Using Multiple Points of View

Using Multiple Points of View

If you’re thinking of using multiple points of view in a novel, here are three things to consider that might help you decide.

Do You Need Multiple Points of View?

First, ask yourself if you really need more than one character telling this story. Everything in a story should have a reason for being there. That includes the number of point of view characters. Maybe you need more than one because no single character is going to know everything needed to make the story work. Maybe they’re spread out across several locations, all of which are needed. Whatever the reason, make sure there is one because there are disadvantages to using multiple points of view.

The most important disadvantage is that every time you add a POV character, you dilute the reader’s attachment to any of them. Readers have only so much affection to spread around. If the number of POV characters gets too large, they’re likely to prefer one and possibly even skip the other sections.

My own reaction as a reader is that more than three are likely to strain my attention. Someone like George R. R. Martin can make that work, but most writers can’t.

Clearly Indicate Changes in Point of View

Use chapter breaks to indicate a change in point of view. Don’t worry if that means your chapters vary in length. Readers can cope with that more easily than they can cope with lack of clarity.

If you have several short sections, you could also use scene breaks.

Vary the Voices

Make sure each POV character has a distinct voice. Ideally, a reader should be able to tell who the POV character is without your telling them. What vocabulary does the character use? If they’re a sailor, perhaps they use sea metaphors. How are their sentences structured? A scholar will use more complex sentences than a child. What do they notice as they move through the world? If they’re a street urchin, they’ll notice food. If they’re an artist, they’ll respond to color and pattern.

Use those differences to make your characters more identifiable and more interesting to readers.

Start with the Main Character

If you have a main character, it’s best to start with them. When readers first open a book, they’re like ducklings waiting to be imprinted. They’re likely to attach to the first likely character who comes along.

Obviously this is just a general rule of thumb. Mysteries may start with the criminal committing the crime, for instance, and then move on to the detective. That works because the reader is less likely to attach to someone committing murder. But I once read a manuscript in which the first POV character died at the end of the first chapter and then the second POV character died at the end of the second one. By that point, I felt cheated and ready to give up.

Give us someone whose story we want to follow.


The Trickster

$3.99 ebook $14.99 paperback

A pickpocket girl and a smuggler’s son stumble on treason and can stop it only by betraying their families.

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