Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Are Multiple Points of View Right for You?

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

I wrote several books before one of them was published. My first book, The New Recruit, had one point of view. The second book was Project Gemini, also one point of view. Then I wrote a middle grade story called Seagulls are Plain that was also one point of view.

After that, I experimented with a retelling of Anne of Green Gables, though it had four points of view. It was turning into a beast of a story, so I set it aside. Then I wrote Replication, my first story with two points of view. I must have liked two points of view, because after I finished Replication, I wrote By Darkness Hid. This book sold, and after that, I wrote To Darkness Fled and From Darkness Won, both with two points of view, though book three did have a prologue from a third point of view to give readers a ticking time bomb.

When I finished those books, I wrote a proposal for the Safe Lands trilogy. I wanted to tell the story of three brothers, but if felt weird not to have a girl point of view, so I decided to do four. I plotted it out, wrote the first three chapters, a synopsis of book one, and a blurb for books two and three, and sent it off. Zondervan bought it. And then I had to write those books.



Um … That was hard!

I instantly knew I was in over my head. Not that I wasn’t capable of writing a book with four points of view. I had tried it with the Anne retelling and failed. But then I wrote four books each with two points of view, and my skill level was ready to tackle four. But since I’d sold this off a proposal, I had to write it fast. And I wasn’t ready to write four points of view fast.

But I survived. And I learned a lot.


Why choose more than one POV?

-You want to show the male and female perspectives in a romance.
-You want to tell two or more separate stories that will intertwine.
-You want to show what's going on in a different part of the storyworld.
-You want to show the killer's perspecitve or something mysterious.
-You want to give the reader more information than your hero has.
-You want to show deeper characterization and motivation of other characters.
-You want the reader to see the story from different angles.
-You want to have mini subplots for supporting characters.
-You want to broaden the scope of the story, make it bigger, more epic.


Tips to make it work:

-Know why you’re doing it. Have a purpose for each POV. In Captives, I wanted to show how three brothers could have completely different experiences in the Safe Lands. In Replication, I wanted to contrast Abby and Martyr’s worlds. Ask yourself if multiple points of view will help you tell the story you want to tell. Will it make the story stronger? Because if you’re doing it just because you think it will be fun, that’s not a good enough reason.

-Each POV needs to add something than no other POV can add. If the reader doesn’t care about that POV character, they could put down the book and walk away. If you’re going to add a POV, make sure that it’s necessary and gripping. If it doesn’t add to the story, it should be cut.

-Multiple points of view might make your book longer. At least they did for me since I each of my characters had their own mini story with its own story arc.

-Multiple points of view take more time to write. I was lost when I wrote my first draft of Captives. On the proposal, Levi had been my main character. But Mason took over. And Jemma’s point of view didn't work at all. In the rewrite, I got rid of Jemma and created Shaylinn, who had a purpose for her POV.

- Every time you switch points of view, you risk confusing your reader. If your reader loved the first point of view, then you switch and they don’t like the next voice, you’re in trouble! And even if you do it well, it creates distance between the reader and the story. I’ve heard of readers skipping entire chapters to read only the points of view they like. And then there are readers that prefer books about one character and won’t read books with multiple points of view because they find them too confusing or jarring when they switch heads.

-Don't switch POV characters too quickly. Scene by scene is a good way to do it. Or chapter by chapter. I had written By Darkness Hid every other chapter---Achan, Vrell, Achan, Vrell---but my editor, Jeff Gerke, urged me to stay with Achan for three chapters, then do Vrell for three, then go ahead and switch every other. This helped readers connect with Achan in the beginning before I left him for Vrell's POV.

-Be sure to go back to everyone at the right time. In Captives, I tried to alternate evenly between my four characters. Mason, Levi, Omar, Shaylinn; Mason, Levi, Omar, Shaylinn. But Mason was more of the main character in Captives, so sometimes he got two chapters in a row.

-Don’t recap. This was something I quickly caught on to writing Captives. Because I was showing four people arriving in the same place, I found those people describing and experiencing the same things. So I had to be careful to give a different purpose to each scene and delete as much repetition as possible.

-Give each POV character a unique voice. It’s more important than ever in a multiple POV book that your characters don’t all sound the same. Distinguish the voices, narrative, and actions of your characters. The reader should never be confused whose POV they’re reading. It should be obvious. And that’s a lot of work.


In conclusion . . . 

If you want to try a multiple POV book, go for it! But keep in mind that you should only choose multiple POVs because that’s the way the story needs to be told. If you've never tried it, I recommend writing a two POV book before you try a four POV book. Baby steps are good. Work your way up to that epic fantasy with twelve points of view. *grin*

What is the highest number of POVs you’ve written in one book? Why did you choose to write it that way? Any questions about multiple POVs?

51 comments:

  1. How I wish I'd had this post when I first started writing . . .
    This is definitely something I need to work on in one of my current WIPs. I have so many characters that I love whose eyes I want to show things through that I'm overwhelming myself with POV possibilities. I'll definitely have to go back and rework that.
    Thanks for the post!

