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When I started, I had a nasty habit of hopping from perspective to perspective to perspective. I forced myself down to one perspective per chapter, but I still wonder if it's acceptable to do it at all. There are plenty of good authors who never switch and plenty who do, and it seems to me that those who don't do a much better job of character development, and those who do are really more plot focused.

I guess I'm wondering if that's what it boils down to...Is switching perspective killing your character development in the name of plot development? Or are you doomed to character driven plots if you lock the perspective? Is it worth it? Is there some way to get both?

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5 Answers 5

Well, the simple answer is yes, if your story needs it you should switch POV as often as needed. Naturally of course it's more complicated then that.

The point of view is are windows into the story, we see it through those eyes and learn all that happens via it. If the story is small, where one character can see and interact with most events, it makes sense to stay with one POV. Many mystery novels are written like this, we see everything from the detectives POV and rarely, if ever, move out of it.

On the other hand if the story is a large sprawling epic, it becomes much harder for one person to be involved with everything. This sort of thing will naturally lead you to having more then one main character and more then one POV. Think of Lord of the Rings, or the Honor Harrington series both use multiple POV.

Really, it goes back to one of the core rules of story telling, does having this advance the story. If having more then one POV makes the story better and your characters more interesting people, it maybe worth doing.

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Those are more third omniscient (and I think Weber is going off the deep end by spending too much time with unimportant third parties...but I digress). I'm really thinking more about multiple 3rd person limited points of view. I do it, and I feel like I shouldn't. –  Satanicpuppy Nov 20 '10 at 3:10
    
I did mean this in regards to third person limited, though it could also apply to first person as well. –  Fox Cutter Nov 20 '10 at 9:33

Have you ever read Trainspotting? That, IMO, is an example of tons of perspective changes executed perfectly.

Really though it depends on the kind of story you're trying to tell, because lots of perspective changes definitely changes the tone. A more nonlinear story favors perspective changes, for example. Also, don't assume you're going to be losing character development. If you're telling from a first-person or non-omniscient narrator's point of view, then that character might be distorting the facts about himself, and it can be good to see them from multiple points of view to get the full picture of them.

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There are obvious times when it should be done, for instance, when you have more than one main character. Asking, should it ever be done at all (current question title) is more subjective than answerable since published authors do it effectively on a regular basis.

Taking a shot at summarizing your last paragraph into one question, "How can I lock character perspective without sacrificing plot development?" Is that what you want to discuss? That's difficult to answer in the stackexchange format, but it's a thought provoking question.

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I find it fascinating when a story swaps between 3rd and 1st person. In 3rd person it is a mainly Objective writing. When 1st person, it becomes an extremely subjective writing.

It brings along the facts, as well as letting you feel the characters emotions.

In the first person chapters, you get shocked when the character does.

In the third person chapters, you have all the dramatic irony.

When put together, you can get a really interesting story. I mean, ever wondered why that character did that? Or what was happening while the character was thinking about his girlfriend?

Having multiple perspectives to the story give you a range of views, and therefore a better understanding of the story and it's characters.

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This can be effective, but it's often very jarring. I can't think of a good example where it's been done in a story I really enjoyed, unless it was done with some artifact like a journal. That at least gives some explanation for the radical shift in perspective. –  atroon Jan 28 '11 at 15:45

"Frankenstein: The New Prometheus" by Shelley is a classic that is written entirely in 1st-person narrative, but keeps switching who the narrator is. Actually, it's almost a tour-de-force of embedding narration within narration. I think she manages at one point to go 4 levels deep, then pulls back, level by level, until she is back at the original 1st-person narration.

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Why would anyone downvote this? I just don't understand some people. –  dmm Nov 8 '13 at 20:43

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