Grammar Writing Techniques 2017-04-03 00:00

How to Write Multiple Points of View

How to Work With Multiple Points of View

  1. What is POV?
  2. How to Craft Multiple POVs
  3. Multiple POV is Not for the Faint of Heart
  4. How Many POVs Should You Have?
  5. Final Thoughts

What is POV?

Rather than recreate the wheel, we have an excellent article that gives you examples of each different POV and how to use it. You can find it here: How to Choose the Best POV for Your Story.

Sometimes you just know which one of your characters should tell the story. And other times, you have so many unique voices in your head, it’s hard to choose one.

That’s when you can use multiple POVs and let everyone have a say.

How to Craft Multiple POVs

When you’re starting a new story, determining POV is a very important choice. Writing from multiple POVs can be frustrating and confusing for readers if it’s not handled well, so you need to have a very good reason for using multiple POVs in your story.

That said, here are a few tips on how to craft a story using multiple POVs:

  1. Decide why you need multiple POVs. It should really be about the story you want to tell. Make sure the story needs multiple POVs before you start writing. Two excellent examples of the need for multiple POVs are Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. And for very different reasons, too.
  2. Decide what’s driving your plot. You have two options with multiple POVs and plot. One, you can write about a single set of events from different perspectives, or two, you can use several sets of events that specifically move from place to place and character to character without a lot of overlap.
  3. Decide which POV is best for each chapter or scene. Not every scene about a main character needs to be in his or her POV. Sometimes it’s more powerful to show the scene from another POV, like in Game of Thrones. Study that novel to learn more about scene decision-making.
  4. Reduce your narrative or story arc to the minimum viable story you can tell. This will seriously save you countless headaches during revisions. Trying to keep all of the POVs and story threads together and in harmony is hard to do. Remember, it’s important to tie up all loose ends by the end of your story.

Multiple POV is Not for the Faint of Heart

A few words of caution are needed. Multiple POV is hard work, and in the hands of an inexperienced writer can become an unwieldy stumbling block that will get your manuscript rejected by every agent and publisher alike.

Here are a few rules to follow when working with multiple POV:

  • Give each POV character a clearly distinct voice. Use different speech patterns, different education levels and socioeconomic backgrounds. Distinguish each character by using a different dominant sense they use the most.
  • Create distinct character arcs for each POV character. This includes identifying the goals, stakes, and pitfalls and how those move the story forward. We have a great article on Creating a Compelling Character Arc.
  • Don’t write the same scene from multiple POVs. You’ll bore your reader. Choose which character has the most at stake and use that POV for the scene. The only exception is if two characters interpret the same events in a scene in markedly different ways, leading to a major misunderstanding that’s key to your story.
  • Make sure to fully identify which POV you’re using. If you change POVs when you change scenes, you need to somehow ground your reader as soon as the switch takes place. Some writers will use the character’s name as the chapter title to help readers know whose head they are in.

How Many POVs Should You Have?

One advantage of using multiple POVs is the ability to get inside the head of each of your characters, which gives you a chance to show your reader things they might not have otherwise learned. Readers can get much more intimate with your characters this way.

There’s no hard and fast rule about how many POVs you should limit yourself to. Some experts and writing coaches will tell you no more than 3 to 5 POVs. But it’s your story to tell, so you should decide who tells it and how.

Final Thoughts

Don’t let one character hijack your story because your reader will be left dissatisfied if every POV doesn’t get its fair share of space on the pages. If you have one character who is completely dominating your story, you might need to consider whether multiple POV is truly what your story needs.

When handled well, multiple POVs can give your reader an inside view into what your protagonist is planning and at the same time what is driving your hero. Getting into the heads of your characters will help your readers fall for your characters almost as much as you did.

Until next month, happy writing!

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