Juggling point of view

Point of view can be a slippery slope for writers. I think it’s because we want to tell everyone’s story … it’s hard to stay with just one character. For the most part, we’re probably better off sticking with one POV per scene or chapter. This was the approach I took for my novel Winter Sniper. The story is told in third person omniscient, so that the reader gets inside the heads of several characters.

There are a few very skilled writers who can “pull off” a POV shift within a single scene or paragraph. A writer like Patrick O’Brian or Robert Harris manages to take the reader from head to head without creating confusion, even on a single page.

I tried this is recently with the YA novel I’m working on now, The Sea Lord Chronicles. For the most part, the story is told from the POV of the main character, a young Royal Navy Ensign named Alexander Hope. In the example that follows, the second paragraph is largely in italics to reflect that the POV has shifted from the main character to Professor Hobhouse, who is slowly revealing himself as Alexander’s mentor:

“Alexander glanced to his right and took some reassurance from the big figure of Biscuit lumping along with Rigley at the reins and Professor Hobhouse wearing a silly floppy hat and goggles, all the while scanning the skies. Hobhouse was undeniably scholarly, yet he had a surprising skill with sword and pistol. Alexander would have bet his Sunday dinner that Hobhouse hadn’t always had his nose buried in a book.

What he couldn’t see was the death grip the professor had on the saddle pommel. I wouldn’t have thought myself so timid in the air, Hobhouse observed to himself, not for the first time. These flyers take to the skies daily without a thought, so it is perfectly safe. Yet if I should be so lucky to feel the ground under my feet again or the deck of a ship it would take a direct order from the king himself to get me airborne again. He gulped, blinked against the sunlight gleaming off Rigley’s helmet, and tried to ignore his hammering heart.”

Could it be that writers feel a bit like Hobhouse when we try to be tricky and shift POV?

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