Fiction with Shifting POV
January 8, 2012 11:10 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for fiction with often shifting point-of-view, something like alternating POV between two characters every paragraph or so.

I suppose you could say this would be a form of third-person omniscient POV, but that's not really what I'm not looking for.

The POV should be consistent in the paragraphs, just shifting back and forth. Something like:
He was having a great time with her. "I glad you were able to join me," he said.

"Yeah, me too," she said. She wondered why she went out with him when she'd be having a better time at home by herself reading MetaFilter.
posted by ShooBoo to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It's not every paragraph, but Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy (first book Red Mars) switches POV amongst its characters regularly - I guess approximately every chapter.
posted by plonkee at 11:45 PM on January 8, 2012

Best answer: In the TV series The Event, flashbacks are told from various POVs.

I will just give links to the pages where lists of stories utilizing techniques, and some details about how they fit into the trope... to avoid getting into spoilers, or interpretations of stories. Sorry they are just sort of general recommendations, others might be better able to match what you seek with particular stories (I think you mean like almost "rapid-fire", every-other sentence changing of P.O.V., I can't think of an example of that particularly. Hope these help.

This page on the Tv Trope "Switching P.O.V." has a very large list of many media which implement this technique of P.O.V. Shifting.

Also check out the Twisted Echo Cut, and all the places that is used, (think Catch 22 subtle scene changes).

Also "Rotating Protagonist".

Those should be a good start on the question, more related topics can be found under "Narrator Tropes".
posted by infinite intimation at 12:16 AM on January 9, 2012

The Illuminatus! Trilogy.

It shifts POV's between way more than two characters, though, and it's not always clear what POV it is from sentence to sentence, even.

The whole thing is here. (Huge PDF warning) Chapter one should give you a pretty good idea of how it goes.
posted by empath at 1:11 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by TheOtherGuy at 1:55 AM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Poisonwood Bible does this chapter by chapter, from the pov of three different sisters.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:17 AM on January 9, 2012

Ruleas of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis does this and I think there may be a Magaret Atwood book that does as well.
posted by bquarters at 2:21 AM on January 9, 2012

It takes several chapters, but On a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino does this with the second person between chapters.
posted by Hactar at 4:44 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

And Then We Came To The End does this, but maybe not in the specific way you're looking for. The entire book is written in first person plural, so it's many POV's, but told in one voice shared by an entire office of people.

Welcome to the Goon Squad is multiple chapters, each from a different character's perspective, which I know is not what you specifically asked for, but the way Egan gets into each character's head and shows how one's perspective is affected and altered through another person's mind may still scratch the itch you're having.
posted by Mchelly at 4:45 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Read Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove. The entire book works like that. Sometimes he stays longer with a character than a paragraph or two, but sometimes not.
posted by colfax at 4:53 AM on January 9, 2012

The Collector by John Fowles

The first half of the book is told by one character and the second half is told by another.
posted by unreasonable at 5:40 AM on January 9, 2012

You might like Only Revolutions by Mark Danielewski (author of the more well-known House of Leaves). It's the same story written from the perspective of a man and a woman who meet and fall in love, but you flip it upside down and backwards to read each. The author recommends that you read 8 pages of one, then 8 pages of another, then back again. So you read a bit, then flip the book over and start at the new "front" cover for the other person, read a bit more, then flip it back. Luckily the hardcover comes with two attached fabric bookmarks, oriented in opposite directions, so you can keep track. It's also written in verse, a bit abstract, but it's certainly an interesting experience to read.
posted by vytae at 5:46 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series (you probably know A Game of Thrones) notably changes POV every chapter.
posted by mkultra at 5:49 AM on January 9, 2012

Best answer: David Nicholls' One Day does this a fair bit, shifting between two or three characters over the space of a chapter.
posted by Ziggy500 at 5:54 AM on January 9, 2012

As I Lay Dying
posted by Greener Backyards at 6:09 AM on January 9, 2012

Seconding And Then We Came To The End if this sort of thing fascinates you.

Not exactly literary fiction, and I haven't read him in years (used to love the stories, but his inability to be even half-way realistic about any character who was not actually shooting someone began to wear) - Tom Clancy. Constantly shifting POV, and generally trying to describe what's inside someone's head, so it gets that effect you're talking about.

Jack Ryan pulled back the drawer of his antique teak Maynard-Ferguson rolltop desk and contemplated the Browning nine millimeter pistol which lay on top of his latest statement from American Group Investments. It smelled of Hops Number 9, and remembered death.

Admiral T.J. "Tank" Ramhard lowered the periscope of the nuclear sub Everclear and rubbed his eyes. They were keeping station with an aircraft carrier which was on "Steel Beach" rotation, and some of those female Marines were a constant reminder of something else that was long and hard and full of sea-men.

Interestingly, this is both a pretty advanced literary technique which is hard to pull off well, and sometimes the default way of writing for people who don't know what they're doing. But the results are quite different.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:25 AM on January 9, 2012

Ken Kesey's "Sometimes a Great Notion" does this quite dazzlingly. The narrator can change within a paragraph, or even a sentence; multiple narrators can be interleaved within a paragraph; even different points in time can be interwoven, allowing the reader to see how these events separated by time aren't so different, or how one caused the other. This level of POV shifting is a bit beyond what you're asking for, but it's a great, great read.
posted by orthicon halo at 6:27 AM on January 9, 2012

This isn't quite like that, but it's pretty close: Henry Green's novels (for instance, the trilogy collected by Penguin -- Living, Loving, and Party Going (almost all his novels are titled with gerunds)) have an amazing way of shifting between viewpoint characters between paragraphs or even within paragraphs. The effect is almost like editing and shot/reverse shot in film -- two characters will be talking and Green will quite seamlessly interleave how each sees the other, or a little moment will be caught by one but not the other ... There's a moment in one of the novels where two servants are hanging out and watching the house's owner and her daughter walking the dogs outside, and the POV switches seamlessly to the mother and daughter in conversation -- completely different worlds, "upstairs" and "downstairs," juxtaposed in a single, subtle quick-cut.
posted by finnb at 6:30 AM on January 9, 2012

A few like this that I've read and enjoyed fairly recently:

Second Glance by Jodi Picoult

Every Secret Thing and What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman

Also, Mary Higgins Clark does this in pretty much all her books. And I have to second Rules of Attraction. It's one of my favorites.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:15 AM on January 9, 2012

I think a lot of Jodi Picoult's novels alternate viewpoints by chapter. I've only read My Sister's Keeper which definitely does this so I can't say one way or the other about any of her other stuff.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:37 AM on January 9, 2012

E.T.A. Hoffmann's Life and Opinions of Tomcat Murr switches between the cat and the cat's master's book at different intervals, usually abruptly.
posted by perhapses at 10:11 AM on January 9, 2012

Murakami's Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World shifts POV at each chapter between two different stories.
posted by Prince_of_Cups at 10:40 AM on January 9, 2012

Nora Roberts is pretty well known for this.
posted by paduasoy at 11:00 AM on January 9, 2012

The Autumn of the Patriarch (Spanish title: El otoño del patriarca) by Gabriel García Márquez. See review and excerpt.
posted by lathrop at 11:44 AM on January 9, 2012

Will Grayson, Will Grayson shifts back and forth every chapter. I believe Are We There Yet? does, too. Also, IIRC, Ralph's Party.

I can't remember anything I've read that shifts POV as often as every paragraph.
posted by kristi at 10:24 AM on January 10, 2012

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