Juggling Multiple POVs

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Multiple points of view can turn a novel into a nuanced discussion or a cacophonous medley of half-forgotten subplots, confusing shifts, and bland voices. Writing from more than one character’s perspective takes guts, but it isn’t impossible, even for first time authors. You just need some caution, consideration, and a deep understanding of your cast.  

Do You Need Multiple POVs?

First, ask yourself if your book really needs multiple points of view or if you’re just desperate to spend more time with favored characters. If you only need a different point of view for a single scene, you may need to question the need for that scene at all. Is it an unnecessary tease that just distracts from the primary character’s development, or is it a necessary move?

Is This the Most Relevant POV?

When you have a lot of POV characters sharing a scene, you have to decide which one gets the limelight. Ask who has the most at stake, or who has the biggest secret. How would the story change if you told the scene from her perspective instead of his? Is this where the sidekick begins having villainous thoughts? Remember, emotional action matters just as much (if not more) than the exterior duel.

Keep Your POVs Unique

If you decide you do, in fact, need multiple points of view, that they each contribute meaningfully to plot, and each has at least one relevant scene to share, then it’s time to get into technique. One of the biggest obstacles readers face when they crack open a multiple-POV novel is confusion.

While the writer may have a distinct voice, their characters may not. If you share more than one character’s thoughts on the page, you must have good reason. The fact that readers are hearing from different characters matters. If all those characters sound the same, however, it’s easy for their voices to blur in the reader’s head. After all, this isn’t a play or a movie. Readers only see and hear what you present. Imagine being confused about whether Luke or Darth Vader said “I am your father.”

Take this as an opportunity to binge on character development. Get deep into your character’s glove compartments, and ask what junk clutters the backseat of their ride. Do they look for affirmation from others? What do they wonder about as they approach each conversation? What are their general goals, and what are their specific interests in the moment? You don’t need to write in a forced accent to differentiate individuals. Just give them their own thoughts, patterns, and desires.

What Does This POV Bring to the Story?

Epics, romances, and other genres rely on multiple POV characters to report on events in far-flung locations and settings other important characters simply cannot join. While this mandatory plot-report may be the basis for using multiple POVs, don’t let their use end there.

What does each character’s unique perspective bring to your plot? What do they add? What complications do they throw into the story’s theme?

Are multiple voices clamoring to tell your story? Sit them down for an interview and see who furthers the plot. Too many voices may turn your WIP into a circus, but so long as you’re a competent ringleader, everything will be fine. If an acrobat trips and the big top catches fire, well, you can always edit.

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