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Does a point of view need to be introduced when or right after the character is introduced?

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In the novel I'm trying to write, I probably will have to introduce a second point of view because my initial main protagonist will be mostly unable to act after some point. Now I'm considering to shift the point of view to another character that is also introduced right in the first chapter. However I would like to keep the point of view strictly at the first protagonist for an extended time at the beginning.

Therefore my question:

Is is possible to defer the introduction of the second point of view to much later than the introduction of the corresponding point-of-view character, or does this second point of view have to be introduced shortly after introducing the character?

And if the introduction of the point of view can be deferred, is there a limit on how long, and what techniques and potential problems should I consider to make the transition work?

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2 answers

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The new viewpoint must feel organic, that's all.

A year ago I would have said you need to establish the viewpoint rules of your novel up front, but now I believe otherwise, based on re-reading Mistborn. In this novel, Sanderson brings in a new viewpoint, someone we've never met, around page 500. We are suddenly in a new viewpoint, and only for about 1200 words and then never again.

Why does it work?

Because, in this case, the setting for this new viewpoint was integral throughout.

The setting was the Pits of Hathsin, a place which scarred the main VP Character's body--and those scars were established early. The doom of the Pits of Hathsin was well established--so much so that commoners refer to the main VPCharacter as "The Survivor" (of the pits)--and this was reinforced throughout.

When we get to page ~500 and a new character is in the Pits, we are ready.

The main VP character would never himself return to 'the pits.' And yet, giving us a viewpoint scene within the pits was valid, and importantly, destroying the pits (as a plot point) was valuable. And so, the introduction of a new viewpoint, for a short period of time, with the actual goal being to give the reader experience of the Pits of Hathsin, made perfect sense. It was not jarring.

Answer: So. It is entirely possible to establish a new viewpoint late in the game. There must be a reason for it. But it's been done. Don't hobble yourself--write the story the way you think it should work, and read broadly to see how other authors have handled this (and other) tricks.

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Thank you for your answer. Besides Mistborn, do you have any other suggestions of novels that did introduce a new viewpoint very well? celtschk 11 days ago

@celtschk I suspect it happens more broadly than we realize. Check some of the famous authors in your genre. Example, I bet The Left Hand of Darkness doesn't follow strict viewpoint rules. I remember for a fact that things like myth and technological reports comprise chapters scattered throughout. When you read, make notes of all the things you notice authors doing well. There are many balls to keep in the air, and taking notes from successful authors can really help. DPT 9 days ago

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The point of view of a story is the point from which the reader experiences the story. What you do with point of view should be based on what the reader will want to experience at any given point in the story.

I often see writers decide on a point of view long before they have figured out what the object in view is, and where the reader will need to stand in order to experience the object in view as they wish to. This is to be a slave to convention when you should be a slave to the reader.

Will a change of point of view late in the novel, or at any point in the novel, seem jarring to the reader? No, what will see jarring to the reader is not being able to see the things they want to see, to experience the things they want to experience.

If the reader has to climb a tree to see the parade pass buy, by all means have them climb a tree so they can see the parade pass by. But if the reader wants to see a lovers' kiss, for God's sake get them out of the tree first so they can see properly.

By the same token, though, what is your desire to keep the POV with the first protagonist based on? Is that going to be the single POV that will provide the reader with the best vantage point for all that they want to see for such a long stretch of the novel? If it is, that's fine. And if the switch to the second POV is, equally, putting them where they need to be to see the rest of the action, that's fine too.

But if you are keeping the reader from the place they want to be to see the parade in the first half or switching them to a place they don't want to be to see the lover's kiss in the second half, they are not going to be happy with you.

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Thank you for the answer. The main reason I don't want to introduce the second viewpoint immediately is that at the beginning, the first protagonist expects that second protagonist to be a likely antagonist. I want to keep that uncertainty about her for some time. If I switched to her viewpoint early on, I don't see how this would be possible. celtschk 11 days ago

Keep it uncertain for whom, the first protagonist or the reader? There is a fundamental principle in drama called dramatic irony, in which the audience knows something that the character does not. This can be a powerful way to build anticipation and dread in the audience. (Classic example: the cheerleader goes down the steps to the basement where the audience already knows the killer is waiting.) Mark Baker 11 days ago

For both. Having the reader know is great for a danger the protagonist doesn't know, but I don't think it helps building up tension if the reader already knows that the danger the protagonist believes to be in is actually not there. celtschk 11 days ago

But that is a real minefield. If the danger that the reader thinks is there turns out not to be there, that is letting all the tension out of the story when it is revealed, and is likely to come as a huge disappointment. Unless the book is really about something else entirely, and real tension lies elsewhere, that could be a killer disappointment. But if the real tension lies elsewhere, you don't need this false tension, do you? Mark Baker 10 days ago

A false belief still can have very real consequences. Consequences that don't simply go away after you learn that your belief was false. celtschk 10 days ago

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