Thursday, March 30, 2017
Storyteller’s Rulebook: If You’re Going to Break Limited POV, Do It Early, Often Enough, and Briefly
I recently read a revised manuscript that I thought worked much better than the original. In the original, we began with our heroine’s 3rd-person POV, and went with that for several chapters (covering many years), then we switched to the love interest’s POV. The next chapter had the love interest’s name at the top to let us know we had switched, then it had several chapters from that POV, going back and re-covering some of the same ground as the earlier chapters, then surpassing it. Then we returned to the heroine’s POV for a few chapters, then we switched to a villain’s POV, once again with that character’s name atop the chapter, stayed there for a while, moved around in time, then returned to the heroine.
I didn’t think this worked. We stayed with our heroine long enough that it was jarring and alienating when we switched POV, then it was jarring all over again when we started jumping around in time in the new POV, then, just when we had gotten settled in to the new POV, we returned. Then, just when we were secure again in the heroine’s shoes, we jumped again to a third POV.
I recommended eliminating the other POVs, but the author tried something else. After only two chapters with the hero, we jump away to the villain for one quick chapter. Then we’re back with the hero for several chapters, then we cut away to the love interest earlier and more briefly, then back to the heroine. We keep cutting away to one of these two occasionally for short chapters. These chapters didn’t have headers saying that we were adopting a new POV, I just had to figure that out from the first sentence which began with the new character’s name.
I thought this actually worked great. That early cut-away conditioned me to accept that we would occasionally and briefly break identification with the heroine, then return. Because the cutaways were more frequent, it was no longer necessary to jump around in time to re-cover earlier ground. Everything was pretty linear.
Let’s return again to “Game of Thrones”, which does something like the first version. Why does it work there, and not here? Because that’s an epic, taking place over several continents, with no one hero. This book, on the other hand, has one clear heroine, and we don’t want to spend too long away from her. If we’re going to cut away to other limited 3rd-person POVs, we’re going to want to do so early (before we’re permanently settled in), often enough not to establish a pattern, and briefly.