Freedom never felt so sweet! You sit down to write and have TEN different points of view (POV) to choose from. Who should you go with today?
Hold on! Not so fast. Before writing a novel with multiple POVs, let’s take some time to assess whether this technique is best for your story.
On Tuesday we talked about when to write multiple points of view. Today, we’re going to focus on parsing out the pros and cons of using this writing technique. As I was curious (for top secret reasons of course) about this topic I spent way too long googling all the pros and cons for this. I’m hoping I can save you some time through my learnings here.
Let’s start with the bad…
Cons of multiple POV
Remember this from math class? Me neither. You know what else is incredibly complicated? If you guessed writing multiple POV books, you might be a prodigy yet.
If you’ve written a book before, you know how hard it is to juggle your character’s journey, arc, plot, pacing, themes, word count, relationships, and more. Now picture doing that for MORE characters. Is your head hurting yet? It will be.
All this complexity translates into extra time on your part to plot out multiple character’s journeys. Not to mention, you’re going to need more time to flesh out your characters themselves. Instead of knowing one character deeply, you need to know several characters in-depth. This all takes more time. Keep that in mind if you’re under a tight deadline.
Who to love?
Ever show up to a family reunion and gravitated toward certain family members and discretely avoid others? There are some people we naturally click with and others we don’t. The same is true for your readers.
Some readers will fall in love with one character while others won’t. When you’re writing a multiple POV story, this can be frustrating for readers. After all, they only get to follow their favorite character during part of the story. The rest of the time, they’re stuck with characters they’re less interested in. Striking a balance so that all of your readers connect with all of your characters at least a little, is tricky and, you guessed it, time-consuming.
Speaking of your readers, multiple POVs can confuse them as to which character’s head they’re inside. You’ll need to be very careful to make it clear whose perspective you’re viewing events through. Most people recommend doing this via chapter breaks and/or voice. Both of these can be tricky.
If you’re relying on chapter breaks, decide up front if you’ll follow an A,B,C pattern consistently throughout the book or if you will jump randomly from character to character. Either is fine so long as it’s clear who’s view it is.
Voice is tricky because writing with more than one voice, let alone three or more, is extremely difficult. Each one needs to sound distinct and different. Again, if this is your first book, I wouldn’t recommend pushing these boundaries just yet.
Slash and burn, baby!
That’s what you may very well find yourself doing by the end of your novel if you choose to go this route. Why? Well, given all the complexity and additional characters to follow, your story will likely run long. Which means, if you reach the end of your story and are 20K over that word count, you’re going to need to go back and cut. A hidden plus to this is that if you tend to under write, this could be a good way to beef up that word count.
Ok, those sound pretty grave indeed. So multiple POV is out, right? Well, hold on. It certainly has some serious draw backs, but let’s look at the incredible pros before you make your final decision.
Pros of multiple POV
Flexibility in pacing
While a traditional single, or even dual, POV story shows the reader everything from that specific POV, that’s all the reader will see. There’s no sneak peek into the arch-enemy’s thoughts, the killer around the door, or even the best friend’s skepticism.
What this means for multiple POV pacing is you can really speed things up. You can leave one POV on a cliff hanger only to jump to a different POV where the next character is in even worse shape. Or you can simply crank things up a notch by showing us hidden inner thoughts of different characters. You have much more control over how fast or slow you want your story to flow with multiple POV.
Which brings us to the next benefit of employing this POV…
Secrets, grudges, and hidden daggers
Multiple POV is a great tool when you have multiple characters who are hiding things from each other. It can be used to create tension between them. This is especially true when the characters are each other’s antagonists and are directly at odds with each other and the way they view each other is polar opposite. I love this example by Aimie:
“…if the young duke from chapter three describes himself as having unimpeachable moral character, and his valet mentions his tendencies to cheat his tenants in chapter five, the reader has to decide who is worth trusting.”– Aimie K. Runyan
It also creates tension for the reader as they try and decide which characters to believe.
A long time ago in a galaxy far away…
Sometimes, telling a story that spans great distances or time can be tricky through one POV. It might require too much exposition (aka telling and not showing of things). It might make more sense to have several characters planted in strategic locations where they can show what’s happening in the other galaxy, in the evil King’s palace, or with the growing mutants.
Or maybe the story you’re telling is complex and you want to shadow several characters at once. Aimie K. Runyan in her novel Promised to the Crown attributes this as her reason for selecting multiple POVs:
“I wanted to show the wide range of experiences of the women who decided to emigrate from France to Canada, rather than just one woman’s story…”– Aimie K. Runyan
A whole new world!
Each of us sees the world through our own filter. Characters are no different. However, when you have multiple characters filtering events, places, and people through their different lenses, a more holistic picture begins to form.
“As they say, there are two (or more) sides to every story. Having multiple POVs means the reader can explore more of the storyworld, see a different angle to events, and know the motivations behind many characters’ actions.”-Melissa Gravitis
Having multiple characters can give a world a well-rounded feel to it that single POV sometimes can’t.
That’s it for the pros and cons. What are you leaning towards?
I’ll leave you with one final piece of advice:
“Before you begin writing a story with multiple points of view, make sure all the POVs are necessary. Use as few perspectives as possible, so your readers don’t get confused or bogged down with too many character voices. If your story doesn’t need multiple POVs, don’t use them.”– Caitlin Berve