When to Write Multiple POV

You’ve had a brilliant idea for a book! You’re scribbling down notes as fast as you can. Worlds are coming into focus, intricate plots are woven together, and new characters are demanding your love and attention.

You sit down to write your first chapter and realize there’s one thing you’ve forgotten: point of view (POV).

Maybe I’m the only one, but the dilemma of what POV to use always escapes me until I’m ready to crank out that first draft. Then, out of seemingly nowhere, I realize that yet again, I must dedicate more planning and thought into how I want to tell my story before I can begin.

For my most recent novel this has been a particular challenge. For the first time, I’ve considered writing a book from multiple point of views. I’ve been researching the topic extensively and would like to share a few of the key insights I’ve found.

Why use multiple point of view?

Before we dive into pros and cons of multiple POVs (which I’ll be posting about on Thursday), let’s talk a little bit about the WHY. Writing a multiple POV book is going to require a lot more work on your part so you want to be absolutely sure it’s the right thing for your story. Many novels can get away with single or dual POV before needing to employ multiple POV. I’d encourage you to look into those options first.

However, multiple POV is a great tool for contrasting different complex viewpoints. Often there’s more to something than we first think, and not everything characters are thinking is openly said. Having an insider’s view into different character’s thoughts, emotions, and deepest desires can reveal this.

“This form of narration is all about contrast. The contrast could be in personality, culture or ideology. Whatever the reason, make sure it’s key to the story. If your narrative doesn’t gain anything from each new perspective, cut it back to just one.”

The Writer’s Edit

Multiple POV can also help drive tension and suspense as well as move the plot forward. Revealing subtleties and hidden meanings, thoughts and secrets can all be employed through multiple POV. That why you’ll see this technique used often in thrillers where you get an inside view into the killer’s perspective and how s/he is one step ahead of the hero. We begin biting our nails and screaming to characters to “not go down that alley!” or “don’t open the door!” because we know it’s the bad guy on the other side waiting for them.

At the end of the day, think about what elements of story-telling are most import to your plot. More info to come on pros and cons for multiple POV on Thursday’s post. In the meantime, in the words of K.M. Weiland, a good rule of thumb for selecting the number of POVs is:

“Whatever is best for your story and whatever you can pull off.”

A few tips if you’re leaning toward writing multiple POV

First, Like I mentioned earlier, writing multiple points of view stories are highly complex. If this is your first novel, you’re already going to be devoting tons of time and energy figuring out your characters, plot, pacing, themes, and more. I’d highly recommend NOT using more than two points of view if this is your first story given the level of complexity you’ll already be dealing with. Your future editing self will thank you!

Second, try outlining your chapters based on POV. What do you notice about the story? What insights immerge? Do you find yourself struggling to write chapters with one character but not another? These can all be clues helping you decide what’s right for you and your book. Outlining your book can also help you see if you begin leaning toward writing most of the chapters about one particular character. This could be your main POV and there may not be a need for others.

Third, another very important consideration for you to take into account is what way you’ll be describing your POV. Are you using first person? Third? If you’re going to use first person, you’ll need to have a distinct voice for each of your multiple characters. If your characters all end up sounding the exact same that defeats the purpose of multi point of view. In that case, you should have just written the whole thing using third person. I encourage you to considering using third person unless you are completely confident that you can write unique voices for each of your different POVs.

A great exercise to help decide between first and third person is to write the same scene from each POV. Are you able to write using three distinct voices? Things that can help with this: vary the sentence structure and flow, vocab, outlook (generally optimistic vs. pessimistic), language (flowery vs. factual), details noticed (smell, sight, sound, touch, tastes), quirks, intelligence, casual vs. formal, and style (reflective, detached, humorous, serious, etc.).  

Fourth, your multiple characters need to somehow connect. Do they all work at the same office, live under the same roof, or battle each other in the arena? Make sure you think through what that connection point is and that it’s strong enough that readers will continue reading despite the potentially jarring swapping of POVs throughout your story.

Lastly, one thing that can cause a lot of confusion around the topic of multiple (or dual) POVs is which character follows the Save the Cat Beats or the heroes’ journey (aka the mid-point, dark night of the soul, climax etc.). You most likely won’t follow this for each POV. While each character should have their own character arc and growth, the hero’s journey should have extra focus on one character.

Multiple POV books to study:

  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  • Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb
  • Cress and Winter by Marissa Meyer (the third and fourth books in the Lunar Chronicles)
  • A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins  
  • The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
  • Curio by Evangeline Demark
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa
  • The Outlander by Gil Adamson
  • A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton
  • A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
  • My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
  • One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus
  • Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
  • Versailles by Kathryn Davis
  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
  • The Hours by Michael Cunningham
  • Curio by Evangeline Denmark

What books or resources have you found to be helpful in selecting a POV?

Candace signing off to go brainstorm POV for her newest novel some more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s