We’ve cautioned many times that multiple viewpoints, if overused, damage reader engagement. However, when condensing the plot down to fewer viewpoints, one problem often gets in the way: Without an extra viewpoint, how do you tell readers about events that happen when the protagonist isn’t around?
Rethinking Your Events
To come up with the best solution, start by taking a step back. If you’re asking a question like this, there’s a fair chance you’ve forgotten about one important fact.
You are the Overlord of Space and Time!
With a wave of your hand, entire continents disappear. On your whim, cities merge into a megalopolis and thriving cultures are transported from one end of the world to another. You blink, and the entire history of civilization is rewritten. Your puny characters never know that you’ve rewritten the fabric of their lives and altered their memories. If they did, they could only pray that the great one who dreamed their world into existence does not send it back to oblivion.
As the Overlord of Space and Time, you have several options for bringing your protagonist and your events together.
- Move events to put them in proximity to your character. Is there any reason the rebel uprising or monster attacks have to be a continent away? Put them in the protagonist’s city. Sure, your giant sea monster may have trouble attacking the city… until you move the city so it’s in the middle of the ocean.
- Move your viewpoint character so they are at important events. Is there a reason they can’t travel a little? Maybe instead of starting in the city, they start out where the rebel uprising is happening, flee the violence, and then arrive at the city in chapter two.
- Move both so they meet halfway. Your viewpoint character needs to live in the city, and the event has to take place in the countryside. That’s fine. Put the event in the countryside close to the city, then make your character take a day trip to run an important errand or visit someone.
In some cases, the central problem is that the main character hasn’t been designed so that they can be involved in the plot. If your plot involves attacks on far-flung border planets, and your protagonist works as an accountant in the biggest stronghold of the galactic empire, that’s your problem. Instead, your main character might manage the finances for a garrison on the edge of the empire. However you do it, your story must have a main character who can change the course of events. If they can’t, remake them or revamp your plot.
Okay, let’s say you’ve fully embraced your power as Overlord of Space and Time. However, you can’t make the protagonist part of these events while keeping the rest of your plot intact. Plus, you only need readers to know about one critical event that happens elsewhere, which doesn’t justify rethinking everything.
Integrating Faraway Events
Regardless of how you communicate about these faraway events to readers, you could run into the same issue: it won’t feel natural. For instance, imagine your viewpoint character just sat down for a tense dinner with some powerful people. They’re trying to remember all the elaborate table etiquette they were taught as someone asks them pointed personal questions. Then the dinner conversation moves on to how a specific ship sunk under mysterious circumstances a continent away.
Anything like this is going to scream “Look at my foreshadowing!!! Pls remember, k thx!” Where possible, avoid this awkwardness. That doesn’t mean it’s better to add extra scenes from another viewpoint. Awkward or not, a little dinner conversation wastes far less time.
To make your information feel natural, you need to give it an immediate purpose in the story. Even if it’s foreshadowing, adding a second reason for it to be there will help hide what you’re doing and preserve surprises down the road.
Having an immediate purpose means it impacts the plot right away. For instance, let’s say your protagonist is looking for financial backing. They make a positive impression on a duchess, but it turns out one of her trade ships just mysteriously sank. Because of the loss, she can’t spare the money the protagonist needs. However, she can still get the protagonist into some elite circles. Notice that in this example, the characters have a natural reason to talk about it because it matters.
Look for any ripple effects created by the event. How might they impact the protagonist? Do they change prices, cause certain places to be more heavily guarded, or draw people away to promising opportunities elsewhere? Are people more afraid because they think a plague is coming, or has a fringe group become emboldened after a supposed miracle occurred? Don’t forget you’re the Overlord of Space and Time, and a few alterations to your event could help it make a bigger splash.
In the end, nothing in the story will make an impact unless it alters the challenges your protagonist faces and the outcomes that result. Whenever you have a story element that feels isolated from the rest, ask yourself how it could matter more.
Ways for News to Spread
With all that said, we can finally look at ways for information to move from point A to point B.
- Tales of travelers. People can arrive from another area and recount what happened, especially if the protagonist has a reason to ask them. This works well when events cause more migration. People might be fleeing a dangerous area or flocking to new opportunities.
- Magic crystals or surveillance. In some settings, technomagic can allow the viewpoint character to observe what’s happening elsewhere. However, you don’t want your characters to grab a crystal ball and see a plot event by complete coincidence. Provide a reason they would already be surveilling that area or how the event would draw special attention.
- Word of mouth. Rumors get used a lot, but in most cases, it’s not one of your better options. That’s because for people to talk about something, it has to be worth all of that attention. Writers often overestimate the social importance of their events, and it can feel really contrived. Now, if the event is the death of the emperor or the destruction of a planet, this could work.
- Letters and personal connections. The event might happen in the protagonist’s home town. Afterward, they get a letter or phone call from someone they know telling them about it. This works best for events with a connection to the protagonist, giving people a reason to contact them.
- Official news. The big problem with news is that in most stories, the protagonist never reads the news. Then in one scene the news just happens to be on in the background and happens to be reporting on a plot-relevant event. News works better if your protagonist has a reason to keep up and does so regularly, not just when it’s time for a plot device.
In many stories, the best fix is to make the protagonist actively look for relevant plot information. Protagonists who sit by while news comes to them may not have enough agency. If you can come up with a reason the protagonist would investigate what happened, do that. I even have a handy list of ways for protagonists to earn clues.
A story that was originally designed for five different viewpoints across the world may be tough to condense. This problem isn’t unique to reducing viewpoints. Whenever we come up with an overly elaborate story idea, we have to do some streamlining to make it simple and powerful.
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