My Top Tips for Balancing Stories with Multiple Points-of-View
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Writing fiction from the perspectives of multiple characters can be a lot of fun.
This style of storytelling has gained quite a bit of popularity in recent decades thanks to the rise of film and television, which often structures its stories to showcase many characters’ perspectives. But utilizing multiple points-of-view isn’t the simplest technique to master.
I’ve received quite a few requests for tips on this topic in recent months, and being as I’ve dabbled in writing stories with multiple points-of-view myself, I decided it was high time to translate my experience into a few key tips to share with you all today. Shall we dive in?
Understanding the Mechanics of Multi-POV
Writing a story from multiple perspectives isn’t a technique that should be handled without care, even if this structure does feel the most natural to you. As with any storytelling element, working with intention is the surest way to nail the effect you’d like to create. With that said, do you understand the mechanics of writing in multiple points-of-view?
Telling a story through multiple perspectives is a great way to create a more expansive and objective look at your’s story world, plot, or theme. But a broader look isn’t always a better one. Many stories are told most effectively through the tighter, more subjective singular point-of-view. It’s also important to note that working in multi-POV does run the risk that some readers won’t form strong connections with your characters because of the ever-shifting perspective.
You may find it tempting to write in multiple points-of-view purely because you love your characters and want to explore your story through their eyes. But if there is no purpose and intention behind your choice to write this way, you’ll weigh your story down instead, leaving readers bored, aggravated, or confused.
So if you think you’d like to work in multi-POV, how can you ensure that it's the best choice for your story? Let’s dive deeper into the wonderful world of perspective, writer!
The Many Types of Multi-POV
Firstly, let it be stated that there is no right way to write a multi-POV story. Some stories feature dual points-of-view from the perspectives of two protagonists, while other dual point-of-view stories lend the second perspective to a sidekick or antagonist.
Others still feature ensemble casts where every character receives a slice of the pie — and sometimes some of those slices are bigger than the others. There are also historical sagas that feature multiple generations of characters whose stories are set in different timelines. And beyond — the options are truly endless!
Every story will be a little different, but a great way to decide if utilizing multiple perspectives is right for your story — or to decide if a certain character should have the perspective over another — is to ask yourself the following questions:
- What does this character’s perspective lend to my story that others’ do not?
- Is there another point-of-view character who could just as easily tell this portion of the story?
- How does this character’s perspective feed into the main storyline?
- If I removed this character’s perspective, would the story remain relatively the same?
The key to crafting a multi-POV story well is to ensure that all perspectives are unique and irreplaceable and that they work together to create a cohesive story. But what must every perspective accomplish? Let’s discuss!
Crafting Well-Rounded Perspectives
You should treat every character in your story, but especially your point-of-view characters, as the protagonists of their own stories. By doing so, you ensure that you craft them with care, giving them rich and compelling lives that go beyond their mere role in the story.
If you’re not sure where to begin when crafting well-developed characters, you may enjoy our new free email course, Developing Complex Characters. Click here or on the image below to enroll today!
No matter how short their chapters or scenes may be, there are several elements your readers should absolutely know about each of your point-of-view characters:
- The root of their dissatisfaction— i.e. why it is they’re unhappy with their current circumstances...
- What they desire — i.e. what they believe will bring them happiness, this is often accompanied by a specific goal...
- The source of their motivation — i.e. what drives the character to take action...
- What will oppose them — i.e. the source of external conflict in their story, this may not be another character...
- The Lie they believe — i.e. the core fear, flaw, regret, or temptation that hinders their journey...
These five elements form the foundations of very strong stories. If you can weave these details into each your character’s points-of-view throughout the book, you’ll ensure that — no matter how short their time on the page — you’ve crafted perspectives that have real depth and interest.
Six Quick Tips for Nailing Multi-POV Stories
If you know for sure that working with multiple points-of-view will help you tell the very best version of your book and if you’re confident you’ve chosen the right perspectives to employ, let’s move on to six quick tips for nailing this tricky structure:
#1: Understand your characters’ world-views.
Say that two characters are walking through a city. The first was raised there, and so they may be annoyed by a throng of tourists or surprised to find their favorite coffee joint closed for the day.
The other character is new to the city, and thus their view of it is different. They may walk more slowly, with their head to the sky as they take in the unique architecture, or they may feel overwhelmed by the immense crush of people on the sidewalk.
See how powerful worldview can be in defining your individual point-of-view characters? If you aren’t sure how to craft such world-views for yourself, make sure to check out our free email course, Developing Complex Characters, which includes a full lesson on the topic.
#2: Define your characters’ voices.
Your character’s voice is their distinct style of interacting with themselves and with the world. It’s defined by many things, including personality, worldview, upbringing, and past experiences.
Understanding your characters’ voices will help you craft dialogue that feels true to their person, while also helping you make key narrative choices that will further distinguish them as individuals, ensuring readers won’t confuse their perspectives.
For example, you may wish to thread a character's narrative with a condescending tone or with self-doubt, with clipped sentences or a wide vocabulary, or with an emotional drive rather than a logical one. Each of these choices would help readers both better understand your character and distinguish their perspective from others'.
#3: Avoid head-hopping.
When writing multi-POV stories, muddled perspectives are your number one enemy. In addition to defining your characters’ unique world-views and voices, ensuring that it’s evident you’ve switched points-of-view is key.
Head-hopping between one character’s perspective and the next with no clear break in point-of-view is the surest way to leave readers scratching their heads. Work instead to switch points-of-view at evident moments, such as scene or chapter breaks.
If you choose to switch points-of-view every chapter, you may also wish to label each chapter with the name of the POV character, such as George R. R. Martin does in A Game of Thrones. This isn’t necessary, but it’s an extra level of surety you can easily build into your story.
#4: Consider purpose when choosing between points-of-view.
If you have a scene that could easily be told through the perspectives of multiple characters, consider the purpose of your scene when making a selection. Is there contextual information you need to relay that only one character would know? Which character has the most at stake in the scene? Who would best set the mood you’d like your readers to feel?
Once again, working with intention is key. If you just can’t seem to decide which perspective works best, try writing the scene twice from each perspective and then deciding or splitting the scene into two sections with a clear break between the points-of-view.
#5: Don’t repeat scenes.
There are likely a few well-written exceptions to this tip, but generally speaking, try to avoid sharing the same scene in your novel two or more times just to sneak in the perspectives of multiple characters.
I know there may be scenes where this would be fun to do or that may even give readers a broader understanding of the characters or events involved. But in most cases, repeating a scene disrupts the timeline of your story and leaves readers feeling jolted.
Remember, if absolutely necessary, you can always work the details of a second character’s experience in that scene into their narrative in a later chapter. No rewinds necessary!
#6: Think like a filmmaker.
As we discussed at the top of today’s article, multi-POV stories have become especially popular thanks to the rise of film and television. So why not make good use of some of the other techniques that the rise of filmmaking has brought us?
Framing your written scenes as a filmmaker would their shots is a great way to help readers visualize your story, while writing in Deep POV helps readers dive deep into your character’s unique perspectives. Use the links above to find a full breakdown on each of these topics.
Whew, writer! As you can see, there’s quite a lot to consider when writing multi-POV stories. However, by understanding the mechanics behind this storytelling structure and taking care to choose and write perspectives with purpose, I have no doubt you can pull it off. So let's bring our characters' perspectives to life, shall we?