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    1. You're welcome, Sarah. It is fun to look through everyone's eyes, and it's a good exercise to do anyway sometimes, to help you figure out how certain characters might react. So maybe you can still do it, just not write it all into the story.

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  2. I think the highest I've done was three POVs. So far I'm about a third of the way into that book with the three POVs, but as I try different stories, I think I like just one POV.

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  3. The highest I've done is three, though, to be honest, I actually often write two (well, one is more like a "whenever something needs to be established in another part of the story" kind of POV). I did it because the three characters all have different journeys, and I wanted to show that. It's hard though :P

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    1. I like two POVs. I like them even where there is no romance, though lots of times with a male POV and a female one, the reader will assume a romance is going to blossom. But that just provides us with a way to deliver the unexpected to the reader by not adding a romance. Ha ha.

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    2. LOL, nice! I could totally see you sitting at your desk cackling over the poor readers who are hoping for them to fall in love... ;)

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  4. I don't think I've ever tried more than one POV yet. I just started on a story and I really think one's better there, at least for now.
    P. S. How do you guys ever do more than one story at a time? I can't imagine myself doing it. :)

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    1. That's great, Sofia. Stick with it!
      It's hard to work on more than one story at a time. I don't like to if I don't have to. If I pour everything into one story at a time, they tend to be better stories than if I'm dividing my time between several. But with contracts and deadlines and such, that's not always possible.

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  5. My first book I think I wrote in just one POV, although I did head hop quite a bit I'm sure, and I believe I did have one or two scenes from the villain's point of view.

    My second book just has one POV, although my villain is the type of villain I would really like to write about . . . oh well. :P After I finish this novel, my third one will probably have two POV's. The hero and the villain. I'm going to exclude a heroine from her own POV because I just don't really have the need for it.

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  6. I actually write better with multiply POVs. I am really struggling with a story of mine that has only one. The most POV characters I have had was six. Most of these characters did not have a lot of scenes in there POV, only ones where I needed theirs.

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    1. That's great, Bookish. It sometimes depends on the genre and style of the author too. There are many suspense and action adventure books that have many POVs, sometimes only one guy for a three-page chapter. It's one way to tell a story and it works well.

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  7. My book has one point of view, but I have a few scenes from other POVs to show what is going on in different parts of the world.

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  8. I agree with Sarah, I wish I had read this when I first started writing. It would've really helped me. I'm actually considering revising my first book to get rid of head-hopping (my main POV vice) and stick to dual 3rd limited.

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    1. That would be a good exercise for you as a writer. (Rewriting that book to take out the head-hopping, I mean.) It would be a lot of work, but the practice of doing it would be well worth the effort, I'd think.

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    2. I've already redone the 1st chapter and it's MUCH better. Time-consuming, but like you said, well worth it.

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  9. I usually just have one point of view, but for a story idea I have it may be two... I like only having one because then I don't have to worry about any one else...:D

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  10. My current WIP originally had two POVs, but in the end I stuck with just one. It worked best for my story.
    I enjoy multiple POV books, though. A Song of Ice and Fire has had about 20 POV characters at this point the series, and I love it!

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    1. Yes, he does a great job at balancing all his POVs, but it takes time to write that way and do it well. This from an article I read yesterday: "George R.R. Martin began “A Game of Thrones,” the first volume of his “A Song of Ice and Fire” fantasy series, in 1991, published it in 1996, and today, more than twenty years after he started, he is still two books away from finishing the seven-book saga." http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2014/01/30/is-this-the-end-of-the-worlds/?blog_id=120&post_id=79451&mod=wsj_valettop_email

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  11. I write with one POV--it's the way I write. I've tried to write with two points, but it didn't work at allllllll. But maybe I should try it again sometime... soon.
    Thanks for this Jill, it really helped!! :D

    TW Wright
    ravensandwriting.blogspot.com

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    1. You're welcome. :-) And you should do what works best for you. You can always try something different, but don't even feel like you have to.

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  12. Phew, good to know I'm doing my two POVs right! They definitely both have a reason for existence and I'm swapping off chapters for them, so I think I'm doing okay...yes!

    Thanks for the post! :)

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  13. The most I've done is three POVs, which I loved doing. However, an editor at a conference graciously pointed out that the nature and length of the story really couldn't support that many. All my subsequent stories have been single POV. I'm sure I'll go back and try for multiple POVs after I have more experience under my belt!

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    1. Sounds like a good idea. As Captives got longer and longer, I remember freaking out that my editor would hold me to 80,000 words. I was at 120,000. Thankfully, she let the book go long. O-o

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  14. Hey, Miss Jill! Thank you for the post :) It made me wonder if you have any tips/tricks you use that help give each of your POV characters their own unique voice. I've been editing one of my WIPs, and though the characters may sound different to me, I'm not sure they would to someone else.... So what do you do to make sure your characters don't sound like the same person?

