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Introducing a new POV near the end of a story

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This question is strongly related to this one: Balance between character's point of views

However, that question is asking about balancing POVs in general, whereas this one is about potentially subverting reader expectations by introducing a new viewpoint late into the story.

I'm currently plotting a Romance story. Given the events I'm planning to take place I can already see which character perspective would be best suited for each chapter. It looks like for purposes of character development, the majority of the story (basically, the first 75%) will be told through character A's perspective. However, in the last quarter of the story an event takes place that's only experienced by character B, so there's no way (other than completely changing the entire premise) to get around adding their POV near the end. (I guess I could have character B tell character A about it, but that doesn't sound particularly appealing, either.) This is not a problem in itself. In fact, I rather like that this gives me an opportunity to show the romance from the other perspective.

However, since the first 75% of the story are told from one character's POV, I wonder if the sudden introduction of a different viewpoint would be jarring to the reader.

FWIW, the story is going to be told entirely in 3rd person limited. Both characters appear in all chapters, so this is not about introducing a new character, simply about switching to their viewpoint.

I had been planning to have each chapter dedicated entirely to follow one POV, but now I'm wondering whether it might be worthwhile to add the occasional POV switch early on (on scene changes within a single chapter) to get the reader used to this taking place. I've already identified a few points in the story that would lend themselves to a POV switch, but from a story perspective it's not strictly necessary and I'd prefer to avoid doing so unless there's a strong reason to do so.

And of course, all of this might change completely once I actually start writing this story.

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6 answers

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It's absolutely fine to introduce a new POV late in a story IF:

  1. It's the POV of a now well-known character, whose motives were already a significant plot point, and the clarification of those motives by seeing the world through that character's eyes serves the story you were always telling. (Say, the mysterious stranger your protagonist has long loved, but often been puzzled by.)

  2. It's the POV of a formerly unknown character, who has been actively moving the story up to this point, and that revelation serves the story you were always telling. (Say, the mastermind who's been pulling people's strings all along, who is finally making his move.)

  3. It's a new character intimately connected to a major character, introduced and acting in a way that serves the story you were always telling. (Say, the naïve young child of your protagonist, being innocently lured away by the mastermind, unbeknownst to the soon-to-be-devastated parents.)

In cases 1 and 2, the immediate payoff must justify both the introduction of the POV, and the long wait to introduce it. In case 3, you may be building to the climax, or possibly introducing a bit of epilogue. In the climax-building case, you need to building good tension. In every case, the common thread is that you're still serving the same story.

I'm of an opinion that a good reader is not a delicate piece of porcelain, which might shatter if jarred by a writer's unexpected tactics. Make me care about the characters. Make the plot interesting and reasonably logical. Surprise me, but keep telling me the kind of story I signed up for. And don't lose me by being too vague or indirect, or by doing something just to be strange. If you can manage all of that, most readers will be fairly flexible about the minutiae of your technique.

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I think you answered your own question:

I'm wondering whether it might be worthwhile to add the occasional POV switch early on ... to get the reader used to this taking place

If you're worried that the reader will be thrown by the POV switch, trust that instinct. But I don't think you need more than one POV switch at the beginning to warn the reader that another POV switch might occur later. It would suffice to add a short prologue or preface from the POV of the character you're planning to switch to at the end. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, has that structure (though with more levels.)

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POV is all about letting the reader see the things they want to see. One changes POV so that the reader can see things from a different angle.

We often do this in life. We move around a scene so that we can see it from different angles. But there is a time for changing points of view and a time for maintaining a current point of view.

When we change POV, we not only see things from a new angle, we cease to see things from the previous angle. If we are highly focussed on one thing, changing POV is likely to be highly distracting. But if we feel that we are missing some vital piece of information, we may be anxious to change our POV so that we get that missing information.

This does not inherently have anything to do with how early or late you are in the book. It is about, do I, the reader, suddenly need to see things from this character's perspective in order to see things that are important to me? It may be that having seen most of the story through Gwendolyn's eyes, it suddenly becomes vital to the reader to understand how Reginald sees the situation. It will probably be uncommon to get into that situation late in a book, but it certainly could occur, in which case changing POV would be appropriate.

