I’ve written six novels now, two are published, one is soon to be published, and three are yet to be published.
My preferred method of writing is using multiple POVs (point of views) to tell my story, meaning I have a few characters who take turns being the narrator. Five of my books use multiple POVs. One of them is told from a single narrator. (There’s a good reason I did that, but that’s not what I want to talk about today.)
Today I want to give you 7 tips I’ve learned about writing multiple POVs.
1. Use as few POV characters as you can
Use preferably less than five per book.
More than five is hard to follow as a reader. My newest trilogy has four, and it’s working out well.
2. Each POV character should have a reason for being a POV character
Ask yourself a few questions:
- Why does this character get to tell part of the story?
- What unique perspective do they have about the plot, setting, conflict, characters, etc?
If you don’t know, they might not be the right choice for a POV character.
Digging deeper and ask yourself:
- Why use multiple POVs instead of having a single person tell the story?
If you’re not sure on the answer to this, try telling your story from a single POV character and see if it’s better or worse for it. If your story is mostly better with a single narrator, make the switch. If you’d lose a lot of your story or depth by going to one POV, then you’re on the right track with multiple POVs.
3. Introduce POV characters early on
If we have a story with two POVs, for example, but 250 pages in, suddenly neither of those POV characters are around to tell the reader what we need to know. Oops. I guess I’ll just create a new POV character.
Be very, very cautious with this.
Being inside of a brand new head that late in the story is jarring to the reader. One author I’ve read says he introduces all the POV characters right up front. Each chapter in the beginning is a new POV until he’s introduced all of them. I don’t write that strictly, but I’d suggest you introduce each POV early on, as in before the end of ACT I.
4. Start the first sentence of a new scene with the POV character’s name
That way we immediately know whose head we’re in. If their name isn’t the first word of a scene, it should be pretty darn close.
- Confusing POV: “The room felt cold and damp. Sam and Amanda crept along the dark wall for a place to hide.”
- Clear POV: “Sam’s skin prickled with the chill in the room. He grabbed Amanda’s hand and crept along the dark wall for a place to hide.”
Make the POV character obvious right from the get go in every scene, every time, so your reader isn’t pulled out of the story to figure out who’s narrating now.
5. Each POV character is telling THEIR OWN STORY
To me, this is one of the biggest mistakes made in multiple POV stories. I fall into this trap, too.
My current main character is Carrie Ashworth. This Citizens of Logan Pond story is predominately hers. And yet I have three other POV characters throughout the trilogy.
When I’m in their head, they’re not telling me Carrie’s story. Quite frankly, they only care about Carrie when her story involves them. These other POV characters are telling me their own story. It’s my job to relate their story back to the bigger picture.
What does that mean?
That means each POV character has their own goals and struggles within the scene and story. If they’re important enough to narrate, they’re important enough to have their own storyline. If they’re only there to tell us someone else’s story (Carrie’s), then perhaps they shouldn’t be a POV character.
That doesn’t mean they need to take over the story, though.
Just picture yourself with six friends sitting around a campfire, retelling the time three of you were nearly arrested on MSU’s campus over a small misunderstanding gone wild. While the story might have one main person involved–Chris, the idiot who started all the commotion in the first place–the three of you involved will each tell your own version to those who didn’t witness it.
When it’s your turn, you’ll tell them how you slipped, fell in the mud, and ruined your new favorite pair of jeans. “Those cost $120. My mom’s gonna kill me. Thanks a lot, Chris.” Your friends around the campfire won’t care the details of how and where and when you got the jeans, just how it relates back to the main story. But you still get to give your version of how the story affected you personally.
Does that make sense?
We’re all selfish storytellers, so let your POV characters be a little selfish, too.
6. Each POV needs to notice different things
This is related to #5.
When you switch heads, even if you forget to give us the character’s name right up front, it should still be obvious whose head we’re in.
POV characters should not only talk and act differently from each other, but each narrator should notice different things in a scene, conflict, and characters.
They should tackle the story goal in their own way.
Not only will this add variety to your story, but it will make each character feel unique and authentic. It will add depth to your story because your reader will have different witnesses and versions of what’s happening so they can draw their own conclusions.
I’ve touched on this before, but here’s an easy example:
If an assassin walks into a party, he’ll notice all the exits, who looks shady and possibly armed, and any possible security cameras. A teenage girl could walk into the very same party and notice everyone’s hair, makeup, plus the way Emily Dean is hanging on her boyfriend. If your teen notices how many exits there are, or if your assassin notices Emily Dean’s new shoes, you’re cheating POV.
When you switch heads, make it authentic.
If you want an amazing example of this, watch the movie Hoodwinked. Talk about nailing this concept of each POV narrator putting their personal spin on the same story. Love it!
7. Write the scene from the POV character who has the most to lose
How do you know which POV character should narrate a scene when more than one are present?
Now that you know what each POV character cares about, the version of the story they want to tell, and such, you can determine how to choose which person gets to narrate the scene.
The best advice I’ve heard is choose the narrator who:
- Has the most to lose
- Has the most at stake
- Feels the greatest conflict
- Knows something your reader needs to know
On this last point, if your character has a secret you want the reader to know, but not the other characters, than you need to be in that character’s head. However, if you want to hide that secret from your reader too, then you need to be in someone else’s head.
Back to the example of the assassin and the teen.
If you want your readers to know he’s an assassin and who he plans to kill, you should be in his head for the party scene. But if you don’t want the reader to know, if you want the assassination to come as a complete shock, then you should be in the teen’s head, who is clueless until it’s too late.
Well, those are my 7 tips for making multiple POVs work for you. Hopefully they help. I also hope you’ll share your thoughts.
What ideas or tricks have you used with multiple POVs? What techniques have you seen other authors use?
Make sure to tune in next week for the start of March Book Madness!