipation,” she snapped as she jerked her hand free, then whirled away to follow Lady Dundee.
      Jordan watched her go, every muscle straining to keep from rushing after her and shaking her senseless. She had to be Emily Fairchild. No matter what any of them said, she could not be this Lady Emma creature.

      *

      From Susan Elizabeth Phillips, BREATHING ROOM, 24.
      He studied the other women in the cafe, but his eyes kept returning to her. He sipped his wine and thought it over. Women found him – he never went after them. But it had been a long time, and there was something about this one.
      What the hell…
      He leaned back in his chair and gave her his patented smoldering gaze.
      Isabel felt his eyes on her. The man oozed sex. Her third glass of wine had lifted the leading edge of her dismal mood, and his attention lifted it a bit higher. Here was a person who knew something about passion.
      *
      Not every author will use every element every time. But you can see how the different elements help smooth the transition from one POV to another.

      Posted by Virginia Kantra | June 22, 2012, 9:16 am
  3. The timing on this is just perfect for me, Virginia! I’m in the process of laying out the plot for my next novel, which will be my first stab at dual third-person deep POV, and this is going to be so helpful. I usually write in first-person from the heroine’s POV only, so this will be a big leap for me, but I so want to try it. And information like this makes me feel much more confident. Thank you for the post!

    Posted by Linda F. | June 22, 2012, 7:01 am
  4. Hi Virginia,

    I’m most comfortable writing in first person. As a reader, the story is more important to me than the POV.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | June 22, 2012, 7:23 am
    • Mary Jo, I agree! First person is often the best choice for stories where nothing but that total-emotional-immersion experience will do (like YA). And some writers (Nora Roberts) move confidently and surely from one POV to another without ever losing a beat or their readers.

      It’s all about what “works” for you.

      Posted by Virginia Kantra | June 22, 2012, 9:20 am
  5. It’s always fabulous to hear you speak on writing, Virginia. I don’t mind POV shifts at all when I’m reading, as long as I know whose head I’m supposed to be in.

    I can’t wait to read CAROLINA HOME. It’s my beach vacation special treat this summer!

    Posted by Katharine Ashe | June 22, 2012, 7:53 am
  6. Great post, Virginia. POV changes are fine with me as both a reader and a writer. Like Katharine, I just want to know whose head I’m in.

    I mostly write in 1st person, and usually prefer to read books written in 1st person because of the intimacy with the main character.

    In the novella I just released, I used both 1st and 3rd person, changing only with chapter breaks, and beginning each chapter with a subtitle telling the reader whose viewpoint they were reading. It was tough to write, but it worked for that book. This was the 3rd book in a series, and the main character from the first two books had been written in 1st person. I continued to write her chapters to blend with the first two books, but changed the other characters to 3rd person.

    I always take so much away from your wisdom, Virginia. Thanks for being such a good teacher.

    Posted by L. j. Charles | June 22, 2012, 8:34 am
  7. Wonderful post! POV shifting is harder than I originally thought when I first started writing, but this breaks it down really nice and clear.

    Posted by Sonja Foust | June 22, 2012, 9:39 am
  8. Thank you for at least acknowledging that third-person omniscient exists. Really–weren’t almost all books written in this voice until just a few years ago? But, all of a sudden, people started acting like they’d been spun around in a barrel if they saw pov switches like the one in your last example. I had to find relief by making the Devil my narrator in my WIP, See You in Hell, and have him say on p. 1 that he knew everything everyone was thinking because he has that power. But the Devil can’t be the narrator in every book.

    Posted by Dave Thome | June 22, 2012, 11:40 am
  9. Hi Dave, I think third person omniscient can work very effectively as long as you don’t lose your reader. Nora Roberts is the most popular contemporary example of a writer who moves confidently and surely from one viewpoint to another. Of course, if you are writing primarily from an ominscient fiend’s viewpoint, you don’t have to worry about switching POV.

    Posted by Virginia Kantra | June 22, 2012, 1:14 pm
  10. Although I’m not crazy about it, I don’t have a problem with writers changing POV within a scene without a line space or break. But only if they change once and only once, if it’s not within a paragraph, and the first sentence of the new paragraph indicates who the new POV person is. (Or at least the first couple of sentences.)

    Readers shouldn’t be left a few paragraphs down wondering who’s talking/thinking and when did things change.

    I’ve read several multipublished authors who have done it successfully. But I understand why less established writers are steered away from doing so.

    Posted by PatriciaW | June 22, 2012, 2:33 pm
    • Patricia, those are all good guidelines, too. The “pulling the camera back” distancing action can sometimes produce a couple of sentences or lines of dialogue where the POV is neutral.

      But yeah, if you don’t get it right, if the reader doesn’t have an emotional anchor in the scene, it’s distracting at best.

      Posted by Virginia Kantra | June 22, 2012, 7:32 pm
  11. Hi Virginia,

    Thanks for the change of POV examples. I especially like your camera analogy. I could never wrap my head around the one POV per scene/chapter.

    I’m printing this post and stapling it to your April POV lesson. Thanks so much for joining us again.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | June 22, 2012, 5:34 pm
  12. Virginia – Thanks so much for hanging out with us today! I always learn a lot when you visit!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | June 22, 2012, 6:28 pm
  13. Thanks for sticking up for us writers who switch pov within scenes! I do it unconsciously myself, and have always done it, but to hear some writers lecture on about the inherent dangers of switching pov you’d think I was committing a crime!

    I’m working on such a scene right now, where I’ve committed this “crime”, so this article was very timely for me!

    Posted by Kathryn Barrett | June 23, 2012, 11:36 pm
  14. Great post, Virginia! For a long time, I resisted when Card and others insisted on no POV shifts mid-scene. Eventually, I realized that in my case at least, those POV shifts were unnecessary. I agree that “what works” is the only thing that matters. But I do believe that beginning writers should discipline themselves to avoid mid-scene shifts to ensure they’re not doing it out of laziness.

    Posted by Andrea Wenger | July 2, 2012, 11:59 pm

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