In my twentieth installation of WRITING CHRONICLES, I went into great details about the various types of narrators and POVs that may be used in storytelling. A perusal will tell you that jumping POVs in the middle of scenes is one of my pet peeves. Of course, a scene may be told from the perspective of different characters but there are proper etiquettes to these things. When you are having a conversation with someone, how much would you enjoy being interrupted by the other person while talking? Or worse, if a third party straggler just decided to insert themselves into your discussion midway? The narrator and the reader develop a bond over the course of a story that requires similar decorum. Each character must wait their turn to have their say.
Having consistently opted for third person omniscient in my narratives, I understand why an author may rely on multiple POVs. Allowing more than one character to share their perspectives can make a story lusher by showing different sides to the same event/chain of events, adding and taking away from the conflict(s) as the plot progresses. Readers enjoy both a bird’s eye view from outside a character’s head as well as from within, providing a more ranged experience. Moreover, it creates a sense of irony as the narrator allows the reader to cotton onto the bigger picture before any of the characters and perhaps it even cultivates a sense of anticipation/frustration when characters aren’t as quick on the uptake, which continues to add to the conflict. Even more importantly, it allows the author the flexibility of hopping into a different character’s head if a certain scene is not working out quite the way hoped when looking at it from the initial standpoint. However, that’s when mistakes may occur.
If you decide that multiple POV is the way for you, it is very important to select the right character perception for each scene and to arrange scene changes in a way that adds to the fluency and enrichment of the reading experience and not to the confusion. The only confusions in the story should be the ones crafted for the plot conflict(s). Haphazard head-hopping should be nixed during the editing process because they can irritate the reader, make the author seem undecided, and really, why am I reading a novel when it’s not even ready? Proper planning and controlled experimentations while outlining and drafting a story can help avoid such kinks. But a few tricks of the trade never hurt anyone. I use the following checklist every time I start a new story:
Who are the most important characters? In order to decide which and how many characters should assist in the narration, the easiest route is to first isolate the most important and recurring characters in the story. The protagonist, the supporting role, the antagonist are some of the key characters to look out for but there may be others. If you have roughly plotted your scenes as to how each character, conflict, setting, etc. will be introduced and added to in the course of the story, then deciding on this list becomes easier. Then dividing up POVs according to character goals creates an invisible boundary for the author even as he gives the narrator godlike presence. What attracts the hero and heroine to one other? Can the best friend perhaps better illustrate why the hero is such a swell guy? Why has the ex-boyfriend returned to the picture? Once the POVs are shortlisted, these characters should be introduced early in the story, preferably within the first act of the novel, so the reader is able to quickly identify their relevance.
Whose story is it and who is best suited to tell it? Perhaps I should have addressed this first but it is not necessary that the MC is always the most suited character to tell the entirety of a story. For example, sometimes, for the reader to see the MC’s assets and flaws, someone else needs to step in. In any given scene, the question to ask oneself is who can present the clearest picture of what is happening? This also depends on where in the story we are, and again, what the goal of that scene is. Which character has the most at stake in that part of the story? The POV that presents each scene needs to be carefully selected according to what each scene’s goal is. As the story progresses, the selected perspective per scene should give us a sharper glance into the characters and conflicts being addressed.
Which character(s) will undergo the most change? I’m talking about the character arc, which I have always felt is the backbone of any story. Sharing the POV of the character(s) that experience the most growth or degeneration in a story can greatly enhance the reading experience. The reader is then able to go on the journey with the character(s). Obviously, multiple characters undergo changes in a story, whether in enhancement or detriment to their individual objectives. Those are the go-to characters when selecting the POVs. And often these developments occur simultaneously, so the scenes need to be arranged in a way where each of these characters receives an opportunity to share their perspectives on the changes in a close sequence of one another though separately.
Does the character whose POV is being used have an interesting voice? We’re not just talking about slangs and accents here, although those may add to the narrative dimension. Rather one thing about the omniscient narrator is that even while retaining the personality of the POV character for each scene, the structure of the overall narration of the story is standardized [remember swooping in and out of a character’s mind]. This is done by adding inner dialogues to the text. But when we select a certain character for the POV in a scene, breathing that character’s personality and tone of speech into the narration is very important to maintain character consistency. The reader should be able to distinguish each character POV from the other. Which is why the author must know whichever character he/she selects for the POV inside out. This is another reason why it’s a good idea to limit the number of POVs even in an omniscient narrative, selecting only characters the author knows well enough to give each an individual, distinct, and engaging voice.
