Thoughts on POV changes

I working on my fist novel, I’ve done screenwriting before, novels are hard :slight_smile:

Curious for thoughts on changing POV’s mid story for a brief moment. It’s a the protangist’s POV for 99% of the story, I have one section (Maybe two or three chapters) that I feel is critical to tell the story, that would have to be told by another character or in a third person perspective.

The protagnist would not be able to see the events of that part of the story.

Is this a common thing to do?



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Nothing wrong with changing the POV (even if it’s a one-off thing), but make sure there’s a good reason / it’s worth to change the perspective. Otherwise you risk to kill the immersion. That’s subjective of course.


Absolutely as long as pov is maintained for whole scene or at till have scene break to avoid head hopping. Writing a sci-fi and sometimes for a scene or two pov becomes that of minor chapter in a spaceship on a mission or secret agent. So yes if helps story .


Novels written from multiple points of view is a “thing” these days — a veritable craze. Typically POV is maintained through any given chapter though, so any POV changes happen only at chapter breaks.

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Make sure right off there is no possible confusion for the reader. The sooner the better.
You can’t allow the tone, the choice of words etc., to have the reader wondering what is happening, why is the narrator suddenly so strange.
It has to be utterly clear that the POV has changed.

Use italics if needed. (You can italicize a whole chapter, yes. I’ve seen it done before. – It makes for some eerie – out of nowhere – side narration, too.)
You can also title those chapters to create a contrast if your other “normal” chapters were not. I mean so that the reader see’s it, as a chapter’s heading. Not only in the TOC.

In novels where the POV constantly shifts from chapter to chapter, it is often defined who, in the form of a sub-heading at the beginning of each new chapter. Often even if two chapters in a row are of the same POV.
It is done the same way you’d go :
Manhattan, July 12, 21:25
. . . . . . . . . . . .



Blablablablabla blablabla … … …

(And then the chapters that are not first person from one of your characters would be without that sub-heading, I guess.)

Paul Zindel The Pigman
Sue Burke Semiosis

Are you using 3rd person or 1st person? 3rd is much easier and less jarring to switch, though it still needs to be done well. You need some sort of action or shift in location to make it clear that the narration is coming from a different POV.

I will go to my grave defending 3rd person omniscient, as unpopular as it is, because it allows me to do this without breaking immersion (though obviously must be careful to make sure readers know which character the thoughts belong to).

The biggest problem with third person omniscient is that it’s hard to manage suspense. Sometimes you don’t want the reader to know what every character is thinking.

Yeah, this style (fad?) does currently seem to be popular. I first noticed it while reading Game of Thrones, although I’m sure it was already regularly being done prior to that.

But there’s certainly many other ways to handle POV shifts. Anything goes, as long as the most important criteria is met:

For example, Elmore Leonard’s 1970 novel Valdez is Coming begins in omniscient for a few pages. The narrator sets the scene, privy to any character’s thoughts and sensations, establishing the “storyteller” voice that will be used throughout the novel.

Then on page 5 and for the rest of the chapter, we are shifted mostly to the perspective of Bob Valdez, the main character. But still the narrator tells us things that Bob Valdez couldn’t know, but it’s okay because by this point we’re used to the storyteller’s voice moving around and Leonard’s transitions are clear, despite the lack of overt tells.

See the Amazon sample.

The remainder of the novel continues to shift POVs within chapters. Leonard usually but not always calls out a transition paragraph by giving it a line break, leaving it unindented, and bolding the first three words. Frequently but not always he announces the new POV character in the text:

“Amilio Avilar watched…”
“Bob Valdez saw…”

The omniscient narrator still pops in here and there, but again, it’s okay because we recognize the storyteller’s voice.

This is all handled seamlessly, fulfilling @Vincent_Vincent clarity criteria upthread. That said, I could see chapters of Leonard’s novel being roasted on writing critique sites for head-hopping. It’s not. It’s only head-hopping when it doesn’t work and the reader gets confused.


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But — I feel like I’m missing something here — If the author doesn’t want the reader to know what a character is thinking, then the author wouldn’t share that character’s thoughts, or at least the particular thoughts that would be a problem for suspense.

And isn’t that the way it is for any POV choice?



Sure, but with third limited, the narrator can’t see everyone’s thoughts, and with third omniscient they can. So there needs to be a plausible reason to stop “listening” to a character who has been “audible” to that point.

