Bridging time gaps: 4 ways to switch pov character

WHO ARE YOU?  The writer chooses the point of view.  The writer becomes the character. - Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

How to write – from a writer unpublished in novel form

Another one of my ‘how to write’ posts which resulted when I had a problem, and solved it by writing it out – for myself, and for anyone else who might write like I do. Admitedly there are – and should be – few people in the category of ‘control freaks with CFS trying to write long complicated novels.’

It doesn’t matter.

I have come along to someone’s blog when I became aware of them, read a post from 2008, and been delighted because it was just what I needed. I’m not promising you delight, mind you – just the things which tickle my fancy (good) or keep me from writing fiction today (bad).

How to switch characters in multiple pov – identify the gap

‘BEING THIS CHARACTER’ – so I can write a scene in a new point of view (pov) – includes accounting for any time since the last time I was this character.

I’ve been doing that somehow by default all the way along – but this morning I found myself, after a lot of head-scratching and wondering why I wasn’t able to just write the next scene, at a new place: I always go back and read the last few scenes from the pov of the character whose scene I’m writing, I check the calendar to see where we are in time, I trust that my plotting has this scene in here for a reason, and get to work.

The last few days have had me stuck.

Because the only way the scene made sense was to have had something happen between this scene and the previous scene that I was NOT going to dramatize with its own scene – but that was quite significant to the plot.

What’s new?

This was the new part: up until now I had set up the new scenes to include anything significant to the plot – and in this case I had made the assumption writers make when they get to a certain point: speed it up, learn to bridge larger time gaps, let’s get the pace up as we move toward the end of Book 1. Otherwise known as dramatize only the REALLY important events.

Why? Because the reader knows the characters – so it isn’t necessary to have each scene do double and triple duty to show more than just events, to have other information slide neatly into the worldview I’m trying to create.

Doing every possible scene results in a lot of short scenes that way. And, while it doesn’t necessarily make things dull for me or the reader, it does lead to a feeling of ‘get on with it – we already know this bit’ that leads to what writers dread: skipping and skimming. ‘Leave out the parts readers skip’ is great advice – it’s the writer’s job to create a total experience, and that includes pacing.

The time gap

With a reasonably well plotted novel, this space – between when we last saw the world through this pov and now – can be accounted for.

Be wary of just jumping to the next pov WITHOUT doing this accounting – because there is a huge plot hole where the reader can question your timeline – and why this character is suddenly reappearing.

A plausible explanation gets more difficult if something important was going on – and you, as a writer, have just abandoned the character because you have someone more important to be.

But that’s why you’re a writer – to catch these things as you write (plot holes).

Examine the world of the novel.

Determine the character’s state of mind – and her circumstances – at the close of the previous scene in her pov.
And then answer the implied question: if she’s so important, why haven’t we heard from her since… and what was important enough to keep her from doing the obvious next step in her plan.

While you’re at it, ask yourself what the OTHER characters were doing – and whether it matters.

Who knows the whole story?

One of the key things in a ‘plot’ is that all important events should be known to the writer, and revealed to the reader at the right time.

The writer chooses which events to dramatize – but there has to be a reason this character’s coronation is not shown – if the coronation is critical for the plot. And that information has to get to the reader somehow before it is needed.

The writer gets to choose the dramatic effect – full-blown scene treatment, backstory, casual mention – or even an ‘I thought you knew – how could you not have known?’ after the fact of the coronation changes the whole course of the novel – with suitable explanation why the reader/stand-in character missed this crucial piece of the plot.

Bridging the gap

Almost any gap in time can be bridged (except if the character should have died in the interim because it’s been 100 years – that needs some fancy prep work).

But one of the questions is: is there something in the story already I can use to explain where she was and why she wasn’t here? Or do I have to go back in the manuscript and edit it into a previous scene?

If a story – like Pride’s Children – is braiding time for multiple characters, the choice can be to jump each time and ignore the space, let the reader fill it (if the reader even notices), or to be hyper-realistic in your plotting, and assume that at least the author ought to know where his characters have been since the last time he turned their switch to ‘on.’

The 4 methods for bridging a time gap

The actual execution of the time jump must be tucked in somewhere:

  • a complete scene
  • a sentence or a quick thought fragment in the character’s pov
  • a bit of dialogue
  • an infodump of backstory.

If the infodump is tiny enough, the reader will just tuck it into her mental timeline – if anything, thanking you for not belaboring it.

But if the time gap is important, it needs to be handled properly – or the reader will lose trust in the writer – and that is fatal.

So what did I do?

What I did NOT do was to add a scene. I’m still working out exactly how to write this time jump into the scene I AM writing – As I’m writing this I have identified the problem and the possible solutions OTHER than an added scene (which I have in my head, which would be interesting, and which would be totally unnecessary however well-written).

I suspect it will be a combination of dialogue and some internal monologue, rather than an infodump, however short.

Ideas started popping up once the problem was identified

But now that I know what the problem is TODAY, the solution will become apparent shortly: deal with the time gap and move on – leaving the plot hole neatly filled and covered with macadam – like the potholes they really need to get to in my neighborhood.

And you, Dear Reader: Have you noticed this little problem – leaving a gaping plot hole behind – in something you’ve read? Dear Reader/Writer: Have you ever had to do something similar?

(Thanks to ProWritingAid.com for today’s image)

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4 thoughts on “Bridging time gaps: 4 ways to switch pov character

  1. Janna G. Noelle

    I’ve never written a novel with multiple points of view. I can see there are a lot of extra considerations that go into it (compared to a single POV), such as who will get to have a POV, how many characters, and how much will each character know at a given time? Transitioning between POV characters is yet another consideration, for which you offer some useful tips.

    I won’t say I’ll never write a novel with multiple POVs, but tight now, I really love the intimacy of following only one POV character and experiencing his/her singular perception of the other characters (which might not be reality at all). However, multiple POVs do set up a nice tension and suspense when certain characters know something but other ones don’t and then act on their lack of knowledge to the detriment of all. It’s even better to see the unknowing characters’ reaction when all is revealed.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      It all depends on what you’re writing – some books demand first person, single pov (think Huckleberry Finn). I’ve written one – Princeton’s Dancing Child on my short story tab.

      Others work best in an omniscient pov, or third person single (my trunk novel). I’ve read every pov version, so I know how they work.

      Somehow Pride’s Children worked best by having three pov’s (I started with SIX). Precisely for the reason you state: keeping some information from each of the characters part of the time. And yes, it’s a lot of work. I’m in for it now – too late to change.

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  2. john flanagan

    Alicia, just wrote and posted a comment on this but it seems to have disappeared in the ether..so here goes again: i like the points you raise and many of them i’ve thought about on and off; one that intrigues me is the notion that in fiction characters seem to take on a life of their own independent of the writer who first brought them to life..but that’s just me.
    Take the best care, Fine Lady,
    john

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Thanks, John. So sorry the ether bit you. I appreciate your effort in trying again. Bad ether!

      I hate the ether so much I have taken to copying all my comments and pasting them into a temporary file on my computer before hitting the Submit button – I hate to lose anything, and usually don’t bother to try again. Doesn’t the ether know we compose these things carefully? No respect.

      I know what you mean – those characters are stubborn.

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