There are too many voices in your head, and they all have something to contribute to your story. We’ve all been there. Sometimes it’s a matter of playing whack’a’mole until only the true POV is left standing, but not always. If your story is best told with more than one lead, here are some essential tips to help you start off on the right foot – or feet, as it were.
Ask What Your Story Needs
Before you attempt to become George R.R. Martin and stack points of views like dominoes in your story, stop and ask yourself if this is what your story actually needs. Really dig deep, ask what your story is going to be about – who it’s going to be about – and let them do the talking.
You may need two points of view alternating throughout the story as titular siblings, friends, lovers, or enemies work their way across a vast world on tangential, but ultimately connected, paths. Maybe, like War and Peace, the themes you aim to capture require multiple points of view to express the harrowing pain of miscommunication and the many ways the world changes in the face of violence and upheaval.
Make no mistake, though. Writing multiple points of view is a huge challenge, and you should be prepared for even more editing, sorrow, and howls into the night over your keyboard than usual. I mean, just look at the examples I’ve already mentioned. They’re a lot to live up to.
Never Forget the Reader
Every story makes sense in your head. Although readers want to peek inside at the world you’ve created, they’re restricted to what you put on the page. They don’t have your insight or implicit knowledge of what happens where, to whom, and why. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with utilizing multiple points of view, never forget your reader’s limitations.
Mark changes in POV very, very clearly. The best way to do this is by only changing points of view between chapters. A chapter is a nice, clean break. Your reader may set down the story and come back fresh to read on later, and it makes sense to let another character take point in a fresh chapter. Although it’s technically possible, avoid playing the ellipses, paragraph break, or italics game. In other words, don’t change POV in the chapter itself, even if you believe you have a clear break in the action you can mark with an extra space, a fancy piece of line art, etc. Just don’t do it. Don’t break your reader’s flow like that. They’ll be confused and irritated. Confused and irritated readers leave bad reviews and chuck books across the room. Don’t provoke them.
Reconsider First Person
First person has been in vogue across several literary genres over the past decade or two. Although it’s always been a compelling writing style, it doesn’t fit every story. It also makes it trickier for readers to keep track of multiple points of view. If the character they’re following sees everything as what “I” am doing, then everything blurs together. Try writing from a close third person perspective. You may be surprised how effective it can be.
Wield the Power of Perspective
If you have multiple POV characters in the same scene, you need to choose between them carefully. Ask who is at the heart of the action or who has the most at stake. That will usually lead you to the richest drama resource available.
Don’t forget that additional perspectives aren’t always a good thing, though. Beware of killing your own tension with spoilers from the wrong point of view. If your romance is built on the does-he-doesn’t-he theme, and then we pop into his head in the second chapter and see that he does, then the story is pretty much over for the reader, even if you’re only just starting to write it. That doesn’t mean you can’t use multiple perspectives to foreshadow oncoming drama, though, or that you can’t use a villain’s point of view to tell the reader something horrible is about to happen to the heroes the adventurers don’t know about yet. Just keep an eye on tension, particularly when you edit, and ask if the information you reveal adds to or detracts from it.
It’s time to get writing. Embrace the multiple points of view vying for your attention, and give them the respect they deserve with individual chapters. Have fun crafting unique voices, and experiment with techniques to showcase your multiple POVs. Although it’s a challenge, using multiple points of view can be a huge draw, so buckle down and get busy. Your characters are waiting.