Born in Long Island, New York, have lived in New Jersey, Connecticut, Arizona, California, and Oklahoma. Lived three years in Italy and Germany while in USAF.(Air Police: K-9 section). Now live in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Married after whirlwind romance to same wife for over 30 years. Currently run my own real estate school in Oklahoma. Like to study foreign languages for a few months just to see how they work. Also like Latin and giving speeches. I’ve taught Philosophy, Advertising, Property Management, and many real estate subjects at the University, Community College, and Technical School level. Now writing non-fiction book on the Romance genre. I was trained to be a philosopher and history teacher but have worked mostly in advertising, marketing, and real estate.
I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a
1 Corinthians 13:11
Many writing rules are actually
the children of more encompassing parent rules. For example, the rule that one
should not employ more than one POV per scene is the child of the parent rule
that states that one should not confuse the reader by making it unclear which
character is having which thoughts. Obviously, if a reader can’t tell which
character is having which thoughts, then the reader will be drawn out of the
story in a confusing effort to determine what’s happening. This is a most
damaging type of alienation (anything that reminds the reader that she is
reading a story) and doing this can cause the reader to throw the book against
the wall. (Fortunately, book throwing happens much less often given the growing popularity
A writer can always choose to
obey ‘child’ rules and all will be fine. Beginning writers are especially
advised to do so. However, a more experienced writer can choose to obey the superseding
parent rule and ignore the child rule.
For example, a writer might
have a pivotal scene where four characters learn that they each have totally
misunderstood a situation and now in this one scene they will learn the
truth. The thoughts of each character, as the truth becomes evident, may well
provide very exciting reading. The reader may very much want to know how each
character will react to having been so totally wrong.
In this case, under the governing
parent rule, the writer could employ four different POVs in the same tightly
written scene. This is not really a case of breaking the ‘child’ rule against
using more than one POV in a scene because a parent rule always has supremacy
over child rules.
In order to use four
different POVs, one after the other, in one scene the author would have make it
crystal clear which thoughts belong to which character. Given the situation in the above example,
making each POV change crystal clear should not present a major problem to the
experienced writer. Indeed, the context of the above example almost demands
such a POV-changing approach.
The real danger of changing
POVs too often within a scene is that it may seem willy-nilly while also diminishing
the impact of the story.
Writers who knowingly follow
parent rules should not be thought of as ‘lawless mavericks’ whose high sales volume
gives them license to break all the rules. It is the parent rules themselves that
allow writers to bypass the rules of their children.
What about the making of several
POV changes in the opening scene of a novel when the author wants to quickly
establish the identity of the major character in the story?
In this case the parent rule still
applies. If it is important to have four different POVs in one scene, as the
novel opens, then the scene must make it clear who is thinking what thoughts.
It is also important that all the POV character thoughts point to the major
Obviously, doing this gets
increasingly harder to accomplish the more POV changes the author attempts to make. And while this may be difficult, it’s not
The main POV character enters
a room where a cocktail party is going on. Two women and a man look at her as
she makes her entrance.
Mary Jones entered the room on
shaky legs. It took her just three seconds to spot three enemies. I was crazy to come here.
The hostess, Sally Grant,
noticed Mary and gasped loud enough to be heard over the noise of the room. Her
full glass of red wine fell to the floor. As if frozen in place Sally never
looked down at her new white carpet. All she could see was that woman. What does that slut want here? Mary Jones at
my party? It’s already a scandal.
Robert Smith heard Sally’s gasp
-- the room fell silent. Robert slowly turned his head and even through the
haze of far too much alcohol, he recognized the newcomer.Mary
Jones here? Tonight? Is she crazy? I’ve got to get out of here.
In the above example Mary
Jones is the central focus of each new POV character’s thoughts. A reader encountering
this scene at the start of a novel would naturally have a right to assume that
Mary Jones is the main character in the story. She seems to be the center of
The above four-POV-change
scene is not an example of artistic merit but rather of how four POV
changes could be clearly written within only 131 words of text. Is having four
POV changes in such a short space wise? Probably not but in some cases it might
actually be imperative to do so. It is up to the experienced writer to learn
both the child rules of writing and those of the parent.
To sum it up, it is possible,
by following higher order parent rules, to bypass child rules without becoming
a ‘rule breaking’ outlaw writer or a prima donna of divine dispensation from
the rules that mere mortal writers must obey.
One last thought. Couldn’t an
author achieve much of same results by using physical proxies instead of POV
changes? Yes, an author could ‘hint’ at a character’s mental state by using
physical proxies; however, an author could never project the specificity possible
by using explicit thoughts. Physical proxies are a good choice for beginning writers. I’ve written over 100 examples of physical proxies here.
It is always a good policy to follow the ‘child’ one-POV-per-scene rule. The
problem with following the parent rule, especially for experienced writers who are familiar with their major
characters’ speech patterns, is this: what is perfectly clear to the author may be as clear as
mud to their readers. When several POV changes are made in a scene the result
needs to be proof read by a reader who knows nothing about the story a reader
would not know at that point.