A Beginner’s Guide to Multiple Point of View
Just starting out? Click here for an introduction to the five basic points of view.
What is multiple point of view?
In multiple point of view, we get the perspectives of multiple characters within a single story. You have three options with multiple point of view:
- Multiple first person (The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver)
- Multiple third person (Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin)
- Mixed multiple, which uses both third and first person (Strange as This Weather Has Been by Ann Pancake)
Unlike third person omniscient, stories written with multiple point of view don’t shift viewpoint characters within a chapter or section. Instead, each part is written entirely from the perspective of a different character.
When to Use Multiple Point of View
Multiple point of view is great for novels you need to cover a lot of ground, either metaphorically or literally speaking. It can work well for thematically complex work, mysteries, and sprawling epics of all genres.
Multiple points of view doesn’t work so well for short stories. That’s because in a short story you don’t have enough time to fully explore multiple perspectives. If you need a wider view for a short story, third person omniscient is probably a better choice.
When used well, multiple point of view can allow you to widen and complicate your story world. It’s not the right choice for every story, but if you decide it’s the right choice for yours, here are 5 tips for success.
5 Tips for Success with Multiple Point of View
1. Use a separate chapter for each point of view character
Not only will this keep readers from getting confused, it allows them to more distinctly bond with each character or narrator.
2. Make the point of view character apparent immediately
If you’re using first person multiple, this can’t be achieved partly by making sure that each character has a distinct voice that will be immediately recognizable to the reader. But don’t stop there. When using multiple point of view, you should ideally make it clear within the first few sentences of a new chapter who the point of view character is.
Some novels that use multiple point of view even title each chapter with the point of view character’s name. This might seem too “obvious” for some writers, but if literary giants like Barbara Kingsolver and William Faulkner did this for their multiple point of view novels, there must be a good reason!
3. Each point of view character should add something to the story
If they don’t, or if you aren’t interested in weaving them into the narrative in a meaningful way, you might be using multiple points of view for the wrong reasons. So what does “add something” to the story mean? It can mean a few different things (or all of them!):
- The character has their own arc within the story
- The characters actions affect the plot and advance the main conflict of the story
- The character’s actions and conflicts speak to the theme of the story
- The character has an important relationship with the protagonist
4. Develop each point of view character
Each point of view character should have their own desires, conflicts, fears, and backstories. While distinct personalities are important too, make sure you aren’t confusing your character’s personality with their actual character.
A limp or a stutter is a superficial quirk. Unless it’s tied to something more substantial in that character’s history or inner world, it won’t do much to help you create a character arc or drive the conflict in your story.
A desire to get revenge on your brother for kissing your husband, on the other hand, is not superficial. It’s a deep inner drama that has the potential to drive and shape an entire story.
5. Each character should have a distinct voice
This can be a tough one for some fiction writers. If you’re writing in first person or a very close third person, each character should have a distinct voice. Ideally, this voice should be strong enough that a reader can easily distinguish one character from another by the writing alone. Here are some things to keep in mind when creating unique character voices:
- Word choices: If you ask this character to come to a party, do they respond “hell yeah!” or “I’d be honored”?
- Attitude: What attitude does your character have about your story’s events? Sincere? Sarcastic? Anxious?
- Perceptions: How would your character describe their surroundings? How do they perceive other characters and events in the story?
Writing in multiple point of view can be challenging, but if you take the time to make sure it’s right for your story, develop well-rounded characters, and are willing to do a bit of extra plotting, it can really pay off! Hope this helps!
Bucket Siler is a writer, editor, zine enthusiast, and the founding editor of The Literary Architect, where she helps fiction writers perfect their craft and polish their original stories. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, she has lived in New Mexico since 2006. Follow her on Tumblr or Facebook.