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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Multiple Points of View

Multiple points of view are tricky things. Done well, they can be a very powerful tool. Done badly, they can break a book. Making the decision to have multiple points of view is mostly a personal one, but there are a few things to remember before making the jump.

If you're going to go for more than one point of view, you should have a good reason for it. The book needs to be better with more than one PoV than it would be if you just stayed in one character's head. One question to ask yourself when trying to decide would be, "Would this be better off in third person, showing all the characters' thoughts?" Each character should also have a distinct voice. There's nothing more jarring then having to flip back to the beginning of the chapter to see who's point of view you're in.

With multiple points of view, you can run the risk of the reader loving one point of view and hating another, and therefore wanting to skip over the chapters of a particular character. There is also less of an opportunity for the reader to really get to know one character when they're spending time inside each main character's head.

If you decide to take the jump, proceed with caution. Go with the lowest number of points of view possible. The more points of view you have, the harder it will be for the reader (and you) to keep track of them all.

Outlines can be twice as helpful with multiple points of view so that you can keep track of where all the point of view characters are at all times so there are no conflicts. In revisions, it might be helpful to create a word document for each point of view character and paste their chapters into it. That way you can check for voice and character consistency easily.

Some examples of multiple points of view:

Perfect Chemistry and Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles. Both were dual points of view between the male and female characters. I personally felt that both of these were well done. The voices and characters are very distinct and difficult to mess up. It's also interesting seeing both characters' side of the story.

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. This one has the most points of view in any novel I've ever read: six. This is done to show every side of the issue and for the most part it is done well. Some of the transitions are a little muddled, however, and this book runs the risk of feeling too busy with all the head-hopping. There is also a risk of the reader becoming more interested in one of the side plots and characters. For example, my favorite point of view character was the lawyer. I found his personality and relationship with Julia almost overwhelmed my desire to pay attention to Anna's story, which is what this novel is supposed to be about.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares. This is probably my favorite multiple point of view novel and series. There are four books in the series (all told in the same four alternating points of view), and the first one is about four friends who are about to spend their first summer apart. Each character and voice is unique and each girl is telling their own story. I can't imagine this series being told any other way (and that is the mark of an excellent multiple point of view story).

Shiver and Linger by Maggie Stiefvater. Shiver is told from the alternating points of view of Sam and Grace. Linger has the same two point of view characters, but also adds in the voices of Cole and Isabel. The unusual thing about this series is instead of changing every few chapters in a pattern, these point of views change randomly (sometimes every few paragraphs, sometimes every few pages). With Shiver, the alternating points of view added to the story in a similar way to PC and RoA.

With Linger, it was a little different. Opinions vary on the addition of the two new characters. I personally found Isabel and Cole's sections to be more interesting than Sam and Grace. A friend of mine found them to be a distraction and didn't enjoy reading their perspectives at all. The random switches can cause the changing narration to become jarring and sometimes required me to flip back a bit just to check and see who I was reading about.

In conclusion, multiple points of view are tricky, but not impossible. If you can get them right, they can make a great book even greater, but they should only be done when it adds to the book. Otherwise it's probably better to stay within one character's head.

3 comments:

KM said...

I had to think about this when writing my current WIP. It's told in first person, and originally, only from one person's POV. But as I kept writing, I kept wondering about this other character and what he was thinking. I ended up expanding to two 1st person POVs, and I think it totally made the story a lot stronger.

Erin said...

Great post. Looking back on some of my earliest writing, POV was something I struggled most with. I think it's for that reason that I stick to one person's POV. Those are great examples of multiple POV books, though. Maybe I'll branch out someday...

Karla Calalang said...

Loved this because my books seem to be 90% or even more multiple POV rather than single POV.

I love your examples and still need to read most of those.

I agree with your last paragraph so much.

Great post!