Alternating Perspective

I think most writers believe if they plan to head hop, it should happen every other chapter.  And I think that’s a soothing concept.  People like patterns.  The problem comes in when as a writer you have multiple scenes that don’t lend themselves to alternating equally.  

Like in the beginning of the book, a writer might want to set up the protagonist and his or her normal life.  That could be 2-7 chapters (or more, it’s a random number) of scenes all from his or her perspective.  And yes, you can flash to unrelated nefarious scenes from the antagonist, but I think this may open its own well of problems.  Do you want readers to know “all is not well” or even what that something is so early into your work?  Does knowing something the main character doesn’t create tension or does it create frustration?  Is the jump between two different tones too jarring?  Has the author established why she should care about both narratives?  What happens if your antagonist isn’t active yet?  Like if the big bad is a construction mogul, I don’t want to hear about the details of their business stuff (even if it is shady) until they try to buy the main character’s farm—because that other stuff doesn’t matter to the story the writer is telling (maybe), it’s just filler they’re giving me so they can write in a pattern with how the perspectives changes between the two characters.  If I’m working my way through the main character’s struggle to keep their farm relevant, a bunch of legal back-and-forth claims of land or bad building practices is jarring and may tell me way too much about the second act.  

And there’s a case for my problem in the Numia series.  Did the pressure for an alternating perspective drive Holmberg to share Rone’s view?  Would those books be better without his perspective?  There’s no way to know.  

, I finished the series “The Kingmakers War” by Kate Avery Ellison.  The first three books are written in a limited third person perspective where we follow Briand.  Book 4 sets up a far broader continent sweeping story and we get a lot of chapters on palace intrigue and on “enemies” movements/perceptions.  And I discovered I might be one of those readers you can’t please because I didn’t like how she changed the focus from mostly Briand to a more “Game of Thrones” style story.  While the expansion of the narrative was a little jarring, I found I didn’t care about the head hopping because often the characters were involved in stories I didn’t care about OR their story was too much about Briand but from a different perspective.  Briand telling her own story and discovering these differing view points on her own would have made a better (in my opinion) story.

I felt significant pressure to make my novel alternate perspective every other chapter.  It halted my creative flow on the second draft for a good eight months.  And I can give you a million reasons why the perspectives don’t alternate following a set pattern but my conclusion is from a story telling vantage, alternating perspectives every other chapter would give Roxi’s take and then Gerry’s take on the same event, but it would become monotonous.  Sometimes not telling a reader how or why characters do things is better.  It leaves interpretation open.  

I think the age of your audience matters.  Both Ellison and Holmberg are working in a young adult audience.  Their works may NEED to spell out certain elements more definitively because teens need that little extra push towards reflection.  As a teen, I read the “Animorphs” series and it’s told from an alternating first person perspective.  As a teen, I loved that gimmick, and I loved rehashing each and every single detail from someone else’s perspective.  As an adult reader, I still enjoy different takes on the same story, but the perspective has to be distinct and have a larger purpose in the narrative.  I think it’s just an evolution and refinement of the parts I enjoyed in close narratives.  So my “complaints” in how Ellison and Holmberg share their stories may be perfect introductory primers for teen readers.

I hope in my own writing I’ve first actually made more space for readers to speculate, but second that readers of my books enjoy that instead of looking for a more definitive answer.  Personally, I think it’s part of differentiating between young adult and new adult literature.  Less is spelled out for rehashed.  But I don’t know for sure and won’t know until some reviews roll in on my book.  

What do you think about head hopping?  Do you like to relive the same scene from different perspectives?  Do you prefer a pattern to how perspectives jump or do you just want to vary perspectives when the story calls for it?

Head Hopping

Chris is writing a novel in the first person perspective and he realized while working on it, that he could not tell his story only from the main character’s viewpoint because there are scenes happening a reader needs to see but that his main character isn’t present for.  

I wrote a book with close third-person narration from the perspective of my protagonist, Roxi, and antagonist, Gerry.  I struggled to alternate perspectives in a way I hope fulfills a reader.  

This past year I read  The Numia Series where Charlie N. Holmberg uses first-person split perspectives to tell her story.  In the first book I found it annoying and unwanted because I didn’t care about or like Rone.  He was not compelling, and his chapters didn’t seem necessary.  In the third book, Rone had his own story, and I thought to myself “have I been reading his junky perspective this whole time because I’d need it in this part of the story?”

So yes, I want to talk about split perspectives.  How does a writer divide time?  How much do you need so a perspective change doesn’t feel random or lazy but thought out?  Do you need to follow a pattern like every other chapter or every other scene?  Is it hard to follow split perspectives or a good shake up? 

Some basic “rules”:

  1. Use chapters to change perspectives, the pause can help to alert readers to a change.  
  2. If one needs to change perspective mid-break use ***** or a similar line break to alert readers when they are switching perspectives aka “head hopping.”
  3. Make the two characters feel like separate people.  They have opposing views of what’s happening.  Don’t just head hop for a better angle on the action, make it a whole different take on what’s happening.  Maybe the characters are so different they don’t even agree on what’s going down in the scene.  

Now onto the tricky things: 

  1. Is it lazy to head hop?  I mean, should writers use a single voice to tell a story instead of “cheating” and using an otherwise unused perspective to give the reader information the main character doesn’t have.
  2. How often does a writer have to head hop?  Can I tell a 30 chapter story and have all the chapters be from a single perspective except for one?  
  3. Does every chapter have to change perspective?
  4. Can I change perspectives mid-series?  Using the Numia and Kingmakers’ War series here.  Could Holmberg have cut Rone’s perspectives from the first two books and only introduced it in the third book when it was relevant?

None of these questions have one simple answer, but I’d like to explore some thoughts in further posts.  Meanwhile, share your opinions.  Do you like a single or multiple perspective?  What voice(s) do you write in and does it line up with your taste in reading?