Got a POV dilemma? Try the handy new POV crow.

Writer’s Conundrum #326: Choosing the POV character for a scene when the participating characters either know too much or too little. 

Here’s the situation: Alice is sitting in the woods, thinking deep thoughts about how she might get out of her current predicament. She does not realize that Betty is hiding in the trees, watching her. Betty has no idea who Alice is, and, being a stranger to this world, nothing she sees makes any sense to her anyway, but she’s watching. Meanwhile, Charlie has been stalking Betty for several hours and is now up on the ridge above her, trying to figure out why she has stopped to watch Alice. And wait for it… Yes, there is also Dennis, who has been tracking Charlie for days, hoping Charlie would lead him to Betty, and he is now closing in on both of them.

This is the low-down when my scene opens, and somehow, I’ve got to explain all this to the reader without driving them insane with a ping-pong match of head-hopping POV shifts. So what’s a poor writer to do?

Oh, um, before we can get to that, there’s another set of constraints I should probably explain. Follow me inside the fold, if you have the stomach for it.

In addition to these characters not know about the people who are following them, two of them (Betty and Dennis) know a lot about what’s going on in their corners of the story – things the reader does not yet know. So, according to my own personal rules of narrative integrity, I cannot use them as POV characters. Their internal dialogues would express thoughts in terms of their more complete understanding and would thereby spoil some of the surprises I have planned for the reader, later on.

Nor can I use Alice or Charlie, since neither of them know about the presence of the people behind them. Alas, it seems that there is no suitable character to carry the camera for me.

Enter the POV crow.

Let me back up. See, in a sequence from the previous book, I had been following one particular character through a number of short scenes, and I realized that the POV was getting a trifle monotonous, so I promoted a meagre crow to a temporary POV character, simply for the viewpoint variety. It served as a sort of comic break, as this crow puzzled over what he saw as the odd behavior of the human characters of our story. It worked well, and at the end of that sequence, our crow friend flapped away in indignation, never to be seen again.

Or so I thought.

Now here I sit with another POV dilemma, and after puzzling over the above constraints for several days, it finally dawned on me that I crows are pretty territorial, and that since the action is still in his general neighborhood, it would be fun to reprise his role as both camera-man and critic.

As soon as I hit on that solution, everything just fell into place. Our poor beleaguered crow friend sits at the top of a tall tree, surveying the madness that is playing out below him. Instead of POV-hops from character to character, the crow gets to look back and forth between them, increasingly confused as he ponders the chain of awkward. What would have been confusing head hops if I had held to the traditional solution, becomes instead a comic head jerking of the crow, who once again departs with his signature flapping of derision.

Can the POV crow help you with your camera placement woes? I’m sure a great many stories would not be able to use an actual crow, but the notion of promoting a background character to carry the camera may actually be useful. And for those of you who do have a story set in a wooded territory, feel free to contact my crow friend. He works cheap and would be happy to squawk his indignation at your characters, too.


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About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is underqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.