Switching Points of View Without Losing Your Reader

I recently finished Laini Taylor’s Dreams of Gods and Monsters (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #3) and I absolutely loved it! It has a more epic feel than the previous two books, using multiple points of view to tell a broader story. I was impressed by how well Taylor held my attention through all these different characters. I started trying to figure out what she did to make it work, and here are three techniques I gleaned:

1. Make the Character Sympathetic Up Front:

This example is actually from book 2, Days of Blood and Starlight.

A bare foot, highly arched. A slender ankle festooned in golden bangles.
Nevo didn’t mean to see, but the music of the bangles drew his attention at the moment the girl stepped through the door and he glimpsed this secret sight before he could jerk his chin down and pin his gaze to the ground.
The concubine of the night, leaving the harem to be escorted across the skybridge to the emperor’s inner sanctum. She was veiled and cloaked as the women always were, in a hooded robe that concealed even her wings, and she would scarcely have registered as a person at all but for that glimpse of foot. It was the most Nevo had ever seen of one of Joram’s concubines, and he was caught off guard by its effect on him.
Instantly he wanted to help her.

This passage introduces a new point of view character: Nevo, a guard in the emperor’s Palace who is charged with guarding the concubines and preventing them from escaping the harem. So... at first glance, not a very sympathetic character, but Taylor starts off with a hint of compassion and guilt from him, which helped forge a connection with him.

2. Inner Conflict 

Two examples here, both are first sentences of sections introducing a new POV. First this:

Ziri saw the strain in Karou’s smile. . . . .he knew. Just like that. If he hadn’t known absolutely before this moment, it was his own fault, not hers, and it settled in him now.
No hope here. No luck friction, not for him.
And this:

Liraz felt . . . guilty.
It was not her favorite feeling. Her favorite feeling was the absence of feeling; anything else led to turmoil.

In both these examples, I love how Taylor jumps right into the inner conflict.  I found that immediately compelling, and I wanted to know more.

3. Transitions between scenes.

One early scene in Dreams of Gods and Monsters ends with Karou and friends having a chance encounter with giant birds called stormhunters. It’s a magical moment for them.

The next scene starts off with a completely different storyline featuring a different cast of characters, but it begins with the line: “More stormhunters.” This common thread made for a smoother transition between the two sections.

Readers what do you think? What keeps your attention when viewing multiple points of view?

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  1. This is interesting. I think I haven't really studied it before. I believe that if the new viewpoint introduces something that I wanted to know about during the last viewpoint but couldn't because of character restrictions I'm a lot more likely to read straight through without the mental hiccup that might throw me out of the story.

    1. That's a great point! I guess it's important to have a good reason to go to a specific viewpoint.

  2. I love it when an author can successfully handle several points of view. I feel safe and happy - I'm thinking that Joanna Trollope is a master at that. She encouraged me, by example, to ignore the accepted convention of telling one person's story. I like the way you've laid this out - I think the principle is to respect your readers while not trying to make things complicated for the sake of seeming brilliant. Also, while I think of it, Iris Murdoch was amazing at not only switching pov's with ease but at having me completely buy into whoever's head I was in at the moment.

    1. I've never read those authors, Jan, but I'll have to check them out!

  3. I love it when an author uses multiple POVs to show separate, corresponding angles of the same situation. I also love it when multiple POVs are distinct pieces of the same puzzle and without just one of the those POVs the puzzle would be unresolved.

    1. Mmmm, I like the idea of puzzle pieces fitting together. I love it when an author does that, and it usually makes the climax of the story really exciting.