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PoV changes
What do you folk think about point of view changes in something of novel length? I've been really hung up on it for the last few months (to the point of starting three complete redrafts) because somebody one said they were bad, and it got stuck.

Here's the sequence of viewpoints I've been through...

1. Yeah, they're fine, change from character to character between paragraphs, and from first to third person between (short, about 2k words) sections.

2. Argh, no, evil. No mix of third and first person in the book. Change from character to character between (longish) chapters if you have to.

3. Hmm, I think the first person thing was right, but I've read loads of published stuff which changes character from section to section. In fact, I've seen loads of published stuff which changes character from paragraph to paragraph, but not from any authors I'd care to emulate.

For me, the crux came lying in bed last night trying to get to sleep, and realising that I'd lost a hell of a lot of character development while trying to streamline the viewpoint changes.
You're a bit vague. Are you talking about 1st person vs. 2nd vs 3rd? Or do you mean a 1st person story with several characters taking turns at the narration?

If it's the first, hardly anyone can use 2nd correctly, so I'd stay away from it unless you're experimenting. 1st and 3rd work equally well and it's just a matter of preference and what kind of feel you want your story to have.

If it's the second, there's nothing wrong with multiple characters. I've done it before for a story (I'm sure that amounts to oh so much ;p .) But not every other paragraph, that's messy and confusing. I do a perspective switch at the start of every chapter.
Me too
Switching perspective between paragraphs can only be gotten away with if you're writing in a fairly loosely-fixed omniscient 3rd person, with clear notation of whose head the reader currently has access to. ("Bob worried that he'd hurt her. Meanwhile, Sheila was thinking about Clarence.") Some third-person is very tied to a character's thoughts, though, and I think that this would break the flow.

If you're writing first-person, I'd think that switching perspective at anything less than the chapter level would be a bad idea. Even at the chapter level it's risky -- first-person is a good device for really empathising with a character... and you're switching empathy-points and having to relearn a character's thoughts every 25 pages or so.

I think that switching between first and third person would be the riskiest of all. :-) You could get away with it through the device of having a character relate past events to someone else, and fade to the next chapter being the story they told. But I think it stands a solid chance of confusing the reader.

Books that have impressed me with their PoV:
* Sunshine, by Robin McKinley. First-person, fixed on one character the whole way through, and really does a good job of getting into her head. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0515138819/ref=nosim/ficwad-20
* Song of Ice and Fire series, by George R. R. Martin. Strongly character-fixed third person. Switches characters every chapter. You can feel the way the world is presented by the third-person narrator changing to match the character's worldview -- what details are mentioned, how things are described, and so forth. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553573403/ref=nosim/ficwad-20

(Yes, those are Amazon associate links. We FicWad admins have no shame. We do, however, have hosting bills.) ^_~
I ask myself this a lot...
Switching POVs is acceptable in more situations than you would think, but not EVERY situation. It largely depends on the talent of the author.

As Kemayo said, switching between characters in third person omniscient is okay, even from paragraph to paragraph provided it's done well. I think this technique works best in "teamwork" pieces, where different characters in different locations have to work together to achieve a common goal. Like, spend a paragraph talking about Bob, and then, lead the next paragraph with "Meanwhile, Joe was ..." blah blah blah.

Switching between first person perspectives is harder to pull off, but can be done. For most part, you want to only do this between either very short or very lengthy chapters. Like, a drabble piece consisting of 100 word drabbles, each by a different character, that can work. Or, 20+ page chapters with a different character each chapter is okay too, if the writer is good. However, the more characters you use, the messier it becomes. Two is hard to pull off, three is pushing it, four is insane. I remember that the Megamorphs specials in the animorphs series were like that, and it drove me nuts.

Switching between first and third can be done, but as Kemayo said, it's the hardest of all. Once I used the exact device he was describing, actually. It was an epic Pokemon fanfic that never got finished, about Mewtwo (as all my pokefics are). Odd chapters took place in the present, after the end of the Pokemon series, and were about my OC and Mewtwo's attempt to escape from Giovanni (it wasn't as bad as it sounds, really, despite being a Gio's Wife Mary-Sue fic). The even chapters were about what happened to Mewtwo when he first trained with Giovanni (which was shown as a brief montage toward the beginning of the Pokemon movie), and were told from Mewtwo's perspective. He mentions Ash and Brock by name, as he's explaining it to them. This was done with no explanation except in author's notes for the stupid. The epilogue was going to feature Mewtwo, Ash, Brock, and the other characters who appearedi n the fic sitting around a campfire. It would be narrated in third person, but feature Mewtwo finishing his narration of what happened in the even chapters, and explaining how those complicated events influenced the present (what happened in the odd chapters).

It never got past Chapter 6, but what I had up was pretty well-liked by Pokefans and non-Pokefans alike.

Still, that device is very hard to pull off. I didn't even finish the fic in question becuase I ran out of ammo for both the "even" and "odd" stories.

What kind of piece are you working on? Maybe with an idea of the genre and style we could give you more useful information.
Most of what I was going to say has already been said, but I will say that generally, if it's done well, anything can work. The problem is that some things are much harder to pull off than others. Beginning writers are often told to stick to one POV because multiple POVs are very hard to do well, and when they're done badly, it really ruins a story. It's definitely safer to stick with just one. But if you're sure it's appropriate for the situation, then by all means, go for it!

The last time I was in Barnes & Noble, I was reading "Steering the Craft" by Ursula K. LeGuin (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0933377460/ref-nosim/ficwad-20), which had a very good chapter devoted to the subject. The author rewrote the same paragraph from several different points of view to demonstrate how the POV can affect the mood of a piece. She took the time to explain the advantages of each style, which I found very interesting. But I am, admittedly, a great big nerd.
Thanks, guys - that was helpful (and quick).

You've all sort of reinforced the view I'd just arrived at, that what I'm planning now ought to work ok, so long as I can pull it off.

To make it a bit clearer... The piece is novel-length, fantasy, slightly more angsty than heroic. The whole thing is definately in 3rd person, past tense; I'm switching viewpoint characters each section (they are too short to be proper chapters).

Thinks Yeah, Ice & Fire did do something similar, didn't it - I'd forgotten (couldn't stand the thing, actually, although I know a lot of people who loved it - it was just a bit, uh, unremitting.) My sections are much shorter - but I'm aiming at a much faster paced read, so I guess that makes sense.

Cheers, all!
A helpfull post on this subject...
That. Link. Is. Great.
Wow, yes! That post is definitely worth reading--thanks!
Personally, I find it easier if you stay in a specific point of view.

In other words, not switching from omniscient to first-person abruptly. At least if we're talking for the remainder of the story.