07 Aug

Telling the Other Side of the Story: Switching Point of View

Question: How do you tell a story and make sure that both sides get heard?

Answer: This is a time when switching point-of-view might be helpful.

The default for telling a story is 3rd-person point-of-view. You tell it like you are recording from a camera that sits right above the point-of-view (POV) character’s head. Usually the POV character is the main character, but it can be a friend or some other character. The key is the pronouns: you use he, she, they, them.

If the camera is above the character’s head, you can’t tell what the character is thinking. That’s 1st person POV, which uses I, me and my pronouns. There is a close 3rd person POV which lets you imply the character’s thoughts.

1st: I sift through photos until–I stop and hold up THE photo. It shows me, sitting on my Dad’s lap. I was just five and it was the day before he disappeared.

3rd: She shifted the photos, one by one. Then she held one up and shifted to let the light fall on it better. Yes, it was Dad and she was sitting on his lap. She remembered that day because it was the day before her Dad disappeared.

Which do you like better? It’s a personal thing in some respects and also a question of which one serves your story better.

But back to the question: How do you make sure both sides get heard? Usually, you’ll create a story with two POV characters, one the hero(ine) and one the villain(ess). POV switches typically happen at chapter breaks, that is you’ll have one chapter from the Hero(ine)’s POV, then a chapter from the Villain(ess)’s POV. You can alternate as needed and you don’t have to make it evenly split between the two POV.

The advantage of this is that you can explain the deep issues that each character has from their POV. The difficulty of this is creating two characters that the audience will truly care about and will root for. You want the audience to like the characters. Is your villain a likeable sort? Or at least a sympathetic sort?

Also, consider what the audience will know if you use this strategy. The reader will be in on every nuance of the villain’s plans. How will you create surprise? You can build suspense, which is slightly different. For suspense, the reader knows something will happen and hopes against hope that the character will avoid the problem. That sort of thing will work with an alternating chapter strategy.

Sometimes, the POV switch will take place within a chapter, but usually, the sections are set off somehow, maybe an extra space or asterisks or other visual cues that something has changed.

What rarely works is changing within a paragraph.

In the end, how do you know if alternating chapters will work? You try it out.

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