Line of Fire, An Autumn Rain Novel

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For Aspiring Writers

Multiple points of view

The following are excerpts (taken with permission) from a group e-mail conversation.

By Scott Parkin and Linda Adams.

From Scott Parkin:

A number of "How to Write a Bestseller"-type books suggest that one of the hallmarks of successful (read "sells a lot of copies") novels is a fairly rapid rotation among three to five POVs. I know it's fairly common in some genres, including thrillers and epic fantasy.

I think the rule most of us were pounded with was that switching POV within the same scene was bad form. Some even suggest staying with a single POV throughout a single chapter. This seems general wisdom in the modern writing establishment. Which can make reading some older fiction (as recent as the early-to-mid 1900s) an odd experience. This one-POV-per-logical-scene concept is relatively new, but it's informed at least one full generation.

I was reading Maureen Whipple's The Giant Joshua and was often distracted by POV changes not only with the same scene, but within the same paragraph—and several times within the same sentence. It was wonderful for getting many different thoughts into the same scene, but it was definitely confusing at times for my weakened, modern sensibility.

I like the idea of one POV per scene. Sure, use dialog and observation to show us how all the characters feel, but only give us the direct perspective of one character at a time.

Scott Parkin

From Linda Adams:

Unless you happen to be Stephen King. I just finished the long version of The Stand (my first try at SK novels) and was annoyed by how often he switched POV without warning. I guess if you sell millions, your editors don't care anymore. It would have been stronger writing IMO had he been forced to correct this problem. There were scenes where in one paragraph we were inside one character's mind, then another's in the next paragraph, and once in a while it would even switch over to the dog's POV. Very irritating that they let him get away with this. It's just plain sloppy. But since the publishers knew it would sell ANYWAY... he isn't questioned.

I guess I noticed it mostly because I've just been through editing my novel, and my editor Richard Hopkins was a stickler on correcting me where my POV tended to ramble (which it does very easily, if I don't watch out). For the record I'm very glad he did. Once or twice I had to lose some favorite phrases or thoughts, but overall the POV-watching made my writing much tighter and easier to follow.

I don't know if this is something non-writers pay much attention to at all, or not, but as writers we really should. At least put in some kind of "break" if you're shifting POV within a scene. Rule of thumb, try to keep the chapter from one characters' POV unless there's a real need for the shift.

It is my fervent hope, that in the event (unlikely event?) I should ever become a rich-and-famous best-selling author, my editors and publishers don't let me slip into bad form just because it'll sell as long as my name is on the cover. Scott Card and Anne McCaffrey have also fallen into this

category as they've become more successful. Success doesn't mean you no longer need an editor.

Linda Adams

Note: a break for shifting POV within a chapter would be a a few blank lines,  or * * * * *, or something similar.

Rachel Ann Nunes