Monday, December 8, 2014

Writing from Multiple Perspectives

More specifically: should your novel be written in two or more POVs?

(Apologies in advance: due to my possible overuse of examples, this is a bit of a long post...)

Back in July I wrote about choosing which POV to write in for your novel. Now, I want to tackle the fact that maybe you've figured out whether it should be first or third, and you've probably even known from the beginning which character to write from (this is a basic detail).

But then you realize: you think this book should be told from two perspectives. Or more. Not just one.

I'm not only a sucker for books told in multiple points of view, but much of my own works-in-progress tend to be told from the perspectives of two different characters. Some of my favorite published books are also told from multiple perspectives, including Beth Revis' ACROSS THE UNIVERSE series, Maggie Stiefvater's THE RAVEN BOYS, and Marissa Meyers' THE LUNAR CHRONICLES. It's not only extremely possible, but, personally, I think it makes a fantastic novel.

Yet there's two things that I think are vital to keep in mind when you decide to write multiple POVs:

-Each character should have a story to tell. Look at it critically: does each character have a story to tell that's crucial to the story? Do they each have a different perspective to offer, a different interaction with the setting and plot, access to important characters, and are their motivations unique?

For example: CINDER (Marissa Meyer) flips between the POV of Cinder and Prince Kai. For the purpose of this post, let's say that Cinder's role is arguably the more action-filled and plot-driving of the two; however Prince Kai gives the reader access to what's happening on a larger scale: he has access to the rest of the global leaders and government intelligence, as well as access to the antagonist and villain: Queen Levana. There is absolutely no way for Cinder to get this information, and, without it, the reader would lose a sense of urgency, as well as not quite see the larger scale of things. In her later books (SCARLET and CRESS), more perspectives are introduced, which is why I find these books so great to use as a resource: each perspective has their own unique story, skills, and information to offer.

In ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, the difference in POVs comes out more in terms of perspective: Amy is the "freak" of the Godspeed, and it's only through her 21st-century eyes that the reader sees how terribly wrong the social order on the ship is. Also: she's trying to figure out how to reunite herself with her parents. Elder, on the other hand, was born on the ship and is being bred for leadership, giving him access to different information (much like Prince Kai) and a different motivation (keeping the people on the ship safe).

However, if you have a second character whose only motivation is to help the first, and they cannot give you any extra information that the first cannot get: consider cutting it down to a single POV, because that kind of motivation is something that can be portrayed through somebody else's eyes.

-Each character needs their own voice. This is really important. Whether you're in first person POV or third, every character (perspective) has a voice. Think about AtU, again: Amy sees everything through the eyes of a girl born on Earth hundreds of years prior, and Elder sees everything through the eyes of a person who was born into his society. Their words are different, their descriptions are different, different things catch their eyes, and they have different priorities. Each of these show through the narrative.

If you need another example, try THE RAVEN BOYS: the perspectives shift from Blue, Gansey, Adam, Ronan, Blue's mother (occasionally), and any unnamed antagonist. Part of the reason I think Stiefvater handles so many perspectives so well is that they each have their own voices: Blue is sassy and sarcastic, Gansey is a bit childlike in his quest and naive, Ronan's violent and vulgar, Blue's mother is a bit spacey, and Adam has a struggle between his personal pride and his friendships. They have a unique way of speaking, so it's typically fairly easy to tell based on their different vocabularies and surroundings whose perspective the reader has shifted into. each of their unique problems also shimmy's its way into their narratives, since their problems give them each a different way of looking at what's happening around them.

Writing from different POVs can also be extremely dangerous when writing in the first person, because it's much easier for the characters' voices to blend together and sound exactly the same. If they sound the same, that's kind of a bad thing. Of course, that's not to say that multiple voices in the third POV can't sound the same, too, but I've always found that the first person is harder to change once you're into a particular character's head (although, it might just be my own personal struggle with writing the first person that's making me say that).


Those are just two things I've come across recently when reading that I felt were important to bring up. They're also things that I question in regards to my own work every time I sit down to write: make each of my perspectives sound a little bit different (voice) and make sure (make really sure) that this novel cannot be told in only one perspective. Because, sometimes, I've come across novels told in multiple POVs, when it could have gone much better in only a single. It happens.

So ask yourself a few of those critical questions. It'll not only help you plan out your novel as a whole, but it'll help you make sure your narrative, itself, is doing its job in telling the story.

What's your opinion on writing/reading novels in multiple perspectives? What do you think about when considering POV?

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Should your novel be told from multiple perspectives? Blogger @Rae_Slater has a checklist of things to think about (Click to Tweet)

Voice, motivation, information. Things to think about when considering writing from multiple POVs   via @Rae_Slater (Click to Tweet)

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