How to Write Multiple POVs

Photo credit: yuan2003 on Flickr
Quite a while ago, I wrote a post on why you might consider using multiple POVs in your WIP, but it
occurred to me that I never followed it up with a post covering the how.

A general rule of thumb I follow is to tell the story in as few POVs as possible. If you can tell the full story of your novel in a single POV, then there’s no reason to add a second or third POV (remember: nothing in your novel should be unnecessary). If, on the other hand, you need more than one POV to fully tell your story, then multiple POVs are certainly something you’ll need to consider.

Once you’ve decided that using multiple POVs is the right choice for your novel, and you’ve chosen your POV characters, the most important step is your first step: getting to know your characters.

The process is no different from getting to know your protagonist in a single POV novel, except that you’ll repeat the process with every one of your POV characters. Depending on what your first draft process is like, you can hypothetically leave a couple questions unanswered when jumping into your first draft, but by the time you’ve churned out your final draft you should know each of your POV characters equally well.

The reason this is so crucially important for multiple POV novels, is that if you don’t know one character as well as the other, rather than reading distinct voices, all of the characters start to sound like the one you know the best.

In order for a multiple POV novel to work, every POV must have his or her own distinctive voice. A reader should be able to open up a chapter, read a couple lines and figure out what character they’re reading with relative ease. If the voices start to blend together and mirror each other, you know it’s time to sit down and really get to know your characters.

One thing that has helped me with multi-POV problems is to sit down and differentiate what makes your POV characters different. I’ve found that making a list of these differences—ideological differences, varied fears and dreams, and particularly how they speak and think differently—helped me to narrow down a specific voice and focus for each POV character.

When done correctly, multiple POVs can add an extra interesting element to your WIP. The key is just to take enough time to do it effectively.

Have you ever written multiple POVs? If so, what was your experience like? If not, have you read any multi-POV novels that stuck with you?  


Ava Jae said...

Sure thing! Glad to hear the post helped. :) Getting the voices to be distinct is easily the hardest part, so I totally understand your difficulty. Good luck!

Emily Mead said...

I'm writing a multiple POV novel with a Twitter friend...we alternate chapters. It's turned out really well so far, because our styles of writing are so different. Definitely a valuable opportunity. Have you ever co-written with someone?

Ava Jae said...

You know, I can't say that I have, however that sounds like a really smart way to handle a multi-POV WIP. You're nearly guaranteed two distinct voices. Very clever. :)

KayFey said...

There is a famous thread going around about a self-published author going off on a bad review on either or other online bookseller. It was not a pretty sight. I felt sick to my stomach. Cautionary tale not just for writers, but everyone in general.
Now, onto my current WIP: it's a historical drama, so I definitely MUST employ multiple POVs. I was influenced as a preteen from a historical family saga that employed this technique, and was so impressed, I told myself I would use it.

Tinnis said...

I myself love stories with multiple POVs, and preferably not just two or three, I love when it's a bunch of them because that gives the story a more complicated plot and more interesting for me to read. So when I planned for the current WIP I'm writing I planned to have a couple of POVs because the story just can't be told otherwise, or it wouldn't give the story the same deapth. My problem is just as you said, differating the voices. But since all my different POVs have very different characters I usually have a lot to differ in between them. My trick is to think how a character would act if they wer insulted, since that shows quite a lot of their personality. One of them gets mad and insult the other person back, the second becomes quite and starts to wonder what she has done to deserve it, while the third thinks that he really is a worthless person and needs to improve. To me that shows how they are different and it has helped me a lot.

Ava Jae said...

I think key to multi-POV novels is figuring out what differentiates your characters. Once you have a good grasp on that, the rest becomes markedly easier, in my experience. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Tinnis!

Mrs Carlie Lee said...

Hurrah! I'm having a morning of finding great blogs! First DIY FMA, now you.

I'm not sure if any of you would have read her work, but I think Jilly Cooper's early books have excellent examples of multi-POV - Riders in particular.

My current WIP has 2 POV, a man and a woman, and crits have suggested I've really nailed the chap, but haven't done so well with the woman. Sounds so weird, but I think it might be because I make too many assumptions about the female character, and have worked much harder on the male.

Anyway - I'll keep at it!

Thanks for a great post - good luck to everyone with their writing.

Ava Jae said...

Hello and welcome to Writability! Glad to hear you're discovering some new blogs this morning. :)

I haven't read any of Jilly Cooper's books, but I'll keep an eye out--thanks for the suggestion!

I've also experienced what you described with the male POV turning out stronger than the female POV. For me, I suspect it has to do with just how different the male POV is from my actual POV. I love writing characters who are totally different from me and my perspective, and so I tend to find male characters a little easier to write. Go figure.

Good luck with your writing! I wish you all the best. :)

Ava Jae said...

Interesting that you should mention that about the poor behavior of a writer, because I just wrote about that not long ago (although maybe that's why you mentioned it?).

Anyway. I think it's interesting that you felt multiple POVs was a must for a historical family saga. That is way out of my genre, so I wouldn't even know if that's typical for that genre (I'm assuming it is?) but I definitely wouldn't have guessed that.

SJ Mitchell said...

I just found this blog when someone posted it in twitter. Lot's of great stuff here!

I have a completed manuscript that has a single POV but seems to drag a bit as we follow one teen's perspective. I've thought about adding POV of two of his friends to help drive the story along. It's hard to learn about other important characters without bogging the story down with dialogue.

I think by adding these two characters' POV it could help get the reader more attached to these three important protagonists and understand why they interact the way they do. Have you ever come across a situation where you feel it makes sense to ADD a POV rather than take away?

I really enjoyed the article. I'll be back to read more!

Ava Jae said...

Hello SJ, and welcome to Writability! ^_^ Happy to hear you're enjoying the blog thus far.

As I mentioned in my post, I usually follow the rule of using as few POVs as possible to tell the story. If you can fully tell your story without a second or third POV (and it sounds like you might be able to, because you already have), then I probably wouldn't add any. The only time I've ever added a POV was in the case where it'd originally been written in multiple POVs, then I deleted the second POV, then I added quite a bit to the manuscript and realized I needed that second POV back. >.<

So. That's my experience. I'm not sure I would add more POVs just for the sake of getting the readers more connected to other characters. But that's just me. :)

Jackie Jones said...

Nice read :).

I love multi-POV writing and as you said, one of the most important elements is ensuring that they don't resemble each other in tone. However, I feel like for me, it's so much fun having these varying personalities running around, I want to know each one down to all the little dirty details ^_^.

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Jackie! I know what you mean about wanting to get to know more than one character--it really can be a fun experience, particularly after you've nailed down the differentiating voices. :)

Taby M said...

I was thinking of writing a book with multiple POV's. One being a main character boy and the other being a main character girl. I've considered adding a few snippets of another character scattered throughout the book because I want them to be the next main character of the following book in the series. I've seen this done by a few authors and find it very interesting when there's multiple characters in the book. What I'm have trouble deciding on is whether I should make each character in first person or third person given that there is multiple characters with POV's.

Ava Jae said...

It sounds to me like you might not need those snippets of other characters (like I said, the idea is to write the story in as few POVs as possible), but as far as third or first person goes, either one works. I've seen both done well, it's really a matter of preference. I personally like writing in first person, so every dual-POV story I've done thus far has been in alternating first person.

I've written another post about deciding between first and third person, so if you're interested, I could give you the link (or you could probably search it). :)

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