17 Comments

Point of View: Multiple Points of View


I don’t like the omniscient point of view.  Too stiff, too distant and too unwieldy. I don’t feel comfortable writing that way.

But what if I want to expand the POV beyond one person?

How can I inject a sense of a larger world, epic in scope and meaning?

What if I want a wider more dynamic cast?

Simple, I multiply my point of view.

Actually, it is not that simple.

In order to juggle a multiplicity of points of view you have to have a fine sense of balance and focus. You don’t want to spend too much time with one character and ignore the others (balance) while at the same time you don’t want to lose the focus on the plot by jumping between too many characters.

I use a few rules of thumb that help me with the juggling act (in no particular order):

  • Keep track of your principal characters: Remember that every time you switch pov, you are shifting the focus to that character. In essence the character becomes the main character while the spotlight is on him. Introduce too many minor characters (who only appear for one scene, at the most) and you will lose both focus and balance.
  • Each principal gets his own introductory scene:  Which engages the reader and highlights why this character pov is important. It will be easier to remember that character down the line if he has a memorable introduction.
  • When in doubt stick with the main character: Every story has a main character, even one with multiple points of view. He is the character the action revolves around (regardless of who is having their pov moment). When you have two or more characters that have their own pov, the easiest thing to do is too gravitate to the chosen central/spoke character.
  • One character-pov per scene: A chapter can have multiple scenes, but in order to maintain focus (and not confuse the reader) you should stick to one character pov per scene. Have the scene play out fully from that character’s point of view. If you want to explore the events of a given scene with another character pov, you can write another scene doing just that.
  • Remember that every scene should move the story forward: Whether it is moving the plot along, character growth or expanding the scope of the narrative, each shift should push the story forward in some way. Without forward movement, you just wasted a scene.

There are different ways to use the multiple pov. For example, if you want to do a flash back, you can hop over to another character and let them do it (it is also a good way to mix third person with first person but it does have its risks). Epistolary stories (stories in letter form) show different letters  from two or more characters, each one talking in first person. Haven’t seen many current examples of that type of story telling but that doesn’t mean you can’t use it.

I prefer multiple third person close. It allows me to go back and forth between characters, thus showing the impact of each individual or group actions on others and retains the intimacy with each without putting on the first person blinders. Tricky, but doable. You can even jump between pov in a scene, but to avoid pov confusion, each jump should have at the very least a full paragraph attached to it. Although I don’t recomend it. Might as well go with omniscient if you want to show what everybody is feeling/thinking in a given scene.

Well that is all for Points of View. Hope it helps.

And just because I’m in that kind of mood, here is some Eddie Izzard for you:

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17 comments on “Point of View: Multiple Points of View

  1. Third person multiple is my favorite POV technique. I love getting inside character’s heads and showing how people see the same things differently. Or what one person thought of another character turns out to be totally wrong when you get inside the other character’s POV. So many fun things you can play around with.

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  2. I have to admit, third person is my favorite POV as well (when I’m writing).

    I’ve really been enjoying these posts. Very well written and informative!

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    • @Tasha

      Yes. Opening the action to different perspectives is a major plus as is looking at how different characters process the information given to them and how the act accordingly.

      @Carol

      Thank you. I do my best. 😉

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  3. I can’t remember the author, but there was a brilliant piss-take of the massive casts in recent novels, which included a scene from a teapot’s POV, mainly to show just how ridiculous some books had become.

    Something else to consider:

    Remember that any scene can arbitrarily change the fundamental nature of any character
    Pulling a plot twist out of thin air and undoing the last chapter isn’t a Bad Thing

    Then again, I’m one of the people who have come out as Grant Morrison supporters, regardless of public opinion. So… Yeah. 😀

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    • Well, one has to be careful not to inject too many characters into a story, less the thing unravels.

      As for plot twist coming out of thin air, I don’t like them. They smack off poor writing or lack of discipline. Morrison is great, when he maintains the internal logic, but when he goes off the rails, I don’t follow. That’s when I put the comic book down and walk away.

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  4. Yep, put me in the 3rd multiple fav group as well. My next project is going to be a close 3rd with 2 PsOV, and I’m looking forward to it!

    Augh! Izzard in the morning! *reels*

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    • I read some of your 1st person stuff Amy and it is great. But yeah, 3rd person close does have its advantages.

      Izzard in the morn, Izzard in evening, 24-7 Lizard Izzard!

      😀

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  5. […] I’m trying to reign them in, but so far they seem to follow the rules I laid down on this post with a few exceptions. But sometimes you just have to dump a scene (i.e. kill your darlings) […]

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  6. OMG! I have been on an endless search trying to figure out the style I write. I’ve only recently taken writing seriously and didn’t know there were POV’s beyond first, second and third(not kidding!) Every resources site and book I’ve purchased talks only about omniscient, limited, subjective and objective and they even had different interpretations of them O_O But alas, I find your post and YES! this is the pov style I write and enjoy the most! Why this isn’t listed anywhere else is beyond me! even wikipedia doesn’t have it for god sake! Thank you, thank you, thank you! You have ended my misery! *rolls eyes*

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  7. I love third person POVs, but when the story demands a lot to be hidden from the main character, it can only be done believably from the first person POV. The question then is, what’s a good, non-annoying way to mix the two? 🙂

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    • You have to chose what is best for you. Sometimes, the trick is not to hide the information from the reader, but from the characters. There is some value in seeing characters fumble in the dark and react to limited information. Also, you can still use 3rd person close in multiple-povs, and limit the information each character posses. Each pov can uncover a bit more on their own until a larger picture is formed. Or they can see and reach wrong conclusions which are perfect for red herrings.

      🙂

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    • Ah, now I know why I like 1st person – I’m chicken when it comes to plotting complex stories through the eyes of several people. It’s _hard_. So I respect those who can do it.

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  8. Good list of guidelines. Multiple POVs can offer so much to a story, including a broader scope of things and an outside perspective of protagonists. So long as we approach them sensibly, there’s no reason they can’t work out well.

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  9. I also favorite 3rd person, multiple POV, especially in a complex novel. You’ve done a great job of laying out the guidelines to make it work. A few I hadn’t thought of and will endeavor to use them. Thanks for sharing your insights!

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