A writer has so many decisions to make when plotting and outlining a story. Will they write in first-person or third-person? We won’t even mention the dreaded second-person option. Will the voice be limited or omniscient? Who is the main character? What is their motivation? What is the first, second, and third act? Will it follow the traditional first, second, third act formula? Will the writing be filled with prose or be more straight forward?
There are so many things to consider!
A writer wants to outline and plot well (a “plotter”) unless they fly by the seat of their pants (a “pantser”). Or both, if they’re a “plantser.” They want to flesh out their characters and make them complex. They want to world-build, define the rules that make their unique world work. A writer will need to decide on a catalyst and climax for their story.
They’ll want to craft a killer first line if possible.
However, the one thing I want to talk about most today is multiple POVs (point of views). It’s a topic that’s discussed quite often in the writing community and sparks lively debate quite often. Multiple POV storytelling only works if a writer chooses to write in first-person POV. This is because a writer alternates between characters’ POVs, passing information to the reader through the lens of the character, to tell and progress the story. That’s mostly impossible to do unless the writer is working in first-person.
A lot of writers don’t like multiple POV. Or they feel there should be a limit on how many POVs a story has.
I’ve been known to write multiple POV first-person often. JUST A DUMB SURFER DUDE trilogy and A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF NORMAL are two that immediately come to mind. However, I can see how writers feel that multiple POV doesn’t work well.
Each character has to have a unique voice. A reader needs to be able to feel like they’re stepping into a new mindset with each change of POV. The voice of each character should be distinct and easily distinguishable when a new POV begins. Each chapter should move the story along, not stop it so the new character reiterates what just happened, but through their lens.
It’s a difficult thing to accomplish at times.
Where a lot of writers go wrong is that they try to have each character describe themselves and help the reader become familiar with their unique personality when they write in their voice. This is why a lot of writers feel that it isn’t a great device for writing a story. It slows things down, seems like information is being repeated, and info-dumping happens quite often.
This is because writers often forget that readers get to know a character best by how they view the world around them. Readers learn more about a character through their actions than what they say or think.
When writing multiple POV, it’s important that each new chapter that switches to a new POV gives forward momentum to the story.
The only way to do this is to understand that each character has to show us who they are and what is going on by the thoughts they have about the world around them and how they act and react to the world around them. Each character shouldn’t spend copious time describing their physicality or backstory. They shouldn’t be trying to get the reader to understand who they are by what they think of themselves, but by what they think of the world around them.
What’s more interesting and engaging? A character telling you what they had for breakfast and what they’re going to wear to school…or their thoughts on the jerk two desks over who bullied them yesterday?
One of these things moves us forward in the story and fleshes out characters. The other does not.
What is more helpful in understanding the world build and characters? The character telling you the path they walk home each day…or why they walk that path each day?
When writing multiple POV, each character thought and spoken word has to have even more purpose than when writing single POV or third-person. More than that, each character thought, word spoken, or action committed should help flesh out the character in the readers’ minds.
Multiple POV is the ultimate “show don’t tell” situation in writing a story. If you have more than one character’s perspective to give, you can’t fill up pages with useless nonsense. You’re essentially telling a full story from two or more perspectives, so each word has to mean something in order to also be as succinct as possible.
If a world built by an author is really fascinating–such as in Sci-Fi or Fantasy novels–readers sometimes don’t mind slight info-dumping. However, with novels that take place in the real world–present day–this is just an annoyance and a waste of time.
Find your characters’ voices, understand how they act and react, and keep the story moving forward while making each word matter.
Tremendous Love & Thanks,