For the most part, keeping an eye out for these markers help me select and separate POV per scene. If I do choose to add more than one POV to define a particular scene, I do so by starting a fresh scene for the second character like I would a new chapter where said character shares his/her perspective in hindsight.
Are there any particular guidelines you follow in order to keep your character POVs distinct and in check? Please feel free to comment below.
Finally, a word on the Author Toolbox Blog Hop:
#AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event, hosted by the gracious Raimey Gallant, featuring various resources and learnings for authors written by authors. It is open to writers at all stages of their careers and the rules of sign-up are available in the overhead link. Also, if you are just interested in connecting with actual authors and see what they have got to say, the sign-up page has a list of participants to direct you to their pages. Happy reading and writing, fellow authors!
#1 by emaginette on June 20, 2017 - 10:12 pm
I usually ask myself what is the best way to reveal the story, then use one or more characters to act it out. The point of view falls in place during this process. 🙂
Anna from elements of emaginette
#2 by lupa08 on June 20, 2017 - 11:50 pm
That’s a good addition. Thanks! 😃
#3 by jrusoloward on June 21, 2017 - 3:38 am
Thank you! POV can be a nightmare.
#4 by lupa08 on June 21, 2017 - 12:26 pm
Yes, they can. Maybe we get into the flow of writing so we don’t notice our mistakes at the time but imagine it’s out there for others to criticize like I do writers who mess it up. “Nightmare” is right! 😖
#5 by raimeygallant on June 21, 2017 - 10:50 am
I definitely think about the points you raise above. I think I also try to think whose internal monologue would be more interesting in this scene? Whose reactions to I want to feel?
#6 by lupa08 on June 21, 2017 - 12:27 pm
Excellent point. I’ll add to that. I guess once the logistical checklist are down, what counts is making the writing personal.
#7 by Erika Beebe on June 21, 2017 - 4:40 pm
Great tips on POV. I like how you mention the characters on multiple POV need to be introduced early on. I think my favorite multiple character POV writer is Holly Black. She does it so well you don’t know what hits you but you can’t stop reading. 🙂
#8 by lupa08 on June 21, 2017 - 5:15 pm
Thanks! I hope they come into use for fellow writers. Holly Black, huh? I think I’ll check her out as study material. Thanks for the tip yourself.
#9 by Kristina Stanley on June 21, 2017 - 7:37 pm
I love writing in multiple points of view. For a change, I’m writing my current WIP in first person single POV. This is a big change after writing 4 novels in multiple POV. For multiple POV novels, I count my POVs, then decide if I have too many, then look for places to cut POVs. My favorite question to ask for each scene is which character will drive the story forward. Usually that character ends up being my POV.
#10 by lupa08 on June 21, 2017 - 8:25 pm
I’m on-board with you on those steps to securing the best POVs for the overall novel and each scene 🙂
#11 by Hoda on June 21, 2017 - 8:49 pm
This is all so important – especially the voice! I think it helps to know your characters completely because that helps give them a unique voice. I’m currently writing a dual-POV, and my characters are complete opposites, so it’d be problematic if their voices were the same. Thanks for sharing!
#12 by lupa08 on June 21, 2017 - 11:08 pm
Welcome! Good luck with your book!
#13 by M.L. Keller on June 21, 2017 - 9:27 pm
Most of my novels are in multiple POV. I find I struggle most with making them sound distinct. Thanks for the tips
#14 by lupa08 on June 21, 2017 - 11:14 pm
Well, the benefit of an omniscient narrator is the generalized structure you can use for the overall passages. Weaving in a POV voice true to the character in question is the hardest part to remember. But that’s when you can take advantage of the editing process. Carefully check and balance if the particular character would say or think such things. I hope the tips help ☺️
#15 by Louise@DragonspireUK on June 21, 2017 - 10:11 pm
I use multiple POV’s all the time, and it’s a good reminder to start a fresh scene for each POV change: makes things much less confusing 🙂
Raph, my villain, is my favourite to write. Generally most of the story is from Arckia’s POV, since he’s the MC, but occasionally it’s more interesting to tell parts of my story from his best friend Nick’s perspective!
