Multiple Viewpoint Characters

Since we talked about how many subplots to include, let’s cover the multiple viewpoint characters issue too. More and more novels contain more than one viewpoint character. First-time novelists often try their hand at this technique. Admirable, but the reasons for and against multiple POVs are more complex than one might suppose. If you are unsure what viewpoint is, send me a comment or email.
Writing Tip for Today: First, ask yourself why you want more than one POV (point of view). If the answer is for variety, beware. Multiple POV novels require more skill than single POV, and there are more important reasons than simply to mix things up a little.
Second, ask yourself, “Whose story is this?” While there are plenty of multiple POV novels as well as novels narrated by someone other than the main protagonist (Moby Dick is a famous example), to be publishable, the writer must know whose story they are telling.
Last but not least, if an important part of the story cannot be experienced by the main POV character (say, an investigator trying to solve a murder who wasn’t there when the crime occurred) and the author wishes or needs to show the reader that component, adding a POV may be justified. Be sure the writer isn’t simply making things easier for the characters or the writer by keeping the main viewpoint character offstage in a critical scene.

  • Remember that in a multiple POV novel the ground covered by one character cannot be simply rehashed by the second POV. Each POV must advance the story.
  • The reader should still be certain whose story they’re reading, no matter whose POV they are in.
  • The more POVs, the less invested the reader may be when required to split sympathies between characters.

Try This! Write a scene from your main character’s viewpoint. Then, rewrite the same scene from another character’s POV. How does the story change when viewed from another perspective?

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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