Help me! > BookMarc by Peter Abresch

Point of View -- Part 3


Bob Mueller:
Date:         Wednesday, May 12, 1999 02:44 PM

BookMarc #27
Point of View--POV--part 3

Multiple POV's. My old college professor did an informal study and came up with the conclusion that each time a POV was switched, reader interest flagged. He maintained a single POV, with the reader learning everything when the protagonist does, experiences his/her ups and downs and doubts and joys, will bring about a closer reader identification and a faster read. I believe that and use a single POV for must of my writing.

However, too many writers have been successful in using multiple POVs for us to dismiss it as a lessor method. Like everything else, if it's done skillfully, it works, but multiple POVs contains multiple booby traps. Let's look at them.

Our grip on our readers is weakest when a POV shift is made. They have been comfortably traveling along in one POV's head, getting to know and bond with him, then suddenly a new POV is sprung on them. They have nothing invested in this new POV. It's a good time for them to put down the book and turn out the light.

Because of this we should limit our POV characters to those that are absolutely necessary to tell the story, which could run up to a high number in a big war epoch. Even so, we should still investigate ways of combining actions and scenes to eliminate POVs. We touched on this back in story-boarding. The more POVs we create, the more skill is necessary to keep the reader from being confused. We also need to limit POV shifts to those absolutely necessary. Try to have longer scenes or a chapter in each POV rather than chopping them up into five shifts in two pages. This can also cause confusion. Confuse our readers enough and we'll lose them.

It is also essential to make sure our readers know when a POV shift has been made, and who the new POV is, preferably in the first paragraph. And because it's an easy place for them to put the book aside, it's important to hook them into the first paragraph, so when they turn off that light, they'll be anxious to get back the following day. Like a coming attractions.

Some writers like to leave a POV at a dramatic point so the reader will be anxious to pick up on that POV when he/she shows up again. That works up to a point. Like any device, if it is used too much it becomes obvious and, therefore, intrusive, taking away from the flow of the story. While I liked Elmore Leonard's Moonshine War; Bandits; and Swag; the end of Maximum Bob had so many shifts in the middle of an action that I wanted to trash the book. The device had become so obvious it was annoying, sort of like the gratuitous obstacles we talked about way back in BookMarc #9.

In addition to letting the reader know who the new POV character is, we need to create a tag, an action, or a bit of business to tie that POV back into the reader's mind. Four chapters may have gone by since this guy was on stage. If we've shown him owning a prized Jaguar and in the new POV shift he gets out of that car, bingo, we're back in. Or if he has been concerned about losing his hair and in the shift we see him covering up a bald spot, we've tagged him. If a woman has been flirting with a man and after the shift we show her on a date with that guy, we know who she is. Again, it is a fine line between this working and becoming intrusive.

But the cardinal sin, either in POV shifts or bringing a someone back on stage, is to do such a poor job that our readers must thumb back through the book to find out who that character is. This is a dead stop in the flow of the story.

We can't take it for granted that because our readers started the book, they'll finish it, and even if they do, will they be so enthralled that they'll come back again? We're not talking about a single-book career, we're talking about building a readership that will journey on with us, and get their friends to also climb on board.

We could almost make up a few more readership rules. If we confuse them, we'll lose them. If a device becomes obvious, it's probably annoying. If a reader has to flip back to find who a character is, we have destroyed the flow of the story.

In BookMarc #28 we'll take up some other dangers and solutions with multiple POV.

Copyright Peter E. Abresch BookMarc February 13, 1998

From:    Robert Legleitner
Date:    Wednesday, May 12, 1999 05:34 PM

Thank you, Peter, for a thoughtful and thought provoking entry.


From:    Deleted User
Date:    Monday, May 17, 1999 10:08 PM

On 5/12/99 5:34:10 PM, Robert Legleitner wrote:
>Thank you, Peter, for a
>thoughtful and thought
>provoking entry.
I second this!

Peter, you mention losing the flow of the story when the reader has to flip back to remember a specific character, their role in the story, relationship to other characters, etc...

I tend to have a lot of characters in my stories, and I can't seem to break myself of this habit. I can't stand the thought of eliminating any of them. They all contribute something to the story, IMO, anyway.:D

Do you have any thoughts about this?

