As some of you know, I began my professional life as a Catholic priest. I must confess that I was a pulpit thumper, not about sin, but about social injustice (which I considered to be sin)

Here is a pulpit thumper, tongue-in-cheek, sermon on point of view:

preacher           Friends, I want to talk to you today about a sin that cries to the heavens for vengeance.

A writer sits at her computer.  She struggles with getting her characters across.  She is SORELY tempted to give more than one character a point of view in a scene.  The devil waves the alternative in front of her, promising all manner of wonderful characterization if only she will give in on this rule.  It looks so easy, just switching between characters.  “Besides,” the devil says, “they do it all the time in romance novels.”

Damnation awaits the writer.  Read the holy books. Ansen Dibell in her treatise on PLOT published by Writer’s Digest Press, says, Chapter 3, Verse 40, “Never, never, NEVER, shift viewpoint in the middle of a scene.”

Oh, I know the devil will make it look easy.  You just have to report that a minor character is sad or happy for some reason.  Or the devil will come along and slip in such expressions as “David heard the doorbell ring,” when you’re in Susan’s head.  Beware.

Or a minor character will suddenly know something.  “Fred guessed it was Sam at the door.”  This is a most pernicious error.  You must stay in the mind of the point of view character.

The writer who switches viewpoint is hell-bound.  He or she cares not for the reader.  Imagine the poor reader being bounced around like a Ping-Pong ball, now in one head, the next minute in another.  This sin cries to the heavens for retribution.

Lift your eyes up!  Concentrate on the rule:  One point of view in a scene.  This is the way to salvation.  Now say it — yes all of you say it.  Are you going to give up your evil ways?   In a single scene how many viewpoints can you have? One! That’s right, you people are saved!

Now place one hand on the manuscript that’s sorely afflicted with multiple points of view.  And place your other hand on this text.  Pray that the message will flow from my words into your manuscript.  Yes!  Yes!  I see by your faces you’ve been saved.

But wait, friends.  This pernicious error of multiple viewpoints is spreading.  The young are at risk.  You can help stamp out pernicious viewpoint changes.  Send a check or money order.  Or use Master Charge to further this effort.  Our operators are standing by.  Remember:  THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE VIEWPOINT UNTIL THE SCENE IS OVER.

(Do you agree? Or do you slam you hymnal and walk out of church? You know lots of authors who switch point of view all over the place.)




  1. It’s a funny thing about viewpoint. I always remember being completely amazed when I first read Dune and the author jumped into and out of people’s heads at will inside every scene. I was used to the discipline you speak of and found it really disconcerting. However, as you know, Dune became a raging bestseller. Herbert (is it Herbert?) just had such a great storyline that nothing could overcome it. I guess there’s always an exception to every rule, and nothing can be more than 95% true..Best wishes, Dani

    • Thanks, Dani. Another factor is how well the author shifts POV. If I focus on Susan, while I’m in David’s POV, I can shift effortlessly into Susan’s POV.
      Yes, it can be done, but I don’t do it. I think there is a danger of reader ping-pong

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