When Different Characters Demand Different Points of View

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Since I’m trying to plan my WIP before I start putting fingers to keyboard, I’m spending a lot of time thinking through overall arcs, individual scenes and how they’ll all fit together. An internal discussion that I hadn’t planned on has popped up: point of view. When I think of scenes one character is in, I think in first person, and when I think of scenes with a different, yet an equally important character in them, I think in third person.

Changing back and forth between first and third person would be jarring for the reader. And it would give one character more prominence…something I don’t want to do.

Writing fiction in first person is difficult for me, so it might be a fun challenge, but I’m worried about switching between heads. I would have to make each characters first-person descriptions and actions markedly different, and if I have trouble with first person when I’m only in one person’s head, well…

Soon after I started contemplating the finer points and problems of this WIP and POV, I picked up The Help. Talk about serendipitous. In case you haven’t read the book, it switches between three characters…all in first person.

When I looked the book up in Goodreads, I noticed quite a few bad and mediocre reviews. That surprised me. I was amazed at how fluid the story was when switching between character. As a reader, I knew exactly who was talking. Yes, when the chapters switched narrators, it was noted above the chapter number. However, I rarely looked at that and was able to tell by the tone. Time also flowed smoothly when another character took the storytelling reigns.

I loved The Help for the its use of first person alone. It gave me confidence that it could be done…but I would have to know my characters very, very well right from the beginning. I wouldn’t be able to learn about them as I go. I’ve done that with other stories I’ve worked on. It’s a fun discovery. However, since I’m trying to plot everything out beforehand, I should probably also know their voices before I start.

There are scene where my two characters be together, but I haven’t  spent much time contemplating them yet. Perhaps when I do there will be an obvious choice. Perhaps the POV I naturally think in will be the one I use.

How do you decide your POV? Until now, it’s always the POV that pops into my head when I think about the story. Do you play around with it? Writing the scene from first, then third to see what works best?

And, as long as I’m asking questions, what do you think of stories that bounce between multiple first person narrators?

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4 thoughts on “When Different Characters Demand Different Points of View

  1. Personally I have problems with first person writing and reading. I can’t think of any book in which I did not find it annoying. I find it hard to switch and when it’s between different first persons it gets even worse. For some reason, I found, I hardly ever read the chapter headings so after a few sentences of going ‘huh?’ I have to look up at the heading to figure out whose story I am reading in the first place.
    Still, now that you mention it I will pay closer attention to it.
    Also: what is WIP? (It’s the Dutch word for seesaw… talk about confusing.)

  2. I have read quite a few books that have POV shifts for different characters. Personally, I love it (which explains why one of my wips is built that way, with a first and a third).
    I think it really has to do with personal preference–you’ll hear some people complain, others really enjoy it.

    Sometimes, in first POV the voice can be overwhelming, which is why some people don’t like reading first. I think it’s the hardest the write.

    I don’t like linear stories very much, so anything tha mixes it up is great for me.

    Oh, and to answer your question: I write in the POV I hear. I have tried once to force it into another POV and it was a disastor.

    Good luck figuring it all out.

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