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Thread: How many pov shifts are too many?

  1. #1
    coffee and pistols at dawn KateJJ's Avatar
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    How many pov shifts are too many?

    My epic fantasy is primarily written from two (3rd person) POVs, one female, one male. Female POV has about 65% of the story. There are occasional other POVs as I need them, only one of whom has more than say three short scenes. Most of the time the POV character has a large section of a chapter, 1500 or more words.

    I find myself switching rapidly between POVs in one critical chapter. The male and female POV characters are fighting each other. Neither of them knows it and each of them is trying to win in order to marry the other. It's delicious. But I'm shifting POVs a lot. Like, after as few as 200 words, back and forth. This isn't the climax (where, er, I again have shifting POVs but they're in longer chunks and seeing radically different things so I'm not as worried). There's probably ten POV shifts in 4000 words....

    I'm trying to remember if I've seen multiple rapid pov shifts in a fantasy novel before. I'm planning to ask beta readers if this is too confusing, but off the top of your head, would you write a scene this way?

    Every other scene I'm able to pick one POV and stick to it using the guideline of "show whoever hurts the most". This scene just doesn't seem to work from one or the other, though....

    ETA: most of the POV shifts are between the two main characters, back and forth like volleyball. If that makes a difference.
    Last edited by KateJJ; 12-12-2012 at 07:22 AM.
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  2. #2
    Misbehaving and stuff Beachgirl's Avatar
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    POV shifts every 200 words would yank me out of a story and possibly even make me throw the book across the room (unless I'm reading on my Kindle Fire, since they're expensive and dent walls).

    I think I've only done a POV shift within the same chapter in one book, but it was kept to a minimum. The rest I only use one POV per chapter, even with four MCs who each get their own POVs.



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  3. #3
    The T is for Trying to Stop Lurking M.T.Logue's Avatar
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    I think this can be chalked up to the old "if you can do it well" tip. I hope this is viable, because I do this at the climax of my WIP as well, in a similar situation. I'm hoping that, by making it clear when the shifts happen, and grounding the reader as soon as reasonable so they know who they're following, it won't be a headache to read. Though 200 words might be pushing it a bit (as this comment is about 200 words)

    As for the minor characters who get POVs once and then never again, I also did this with my current WIP for three different characters. It felt odd to me to just randomly jump to a character we've never seen before, so I decided to make it a part of the structure--each random POV character happens after a critical point in the novel, so I divided the novel into three acts and start each act with the minor character's POV. It's still a bit sudden, but there's a structure to it that I think helps, sort of like a prologue to each act.

  4. #4
    Azarath Metrion Zinthos AshleyEpidemic's Avatar
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    Are all the POVs necessary for the novel? What do they add to the story you are telling? Are the POVs crossing paths or are they telling very different areas? Ten shifts in a span of 4000 words does seem like a lot, but how you execute it is the most important.
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  5. #5
    The Crazy Man in the Sun. Feel me. WillSauger's Avatar
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    Shifts between 1500words is a bit fast. Shifts anywhere under that is irritating to me.

    It all depends on how they shift, when, the relevancy to the situation. Do it well, I wouldn't care.

    I will say, that it's bad to choose a character who's the best "camera angle" to the situation. Rather than choosing the best camera for the scene, move the camera or the scene for a better angle--that way, you can have a constant scene without switching all over the place.

    It also deals with how much a reader likes the characters. But this deals with the relevancy and the story.

    If the characters are in the same room, just pick one and zoom the narration out a bit. If you stay objective and in one of the character's mind, the reader won't care as much. Or, you can do 3rd omni intrusion.
    Then again, they are in the same room; why the hell would you need to switch between them? The sections are so short, you shouldn't be really dwelling within their thoughts to so much.
    I'd just stick to one the entire time. Unless the characters are fully independent of each others, its excessive to switch.
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  6. #6
    The colors! THE COLORS! leahzero's Avatar
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    This is really going to depend on how you execute it. Without reading it, yeah, 10 POV shifts between just two characters in 4000 words does sound irritating. But for all I know, maybe you pull it off so well that it works perfectly. It's really hard to say.

    This is the kind of thing beta readers are meant for.
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  7. #7
    coffee and pistols at dawn KateJJ's Avatar
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    Thanks, I really appreciate the different opinions on this.

    I'm going to think really hard about whether I need the pov switches or not. The whole sequence is hard to show without being in both viewpoints and I stick to very tight third person for this story. But I might just need to rewrite the sequence. It's supposed to have the reader on the edge of her chair, not throwing the book across the room.
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  8. #8
    Playing the waiting game MsLaylaCakes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KateJJ View Post
    There's probably ten POV shifts in 4000 words....
    This is probably a bit on the high side (i.e. 400 words per POV, which is a little less than a paragraph).

