Of course, any story can be written from one point of view, maybe that of one character and maybe that of the author/narrator. If the character p.o.v. is used, the writing can be in first or second person though it is, for most readers, truly difficult to follow second person writing for any length of time and the technique is not often used. A narrator can use first person to tell a story in which they are an observer and not personally involved, and this type of narrator is not always the author. When the author uses an omnipotent authorial voice and tells the story in third person it can be easier to involve the reader in a number of different threads and the actions of a large cast, but the technique can also be distancing, and can lead the author into commentary on the storyline that does not stem from within the plot.
To avoid distancing and such problems many writers choose to write in third person but make it clear that the narrative is proceeding from the tight point of view of one of the characters. This works well until there is a necessity to show some part of the story that could not be witnessed by the character concerned. Methods of dealing with this include other characters recounting the events concerned either in person or by letter, but this can be irritating for the reader who wants to follow the story as it happens and not ‘after the event’ wherever possible.
And so we come to multiple points of view. Some readers don’t mind switches of p.o.v. and others find them hard to handle. My own view on this is that such a switch should always come at a natural break in the text, and should probably be shown in some way such as by a new chapter or part of a chapter and that there should be some kind of introduction of the new p.o.v. usually by the use of the character’s name in the first few sentences.
I was led to think more about this by my current project, the third volume of my fantasy detective series. Where crime and detection are concerned it can be important to allow a plot to develop in a linear fashion. My detective has assistants and at various points of the plot they are separated, sometimes for quite some time. At one point, they are completely out of touch. It would be clumsy to have them constantly reporting to each other and could make the flow of the story jerky, so I have chosen to use a different p.o.v. in different chapters, bearing in mind the warnings I gave in the last paragraph. Obviously when they meet again they can report but it doesn’t have to interrupt the narrative for long.
I now find myself progressing very slowly. I am constantly having to check who has done what, and also who knows, when they found out, and so on. Otherwise, subsequent actions and conversations wouldn’t make sense. I need to have multiple tabs open and move between them. This slows me down physically, of course, but even more so, it slows me down mentally and throws me out of my own story for a while each time I have to check. And of course, as the author, I know what happens but my characters don’t and I mustn’t let them see too much too soon.
I don’t think there’s an answer, though I admit to feeling, at the moment, as if I will never use multiple viewpoints again. (I’m only using two but it’s driving me mad.)
I know I’ve been ‘absent’ this month – I’ve been struggling with my novel! I’d be interested to hear whether other people have the same issues when they are writing, and also how switching viewpoint affects you as readers.