#16 by lupa08 on June 21, 2017 - 11:34 pm
Precisely! One of the reasons I write in multiple POVs is because there is just so many characters to explore at greater depth that way. I marvel at the level of patience and sincerity with which single POV writers remain true to one character.
#17 by L.M. Durand on June 21, 2017 - 10:28 pm
I love using multiple POV to show something the main character wouldn’t know and give the reader important information. I like what you said about the importance of choosing the right POV and also of making sure never to interrupt the characters. Great points!
#18 by lupa08 on June 21, 2017 - 11:36 pm
Thanks! Yes, using more than one POV can add a lot of dimensions to a story.
#19 by Shah Wharton on June 21, 2017 - 10:50 pm
Multiple POVs irritate and confuse me, whether I’m reading or writing. Well, I wouldn’t write multiple POVs actually. I hate head-hopping and not know who the hell is speaking or thinking. I’ve exported this to PDF to add to my writing templates just in case I decide to dip my toes in such murky waters! 🙂
#20 by lupa08 on June 21, 2017 - 11:42 pm
Lol. Well, multiple POVs can come in handy for an author. I actually have difficulty sticking to one POV. Although I recently did publish a novella using third-person limited narration and it didn’t come out too bad, writing only from the protagonist’s perspective. I doubt I would have dared if it was novel length. I have great respect for the patience of authors who write from single POV 😄
#21 by Katherine Barclay on June 22, 2017 - 1:23 am
Specifically, “yes” to making sure that each viewpoint has a distinct voice. That’s actually one reason I usually doing try to shift points of view very often; my own voice as a narrator is quite strong, and it can overpower character voices and make everyone seem too similar if I bounce around too often. I admire the writers who can let their own voice go – it’s a real challenge for me.
#22 by lupa08 on June 22, 2017 - 6:47 am
Well, we work with what we have. Fortunately, each type of narrative has its own charm and all of them work when storytelling 🙂
#23 by Louise Foerster on June 22, 2017 - 4:37 am
Great advice and guidance — while I tend to stick to a single point of view (mainly cause it keeps me honest with who knows what and how the story unfolds), I can appreciate how a more complex view adds dimension and interest.
#24 by lupa08 on June 22, 2017 - 6:50 am
And I have great respect for authors who are able to tell the entire story from one character’s POV. I only did it once and it was for a novella and it was hard not to take help from the other characters 😒
#25 by Louise Foerster on June 22, 2017 - 6:51 am
I’ve got those characters who have a lot to say, too!
#26 by lupa08 on June 22, 2017 - 6:52 am
#27 by K. Kazul Wolf on June 22, 2017 - 8:22 pm
This is great! Alas, I normally write from a first person POV, but I’m sure one of my books someday soon will insist on being written in multiple POVs, and I’ll have to keep all of this in mind. 😀 Thank you!
#28 by lupa08 on June 23, 2017 - 2:54 am
Welcome, especially if it ever comes into use for you.
#29 by lyndleloo on June 24, 2017 - 1:50 am
These are fab tips! In my novel I’ve used third person and just my female MCs POV, but I’m thinking about using the love interest’s POV as well in the sequel, so this is really helpful 🙂
#30 by lupa08 on June 24, 2017 - 3:38 am
Glad it can come into use 😊 Thanks for dropping by!
#31 by JM Sullivan on June 26, 2017 - 10:55 pm
Great advice! Multiple POV can definitely be tricky and head hopping is a huge (and super annoying) hazard! Thanks for the helpful tips! 😀
#32 by lupa08 on June 27, 2017 - 8:48 pm
Thanks for dropping by and reading! Glad you found it useful 🙂
#33 by Lauricia Matuska on June 29, 2017 - 8:23 pm
I love the narrow focus of third person limited perspective, so I have yet to play with multiple points of view as a writer, However, as a reader my frustrations are the same as yours. Authors should avoid using multiple povs simply because it’s popular. Save it for a story in which the reader needs to know information the protagonist can’t discover/experience on his or her own. Even then, use it throught the story, not only in one or two scenes, and keep it consistent.
#34 by lupa08 on June 30, 2017 - 11:45 am
Consistent and separate. Don’t forget separate!
Thanks for reading 😊