In all genres, you can find novels with multiple narrative points of view. Some stories need it in order to tell a well-rounded tale, others are enhanced by it, but others are just confusing. There are pros and cons of writing this way. I’ve only ever written novels with at least two view points, and so I’m sharing some of the tips I’ve learned along the way, including answering these questions before and during writing.
Is it essential?
First and foremost…why are you writing from more than one point of view (POV)? Is it essential to the story? There should be a reason you’ve chosen not to take your lead character and leave the storytelling to them alone. Perhaps it allows you to bring in a perspective hidden from the other character, shows another side to the story, or adds additional suspense and mystery. Have a think about this before you write, or you may lose reader interest if they strongly prefer one POV over the other. You don’t want anyone skimming chapters/characters.
How many points of view am I using?
How many is too many? Well, there’s no answer there. George R.R. Martin famously uses an extensive cast, with far more POV characters than I’d advise. However, he does make it work, and it is a trait that makes the Song of Ice and Fire series so compelling. So, really, you could have two POV characters or ten. There are no rules. But you should still consider how many you’re using, and whether the story is too complex with it, or perhaps even not in depth enough. My work in progress has four POV characters, which feels excessive compared to my usual, but I also needed them all, so they’ve remained.
Has each character got their own distinct voice?
This is probably the most important question. Each character should have their own voice anyway, but this is even more essential for POV characters. I have read books where I’ve had to skip back a few pages to remind myself which character’s chapter it is, because their voices are identical. It takes you out of the story, and makes for a confusing reading experience. Though you should head chapters/scenes with the narrative character for clarity, it should be clear to the reader which character they’re listening to purely from their distinct voice.
Is there a system to the switching of POV?
Switching in the same scene can be dis-orientating and complicated. I’m sure there are some occasions when this could work, but I’d argue not many. In my reading experience, most novels switch perspective for each chapter, with the narrative character name as the chapter title, or at least at the top of the page. You should also have an order, so the chapter changes always follow suit, as this can make the story easier to follow, and ensure each POV gets equal narrative time.
Do I enjoy writing this character’s POV?
Another vital one here. It’s okay if there is a character you enjoy writing more. That’s normal. But is there a character whose chapters you find yourself slogging through? Because if you’re not enjoying writing them, who’s to say people will enjoy reading them? If you find this happens with a character, consider removing their viewpoint, or shaking up the way you write them to ensure they’re not dull.
I hope this has been helpful, but I’m sure I’ve missed some tips, so do share your thoughts below.