The Challenge of Writing Multiple POVs

Janice Hardy had a great post Monday about handling cliffhanger endings with multiple POVs. She focused on scenes and how to keep up the tension, reader interest, and reader investment as you switch between points of view. My current WIP alternates between two POVs, so I’ve been dealing with this challenge myself. I thought I’d share a bit of the basics as well as some more specific things I’ve discovered.

Before you start, consider whether multiple POVs are really necessary. There’s a lot to be said for using a single POV. It’s easier to build tension when you only understand the scenario from one person’s point of view. It’s easier to keep some mystery since one person can’t possibly know every aspect of what’s going on. But sometimes the story demands to be told from more than one POV. My WIP follows twins separated at birth–by a galaxy. It’s kind of like “The Parent Trap” but with aliens. The girls don’t meet until halfway through the book, and the reader needs to see what leads to their collision from both sides. But let me tell you, it’s been challenging to make that work and keep up the tension for both.

They must have unique voices. It seems like a given, but this is a lot harder than I realized at first. I’m constantly asking myself: Is that something A would say? Or does it sound more like B? That goes for both dialogue and internal thoughts. Even if they’re raised in the same family, two people will not have the same approach to life. I can certainly attest to that. My brother and I are 18 months apart and are complete opposites. I have to take this an extra step in my WIP in that one of my characters has been raised on another planet, so she has a completely different set of idioms, culture, environment, etc., from which to draw.

Each character must have his/her own arc. Using more than one POV multiplies the character work, too. Although it’s important to have arcs for secondary characters anyway, it becomes even more vital when one of those secondary characters becomes a primary character. If the reader is going to invest time in getting inside more than one character, there has to be a payoff. Did the character get what she wanted most? Did he change or learn something about himself? All those questions you ask about your main character you must now ask about every POV character because they’re not hiding behind another character’s view of them.

Make sure the right character is telling the right part of the story. Whose POV is most important in this scene? Whose character arc will it most affect? Why does the reader need to see it from that particular character’s viewpoint? My WIP is set up to alternate POVs, and the last thing I want is a throwaway scene that’s just there to keep up the pattern. Just as in a single POV story, every scene has to move toward the climax. There must be a reason for that character to tell that part of the story, and I’d even suggest it would be better to mess up the pattern than to toss in a scene that stalls the story.

The characters don’t have to get equal time. I struggled with this quite a bit, thinking my scenes all had to be an equal length. But the point is to show what I need to show to move the story forward. If that means character A’s scene is ten pages and character B’s is two, then that’s what needs to happen.

Here are a few books I think handle dual/multiple POVs very well:

  • ACROSS THE UNIVERSE series by Beth Revis – This one’s great because it highlights two people raised in very different cultures and how that affects their view of their current situation. Check out my review of A MILLION SUNS, the second book in the series, here.
  • THE DEAD GENTLEMAN by Matthew Cody – Taking the POV question a bit further, this story alternates between first and third POVs. I addressed that in my review. As of right now, I’m using this technique in my WIP. I have a reason for that, but we’ll see if it passes muster with my CPs and betas :).
  • SCARLET by Marissa Meyer – I could use the first book in this series, CINDER, as an example, but what I like about SCARLET is that it shows two different stories intersecting. Marissa Meyer does such an excellent job of building the tension for the characters to finally meet. Read more here.

I could come up with more examples, but those few came immediately to mind. Have you written anything with multiple POVs? Do you have any other tips to add?

Responses to “The Challenge of Writing Multiple POVs”

  1. Noelle

    It’s very difficult for me to write a book with only one POV! I actually used the first/third combination in Face the Music (first for Tate, deep third for Jared, her love interest) because I wanted both POVs but felt that since the book is ultimately Tate’s journey, readers should be closer to her. I’m toying with doing dual firsts in the new YA I’m starting (Yay! New book! So excited! :)). We’ll see how it goes with the first draft!

    Good luck with the new WIP! Can’t wait to hear more about it!

    • Michelle I. Mason

      That’s exactly why I’m using first and third. I want it to be a bit more of one twin’s story, and there’s the added consideration that the other twin is very reserved, so I want more distance from her. Hopefully it works!

      Can’t wait to hear about your new story, too! Good luck drafting!

  2. Elizabeth Fais

    Interesting combo, first and third. I’d never considered that before, but it sounds like it’s the solution for my new MG project. Thanks ladies!


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