Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Shifting Point of View Within a Scene

An Essay by IWW Admin Dave Swinford


You've elected to tell your story using multiple points of view. So far, you have written each scene or chapter in the POV of a single character, letting the scene breaks or chapter breaks indicate a shift in POV. Now, for various reasons, you want to start the scene in character A's POV and near the middle of the scene, shift the point of view to character B. So, how to accomplish this without confusing or startling the reader?

Simply ending the first section of the scene in character A's POV and starting the next paragraph in character B's POV is usually too abrupt a shift. It may surprise readers and jar them out of the fictional reality you have worked to establish.

As with most craft issues, there is no single best or correct way to shift point of view within a scene, but I have found it helps to signal the shift in a way that logically draws the reader's attention from character A to character B.

I liken it to a relay race. The audience watches the progress of the race by focusing on runner one, who is carrying the baton. When runner one reaches runner two, there is an exchange of the baton, and the audience now knows that runner two is carrying the race.

The simple physical act of passing the baton signaled this shift , and one can employ a similar technique when shifting point of view within a scene.

For example, in the first half of the following scene, character A has been delivering a report to character B. The report has been routine until the last item, which presents an unexpected twist. All of this has been written through the POV of character A, who concludes her report with:

"What do you make of it, sir? I have to admit, I was totally gobsmacked." She leaned forward, not having to fake her interest. She truly wanted to know what the Super thought.

Carson reached and meticulously aligned the papers in the open folder. He knew he was stalling, but he hated having the unexpected lobbed at him, especially when it was followed by a request for his input. It wouldn't do for a superior to admit he had no ready response, so he would do as his own Super had so often done. He would toss the ball back into the junior's court.

"A good, succinct report, Kelly. However, before I offer input on the final item, I feel I need more information. You were on the scene. I was not. Other than being gobsmacked, what was your initial response?"

The eager anticipation in Kelly's eyes vanished like a light being switched off. Clearly, she was taking his response as a criticism or reprimand. Why did female officers have to be so bloody sensitive and take everything so bloody personal? If he were going to offer an intelligent reply, he really did need more information.

The simple action of character B straightening the papers drew the reader's attention and signaled the logical shift into his point of view. Had the paragraph begun with Carson's reaction, "...he really hated having the unexpected lobbed at him, especially when it was followed by a request for his input....", the reader would have been switched from the POV of Kelly to that of Carson without warning, a shift that might have jarred the reader out of the fictional reality. That small bit of action, the aligning of the papers, provided a bridge from one point of view to the other, making the shift feel logical and smooth.

So, if you do want to shift point of view within a scene, one good way to signal that shift is to use a bit of action to draw the reader's attention from POV character A to POV character B. Pass the baton smoothly, and most readers will follow the shift without even thinking about it.

1 comment:

sarah said...

This was a great post. Thanks for the tip, Dave and Gary.

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