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    1. It takes practice. We've written some posts on it before. Here are the links to some.

      http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2013/05/describing-through-characters-interests.html

      http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2013/07/creating-unique-voices-with-dialogue.html

      http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2012/06/how-to-write-with-voice-and-giveaway.html

      Hope that helps some!

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    2. Oh, wow! Thank you so much for gathering those. They're fantastic ;)

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  15. Good post, because I have been wondering about these!

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  16. Great information, thank you so much. I think it is going to help me a lot. I have written one story with 4 POV's but I am currently working back through it. I had been debating on taking out one of the POV's because it seemed too weak for the story. Thanks for all the tips!

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  17. Great post!! I use multiple P. O. V. s most of the time for my novels. I say do what fits the story.

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  18. I have a question. What are some ways to use multiple POVs? Like, do you show what they think on both ends of conversation all the time or do you go every other chapter? Is there a post like that in here somewhere that I just couldn't find?

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    1. I sort of listed some ways to use POV above, though I didn't spell out the motivations for each scene. I don't think there is a post on that because it would be very broad and differ for every story.

      It's important that your POVs don't show the exact same scene just to get the thoughts of a different person. You can give a different person's thoughts in a new scene where something else is happening, but they're still thinking about that previous scene. Maybe I can write a post about this next week.

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  19. Thank you thank you thank you! This is exactly what I've been needing. In my novel, I have four points of view: Jack, Carrie, Kai and Destiny. But Kai's point of view isn't working for me! So I may have to scrap it.

    - Tabby

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  20. This was fantastic! I was actually thinking about POV's today. I've come to the conclusion that there is no way my trilogy can be told from just two POV's. There were too many gaps and parts of the story that needed to be strengthened. I'm much happier writing four POV's and the story seems to hold much more meaning to it now, since the readers get to see into several different views of the story.

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  21. Awesome post. I've never written anything with more than one POV because I write in first person but I should try it sometime.

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  22. So far all of my books are written in one POV, but as I was thinking about how to make one of my books (which is still just a first draft) better, I realized it would be a stronger story told from two POVs. I haven't started revising yet, but I'm pretty nervous. I have a harder time getting into books with multiple POVs when I'm reading, so I'm a little worried if this is the right decision for the book. I hope it is, though! This was a really helpful post to me right now.

    ~Sarah Faulkner

    inklinedwriters.blogspot.com

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  23. I am so one of those readers who skip to read their favorite character's point of view. I try to stop myself, but it's so hard.lol

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  24. I think that the trick to having multiple points of view is making sure the characters connect with each character and with each other.

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  25. I think I counted six POVs in my trilogy I'm writing. But I agree, I'm also one of those people who rather skip to their favorite character (although I force myself through them). So in my books I try to stick 90% with my MC, then peel off to the others when I ABSOLUTELY have to, and not for very long, if I can help it. And to keep readers from getting confused who's who, I usually say the character's name in the first sentence.

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  26. Yeah Im more comfortable with one POV but there is one book I'm planning, and a couple series that I can apply this post to. Definitely some good advice..... :)

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  27. Thank you so much for this post! I've been dithering over multiple POVs in my WIP for so long now that I stopped writing all together...

    You mentioned writing two consecutive chapters from the same POV. So it doesn't matter if they don't always alternate perfectly?

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  28. I have five major POVs (two of which are characters that already have a POV, but they occur at different points in the character's life-timestream if we're getting Doctor Who about it) and then three others that play major roles in the story, but they don"t show up much in the plot. Since I'm working with different times being told in rotating chapters (no systematical rotations, so it's kind of all over the place) I can play around with the reader a little. I have a character who shows up in a future chapter near the beginning, so the reader thinks that the one they're introduced to in the past will live, but the past one died and became the namesake for the future one. I also have a romance develop while I explain their eventual divorce. Sometimes I love my story, but occasionally I feel that it's too complex... Oh well! First staff's first, then the decisions will come. Any suggestions on coping with complexity?

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  29. When I first started writing, I jumped right into third person omniscient. That was the POV of the books I read, so it just felt natural to write that way. I don't know if that would be "head hopping" or not. When I was thirteen, I became deteremined to start and finish a new project. I had been reading Ellla Enchanted, so I decided to try first person. Unfortunatly, I didn't work my story out to where I could have the entire thing told by my main girl, so I jumped into third person during the first draft. During the revise I managed to hide the third person. If I ever decide to rewrite it, I probably will change it to third person one POV. My current project is third person with two POVs. I might have more, if I add my villian. I just love multiple point of views. I can't work with just one.

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  31. My WIP has 2 POVs, rotating evenly enough (although not strictly alternating). The two POV characters are siblings who've been separated by the events of a war - it's interesting, because the plot is about them fighting to defeat the Big Bad, but as they have separate POVs I had to come up with two different ways for them to fight/contribute to the victory. Their stories rejoin at the end, and I really love the way it turns out - it gives a bigger, more fleshed-out story, but it also gives so much more character development :D

    I also plan for my next WIP to have 2 POVs ;)

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  32. I've thought of this before!

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