How to Differentiate Your POVs

Photo credit: elliemcc11 on Flickr
Writing in multiple POVs is one of my favorite things to play around with. It’s exhilarating to get into more than one character’s head, and analyze the plot from different perspectives, and really see how the characters view each other. It can also be a great way for easy, built-in hooks because you can end one POV chapter on a cliffhanger and the readers have to read a whole chapter from a different POV before finding out what happened *insert maniacal laughter here.*

Writing in multiple POVs, however, can be really tricky. Because not only are you fully fleshing out one POV character until you can speak and think like them on the page, but you have to do it twice. Or three times. Or however many times depending on the number of perspectives you’re using.

I've found that the hardest part of that is largely getting your characters to sound different.

In a multiple POV novel, a reader should be able to randomly open up to any page in the book, read a sentence, and know whose POV they’re in without any context. Readers notice when characters sound the same, and it can be really jarring because readers realize that they are, in essence, not reading a character’s POV, but hearing the author’s voice come through. (And also, having to flip back to the beginning of the chapter to remember whose POV they’re in is no bueno).

But how do you make sure your POV characters sound different? Here are my top two tips:

  1. Learn the way each character speaks. Some people speak in long sentences, some prefer short. Some characters have a wide vocabulary and use words like “inexplicably,” “horrendous,” and “capable” in every day speech, others do not and stick to more basic words and phrases. Some characters curse frequently, others think “hell” is a bad word. There are regional differences, accents, and varied slang. There are characters who are insecure and ask loads of questions, and characters who are angry and speak aggressively. The possibilities are quite literally endless, and it’s absolutely vital that you understand where each of your characters fit in—and that you make sure they’re different enough that readers won’t get confused.

  2. Always think about the POV character’s perspective. A rich character and poor character walk into a small room lined with bookshelves brimming with old books. These two characters are going to have wildly different perspectives on the same setting. The character used to opulence might notice how dusty everything is, the cracks on the ceiling, the old rug, the cracked bookcases. The character who grew up in poverty might be stunned by the amount of books in the room, and notice how cozy the shag rug is, and wonder how anyone could have the time to read so many books. This is a super basic example, but the point is this: your two POV characters have different backgrounds and personalities coloring how they see the world. It’s up to you, the author, to know the difference.

Unsurprisingly, the key to writing great multiple POV novels is to get to know each of your perspective characters really really well. While you’re writing, it’s vital to remember that ultimately, you aren’t telling the story—your characters are. And when you’re working with multiple POVs, each character is going to tell the story a little differently. Your job is to navigate the differences and make them feel real.

What are some of your favorite multi-POV novels? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
When writing many POVs @Ava_Jae says, "each character is going to tell the story a little differently." Do you agree? (Click to tweet)  
Struggling to make your many POV characters sound distinct? Writer @Ava_Jae shares some multi-POV writing tips. (Click to tweet)


prerna pickett said...

Love this! I worked on a 4 pov book (3rd person) and it was quite tricky, but it helps you to really get to know each character.

Gabryelle K. said...

As a reader, POV is make-or-break for me. Deciding to add a book to my TBR is usually based upon how striking or not the POV is in the first five pages. For me, POV correlates with how much I enjoy a book. It's mostly why I ended up loving The Catcher in the Rye and partially why I ended up disliking Allegiant. The similarities between Tris's POV and Tobias's POV pulled me out of the novel often. Despite seeing the name indicating the POV at the beginning of each chapter, sometimes I got halfway through a chapter, forgot who was speaking, and had to check. This is something I complain about a lot when discussing books so I'm glad to see this post :) I want to print out copies and give one to every writer I meet, but considering I don't meet a lot of writers I guess I'll just resort to Twitter.

Ana @ Butterflies of the Imagi said...

Ooh, great tips! I love reading books with multiple POVs because somehow the way the POVs are woven together in the end always leaves the book with such a beautiful resonance. However, I am very daunted by writing a book with multiple POVs. I'll be sure to keep these tips in mind when I do try one someday-especially that one about really getting to know your characters before hand.

Ava Jae said...

Four POVs! That's intense—I've never tried more than two so far. But you never know what the future holds. :)

At any rate, getting to know your characters is pretty essential for multi-POV novels. Thanks for sharing!

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