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Thread: Viewpoint characters, and switching early

  1. #1
    pretending to be awake onesecondglance's Avatar
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    Viewpoint characters, and switching early

    Hi all,

    I'm currently banging away at the second draft of my first novel, and I'm wondering if I'm skipping around too much. In first draft mode I'm happy to listen to my gut, but now I'm knee deep in the rewrite I'm less certain.

    My story is in close third-person - or at least it will be when I've finished cutting the not-really omniscient rubbish I started off with. There are five viewpoint characters in total: the pair of detectives leading the story, a lab guy who they're chasing, a network guy at the same lab, and a security guard there too.

    I'm comfortable with the number of viewpoints, and in general I'm rationing them out. The second detective doesn't get his own POV chapter until about halfway through, by which time his character should be well-established, and Frank the security guard turns up a little way after the midpoint, having been a bit player in the first act. I didn't want to do all five up front for fear of drowning the reader in new characters and situations.

    My worry is, though, that I'm doing just that with the other three POVs. Chapter One is all the lead detective and introduction to her partner - happy with that. Chapter Two, though, has 1,000 words with the network guy, around another 1,000 words with the lab fella, and then 500 back with the network guy. Chapter Three is back to the detective, and after that it's back to normal service of only changing viewpoint at chapter breaks, and pretty much equal spread of story across these three.

    Leaving aside my permanent worry that the second chapter is all infodump, would you find this many POV switches in the first three chapters disorienting or off-putting? I realise that the answer of "it depends on how well you're written it" probably applies here, but still...
    Λrchangel: near-future SF noir
    Bleed Through: multiverse thriller with a side of vampires. | 51,500 / 100,000 (any appearance of progress is an illusion)
    I write music. | I gave in and joined twitter. | And I have a blog too.

  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW
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    Quote Originally Posted by onesecondglance View Post
    Hi all,

    I'm currently banging away at the second draft of my first novel, and I'm wondering if I'm skipping around too much. In first draft mode I'm happy to listen to my gut, but now I'm knee deep in the rewrite I'm less certain.

    My story is in close third-person - or at least it will be when I've finished cutting the not-really omniscient rubbish I started off with. There are five viewpoint characters in total: the pair of detectives leading the story, a lab guy who they're chasing, a network guy at the same lab, and a security guard there too.

    I'm comfortable with the number of viewpoints, and in general I'm rationing them out. The second detective doesn't get his own POV chapter until about halfway through, by which time his character should be well-established, and Frank the security guard turns up a little way after the midpoint, having been a bit player in the first act. I didn't want to do all five up front for fear of drowning the reader in new characters and situations.

    My worry is, though, that I'm doing just that with the other three POVs. Chapter One is all the lead detective and introduction to her partner - happy with that. Chapter Two, though, has 1,000 words with the network guy, around another 1,000 words with the lab fella, and then 500 back with the network guy. Chapter Three is back to the detective, and after that it's back to normal service of only changing viewpoint at chapter breaks, and pretty much equal spread of story across these three.

    Leaving aside my permanent worry that the second chapter is all infodump, would you find this many POV switches in the first three chapters disorienting or off-putting? I realise that the answer of "it depends on how well you're written it" probably applies here, but still...

    This is the answer, of course. It depends also on how well the transitions from POV to POV are handled and how clear each POV is as to whose it is. My own personal POV, obviously, but I'm fine with it as long as I don't get whiplash from the recurrent changes.

  3. #3
    Super Procrastinator Kallithrix's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by onesecondglance View Post

    Leaving aside my permanent worry that the second chapter is all infodump..
    Well, there's your most telling remark right there. You're asking us whether switching POV is a problem, when the real issue is whether the chapter itself even needs to be there.

    If you suspect it's infodump, your reader will UNDOUBTEDLY think so.

    Address this first.
    "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."








  4. #4
    practical experience, FTW
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    You should leave the viewpoint character at a point where the reader wants to read on and go back to them at a point where the reader can't bear not to find out what happened any longer. Both these points are very tricky to judge. Extensive reading of the kind of books you're trying to write would help.

    For myself, I prefer to be introduced to all the viewpoint characters as soon as possible, ie I like to know how the book is going to work early on. It jars me if we suddenly enter a well-established character's POV halfway through.

  5. #5
    pretending to be awake onesecondglance's Avatar
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    Thanks guys.

    I think the transition is relatively smooth - Stan the network guy's first section ends with him watching Daniel the lab rat as he begins his test; then we're with Daniel through the test; and then back to Stan when it's done. It's really Stan's chapter, but I think it's important to establish the nature of these tests, and having Daniel live through one seemed the best option.

    Kalli - the plot events within that chapter need to be there, but I'm looking at it now and wondering if the way I've written it makes it seem like they're just happening so I can hang background information on them. My radar is a bit skewed at the moment, and I'm not sure if I'm seeing infodumps or just being paranoid. I have a feeling this chapter is going to end up in SYW when I'm done...

    Buffy - interesting point. I'd planned to only introduce the second detective's viewpoint when he splits up with his partner - when the narrative forks - so I'm going to have to be careful that's not jarring. Thanks.
    Λrchangel: near-future SF noir
    Bleed Through: multiverse thriller with a side of vampires. | 51,500 / 100,000 (any appearance of progress is an illusion)
    I write music. | I gave in and joined twitter. | And I have a blog too.

  6. #6
    not in show business Tex_Maam's Avatar
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    Hooray for multi-PoV! (And I'm glad you are worrying about it - anxiety sure does make for a better book.)

    I couldn't disagree with a single thing these folks have said, so I'll just add that I kind of like how you're introducing characters before we jump into their head. I like it when PoV-ness spreads almost like a virus, like what you're describing in going from Stan to Daniel, because it means that aside from chapter 1, I spend very little time disoriented and trying to figure out who this new person is and where they are in relation to everyone else. Keep doing that if you can - I'll look forward to seeing your chapter in SYW!

  7. #7
    pretending to be awake onesecondglance's Avatar
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    Well, I've rejigged and redone it so I don't smell infodump when I walk into the room, and reading it aloud it flows all right, so I'm going to chalk this one up to misplaced instinct.

    Kalli - you were right. I was really worrying about the infodump, but I was confusing it with uncertainty over the POV switch.

    Thanks, all. Tex_Maam - I'm going to hold onto my SYW joker for a while longer, but if you're still around when I do post something in there I'll drop you a note.
    Λrchangel: near-future SF noir
    Bleed Through: multiverse thriller with a side of vampires. | 51,500 / 100,000 (any appearance of progress is an illusion)
    I write music. | I gave in and joined twitter. | And I have a blog too.

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