When you’re a new writer, you’re excited more than anything else.

And when you’re excited, you want to share as much as possible – everything you know about your story, world and characters, in fact!

This usually results in massive info dumps as you drown your reader in (to them) irrelevant research and character backstory.

Or you maybe get really stoked to share every 👏 single 👏 thing 👏 your characters are thinking and feeling.

It’s only when you gain experience as a writer that you learn how to give the reader space to puzzle things together for themselves.

You want your readers to have questions and to decipher things from the subtext.

The difficulty comes in knowing how much of the past to share. Many writers, in an attempt to gain reader empathy, reveal too much. Excessive backstory slows the pace and can bore readers, tempting them to skip ahead to the good stuff.

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression

1) Simply wanting your reader to know the emotions of another character isn’t reason enough to switch the POV.

Because there are many ways to show emotion both from the POV character as well as the non-POV character.

To determine whether a change of POV is genuinely warranted, think plot twists, emotional arcs and who has the most to lose.

Instead of jumping between POVs, focus on developing empathy in your reader.

Make the most possible of the least amount of words, and whatever you do; don’t overstay your welcome or risk a boring story.

Writing emotion well is a skill you develop as a writer.

So, not being naturally gifted at it isn’t a good enough excuse.

Third-person limited point of view – she felt something stir inside her, an old ache she thought had died away – tends to focus on following around one character from scene to scene.

Alternating third-person point-of-view is where we trade between POVs.

Some novels mix first- and third-person POV (think Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell).

2) Paragraph breaks are insufficient for POV changes in longer stories.

Most editors and agents will also tell you so. A page-turner is a story where the reader cares what happens to the character.

It’s difficult to spark that empathy in your reader if you’re writing in single paragraph chunks. When your characters don’t seem believable, they’ll just come off like puppets without any real depth or agency.

Line breaks are as simple as they sound: just add a blank line between character A’s POV and character B’s POV.

At the very least, this lets the reader know that your intent is to change POV and aren’t just changing POV willy-nilly.

But line breaks are still quite confusing when they signal POV change when you’re writing a longer story.

Of course, the exception here is flash fiction and short stories where you don’t have the luxury of chapter or even section breaks.

But then you want to make sure your writing craft is good enough to not confuse the reader, making your POV changes quick, efficient, and smooth.

3) Scene and section breaks are better.

A scene break is when you leave two blank lines between one section of text and the next section of text.

A scene break is a separation between related scenes. It’s used to indicate time passing or a change of location that continues in the same scene.

For example, scene A ends when a character falls asleep and scene B picks up when they wake up.

A section break is indicated by three centred asterisks and it signals a scene break and even character POV changes.

You can use these breaks to indicate a change of setting (In the other room…) and the passing of time (The following day…), but also when one character’s emotional arc ends, and another character’s emotional arc begins.

For example, in character A POV we meet character B at the coffee shop, but after a section break, we walk out of the coffee shop in character B POV, mulling over the meeting we just had.

4) Chapter breaks are the most common for switching between POVs.

This type of break is often used by giving the name of the character in whose POV we are as the chapter title.

For instance, Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin has a lot of events and many characters to keep track of, so each chapter is named for the character who it is about.

This makes it easy to keep up with the story and takes away from the cognitive load as a reader.

You can also make good use of chapter endings by turning it into a cliffhanger; cutting the scene off in the middle.

This is really clever when done well, and you should use it for extra suspense when you can.

When your story is fast-paced and things are moving along, you can start a new chapter at the end of the previous scene to give your reader a break.

The easier it is for the reader to understand what’s going on, the more likely they are to read till the end.

Some stories are single POV.

Telling the entire story from only one point of view is typical for some genres, such as women’s fiction, urban fantasy and cosy mysteries.

Some readers absolutely hate single POV and won’t read books where the whole experience is limited to the lens of one character.

And I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not done well a lot of the time, which detracts from the story and makes the writing stale.

The only thing more difficult to write well than a single POV is a first-person single POV.

A word of warning: first-person single POV done well is extremely difficult to pull off and you shouldn’t even attempt it if you have the slightest doubt.

Writing in the first person is highly impactful when done well. To carry a whole book (or series) in this way is a real challenge.

Romance books are often in first-person view (these days) and the MCs POV is the dominant one, but you’ll often find a handful of chapters in someone else’s POV (typically the love interest).

There’s no set amount of how many chapters you need in each POV when you have multiple; just use as few or as many as it takes to tell the story well.

For me, it’s always about fighting for the story.

Debating and arguing – with editors, with the text, but mostly with myself – to get that story to be the best it can be.

And learning how to hold scenes and POVs is a big part of good writing.

It also makes you push your creative powers as a writer, so don’t be afraid to limit yourself.

Because working with limitations is where you really find your creativity.

5) What is a baton pass in writing?

Some best-selling authors look like they’re getting away with simple paragraph breaks but there are a few caveats to this.

First of all, they’re best-selling authors which means they can get away with things new authors can’t.

Second, they’re more likely using a technique called the baton pass as a segue between characters.

It’s when you use an object to alter the perspective in the story.

“This is a very special thing. Your one special thing from the Elves’ Faire, O.K.?”

“O.K.,” Ruthie says, looking for the first time at the animal that is now hers. She knows that her mother likes giraffes at the zoo . . .

– from The Erlking by Sarah Shun-Ben Bynum

In this scene, the baton is the giraffe that takes us (via dialogue) from Kate’s perspective on the object to Ruthie’s perspective on it (which is quite different).

Also, note that the last word Kate says becomes the first thing Ruthie says. This also helps to make the dialogue feel real because we often repeat things for clarification, agreement or in bafflement when we talk.

6) Omniscient transitions or “zooming out”.

Sometimes an omniscient transition is used to switch from one character to another.

It’s a technique that can be used mid-scene by adding some omniscient paragraphs of observation between the deeper POVs of individual characters.

It’s more commonly used as one scene ends and another begins.

Thank goodness this day was finally over with. Kathy picked up her bag, threw her jacket over her arm and headed for the elevators dreaming of the bath she’d draw the moment she got home. Little did she realise what was still to come.

In the big corner office, her boss had plans of her own. Anna tapped her pencil on the pad she had been scribbling quick notes on. The Zoom call with Paris was quickly going from useful to annoying and Anna had already pulled up Kathy’s number on her phone, her thumb poised over the button ready to call Kathy back to the office.

It’s almost like a camera following one person, zooming out from their experience, and transitioning to the perspective of the next character.

7) Choosing the POV transition method for you.

There’s no right answer to what’s right, it’s all about a) your genre and b) how you write.

Different genres tend to have different expectations.

An epic fantasy with a large cast will benefit from having chapters with characters’ names on them.

In romance books, both the main character’s and love interest’s POVs are standard, but the perspective of other characters are typically not used.

Any time you change POVs you should anchor the reader in the new perspective as soon as possible.

Using the character’s name is one way to establish whose head we’re in now; Jack sat down at the table and sighed.

Whatever method you end up choosing, be consistent. Don’t set up your reader to expect POV changes with a chapter change and then throw in a line break.

All the choices you make in your writing have consequences, so choose what works for your story.

And remember; if it’s well written, no one will complain. But if it’s poorly done, no one will read it.

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