Jeanne: What’s Your Point (of View)?

I recently read an adventure romance that, like most romances, had two point-of-view characters–the hero and the heroine.

That held true for the first couple of hundred pages. Then there was a very short (seven paragraphs) scene where a group of men snuck out in the darkness and attempted to kill the hero. For that scene, the author switched to omniscient point-of-view as we saw the men sneak up on the hero’s sleeping form and beat him to death.

Except, as we learned once those seven paragraphs concluded, the hero sensed they were coming and hid in some nearby trees and watched as they “murdered” his empty bedroll.

The reason behind the decision to write this little scene in a different point-of-view seemed pretty obvious: the author wanted to create add tension by appearing to put the hero in serious danger.

On balance, though, I disagreed with that choice because:

  • Once an author sets up a pattern for how POV is going to work in a particular book, they’ve set an expectation in their readers. Although I suspect POV changes are much less visible to readers who aren’t writers themselves, I also think that at a subconscious level readers sense something has changed and find it unsettling. Introducing a whole new point-of-view deep into a story creates a cost in terms of the cohesion. The story doesn’t hold together quite as tightly as it did before the wandering murderers trooped into that clearing, spears raised.
  • Given that the author was unlikely to actually kill off the protagonist halfway through the book, it wasn’t a believable ploy, so the goal of adding tension wasn’t achieved.
  • The cost/benefit was further thrown off-balance by the brevity of the omniscient scene. We barely had time to register that we were no longer a single, familiar character comfy in his bedroll but instead a crowd of would-be assassins sneaking through the forest with murder on our minds than the scene was over.

I’m not talking about staying in deep third but switching from one character to another (although I think introducing the viewpoint of a different character late into a manuscript isn’t a great idea, either) but completely changing the rules of how this story will be told–from “inside” the main characters to far outside them.

So, in my opinion, the cost of writing this very short scene in an unprecedented POV far outweighed what was gained. Please share your thoughts in the comments. Disagreement not only tolerated but welcomed!

Bonus Question: Do you notice point-of-view in the books you read?

6 thoughts on “Jeanne: What’s Your Point (of View)?

  1. Head-hopping is one of my major bugbears when I read! So yes, I notice it a LOT and when writers forget, it truly jars, disconnecting me from the story. It can land you with tricky decisions about how your plot evolves – but solving them is part of the craft, right?

  2. I usually prefer third-person narratives to first-person, so I notice that. And I notice head-hopping, but it doesn’t always bother me. What bothers me about the book you’re describing, Jeanne, is that a *group* of men didn’t notice that they were beating up a rolled up sleeping bag instead of a person. This, in my view, is not credible. Even if they were drunken idiots instead of trained assassins, one or two blows of the stick or whatever, the switch would be obvious. So the author would have lost me on that. DNF! 🙂

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  4. I notice POV when it is done wrong (or wrong for me) and throws me out of the story. Puzzling over just what happened and who said what during that last paragraph, for example.

    I think this could work in speculative fiction because a ghost hero or a Lazarus hero (brought back from the dead) could be a possibility. From a craft perspective, though, it would be cooler if GOOD, useful Omniscient scenes are used regularly before and after.

    Or a writer could just use the thrill of almost being murdered from the hero’s POV, and call it good. It sounds like the reader finds out pretty quickly that the hero is alive and well. It sounds like it doesn’t complicate the plot or cause any of the characters much worry (aside from, “Somebody’s trying to kill me!”). And it sounds like the writer is just trying to manipulate the reader a bit.

    I wonder what prevented the writer from sending the hero off for a pee, and spying on the (drunk/stupid) henchmen beating up a sleeping bag and leaving it for dead without checking to make sure they’d done the job right.

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