As a writer, it’s tempting to want to test out new styles and approaches to storytelling. One such is writing multiple points of view—where instead of one character’s voice telling the entire story, the author writes with more than one “narrator.” Multi-POV books are popular for many reasons:
- They allow readers to hear from more than one character and get a closer look inside their heads.
- They can create unique twists and complex layers to a story, along with dramatic irony when readers get an insight into things the other characters don’t know.
That said, writing multi-POV books isn’t exactly easy, and authors shouldn’t do it “just to do it.” It can be complicated to get right, and you run the risk of creating a story with one-dimensional characters that just skim the surface. Readers want depth—they want to get to know each character, especially if the character is given the honor of being the “voice” of the story.
So how can you be successful in pulling off a book with multiple POVs? Here are my top 5 tips.
1. Stick to one POV per chapter
You’ve probably heard of the dreaded “head hopping” and how it can be incredibly confusing (and frustrating) to readers. The best way to avoid this is to give each POV their own chapter. Some authors designate the chapters with the character’s name, which is another way to keep everything very clear for readers. If you don’t want to separate by chapter, you can switch POV within the chapter as long as you give a paragraph break and start a new scene to clearly define the shift. This is a bit trickier and takes more skill—probably best for those who have written multi-POV before.
2. Give each POV a distinct voice
Have you ever read a book where the characters all blend together? Where there’s nothing that separates them or makes them unique? When you’re writing multiple POVs, this is incredibly important. In some way, shape, or form, you’ve got to make each character distinct. Maybe it’s through the way they speak (language, tone, inflection), or perhaps it’s a reoccurring habit or gesture that signals to the reader who the character is. Either way, the POVs should be equally interesting and engaging—you don’t want a reader to skim through one POV’s chapter just because they find that character boring.
3. Choose a “Main” POV
Multi-POV novels usually have what is considered the primary POV. This character typically opens and closes the book—so you could approach it one of two ways: If you know which character is your primary, write Chapter 1 from that POV and end the book with that POV. If you’re not sure, start writing and see how the story unfolds. You can always go back and tweak the opening chapter or add a new first chapter if needed. That said, some authors prefer each of the POVs to have equal page time in the book, while others think it’s okay for POVs not to be completely balanced. It varies from book to book and writer to writer, so don’t get too hung up on it.
4. Don’t have TOO many POVs
If you’ve ever read a book with so many characters it’s hard to keep them all straight, imagine the difficulty if you were in each of those characters’ heads! The general consensus of writing a multi-POV story is “less is more.” There are certainly some authors who’ve managed to pull off four, five, or even six POVs in a book, but that isn’t recommended for the newbie. Stick to two or three to make your life easier. If you have more than that in your mind, ask yourself whether each of those POVs is really necessary to tell the story.
5. Choose which POV should tell the scene
You’ve got a battle scene, or a dramatic family dinner, or a hilarious coffee shop encounter. Who’s the best narrator of that scene? Chances are it could be told from more than one POV, but you should consider which character makes the most sense based on everything else in the book before and after that point. Just like in real life, everyone has a different take or perception of a moment in time or a big life event, so it’s important to have the best POV relay that to the reader.
Tell us in the comments: Have you ever written a multi-POV story? What did you find the most challenging part?
Jen Craven is the author of upmarket women’s fiction, where one decision changes everything. The author of two historical fiction novels, “Best Years of your Life” is her debut contemporary work. She writes from northwestern Pennsylvania, where she lives with her family.You can find her on her website or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.