    Do you really need to switch to be "inside the other person's head" every time? I've written fight scenes, but they're usually from 1 POV and the person is 'hearing' the other person's argument. They can also 'observe' emotions from body language, tone and gestures ... which allows me to stay in the same POV but still get into the other character's head.

    I don't do head-hopping well, so I just avoid it. Of course, if you're awesome at head-hopping, it might work.
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  9. #9
    Benefactor Member Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    I think with pov characters, you have to think about what each bring to the novel. I have three in mine. The protagonist, who probably gets half, or slightly more. Then there are two others, with one getting most of the rest. Each if them is needed to show different aspects of the story. Sometimes they will be in separate places, but there are a few chapters where I do need to switch between my pov characters within one local that two or more may be sharing. I haven't been told it's jarring by any of my readers when I've done it, and I've seen other authors do the same thing. The GRRM one pov per chapter approach wouldn't really work for my novel as a whole (though I have some that are all one pov).

    I think it depends on the story you are trying to tell. I've been told by some writers that if you are going to have some chapters where you have scene/pov shifts within, you should establish this pattern early in your novel (ideally by the end of chapter 3). if you do it [EDIT--if you stick with one pov per chapter for the first ten chapters and then toss in one with several pov shifts, it may confuse the reader] for the first time ten chapters in, it may be more confusing to a reader who expects that scene shifts within a chapter are always locational or temporal.

    Also, make sure the first sentence of your new pov scene anchors you to the pov character in some way. This might even be a place for a little filtering [edit--though there may be ways to do it without].
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 12-12-2012 at 11:31 AM. Reason: clarity
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  10. #10
    My name is PJ. P-Jay's Avatar
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    I personally don't like books with pov shifts at all.

    But like posted above, it all depends on your execution.

  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW rwm4768's Avatar
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    I would be careful about doing the shifts too frequently. If numerous shifts are best for your story, make sure people always know what head they're in. Oh, and don't suddenly go into omniscient at the climax. I read a book that went from infrequent limited third switches, to frequent pov switches, to omniscient at the climax, and it was really annoying. I liked the book otherwise.

  12. #12
    Go For Apprentice
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    Well like when ever I write in a POV shift, I generally write it after around the 2,000 word mark. Typically my own preference is a different POV every chapter or so. Ex. Chapter One: Mark, Chapter Two: Becky, Chapter Three: Mark, and so on. But as others have said, if you can execute it well, do it.^^

  13. #13
    practical experience, FTW JKRowley's Avatar
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    I have serious problems with POV shifts. As a reader, I like to know where I am at. POV can shift, but it should be per chapter, giving me time to settle into the character. Several shifts in a chapter would have me putting the book down in frustration.

    You probably don't need those POV shifts. Pick one character and stick with him/her and see how it goes. That is my preference, as a reader, and a writer.
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  14. #14
    Benefactor Member Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rwm4768 View Post
    I would be careful about doing the shifts too frequently. If numerous shifts are best for your story, make sure people always know what head they're in. Oh, and don't suddenly go into omniscient at the climax. I read a book that went from infrequent limited third switches, to frequent pov switches, to omniscient at the climax, and it was really annoying. I liked the book otherwise.
    God, yes. If the book's in limited third throughout (and I'm assuming yours is, Kate, since most modern novels that are in third are told in limited third), don't suddenly toss in a chapter in omniscient, or it will feel like head hopping, even if you are usually wonderful at writing omniscient pov shifts within a scene. Readers do get accustomed to patterns within a book.

    The general convention when writing in limited third is to use a scene break (use a # or a ***) in the MS when shifting povs. But I agree that shifting povs every paragraph or two can be jarring, even if it's done with a clear scene break.

    But there may be a place in the story where you need to have relatively short stints in pov. I have a scene, if you want to call it that, where my characters link with their magic and experience one anothers' visions (they're italicized passages as well, to warn readers the mini scenes are happening inside the characters' heads too). Each of these is just a few paragraphs. Haven't got any complaints yet, from Beta readers about it yet, but we'll see.
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  15. #15
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    The obsession in this and a couple of other forums with multiple POVs and POV shifts continues to come through to me as begging for an excuse to justify lazy narrative craft.

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  16. #16
    needs something clever to put here Ellielle's Avatar
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    I can deal with POV switches at the end of chapters, but when they start happening with frequency, I get irritated really quickly.

    Without reading your specific scene (so my ability to actually gauge my reaction is pretty poor), I'd guess that ten pov switches in 4000 words would irritate me. How much I'd be irritated would depend on how well it was done. Done well, I could grudgingly accept it. Done poorly, and I'd be setting the book down or at least skimming through the scene as quickly as I could to just get it over with.

