While many books are written from only one perspective, that of the main character, other novels are told by many characters. The advantages of doing this are that you can show different places, times, and viewpoints to better illuminate the full scope of your story. This choice can create more mystery or tension—will the two ever know what the other is thinking or doing? But writing from multiple POVs also brings risk. Will it be confusing? Or boring if the same story is told twice, once from each angle? In this post, I’ll share some of the main considerations to mull over if you want to write a multiple POV tale.
Know Why You’re Doing It
Usually multiple POV is written in third person limited. Many first-person stories are single POV or perhaps dual POV. The reason is that readers are drawn to first person because they feel like they really get to “know” the protagonists. If an author were to write multiple (or too many) POVs in first person, they’d risk not getting fully into the head of the main character. The result could be that the relationship between author and reader is diminished because the reader didn’t get what she wanted: to really know the lead character.
On the other hand, if you have a “bigger” story—especially fantasy, thriller, or mystery—multiple POV could be crucial for world building, dropping clues, or getting a fuller picture of how one action effects other characters. Think about Game of Thrones. The series is a fully imagined world with a deep history, long-term conflicts, and dynasties at stake. The first book in the series had nine point of view characters. The fifth book has thirty-one. George R.R. Martin’s sweeping saga is advanced by getting the reader emotionally invested in characters that represent the plights of the citizens of this world. It wouldn’t have worked nearly as well with a single POV protagonist.
Each Character Should Be Distinct
You don’t have to write the next juggernaut to rationalize multiple POV characters. If the scope and goals of your novel justify it, go for it! However, it can be difficult to make every POV a distinctive voice and to satisfy the reader’s need to know the characters fully. If you are a beginner or you don’t have a strong compelling reason to add characters or if these people aren’t “speaking” to you, keep it simpler. You’ll still need to understand the background, history, motivations, and peculiarities of each character in order to make them real. It’s challenging to do that for many.
Change Heads Each Chapter
This isn’t a hard and fast rule (no writing rule is). However, a rule of thumb for keeping POV characters straight in your own head and in the heads of your readers is to only change POV from one chapter to the next. It makes it easy to go with the flow and get to know the rhythms and whims of each one at a time. Again, you can switch mid-chapter or even mid-scene, but it’s ill-advised unless you have shown mastery of this.
The best guiding principles I have are to start conservatively. Master the dialogue quirks, desires, and background for one or two characters before you consider adding in more. Make sure you have a firm grip on the story you want to tell, and then dive into multiple POV.