The thirteenth chapter in The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke was succinct and to-the-point. As always, Gerke wrote about a “rule” and examined that rule from multiple perspectives.
**Disclaimer: The usual preferences he explores pertain to those opposed to the “rule”, those in favor of the “rule”, and The Gatekeepers, or publishers. All of this is done not to create prescriptive writing for his readers, but rather to help writers develop their own unique voice.
So here is a look at the very short chapter written about switching between storylines and viewpoint characters:
Switching Between Storylines
The “rule”- You shouldn’t introduce a lot of viewpoint characters and storylines very early on in a novel.
Before diving into this rule it is important to clarify that a viewpoint character is one through whose eyes or voice a story is told. It is expected in the writing industry that multiple characters will be introduced early in a novel, but the jumping from perspectives is the idea held in question. A storyline refers to the problems or situations unique to the viewpoint character.
Those who disagree with the “rule” generally argue that introducing multiple viewpoint characters within the first fifty pages of a novel builds reader engagement. Starting a story is oftentimes the hardest part of the whole writing process. Engagement is the goal. And each author reaches the point of engagement in a different way. That’s what makes each book and author unique. If every book started the same way it would get pretty dull. If you ask me, whatever avenue you use to engage your reader (if done effectively) is never bound to any rule. Show off your unique voice and engage, engage, engage!
However, there is something to be said about the “rule” above. Part of engaging your reader involves forging connections to your main character. If jumping around viewpoints creates an unclear view of who the protagonist is in your story then it is definitely hindering your reader’s engagement. It should be clear from the first several pages who your reader should support as the main character. You want them to feel like part of your character’s team. Readers need to know who to root for and what they want them to accomplish in order to feel like part of the story.
I would be extremely cautious with switching between storylines or viewpoint characters in the first quarter of your novel. It can be done, but it’s difficult. Be sure to align your reader with the protagonist and build that relationship before giving them a new vantage point.
My Current Project…
My book (which I hope to name very soon) is written with two viewpoint characters who happen to also be father and son. I alternate chapter perspectives, but in the beginning I make it clear the protagonist is the father by giving him longer chapters and more of a transparent voice. The son’s story is told in broken pieces and short chapters. From chapter one the reader is left rooting for the father despite his bad luck and poor judgment.
**Side note: My recent trip to Chicago was not only a trip planned for vacation purposes, but also served in furthering research for my novel. The novel is set in downtown Chicago in 2015. I spent much of my trip traveling to locations mentioned in the novel to create more vivid details and verifying other portions of the plot. I’m really excited to add to my original manuscript and to continue my progress of making my baby a real, published book. Stay tuned for more details in future!
The Ameri Brit Mom