I’m not saying it can’t be managed well, but it often isn’t.

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It may be useful to recognize that there is no actual can/can’t here, there is only does/doesn’t. There simply are no narrators stuck in a metaphysical bind whereby they can’t reveal certain things. There are just authors who (perhaps through some narrative voice) do or do not reveal certain things. What that author does/doesn’t have the narrator reveal determines how we classify the narrative — it doesn’t work the other way around!

So, I am with Jim on this. Third person omniscient in no way makes it hard to not reveal what everyone is thinking. I rather think we would be hard-pressed to find any novel where we knew what everyone was thinking all the time. Though I would be happy to know of such — what a tour-de-force that would be! :slight_smile:


Well, that’s what third person omniscient is. By definition, such a narrator is all-seeing and all-knowing. Which is exactly why it’s not used much in modern novels.

Doesn’t mean he has to be all-revealing. There’s the proverbial “unreliable narrator”, of course, but pretty much every narrator shares only a fraction of the knowledge (or everything the author could think of). There’s no rule that forces an author to infodump every thought when using TPO.


I clearly remember reading a novel (an old one, from the XIXth century, if my memory serves well – Alexandre Dumas (father), I think ; don’t ask me precisely which novel it was) in which the omniscient narrator eventually somewhat apologizes for omitting certain details at an earlier point of the story for the purpose of not ruining it for the reader.
And I saw no problem with it. It was done in great fashion. No deception there.

I suppose it matters whether the narrator is “engaged” in the story to some degree, or not at all.
A narrator can know everything and just tell you what he/she knows, but he/she can also “react” to it, get involved, share his/her opinion on the matter, on the events, from his/her perspective, his/her personality — should the author have chosen to let him/her have one.

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I like Philip Pullman’s position on this:

A little side-note: a moment ago I referred to ‘the so-called omniscient’ narration, or narrator. We often hear it referred to as omniscient, but that isn’t a very accurate name for it, because to demonstrate the narrator’s omniscience we would need a text that did literally speak about everything, and that would take longer than the universe has been in existence. We haven’t got time for that. The narrator clearly knows many things, though, and should really be called multiscient – a perfectly respectable word. I was curious to see whether my favourite dictionary had taken note of this, so I opened it: Chambers’ revised edition of 1959, now much battered and mended, a handy size, and full of those little explosions of mischief among the definitions that delight all Chambers devotees. And there it was, in the form of ‘multiscience: knowledge of many things’. Wondering if the word was still current, I opened my latest Chambers, the 10th edition of 2006, the approximate dimensions of a microwave oven, and found that it had gone.

Pullman’s essay, The Classical Tone, is an interesting read on this topic.

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Once upon a time I attempted to give a conceptual analysis of the complex of ideas that are at issue when craft books talk about Point of View. The typical lists of “options” that you find seemed to me frightfully unsystematic and vague in so many ways. So, I set about to carve out the conceptual space in a way that would better please me and would better span the space of possibilities.

In the end there seemed to be four distinct things to be teased apart and tracked. For your curiousity, here is the root of the tree I developed. It is set up as a decision tree: you end up somewhere on each of the four main branches, the combination of which determines what sort of narrative you have. There a some 240 different possibilities.* Who knew? And that is before we make any provision for complicating factors like novels with multiple narrators.

(*) If you include a few basic characterizations like reliable/unreliable, the number jumps to thousands.

@kewms: not impossible, though. I recently read Christie’s And There Were None (a.k.a. Ten Little Indians) as a way to educate myself as to deploying surprise. (not my usual reading entertainment.) it does do an adept job of using multiple POVs while still withholding vital details.

I am writing a novel with an ensemble cast. I decided I wanted to show what the antagonist is up to and why. For this story, I thought it best to present both views of events, the assumptions made on incomplete information and incorrect interpretations, and the results of such things.

I digress.

With POV changes mid-chapter, when I do it, it is signaled by a new scene and a first line or two or very early in the scene that makes it clear that we are seeing the event through the eyes of one of the other characters. Mostly I used 3rd person limited… sometimes 3rd person omniscient but that is but a smattering. All the POV characters have to be involved in the chapter when I do this

I use new chapters to switch to a new event,or where has been a change of day/time, or location.

I hope this helps.