Shifting POVs in a Story

725074Sometimes in your fiction writing, you will have a lot of different themes and characters that you find it difficult to incorporate into your story from just one point of view (POV). Or, you might have joint main characters, but find your style or storyline works best when the story is told from both. In this case, you might need to alternate both characters’ viewpoints. However you do it, this particular writing technique can be very tricky. It can work in either first or third person. It will work better in third, but fine in first if the story calls for it.

Here are some tips on how to shift POVs in a story without getting your narrative muddled, or confusing yourself or your readers.

Make your POV shifts clear.

Don’t just assume your readers will recognise the change. However you decide you want to carry out your POV shifting, always make it clear when you are doing it. It is confusing to readers if you suddenly jump from one viewpoint to another without telling them, not to mention annoying, and it will make them less likely to finish reading your hard work. You can label it with different places or time periods if your characters are not in the same one, or simply by beginning their parts of the story with their names.

Don’t set a formula.

Say you are switching between two characters’ viewpoints. It might be tempting to structure your story by deciding you are going to write 2,000 words for each character, then switch to another, then repeat the process. Don’t, I repeat, don’t do this. Not only will your story become rigid and predictable, but you’ll have to structure your events around the viewpoints, which might jumble up your narrative. Tell your story and build your viewpoints around that. You might find at times one character speaks for few thousand words, but the next speaks only for a tiny portion of the story. That’s fine. As long as everything you write is furthering the plot, your characters do not need completely equal airtime.

Voice definition is important.

Although you have made it clear that different characters are speaking at different times, you will still need to ensure that the characters’ voices are clearly defined. This can be very tough, especially if you have distinct writing style. Start by using information about your character – for example, if one is a teenager and the other is in their forties, they are not going to use the same kind of language or slang. This alone will add definition. Think about the sort of person they are. Are they uptight or carefree? Wise or foolish? It is much easier to keep these elements of your characters incorporated when you’re only writing from one viewpoint, but when writing from two or more, you really have to stay in character and not let yourself overlap. Watch out for this especially when it comes to editing.

And finally: Don’t use this technique simply as filler…

… because it really will not work. If you need to switch viewpoints to a different character purely because you have nothing else, your readers will see through it. Developing plot takes a lot of time and work. Shifting POV’s is not a quick-fix solution for filling in your gaps.

Shifting POVs is not an easy technique to get right, and will not work for everybody or every story. Use it wisely.

Tone and flavour

Autumn roses 1Tone and flavour are two words which don’t seem to belong to the world of writing. The first could have been taken equally from the worlds of music or painting, and the second is definitely culinary.

They are, however, very important concepts in writing; in fact they’re sometimes so important that like the ‘elephant in the room’ they’re too big to be seen properly.

Strangely enough, tone and flavour are very close in meaning; in fact one could almost consider them to be synonymous. They stand for the bias in the book’s choice of setting, plot, characters and language which, as a whole, elicits a reaction in the reader, whether it be one of sympathy and attraction, or one of repulsion.

Let me take 2 examples. One novel is set in the back streets of London. The only weather ever described is rain, and the whole environment is bleak and ugly. The characters are miserable and depressed, they don’t enjoy their jobs, and they have unsatisfactory relationships. When they go to a café, the food is unappetising, the cutlery is greasy, and the service is grumpy.

The second novel takes place in a jungle. The author is at great pains to describe the heat, the humidity, the smell of the damp vegetation and of the various types of flowers and fruits. The rain patters on the leaves. Everything is in abundance, even in excess. The characters are full of life and sexual fervour. Their bodies are smooth and tanned. They eat fruit and edible shoots. They are improvident and happy-go-lucky.

Obviously these 2 books represent extremes. But they are each unified in their representation of reality and they will each evoke a response in the reader. The first novel may come over as boring, samey, depressing or, conversely, as realistic, gritty, grass-roots. The second novel may be seen as oppressive, over-exuberant, alien, or alternatively colourful, exotic, dreamy.

Some readers, if questioned, might pick on one aspect of the book as having elicited their response – setting, plot, outcome, for example – but others are likely to be less articulate and say they just ‘liked it’ or ‘didn’t like it’. In many instances they will have been affected by the book’s tone or flavour.

Authors who are wise to this audience reaction may deliberately create a tone or a flavour by means of introducing more restricted but repeated devices such as smells or perfumes (diesel oil, roses), or sounds ( water, traffic). They may stylise the dialogue or the descriptions.

Naturally, some authors aren’t conscious of introducing tone or flavour to their books. Perhaps, in some cases, it goes naturally with the subject matter, or issues from the writers own innate character. But it pays to be aware of the possibilities.