Switching pov character: maintaining coherence with Scrivener

One of the things I will do when I’m finished with the current draft is to use the ability of Scrivener to put out different versions by selecting various keywords. I will put together three separate .mobi versions of the WIP, each including ONLY those scenes from the pov of one of the three main characters – and then I will read those on separate days.

What I’m hoping for as I write, more or less chronologically, alternating as appropriate between the three, is that each character’s understanding of the whole story will be a separate strand in a braided story, and that the only one who will really ‘get it’ will be the reader.

By reading the pieces separately, I hope to pick up any subtle changes in tone that warn me I’m slipping out of a character’s mind. “She would never say that,” or “He wouldn’t believe this,” should appear more clearly, as I read, if I never switch.

Right now, while writing and editing the current draft, it takes me a significant amount of time to switch pov when I tackle the next scene, as I almost never have two consecutive scenes in the same pov. This is by design (make things as hard as possible for yourself – it’s good for you): if the setting and characters don’t change, but some amount of time passes, I have learned how to slip that time loss into a transition paragraph WITHIN the scene. Since the writer chooses what gets words and what doesn’t, anyway, the little time-slip slips by the reader if done with a modicum of skill (“She took forever to come out of the bathroom, but the wait for that negligee was worth it”).

I have found other ways of moving the story along if there is a good reason for staying with a single character, say, over a chapter break.

AND I always make sure the reader is oriented to which character is in possession of the scene with the first line or two. The more distinctive the three voices, the easier it becomes to find something only that character would do/think/say, and confirm it with some subtle hint as soon as possible.

For this novel (Pride’s Children) I chose a tightly controlled close third point of view because I want to show the story from right behind the eyeballs of these very different people. I personally find it annoying when the writer uses three first-person points of view, and switches by chapter, as Margaret Attwood did in ‘Life Before Man,’ mostly because first-person ties me so completely to a character that it feels like having my brain-implant links ripped out when the characters switch.

I also find it inconvenient to have to alternate regularly, or to do a full chapter from a point of view – my preferences – so a scene-by-scene switch follows the STORY better.

Reading the three partial-story versions should also point out several other useful things: plot holes; long periods of time where we don’t know what a character is doing; and something very hard to see: unnecessary repetition of a character’s quirks. Fixing these ‘whole book’ problems should help maintain a sense of flow.


[Thanks to Kate Paulk at MadGeniusClub for the idea.] [Note to self: learn how to link.

Updated 1/27/2013: have learned to do basic links!]

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