How to Get Away With Switching POVs

Never ever change Point of View.

Except when …

I recently read Sonia Saikaley’s novella, The Lebanese Dishwasher. [ ] Although the same protagonist is used throughout the book, the book is written from both 1st Person and 3rd Person perspectives.

For the adult protagonist’s POV, the story is written from the 1st person perspective. But the sections about Amir’s past, his childhood, are written from the 3rd Person perspective.

Wait! Wait! Don’t jump to any conclusions just yet. I did when reading it, but that lasted for only a sentence or two.

This is brilliant. Amir as a child experienced great pain — both emotional and physical — and this pain is so strong that psychologically, he has to set these experiences outside of himself, to think of himself as having been someone else when he went through these ordeals. Denial is neither stated nor implied but because Ms Saikaley chose to use 3rd Person for the child’s section, this added an extra element, and it’s a strong one. It “shows” how great Amir’s denial is.

James Patterson changes POV to great effect in, e.g., The Big Bad Wolf, Violets are Blue, and 2nd Chance, he switches from good guy to bad guy. Being inside the head of the bad guy occasionally — in his own chapter — increases the tension, the suspense and the concern for the good guy because Patterson’s bad guys are real sickos. Being inside the mind of a psychopath or a serial killer is quite scary if you imagine they are thinking about YOU (the reader) as their next project.

And how can I not mention that brilliant storyteller, Stephen King?

In The Stand, multiple protagonists scurry from various points in the USA, gathering fellow survivors along the way and getting into all kinds of trouble, as all are driven to the same central point and without knowing exactly why. That is the only common thread among these major protagonists. There are secondary characters, necessary for conflict and to help expose the backstories of the main protagonists, but in no part of this book are these secondary characters’ POVs used. I don’t want to give away the story but when all the major protagonists eventually connect, there rises one only.

Keep in mind that The Stand has over 800 pages which would allow 200 pages each for four separate protagonists — almost four separate novels for the rest of us, right?

So yes. We CAN, we may, get away with using multiple POVs, but while learning the craft of storytelling, it’s best to do it the hard way first: stick with one protagonist until we get really good at sticking with one.


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