talk more about shifting from limited omniscient point of view from one
character to another. But first, there are other point of view
shifts that usually occur rather naturally and seamlessly – from
omniscient point of view to second person point of view and from
omniscient to character.
shot – Omniscient to Character (think cinema).
SHIFTS [beginning with an omniscient establishing shot, leading into a
limited omniscient character point of view] Between nine and ten p.m.
on any weekday in late Spring, Connecticut Avenue was still a constant
flow of tired office workers trudging up the hill toward the
bridge across the Park and the neighborhoods beyond. May the
27th, a Thursday, was no different, except that lightning was flashing
in the distance, and nobody seemed to know whether or when it might
become necessary to scurry for shelter or cover one’s head with a
newspaper. The lucky ones were beginning to arrive at the
vestibules of the old and over-priced apartment buildings that most
young and usually newly-arrived Washingtonians seem to covet.
[now a shift to the limited omniscient POV] Angela Jenkins was one of
these lucky ones, and she was exhausted. She didn’t know whether
she’d be able to take another step up the three long stair-flights to
her apartment. [Now here is another intrinsic point of
– this, a second person natural lapse]You
do what you can to keep your
job, and you always do your best not to be the first one to leave your
office, but thirty six straight hours closing a real estate deal has
got to be above and beyond the call of duty in anybody’s book.
shift back to the Angela POV]At the
second landing, Angela decided she
deserved a dinner at the restaurant of her choice, courtesy of Master
Card. She turned around and headed back downstairs.
FROM CHARACTER TO CHARACTER
call character point of view “limited omniscient” because the author
remains in control and is free to occupy the positions of several or
even all of his or her characters.
when it comes to shifts from character to character, things become a
little trickier than from omniscient to character or in and out of
second person narration. This is not to say that you shouldn’t do
it. Just be careful. People get used to guides and
companions, even virtual ones. And the character you choose to
drive a story from his or her point of view tends to become comfortable
to the reader, even if the reader doesn’t like that character.
(Always imagine Dan Rather on vacation. His fans always had
difficulty getting used to the guest anchor! This is true for any
host in public media. I use the Dan Rather example because he
seems to me to be the least likely public personna to command a
following. But he did, simply because people got used to him.)
in doubt, don’t. You CAN find alternatives. For example: Just
from looking at his face, Nancy could see directly into Jeff’s easy
mind; she’d always been able to tell exactly what he was
thinking. No way he was going to buy into this nonsense they were
both hearing for the first time now. He’d call it a load of crap and
just dismiss it. [etc] This way we never have to shift into
mind, because we believe Nancy when she says she can see into his mind.
In similar fashion, you can avoid a shift and yet still hear from
another character by having that character speak: "Do you know what I'm
thinking?" said Jeff. (and then break into Jeff's monologue while Nancy
remains in command of character point of view. When he stops
talking, her internal thoughts continue).
when shifts are necessary, the secret is transition. It shouldn’t
be a tennis match. Readers like to bond with a single celebrity
guide through the story.
a novel, different characters can have limited-omniscient pov control
in separate chapters, or sections or book subdivisions. In a short
story, there can be a mini-chaptered asterisk transition. It
helps if the shifted POV character is in a different geographical place
(or time) than the initial POV character. This minimizes the
devices for character POV shifts
BRIDGE (focal point)
(or, like the old two-way radio transmissions: “over”)
is the omniscient narration our earlier example used. We’ll do
some variations on it to illustrate the shift devices]
young man with the fine blond hair left the rail and returned almost at
once with a victorious air and a pair of binoculars. These he fixed to
his eyes, turned upon the focal point, and began to manipulate with
nimble fingers. At once others whose cabins were close got binoculars.
They appeared determined, as if to say the original inspiration was not
what mattered here, but the use made of it. Those who either had no
binoculars or had to go too far to get them, divided their attention
between the ocean off the starboard bow and the blond young man,
who had taken on the shining aspect of the clairvoyant. They watched
his face minutely for signs of recognition, and were affected by his
slightest movement. He bore their worship grandly, almost with an air
of not suspecting it.(from "Why Don't You Look Where You're
Going?" by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, from The Watchful Gods and
Other Stories, 1941)
Rank / Randall Jenks
BRIDGE – There it was! Now he knew what everybody was looking at! The
first time he’d ever been able to focus on anything through these
infernal binoculars, and what a magnificent sight! “It’s a whale,” he
shouted. “Right there! Right there!”
Leaning on the same rail, Owen Rank had fixed his binoculars on
what had to be exactly the same thing. How could anybody think that was
a whale! Fat chance! A rusted fifty gallon oil drum, plain
as day, bobbing in the swell. Who was this jerk, anyway?
PASS - Owen was now bored to the point of shrieking, and because the
ship was beginning to roll in these infernal afternoon swells, he was
beginning to feel unsteady on his feet. Suddenly he was wondering
whether he’d be able to make it to dinner. In a desperate effort
to shatter the tedium and steady his balance, he leaned in the
direction of the quiet man beside him and declared: “I can’t see a damn
thing out there. What do you see?”
Randall Jenks was startled out of a
quiet reverie. He looked up from his binoculars and focused his
gaze on Own Rank. The guy must be drunk. “I think you have to be
patient and concentrate,” he said, turning back to gaze through his
binoculars. Fat chance of that ever happening.
/ CROSS-TIME – Yesterday, the trawler Evelyn McGill had been fishing
these same waters. Salty Stevens had been trying to stay awake.
They’d been hauling mackerel since before daybreak, and that had just
about done him in. The skipper had told him to lash the drum to the
boat davit, but what the hell, he knew that nobody’d ever miss
it. He opened the cap and pushed the drum overboard. It’d
sink by midnight.
– (after Own Rank pov) The interesting thing about ship cruises is that
all different kinds of people are forced to spend quality time in
near-proximity together, when otherwise they might never have anything
to do with one another. Randall Jenks was about as different from
Owen Rank as anybody could be.