Point of view fiction

Help Me Switch POVs Without Jarring Readers


Dear Editor…

My story is third-person. BUT: 3 to 4 times in the story, I need to cut to periphery scenes/beats where the protagonist is not present. I’m told that’s jarring. How can I NOT jar readers? I REALLY need these story beats.

Writing in L.A.

Dear Writing in L.A. …

Sometimes our stories resist the rules we want to apply to them, so … we adapt. If you absolutely must slip into another character’s head or to some omniscient scene three or four times, I suggest you do it more than 3 or 4 times. That way, the POV change is part of the narrative style. Do this very early in the book to establish that style. And I recommend scene breaks to signal the POV shift, because switching POV within a scene will always jar the reader. (By “scene break” I mean that extra line space between paragraphs that tells readers the narrative is switching from one thing to another. Often you’ll see a decorative “ornament” typed into that space to emphasize the break.) Lastly, smoothly transition into those scenes to reduce jarring. A new scene would pick up details, moods, objects, or actions from the scene that just ended in order to nurture a feeling of continuity. For example, a scene might end with a nurse offering his patient some ice to chew when she’s thirsty, then the next scene opens in a Starbucks with a character ordering a Dragon Iced Tea. Thirst! Or maybe the next scene opens near a fountain for a subtle echo of water. The point is to avoid the choppiness of cold stops.

Happy writing!
The Editor

The Editor, Deborah Halverson, has been editing books for over 25 years and specializes in Middle Grade/Young Adult fiction and nonfiction, New Adult fiction, and picture books. For her editorial guidance in making your manuscript ready for submission to agents and publishers or for self-publishing, click Editorial services. Learn more in her books: Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies and Writing New Adult Fiction.