How to Shift the POV in a Novel

How to Shift the POV in a Novel

For those of you who do not know, POV stands for point of view. In this case, I am specifically speaking about how to shift from the point of view of one character to another. These tips can also be used to switch between first-person, second, and third-person POV but I would not recommend doing that in most cases.

Before I get into explaining how to switch from one POV to another I am going to ask you why you want to shift between POVs. Is there a particular reason your story has to be told from multiple POVs? Shifting between POVs can cause a disconnect between the story and the reader. Sometimes it can make writing easier, but it lowers the quality of the story. Think about if your story can be told with one POV and if the answer is yes, ask yourself one question. 

Does having multiple POVs improve this story?

If the answer is no you should strongly consider only using one POV. Furthermore, if there is only one scene that needs a separate POV consider using a prologue instead.

If this is not the case and there are multiple points of view required for your story then there are three major ways to shift POV. They include scene breaks, chapter breaks, and the use of an omniscient narrator. Any other method can lead to head-hopping, which can destroy any story.

Mistakes Made When You Shift the POV in a Novel

Before I get into how to switch POV it is important to discuss what can go wrong. 

One of the major issues that occur when you shift the POV in a novel is head-hopping. Head-hopping is when the story switches from the head of one character to another, oftentimes without warning. This can happen in any story, but it takes place most often when a story is using an omniscient narrator.

When reading a book, the reader builds a connection with the character they are viewing the story through. Oftentimes they will get insights into what this character is thinking, except in the rare case that the book is told from a unique third-person pov where the reader is limited from seeing any of the characters’ thoughts.

Switching the POV character oftentimes confuses the reader. It can also take the reader directly out of the story. This is especially so when this takes place in the same paragraph or sentence, which can make your book nearly impossible to follow.

Shift the POV meme

Another issue writers make with POV is showing the POV of the wrong character. This takes place when the writer picks the wrong character as the main character or they include too many POVs. If you include a character’s POV be sure there is enough to get the reader invested in them otherwise your character might lose interest in the story entirely.

The third issue can be the author accidentally switching between first, second, and third-person POV. This is especially an issue new authors make by accident. Unless there is a scene that needs to be from a different person’s point of view I would avoid changing this because it can make your book appear quite sloppy when not transitioned smoothly.

With these issues in mind, here are the three methods of shifting the POV in a novel.

Shift the POV With Scene Breaks

A scene break is where the author shifts the POV in a novel between scenes. The reason it works is it gives the reader space between the two POVs, avoiding the confusion between which character’s head you are in.

Normally, this is done by putting a few spaces between scenes or separating them with a symbol like this ***. So long as you do this every time you switch the POV the switches should not confuse or irritate the reader. Just make sure not to go back and forth too frequently. Seeing a scene break to switch the POV on every page can get confusing pretty fast. It will also get visually tiring.

Another way to do scene breaks can be to start the next scene with a transition. This is a clear indicator that the POV has shifted. Here are some examples of transitions.

  • Meanwhile, back at the school
  • The next day
  • Back at Ashley’s house

While transitions can be seamless, make sure not to use them too frequently. Switching back and forth every few hundred words will make your novel impossible to follow.

Scene Breaks Shift POV Meme

Chapter Breaks Between Each POV

In my opinion, chapter breaks are the best method to shift the POV in a Novel. It works exceptionally well, especially when you are dealing with two characters that take turns sharing their POV.

The way chapter breaks works is you clarify at the beginning of the chapter which POV the rest of the chapter will be in. This allows the reader to focus on whatever character they are viewing the story through and build a connection without any confusion.

One of the most effective ways to do this is to simply label which POV the chapter is in before it starts. That way the reader doesn’t have to do any guessing.

It is also acceptable to have a shorter chapter here or there if there is only one scene that you need with a different POV. Just be sure not to make a chapter too short. Chapters come in many lengths, but there aren’t many exceptions where a chapter should be 500 words or less.

Another thing to look out for with this method would be adding too many POVs. Because you are committing to one POV per chapter there will be decent spacing before a reader is reintroduced to a previous POV. This is acceptable with two or three POVs but if there are around five you can quickly lose track of what is going on.

POV Writing Meme

In all cases, try and limit your POVs as much as possible. If you need many to tell the story correctly, so be it. However, if you do have more than three, you may be better off using the next method.

Shifting the POV With An Omniscient Narrator

Be careful when you use an omniscient narrator to shift the POV in a novel. Many writers think this is the way to go because since an omniscient narrator knows everything they can describe what’s happening in any character’s head. This is how head-hopping occurs.

The interesting part about an omniscient narrator is their ability to seamlessly switch between first-person POV and third. This is done as the omniscient narrator zooms into the mind of a character. 

The issue comes when the narrator then hops into the mind of another character immediately, without zooming out. This is the definition of head-hopping.

To avoid this, when you are using an omniscient narrator be sure to zoom out of one character’s head before you zoom into another. Depending on the story there are several ways to do this. The start of a chapter is usually a clean slate. Another viable option would be describing a new setting before switching to another character’s head.

Spacing between two POVs is key here. If your omniscient narrator has a voice of its own, using it to split up the two POV’s can work, but this is a delicate area because the omniscient narrator also has a POV.

This is why I do not recommend this method. Following what POV is telling the story can be difficult. It can also be hard to see when you messed up the POV while editing. Use this method at your own risk.

Conclusion

It is important to be careful when it comes to writing in different POVs. Even while using the first two methods it can be easy to make a mistake and use the wrong POV. 

When editing a story with multiple POVs it is important to read through each page carefully, looking out for mistakes. Head-hopping is one of the easiest ways to disconnect a reader from a story. 

Make sure to be consistent in how the POV of the story changes. The last thing you want is to switch how you switch the POV mid-novel. That will make your story appear like a disaster.

Shifting the POV of a novel can be a great way to help build reader’s a connection with multiple characters. Use these methods of shifting the pov and you will avoid losing the reader in the process.

Author: Patrick Nilan

Just a young writer looking to take the mistakes I've made to aid the next generation.

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