I have covered Point of View before but it is so important and is one of the writing techniques that authors mess up a lot – even published authors. The two biggies usually occur when the author is telling his or her novel from the third person omniscient. Both mistakes can be aggravating to the reader. The first misstep is when two characters are talking. Character A says something and the author adds how this character feels or what he is thinking when he talks. Then Character B replies and the author also adds how this character feels or what he thinks when he talks.
In the writing and publishing business we call this “jumping heads.” Or as I sometimes call it – “head lice”. This one doesn’t usually confuse the reader about the plot, but it can get annoying. The rule of thumb here is one character’s point of view per scene or per chapter or per a series of continuous chapters. If you are changing POV after a scene, you can leave a few lines and/or add asterisks between the scenes. If it helps, you can put the POV character’s name at the top of each scene or chapter – whether you leave it in or not in the rewrite. I do this (and the date and time) in Beyond Blood. The date and time are there because the novel takes place over eight frantic days in August 1998. The reason for each POV character’s first name (or a reference to the character.I do have a character called “HIim”) is for keeping track of which point of view character is narrated.
When their is an overabundance of POV characters, especially when it goes into minor characters, it can confuse the reader to the point where they feel like they need a road map to keep track of all the characters.Then they may lose interest in the story and ditch the book. Do we really need to get inside minor characters’ heads? Do we really need to know what they ate for breakfast? If something they do or did is important to the plot, it could be presented from one of the POV characters. For example, if a PI or police officer is a POV character, they might discover this about minor character – from looking at police reports or news stories. Maybe when the PI or cop interviews the minor character, something comes up. Maybe they see the minor character does something that appears out of character from what they know about the character. There is one exception, though. Sometimes crime novels start with a short Prologue told from the victim’s point of view as he or she murdered – at the end of the Prologue. Obviously, this character can’t come back or can she? if her story is told in flashback in chronological order in alternating chapters – it could work very well. And is the murdered character a minor character or major character? If he or she wasn’t killed, where would the murder mystery be?
I use four points of view in Beyond Blood and in Beyond Faith. Three of them are the same – the protagonist PI Dana Bowman, her twin brother and business partner, PI Bast Overture, and Dana’s son, David. The fourth POV character is a different one in each of the novels, mainly because that character doesn’t appear in both BB and BF. So far, this fourth character is on the shady side and is used (with reservation, i.e., not revealing all and building up the story from their POV to work it in with the rest of the plot as narrated by Dana, Bast and David.) The three POV characters who are in both Beyond novels are identified at the beginning of each chapter and each first chapter of a string of chapters or even a scene where he or she narrates. As a twist, Dana is told from first personal point of view and the other three from third person POV. This is done because Dana is the main character, the one who I want the reader to identify with most.
Bill Pronzini who writes the Nameless detective series does something similar. Nameless is from first person POV but no name (well, he is nameless) at the top of the chapters. But for chapters from the POV of his two PI associates, he puts the name of the POV PI at the beginning of the chapter or first of a string of chapters. When Pronzini teams with his wife, author Marcia Muller to co-author a book – especially with Nameless and Muller’s main character PI Sharon McCone it gets interesting. For Sharon the chapter is headed “McCone” and for Nameless it is headed “Wolf.” Check out their novel Double.
The best way to understand Point of View is to read published fiction in the area you write in. Even read the ones that mess up point of view because when you spot it you will see what not to do.
And write, and rewrite, and rewrite…
Sharon A. Crawford