Blogger: Mary Keeley
I had a lively conversation with a client this week about a secondary character’s point of view in the client’s book. This person wanted to know if there are hard and fast rules about their use. The answer is a qualified no, which is why POV decisions can be a stumbling block for authors. The issues at stake are purpose and balance.
A set of rules for point of view use would simplify things. Always follow this procedure for this genre, only one POV for that genre, and so on. But fortunately, there are no hard and fast rules. Novels would become formulaic. Narrative non-fiction would be boring. There is room for trends in writing to evolve. For example, when a few romance writers risked including the hero’s POV along with the heroine’s, publishers were amazed at the positive reader response. Today that evolving trend is standard procedure. The point is: don’t restrict yourself to some assumed rule.
Authors need to look for creative ways to make their books stand out from the crowd in this tight publishing market. Inclusion of a subordinate character’s POV is one way to accomplish this goal. It isn’t a new innovation, but the technique can provide a unique effect in your book because your characters are different from those in anyone else’s book. Done well, this character’s viewpoint will add depth of understanding to your main characters and tension to your story.
That’s the trick. It must be done flawlessly.
Two questions to ask yourself while you’re in the process of incorporating a secondary character POV: Am I accomplishing the purpose for using it? and Am I maintaining a proper balance between the main character’s POV and the subordinate character’s POV?
Using those questions as a guiding force, I listed five possible reasons to use a secondary character’s POV. Perhaps they will help you too.
1. To further engage readers. This involves specific planning when you map out your book. A common mistake, especially for new writers, is to switch to the secondary character’s POV in the middle of a main character POV moment. Avoid this at all costs. It confuses the reader and distracts from the flow. Ask your critique partners to read the particular scene and give feedback.
2. To deepen the reader’s emotional connection with the main characters. Sometimes the best way to reveal something about a main character, which may or may not be known by him or her, is through another character who knows something…the cook, the childhood friend, the enemy. In other words a character in the background of the story who is in a position to have knowledge or insight.
3. To reveal something about the main character’s motivations. Use a secondary character POV to reveal why a main character does what he does or reacts the way she does when the main character aren’t aware of the whys themselves or when doing so better accomplishes the effect to keep the reader’s interest at a particular point in the story.
4. To add to the tension. Use a secondary character POV to add mystery surrounding one of the main characters. This can be an especially helpful tool to avoid a sagging middle in the story.
5. To help readers further understand the main characters’ struggles. Sometimes it would be awkward, impossible, or would slow the pace if the main character POV attempted to explain why a struggle is so hard for him. A secondary character’s more objective POV may be more effective in helping the reader to sympathize with and care about the main character’s struggles.
If you have secondary character POVs in your work, why are you using them? Having read these guidelines, do you think a secondary character POV might be more effective in accomplishing the effect you want?
When using secondary character’s point of view, purpose and balance are the guiding forces. Click to Tweet.
Five good reasons to use a secondary character’s viewpoint in your book. Click to Tweet.