Written by HopeRoad author Jim Williams
Changing the point of view of a narrative carries two potential dangers. Firstly it weakens the interest in the main character, and secondly it runs the risk of confusing readers if they don’t immediately grasp that a change has occurred. There’s an additional danger if, in the absence of a godlike narrator, readers ask where the additional points of view have come from: how have the stories been pulled together?
The dilution of character-interest is OK if the emphasis of the story is on plot and action. Multiple PoVs are a common feature of thrillers and crime novels ,and changing the PoV expands the field of action and allows the interconnections of different plot elements to be more fully explored, as for example in a high action thriller where you may want to understand the contributions made by different technical skills or security agencies. However, more importantly in the mundane opinion of a working author, it makes more raw material available and reduces the risk that the limited perspective of a single point of view will either drive the plot into a dead end because no exit or explanation is available to the character, or mean plainly and simply that the story is too short.
Aside from expanding the field of action, the other – more literary – reason for changing the PoV is that it permits situations and relationships to be reflected on from several possibly opposing angles, thus allowing a debate at a more intellectual or emotional level.
If a change in PoV is desirable, the trick is to bring it off without confusing the readers, which means sending a signal that the change has occurred. This can be done more or less subtly by announcing the fact at the beginning of a new passage, or by a sufficiently radical change of voice, or by an obvious displacement of action to a new setting or context that is incompatible with the previous PoV. The main thing is to send the signal early and clearly. The biggest risk of confusion arises when both PoV’s are expressed in the first person. In this case readers will naturally assume that the two “I”s are the same person unless this misunderstanding is promptly corrected. First person narratives, if in the form of internal dialogue rather than correspondence, are also the most likely to cause readers to wonder how the story can have been assembled. We are used to having access to the thoughts inside a single head – but multiple heads? We appreciate the intimacy with the author, implicit in the first person, but that intimacy is lessened if we can’t identify the author among a number of competing narrators.
Jim Williams’ novel The Argentinian Virgin is available through HopeRoad Publishing. To find out more about Jim Williams visit jimwilliamsbooks.com.