6 Simple Ways To Handle Viewpoint Changes

6 Simple Ways To Handle Viewpoint Changes

Writers Write creates resources for writers. In this post, we suggest six simple ways for writers to handle viewpoint changes.

What is viewpoint?

Our viewpoint (or point of view) characters are the filters through which we tell the reader the story. We need to decide which vantage point will give our readers the best window into the story.

Once we have decided on a character, or characters, we need to choose a viewpoint for them. We have three choices: first person, second person, and third person.

6 Simple Ways To Handle Viewpoint Changes

It is important to know which viewpoint we are going to choose when we tell our story. Most authors prefer third and first person. It is unusual to use second person, but it can be effective.

How do we know which viewpoint to use? 

Using third person is the usual way of writing a novel. Readers, agents, and editors like this choice because it is flexible, accepted, and easy to use. It is used in most genres and it is good for action-packed plots, especially in the crime, family saga, fantasy, and science fiction genres. Multiple viewpoint characters in third person give writers many plotting options.

However, I become irritated when I do not know which filter the author is using. This usually happens when the characters are too similar, or when the author head-hops (switches viewpoint) in one scene, or when the author has not made the change in viewpoint clear. All of these problems show an author’s inexperience.

How do authors prevent this from happening?

6 Simple Ways To Handle Viewpoint Changes

  1. Limit the number of viewpoint characters in a book. As a rule, you should have three or four viewpoint characters in an 80 000-word novel. There is nothing that annoys a busy reader more than having to get used to 15 viewpoint characters who are not vital for the telling of the story.
  2. Rotate the viewpoint characters regularly. The most important characters get the largest number of scenes; the minor characters get the others. Make sure that you do not leave a viewpoint character out of the book for so long that we wonder who it is when he or she reappears.
  3. Introduce your viewpoint characters in the first chapters of your novel. This grounds your readers in the novel and allows them to get comfortable. I will abandon a novel if a new viewpoint character is introduced more than a quarter of the way through the book. I have spent time getting to know everyone and I am emotionally invested in their stories. Then, the author throws an amateurish curve ball into the mix. Do not do it.
  4. Show viewpoint changes by a chapter break or a scene break. Give your reader a chance to breathe and adjust to the change. The start of a new scene or chapter will do the trick. There is little chance of confusion if you stick to this.
  5. Show which viewpoint character it is within the first few sentences after a break. You can do this by naming the character or having someone name him or her. If you are writing in multiple first person viewpoints, you can simply put the character’s name at the start of the chapter or scene.
  6. Make sure that each character is unique. I want each viewpoint character to act as a unique filter for your story. If they are too similar, I will become confused. As a reader, I will wonder why you have not bothered to make this clear. Try to imagine the story from each character’s perspective through their five senses, their backgrounds, their motivations and their goals.

Once you have covered these six points, you should not have problems with changes in viewpoint.

If you enjoyed this post, read:

  1. The Nine Types of Unreliable Narrator
  2. How Viewpoint Works – 10 Ways To Tell A Story
  3. A View To A Skill – 4 Viewpoint Choices For Writers

Great books for viewpoint:

  1. Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress
  2. Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

by Amanda Patterson

© Amanda Patterson

Posted on: 24th February 2015

4 thoughts on “6 Simple Ways To Handle Viewpoint Changes”

  1. Amanda,

    Where does second person view, do best ?

    I love the idea of limiting characters.

    “Introduce your viewpoint characters in the first chapters of your novel”

    Don’t you think, some characters needs proper time to get introduced, may be in the middle of the book, rather than in the starting ?

  2. You may want to read Station Eleven which is a New York Times Best Seller. I am reading it and there are many viewpoints – some interjected in later chapters, some multiple in one scene. And it doesn’t bother me or other readers obviously as it is rated #43 on Amazon right now. Writing is a craft and I don’t believe in that these rules have to be followed if you are good at it.

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