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I recently re-read Mistborn in preparation to record a bookclub podcast on the novel.

Imagine my surprise to discover a new viewpoint, from a character I had never met, named Walin, in the Pits of Hathsin, on page 543 of the the novel (total page count = 657). Walin's viewpoint only lasts for about a thousand words. We have very little context about Walin, but we know the Pits intimately from context.

The new viewpoint at the 80% mark works.

Additionally, Elend (Vin's love interest) does eventually have dedicated viewpoint scenes, but not until about two thirds through the novel. These also work.

Sanderson doesn't concern himself much with constraining viewpoint too strictly, and it works. Mistborn is one book you can look to to figure out why. There are probably others.

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I constantly run into questions like this. They intimate to me too much fancy booklearnin' and nowhere nearly enough thinking.

THE POV IS HELD BY THE LAST PERSON TO PERFORM AN ACTION.

Cindy woke in unfamiliar surroundings. As she hunted for her underwear in the dim light her mind replayed the previous evening's events. She shrugged. It wasn't like John hadn't cheated on her before. But not since the wedding. This wasn't payback it was . . . excusable, justifiable. Fuck it. He'd never find out.

John glared at the front door. He checked his watch, 5am, still his wife was not home. This wasn't like Cindy. Cindy wouldn't do anything untoward, if she knew about his premarital shenanigans . . . He pulled his phone. "The Hospitals, I need to check the hospitals."

  • A simple change of POV - not complicated.
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I think you are confusing point of view with object in view. The point of view character can observe several other characters acting, and can turn their attention from one character to another, while the story remains in their point of view. A point of view change changes where the action is reported from, not who is performing the action. Mark Baker about 1 month ago

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I DON'T think it is okay to introduce a second POV in what is basically the third act and approach to the climax of the story. I think that will throw readers.

But the solution, as you are wonding, is relatively simple, introduce your other POV early on the book, just to "prove" to the reader that it can happen. Invent a reason to do that. Find some chapters that can be told just as well from this second POV, and rewrite them that way.

The main reason for NOT writing a chapter from char "B"'s POV is if you want something to happen to char "B" and you don't want to tell the reader what they were thinking or doing or feeling (since you are writing in 3PL).

Of course, if char "B" has a secret they would naturally think about often, then you just can't write from char "B"'s POV, without cheating the reader. (Readers expect the deepest level of POV "access" you have already granted them.)

You say you have already identified points, but you don't want to do so unless "necessary". Well it is necessary, to get the reader accustomed to the fact that POV can switch.

Otherwise, it looks, not exactly like a deus ex machina, but something similar; you are springing something new on them, and it looks like you did it to "save the story", it breaks reading immersion.

In the chapters of the first Act (roughly 25% of the story) readers are ready for anything, POV changes, magic, aliens, alternate universes, zombies, immortals, people that turn into dragons, whatever. They are open to all things. But from 0% to 25% of the story, their tolerance for new things diminishes from 100% to near 0%.

That includes switching POVs, how much the narrator knows about the past, future, character's inner thoughts and feelings, all that stuff. If you are switching POVs, it is absolutely necessary to demonstrate that early on.

Once you have done it, you can introduce NEW POVs throughout the book; but after the first Act, understand the reader's tolerance for "new rules" has diminished considerably.

Finally, I am not saying it can't be done or hasn't been done by famous authors. People that write best-sellers have more leeway than beginners with no track record; just because Stephen King or JK Rowling did something doesn't make it okay for beginners to do something. They have strengths that compensate for their failures that other beginners do not necessarily have. I am saying it will be a red flag for agents and publishers, and they generally read (or have a professional reader read) an entire book before they make any decision to publish.

So follow the basic rules of story, and introduce changing POVs early, and reinforce once in a while throughout, so this 3rd Act change feels natural to the reader, not disorienting.

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