Van Knox wrote:
I have to warn you that many writers consider switching POV's a very bad move.
I have frankly never heard of any writer saying something along those lines. I have heard writers saying that switching points of view is a bad idea if it has no point and is done badly, but then again, that applies to writing in general. Switching points of view is a rather common thing that I frankly have never heard of being frowned upon by any established writer.
It isn't forbidden or a set rule, but it isn't very elegant. If you are writing 3rd person subjective, objective, or omniscient, switching from character to character is easy and relatively smooth. The main problem with switching POV is when writing in first person. In first person, switching the viewpoint character is often awkward, jarring, or it disrupts narrative flow. But the MAIN problem, the one that has to be overcome, is that switching characters in first person must not break, and must conform to, the narrative "meta fiction".
The "meta fiction" is WHY the story is in first person perspective. Is this a story someone is telling a friend? A deathbed confession? A diary? A letter to a lover? In other words, WHY is this story best told in first person perspective? Why is this person the narrator and not someone else?
Switching characters in first person narratives is possible, so long as the meta fiction is maintained. Perhaps the story is a series of eye witness accounts of one event. Or the story of one character reading the journal, letter, diary, or story of another character. The challenge in all these cases is to create distinctive narrative voices and styles for each character, and to make the transitions as clear as possible.
I mentioned elegance before. This is what most professional writers choose when writing first person POV or third person limited. Simply put, you structure events and the flow of information in a story so that you have NO NEED for other viewpoint characters. Either the narrator is present, or they get the necessary information in another way. Some stories, like those that use an unreliable narrator, almost always have to be in first person.
Keep in mind certain types of stories are better suited for one narrative point-of-view or another. A story of personal growth or overcoming adversity might work best in first person, but a sprawling epic with dozens of locations and characters might be best told in third person omniscient. Another way to think of it is this: Which is more important - the events themselves or how one character relates to those events? Answering that question can inform which narrative POV you should be using for the story.
An example using Collins' Hunger Games
: The actual events of the Hunger Games in the book aren't as important as the events' effects on the protagonist Katniss
. So using first person was the best choice to tell that story.
While I agree with what you are saying, I don't think it contradicts my original statement. Is it easy to disrupt the narrative by switching viewpoints? Absolutely. But my point is that switching viewpoints isn't significantly harder to do than anything else, writing wise. So to say that "many writers consider switching POV's a very bad move." like the post I originally quoted said seems rather strange. I don't see writers considering switching viewpoints a bad move; I see writers considering switching viewpoints while effectively destroying their own stories as a bad move. It isn't as though switching viewpoints is like using the second person, which is nearly always clumsy, seldom used and hardly ever done with a purpose. It's a very useful and common tool. That's what I was responding to.
In any case, I agree with the principle you cited, but even then, there are some things that must be noted. Valley of Fear
by Arthur Conan Doyle, for example, not only switches viewpoints, it also shifts from first to third person with no reason given. The first person is Dr. Watson publishing Holmes adventures in a magazine as he always does, and the third person is a flashback so as to give the crime itself a backstory. This 'flashback' is not an actual character remembering his past, but rather the reader just being taken to that past with no explanation.
This works because of a similar principle to what you mentioned, about plot or character mattering more. In this case, the connection between the two stories isn't neither the plot nor the characters, but the tone. It's the tone of adventure and mystery that made the Sherlock Holmes stories so famous throughout the ages and that remains present in both narratives, even as the viewpoint, plot and characters change. This is a change that works
unlike the time Conan Doyle tried to use the same device in an earlier novel(A Study in Scarlet) where the shift in narrative, viewpoint and
tone led to two bizarre stories that were seemingly packaged as one.
I believe elegance is more strongly attached to maintaining narrative flow, which I associate with tone just as much as I do with plot and characters, than through the use of a framing device.
Mind you, I do
think that narrative structure can be easily messed up.
One more thing that should be noted is that compared to novel writing, visual novel writing has the advantage of visual cues to facilitate the viewpoint transition. This makes the act of switching viewpoints much
easier, in my opinion.
So in short, I agree with what you said, just not quite with the same eloquence.