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On Multiple Points of View

Anonymous asked: “Is it okay to just have just a few scenes that are a different person’s perspective? Or would that seem inconsistent or random?”

In general, I say don’t divert to a different point of view if you don’t have a full enough story for that character, but with that said, I know novels that manage to do this and get away with it. 

The first one that comes to mind is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, while the novel is mostly about Liesel, half-way through, we get a chapter on Max. Partially, Zusak gets away with this because of the way the novel is framed. The narrator is a personification of Death whose own story comes up in bits and pieces throughout. He is constantly reminding us that he is the first person narrator and can jump from place to place, seeing beyond just Liesel’s experience. 

Having one different point of view later in the novel will seem strange and random if there isn’t anything going on to enable that kind of story telling like there is in The Book Thief. If you start early introducing new points of views from other characters, it’s less likely going to be confusing. 

For instance, As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner is one of my favorite books. There are many different points of view. For some readers it’s off-putting, but for me at least, each perspective allows a new way into the world and the characters. New perspectives allow for information the other characters couldn’t have known to be brought to light. As I Lay Dying though is experimental from the first few pages, it’s something you know going into the book. Faulkner does not play by traditional rules. 

I think the big thing I’m getting at is that if you are going to introduce new points of view half way through a novel, you need something to set reader expectations from the start. Even if the expectation is not strictly along the lines of point of view, it needs to be something that can lead to readers to believe that you’d planned this other point of view to come in right from the beginning. It needs to be written into the rules of what your readers will expect.  

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