One of the things that writer’s should never, ever do, we are repeatedly told, is “head hop.” You must establish your point of view and stick to it. You can change POV if you make a solid break in the narrative, but the rule is, no head hopping, keep a consistent point of view throughout a scene or chapter. The thing is, one of the greatest of writers, one of my favorites, anyway, Jane Austen, can tell you within a few paragraphs and within the same chapter, what two different people are thinking or feeling. And when she does it, it does not disconcert the reader in any way.
But, but, you may sputter in protest, she didn’t know the rules, or those were different times, or she was a great writer so she could get away with it. Maybe those things are true, but the real reason she did it was because it served the story. Without knowing what her characters think and feel, there is no story. She does this even if it means the scene or chapter is not told entirely from one person’s point of view. Nor is she being god-like with the ability to know and see all, distant and omniscient; rather she can jump from person to person because what the people are feeling is immediate and important, and that is how the story must be told.
People will tell you the dead (with the exception of zombies or vampires) can’t be narrators, can’t have a point of view. That would be silly–they’re dead. But Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett wrote Sunset Boulevard with a dead man as the narrator. Alice Seabold in The Lovely Bones has a dead girl tell her own story from her personal Heaven. And in both cases, the story is told this way because it is the best way to tell the story.
Rules for writing are not made to be broken–they are made to keep us from looking like idiots when we write. Rules, however, are just rules, not laws carrying the death penalty if broken. It’s best to follow them when you’re a beginner, like I am, but if the story requires it, think long and hard, then break the rule without apology. After all, telling the story as it demands is not a rule–it’s the law.
Image: Stourhead, Wiltshire, England; view from the back. By Marilyn Evans.