From:    Caro Soles
Date:    Tuesday, May 18, 1999 03:45 AM

I'm not Peter, but I just wanted to remark that it's possible to have a cast of thousands (relatively speaking) and never mix them up in the reader's mind. Not sire how people do this, but part of it is by making each person memorable. I never mix up Dicken's characters, because they have something individual about them -- a tag of speech, a peculiar gesture. Some of these might be a tad over the top for the 90's market but the general principal still works. I hate losing track of who's who in a story. Another thing to remember is to make the names totally different from each other. Don't even use the same first letter. I think Peter may have mentioned this somewhere.

Caro...babbling in Toronto

From:    Kathy Wendorff
Date:    Friday, May 21, 1999 07:35 PM

I've noticed that Dick Francis and some other authors use this method - don't even give minor characters a name if they only show up once or twice. Refer to them by their role or tag - "the nextdoor neighbor." If she shows up again - "I looked up to see Joan's heavyset neighbor." The reader knows who it is immediately, without having to think, "Mrs. Kelly, Mrs. Kelly, now who was she again?" And you don't clutter up your mind with names you won't need again.


Date:    Tuesday, May 25, 1999 06:28 PM

Hi guys,
First of all Iíve been away on a menís club fishing trip where there was a lot of comradery, good eating, late sleeping, and turning into methane factories. Reason for not answering sooner and not getting out a new BookMarc till the end of this week.

But thank you Bob for your comments.

Judy, in regard to your comments--

>Do you have any thoughts about this?

I think Caro and Kathy have pretty much hit the nail on the head, to use a cliche. First I think we need to write up out characters so we can see them clearly and give them tags. Like Kathy said, ďthe heavy set neighborď does fine for a minor character. Also a bit of body language can help. ďJohn Jones stepped through the door, the big detectiveís head almost brushing the top of the jamb.ď This immediately sets up who Jomes is if he hasnít been around awhile.

How about giving a character a nervous blink. ďHow you all doing,Ē John said, blink blink, ďitís good to see you again.ď The reader will immediately pick up on who that is. How about, ďJohn Jones, the one who gave Sally a black eye, stepped through the doorď? This might be a little blatant, and a finesse would be better, but better blatant then leave them guessing.

Another trick in using a minor character is to just give him/her a last name. No first name distantís a character and subliminally lets the reader know this person is not important.

How does all this sound? Itís late at night so I canít come up with better examples off the top of my head.
Peter Abresch
the Jim Dandy ELDERHOSTEL Mysteries
& BookMarc

Date:    Wednesday, May 26, 1999 01:11 PM

Let me give you all a P.S. on my last.

What was said about making all the names different was great advice. Donít even start them with the same letter if you can avoid it. Of even if that sound the same in your mind although they are spelled different.

I usually donít realize I have close names till Iím halfway through the first draft. I donít fool around with it then, but Iíll clean it up before I go into the second draft. Some names that were close on the book Iím working on, Lacey and Missy, which I changed to Rene, Darby and David which I changed to Quentin, and Craig which I changed to Gavin just because I didnít think it fit the character.

Hope that helps.
Peter Abresch
the Jim Dandy ELDERHOSTEL Mysteries
& BookMarc

From:    Jane B
Date:    Wednesday, May 26, 1999 05:02 PM


I really agree with the different names advice. You don't realize how bad it can be until you read someone else's work and see how lost you can get.


Date:    Saturday, June 05, 1999 03:56 AM

I'm late reading Bookmarc - it's been one of those months but just wanted to say that I think multiple POV can be extremely effective (P.D. James' Devices & Desires springs to mind) as a way of getting into the heads of all the suspects including the killer's. In her novel, you want to find out the motivation of each of the possible suspects but at the same time you know that your main character is the detective. Single POV is very limiting if you're writing a psychological, character-driven mystery because you can only guess at anyone's thought processes other than the mc's. Tammy.

Date:    Saturday, June 05, 1999 11:55 AM


On 6/5/99 3:56:38 AM, Tamsin Reeves wrote:
>I'm late reading Bookmarc -
>it's been one of those months
>but just wanted to say that I
>think multiple POV can be
>extremely effective (P.D.
>James' Devices & Desires
>springs to mind)

Another good multiple POV book is Day of the Jackel. I recommend it to see how it is done. But there are a some dangers to using multiple POV just as there are to using a single POV. Check out POV--part 4 if you havenít done so. You are right in pointing out anything done with style and finesse will work.
Peter Abresch
the Jim Dandy ELDERHOSTEL Mysteries
& BookMarc


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