Whether your novel is written in first person or third person, your characters are the driving force of your novel.
Your readers will watch the story you’ve created unfold through the eyes of the characters, and if we’ve written properly, we will not only see what they see, but we’ll hear what they hear, feel what they feel, and even taste what they taste.
The more characters your story features, the wider the lens through which we view what’s unfolding. And we get to know basically every angle of every part of every story.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons that multiple POV stories are becoming more and more popular recently.
Of course, you don’t HAVE to write your story from multiple perspectives if your story calls for just one voice. Not every story or genre even works well with multiple points of view. But since it’s a growing trend, there are some things you should know if you decide to give it a try in your next book.
So, why do so many authors increasingly turn to writing in multiple POV? As I’ve already mentioned briefly, writing from the perspective of different characters allows the reader to look at the plot and each scene through the eyes of someone new. And each character holds different pieces to the puzzle that is the plot, so the more characters whose perspectives you include, the broader the picture you’ll give the reader.
For example, in a single POV story, if a character debates with the protagonist or thinks the hero isn’t making a good choice, we’re often left to wonder why. But multiple perspectives give the reader additional insight into what the other character is thinking and feeling.
It’s also a great way of showing how a character can say one thing aloud, but and the other character appears at first to agree, but once we switch to their scene, we are now able to get inside their head, and we learn they feel something inside that does not match what the first character sees.
Imagine a scene in a historical romance circa 1800’s where your protagonist/heroine is talking to her father, who insists she marry the duke instead of her true love, the stable boy. Because of social norms and out of respect, your heroine will nod her head, curtsy, give a wan smile, and turn to leave. Her father may think in his POV what a dutiful and respectful daughter he has.
Then, we cut to the heroine’s perspective in the next chapter or scene, and as she walks away, we are now privy to how she REALLY feels. Her blood is boiling, her corset feels like it’s cutting off her oxygen, and, through internal dialogue, she lets her father know that she would never agree to marry such a hideous, bent over, old man!
See how cool that is?
Another really awesome tool that multiple POV allows that single POV does not is dramatic irony: when the reader knows something, but the protagonist does not.
Take, for example, my most recent book, A Thousand Tiny Cuts, in which I decided to showcase the perspectives of the three lead characters: Mena (the detective/protagonist), Caroline (the teenage victim), and Stan (the villain/antagonist). My favorite example from this book that shows dramatic irony is a scene in which Mena is at home, taking a night off from the investigation into Caroline’s recent mysterious reappearance, 10 years after her abduction. At the end of this scene, she receives a call from her mother’s nursing home telling her that she’s fallen, so Mena rushes out the front door, hops in her car, and drives away.
Cut scene, and at the beginning of the very next chapter, it’s revealed, through Stan’s perspective, that he’s been hiding behind a tree across the street from Mena’s house, staring at her silhouette through her bathroom window!
Not only was that super creepy to write (and hopefully to read, too), but had I only written the story in singular POV, we (the reader) could not have known that Stan was watching Mena and basically stalking her. And knowing this added an extra level of tension and suspense, elements that are crucial in suspense/thrillers.
Now that we’ve established the WHY behind writing in multiple POV, let’s discuss the HOW. How exactly DO we pull of multiple POV effectively?
Before you begin, you’ll want to consider how many perspectives work best for your genre. You can do some research online on this issue or even just take a peek at some of the recent popular books in your chosen genre.
But here’s a brief example of the breakdown of recent trends.
Single POV – tends to work best with women’s fiction and literary fiction, as those types of stories are heavily character-driven, and women’s fiction focuses heavily on the female journey, as well as the emotions and issues a woman faces in her everyday life.
Dual POV – has become super popular with contemporary romance writers, since showcasing the perspective of both the heroine and her love interest allows for romantic tension to build and for the reader to see the budding romance form from both angles.
Multiple POV – really popular with crime/suspense/thrillers (for the reasons mentioned above) and especially sci-fi and fantasy, as it allows all the characters in a “kingdom” or “new world” to have a voice, which allows the world the writer has built to feel more realistic.
Once you decide how many perspectives will work best for your story, you’ll then want to decide which characters you want to showcase. Don’t just randomly choose. Your decision should make the most sense for your storyline.
As mentioned earlier, I have been writing more and more in multiple POV lately. In fact, as mentioned earlier, my latest book, A Thousand Tiny Cuts, features the protagonist, antagonist, and victim’s POVS. The reason for choosing the protagonist’s voice is pretty obvious, I should think. And maybe even with the victim. But I chose to feature Stan’s voice (the villain), also, so the reader can get a true sense of his backstory (he is the son of “The Prophet” of a polygamist cult), which helps the reader better understand his villainous behavior, as well as adding some more creep factor to the mix.
Another important thing to remember is that, if you plan on using two or more POVs, the characters absolutely must have their own dedicated scene and/or chapter! You don’t want to switch perspectives in the middle of a scene! This is known as head hopping, and it gets everything jumbled and will confuse the reader. So, don’t head hop!
And maybe most important of all, make sure the characters you’ve chosen to showcase each have a distinct “voice.”
True, even in singular POV, each character should have a distinctive voice (a way of speaking, acting, and thinking), but it’s even more so important in multiple POV as the narrative for their chapters will be read from their point of view.
Their unspoken opinions, their thoughts, their actions, etc., should all be different from all the other characters. If Mary Sue and John Doe agree on everything and have the same dialect, lingo, and thoughts, what would the point be then? This all comes down to word choice, take these two sentences for example:
“I skipped down the hall at the sound of my mama’s angelic voice calling me to dinner.”
“I stumbled through the house after mother wailed for me to come to dinner.”
Bit of a drastic difference, sure. But these kinds of differences exist in the real world, so make sure your characters have their own distinct voice.
I understand how all these rules can get a little overwhelming, but don’t fret! If you’re worried about losing track of the characters and timelines (which will happen to beginners; just part of the process), create a chapter-by-chapter outline.
The truth is, every author should be doing some level of plotting and planning before writing as it helps avoid getting stuck, lack of motivation, and writer’s block. But when writing in multiple POV, outlining is almost a no-brainer.
All my author coaching clients get access to my basic plotting outline template. It’s not really anything all that fancy, but it has helped over 100 authors so far, so I do believe it works. And I’ll go ahead and give you a glimpse at the first part of it, but not the whole thing…that’s for my clients!
That about covers it, folks!
Need even more in-depth advice on this topic? Tune in this Friday to our podcast, Write Your Best Book on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and of course, the podcast page of our website for this week’s episode (#65)! I sat down with Author Julietta Henderson, and we will (like always) unpack this in much greater detail, so you guys can get the BEST information you need to write your best book