  17. #17
    I heart sexy elves and wizards. fredXgeorge's Avatar
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    I don't think I'd particularly like a book with ten POVs anyway, but at least make them half a chapter or so, not twice a page. That's a sure way to make me put a book down for good.
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  18. #18
    Super Procrastinator Kallithrix's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WillSauger View Post
    Then again, they are in the same room; why the hell would you need to switch between them? The sections are so short, you shouldn't be really dwelling within their thoughts to so much.
    Yeah, agree with Will. I know you want to show both their thoughts, but in an action scene internal monologue just slows the pace and kills tension.

    And if your POV switches with virtually every paragraph, then what you've got here is worse than merely head hopping. It's called The Tennis Match - where the reader's viewpoint is batted from one side to the other with almost every bout of dialogue. This is very disorienting for the reader and not something you want to do.

    If you really want to show the encounter from both sides, then just show the beginning of it from one POV, and switch to the other midway. That way you can still get both their thoughts across, but there's less risk of jolting the reader out of the scene with only one POV switch. Just decide who has the most interesting POV for the climax of the fight - either the winner or the loser - and start it from the other one's POV.
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  19. #19
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    Are you certain readers won't 'get it' unless they know what both parties are thinking as they think whatever it is they are thinking? Readers are not dumb, and it's not necessary to switch POV to let the reader know how a non-POV character is reacting to the POV character.

    Think about it.

    Physical, vocal and visual indicators from one character can be read by the constant POV character. And whatever the non-POV person was thinking would be reflected in their actions/reactions and dialogue which can again be interpreted and reacted to appropriately by the POV character.

    If these actions are misinterpreted by the POV character that, too, can be revealed through further action/reaction and dialogue.

    It seems as though you want the reader to empathise with both characters and to know what they're each thinking. How can I root for two people at the same time? Thoughts are not really as important as actions and can slow down the action. And actions do of course reflect thought - it may be preferable to decide who you want your reader to root for and stick with that POV.

    Your choice - good luck.
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  20. #20
    Angel Wing Fetish VoireyLinger's Avatar
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    200 to 400 words is a bit head-hoppy. Okay, a lot head-hoppy.

    It sounds to me like your goal is to make sure the reader knows each character's thoughts during the argument/conflict, but when you do that, the reader doesn't have a chance to get invested in one character or train of thought. They can't get angry and indignant for character A if they are also rooting for character B. Scenes with heightened emotions, like arguments, play out much better if the reader is actually able to connect with the emotion.

    Stick with one and give the other character her say later. It will give the scene more tension and help the reader connect with the story as a whole.

  21. #21
    DenturePunk writer bearilou's Avatar
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    I was reading a book where there were seven POV shifts between five characters in 35 pages.

    I stopped reading when I got to chapter two and there was ANOTHER POV shift.


    Quote Originally Posted by VoireyLinger View Post
    200 to 400 words is a bit head-hoppy. Okay, a lot head-hoppy.

    It sounds to me like your goal is to make sure the reader knows each character's thoughts during the argument/conflict, but when you do that, the reader doesn't have a chance to get invested in one character or train of thought. They can't get angry and indignant for character A if they are also rooting for character B. Scenes with heightened emotions, like arguments, play out much better if the reader is actually able to connect with the emotion.

    Stick with one and give the other character her say later. It will give the scene more tension and help the reader connect with the story as a whole.
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  22. #22
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bufty View Post
    Are you certain readers won't 'get it' unless they know what both parties are thinking as they think whatever it is they are thinking? Readers are not dumb, and it's not necessary to switch POV to let the reader know how a non-POV character is reacting to the POV character.

    Think about it.

    Physical, vocal and visual indicators from one character can be read by the constant POV character. And whatever the non-POV person was thinking would be reflected in their actions/reactions and dialogue which can again be interpreted and reacted to appropriately by the POV character.

    If these actions are misinterpreted by the POV character that, too, can be revealed through further action/reaction and dialogue.

    It seems as though you want the reader to empathise with both characters and to know what they're each thinking. How can I root for two people at the same time? Thoughts are not really as important as actions and can slow down the action. And actions do of course reflect thought - it may be preferable to decide who you want your reader to root for and stick with that POV.
    This.

  23. #23
    practical experience, FTW
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    I have a lot of fast switches at one point in my WIP, where the two first-person narrators meet face-to-face for the first time. My beta begged me to make it clearer which was who. A shame, really, because the confusion was part of the pleasure. Whether or not it works is perhaps not for me to decide. But I'm not going to say don't do it when I've done it myself....

  24. #24
    coffee and pistols at dawn KateJJ's Avatar
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    Thanks for all the opinions! I'm going to look and see if I can combine some of the shifts and get some other eyes on the chapter.

    One or two shifts, maybe ok. Ten shifts, not so much. Got it.
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  25. #25
    I aim to misbehave Myrealana's Avatar
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    I tend to think that if you "have to" switch POV every 200 words, then neither POV is correct and you need an outside perspective - an observer or an omniscient narrator.
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