Last week, I discussed the differences between different points of view. But what if your novel requires multiple POVs? Having multiple points of view does have its advantages, as it allows you to follow multiple characters and show events from multiple locations.
However, there are also serious disadvantages to using multiple points of view. Having multiple storylines can make the book feel disjointed or unconnected, and individual characters and storylines may not feel as fleshed out. If not handled carefully, multiple POV novels can feel like a bit of a mess.
So, how do you avoid these pitfalls? Here are some tips:
- Unique perspective
Each of your POV characters should have a completely unique perspective that no other character can offer. If characters’ perspectives are too similar, each POV can feel repetitive. Make sure that each character has something unique to offer.
- Unique voice
Similarly, each POV character should have a unique voice. This is probably one of the biggest reader complaints I see about multiple POV novels: the characters all sound the same. This is especially important in first-person, but I would argue that it’s sometimes necessary for third person as well. A reader should be able to tell immediately which character is narrating. If the characters’ voices aren’t unique enough, they will be difficult to distinguish from one another. (For more about developing your voice, see this post.)
- Advance the story, don’t stall it
Sometimes switching to another character’s perspective can actually slow the action of the story. As with single POV novels, every single scene must advance the central plot in some way. It can be frustrating for the reader when a scene builds tension and suspense towards a major event, only to jump into a new character’s perspective and lose all of the buildup. Use changes in POV to advance the story instead.
- No headhopping
By “headhopping,” I mean switching back and forth between characters’ perspectives too often. I sometimes see POV changes within the same scene, which can be very confusing for the reader. It’s a good idea to stick with one POV per scene, if not per chapter. This gives the reader a defined, significant break before jumping to the next character.
- No recapping
Alternating POV chapters should not be used to recap the same scenes over again from a different perspective. I see this problem a lot; the first character will narrate a significant interaction, and then the POV will switch so that the second character can narrate the same event. Such recaps are usually repetitive and unnecessary and can make the story feel stalled or listless. Remember, each scene must advance the plot.
- Fit their storylines together
Make sure that your characters’ storylines fit together so that your book feels cohesive. Look for ways that each POV character’s storyline affects the other. What happens in one POV that will affect the others? Try to build connections as much as possible. Even if readers can’t see what all the connections mean yet, it will be satisfying to see how they come together by the end.
- Each POV must serve a purpose
This is, perhaps, the most important tip of all: Each POV character’s perspective must serve a purpose to the story. This purpose should not merely be exposition. There should be value in a character’s POV other just explaining something to the reader. If that’s the only purpose a POV serves, it probably shouldn’t be there. Consider either reworking the POV or removing it. Remember, if you’re asking readers to invest time in this character’s head, their perspective needs to offer something unique and worthwhile. Each POV should add to your story, not detract from it.
Do you have any tips on using multiple POVs effectively? What are some of your favorite multiple POV novels, and what did they do well? Let me know in the comments!
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