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So not too long ago I wrote a post on how to choose a POV character and once again, one of you fantabulous commenters asked a question that inspired a post—this time, on using multiple POVs.
Adding a second or third POV into your story isn’t a decision to be taken lightly—it’s much more challenging to write two or three (or more) distinctive voices than it is to write one, and creating effective transitions between the POV shifts is tricky. On top of the technical challenges behind crafting multiple POVs into a novel, there’s the added obstacle that some readers just don’t like multiple POVs because they find the head-hopping jarring and difficult to follow. When you write multiple POVs, you run the risk that a reader may put your book down simply because they didn’t like the way you handled having more than one POV character.
However, when done correctly, multiple POVs can add an interesting dimension to your story.
Multiple POVs allow your reader to see your story from many angles—they don’t necessarily have to take one character’s word for granted, and the ability to hop between many characters’ heads can be especially interesting when the characters don’t necessarily see eye to eye. As an added bonus, it also allows you to give the reader more information than either one character has—not only do they know what Character A knows, but they have access to Character B’s mind as well.
In Across the Universe (Beth Revis), for example, the readers have access to both Amy and Elder’s thoughts, who see the events that unfold in the story from completely different perspectives as Amy is a passenger on the spaceship Godspeed who was cryogenically frozen and accidentally awakened many decades before she was supposed to be woken up, while Elder is a ship-born teenager who is being raised to become the next leader of Godspeed. Readers very quickly learn the customs, beliefs and shifts in language (i.e.: “frex” instead of another four-letter word) from Elder’s thoughts, while we sympathize with Amy who is, in essence, one of us—an Earth born girl trying to understand the new world she was thrust into.
Unlike Across the Universe, however, The Iron Fey series (Julie Kagawa) used multiple POVs in an entirely different way—while the first three books were told from Meghan Chase’s POV, the final book of the series, The Iron Knight gave readers a glimpse into winter fey Ash’s mind. Without spoiling anything, this shift in POV was necessary due to events that happened in the third book that led to Meghan and Ash’s separation, and The Iron Knight is largely about Ash trying to return to her. While the POV shift was a little more jarring as readers were already accustomed to hearing from Meghan (not Ash), I personally found the extra insight into Ash’s mind to be a fascinating experience.
There are many different ways of handling multiple POVs, but the key to writing it is to make sure that both POVs are absolutely necessary to the story. If so, it can be a great way to add an extra layer of complexity to your plot, but if not, you run the risk of losing readers who will wonder why the extra POV was necessary to begin with.
What do you think of multiple POVs in books? Do you enjoy reading or writing them? Why or why not?