Craft · Roundtable

Roundtable #4: Multiple POVs

Hi everyone! This is our fourth roundtable and we’re talking about multiple POVs!

*Note: This post is done in a roundtable style where members of Writer’s Block Party discuss a topic together.

Moderator/Editor: Kat Cho

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Melody: The UNWIND dystology by Neal Shusterman follows three kids and as the series goes on, we get more POVs. I think he’s so effective because each kid has such a distinct upbringing, as well as compelling and thrilling reason for their current predicament and seeing how their lives are connected because of the big conflict and how they each go about resolving the conflict, it makes for an unputdownable book.

Katy:  I think the obvious but has-to-be-said answer for me here is GAME OF THRONES. The first three books are amazing in their use of multiple POVs, which allows him to tell a huge political story through the lens of characters with goals that are very personal and specific.

(I will say that things get dicey later in the series when you start getting a ton of POV characters and it gets hard to keep everything straight…)

Melody: AND I DARKEN by Kiersten White follows siblings Lada and Radu from childhood into their teen years and follows their growth under an empire that is not their own. They couldn’t be more opposite and seeing how siblings who live under the same roof turn out so differently. I loved this!

Katy: Ooo I love AND I DARKEN. And I think having the Radu POV was not an obvious choice, but I love that she went that way with it.

Christine: I think the WINNER’S CURSE is a fantastic example of a multiple-POV book because the two narrators have such distinctive voices and objectives. Within seconds of turning to any random page, you can tell who is speaking. The key to truly compelling multiple POV narration is ensuring that the two characters have goals that both matter equally to them, and Marie Rutkoski nails that.

Akshaya: One of my favorites is THE READER. Traci does some really cool things with stories within stories and timelines that I haven’t seen much in YA. It’s a great reminder of different ways in which multiple POVs can strengthen a story besides just offering different perspectives on a single narrative.

Melody: I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson is also a very dynamic sibling story, going back and forth between twins, Noah and Jude’s points of views, one view before the rift between them and the other after. As the story plays out, the before and after are brilliantly interwoven.

Melody: THE WALLS AROUND US by Nova Ren Suma is told between two friends, one in a juvenile correction facility, the other living out their dreams of working towards being a ballerina… following their two very different lives that change on one very distinct night.

Christine: I also think Jaclyn Moriarity’s THE YEAR OF SECRET ASSIGNMENTS does a wonderful job of portraying different voices and  character journeys. Whether you love YA contemporary or not, this modernized epistolary novel is a must-read

Melody: As far as multiple POV being a great tool to display environmental upbringing, class, etc…THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR by Nicola Yoon (Natasha is an undocumented Jamaican teenage girl and Daniel is an American born Korean), THESE BROKEN STARS by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner (Lilac, the daughter of “the richest man in the universe” and Tarver, who comes from nothing), and LEGEND by Marie Lu (who can forget June and Day?) come to mind.

Katy: I also want to give a shout out to NK Jemisin’s THE FIFTH SEASON which not only has multiple POVs but also uses multiple tenses and a mix of first and second person. It sounds like it wouldn’t work, but she is a master and it does. to say more about it would be a bit spoiler-y though so I’ll leave it at that!

Christine: To go on more about Jaclyn Moriarity because I love her–her characters all have distinctly different senses of humor that feel incredibly organic to them, which shows incredible versatility and talent in Moriarity’s ability to craft these people who feel real. And she does it in first person! It floors me every time I read it–it really sounds like three teenage best friends talking.

Amanda: Some third person past tense multiple POV books that come to mind are THE SEVEN REALMS series by Cinda Williams Chima, SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo, GAME OF THRONES by George R. R. Martin. I think these books all succeeded into juggling different points of view because each of the characters had different perspectives on similar events, giving them different voices, different goals, and different arcs.

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Katy: Third definitely. I’ve read a few books that do first with multiple POV but for me i definitely prefer third. First person is such an intimate POV and i think i find it jarring to swap between multiple characters when you’re that inside their heads. I also just generally prefer third whether I’m writing multiple POV or not.

Melody: I usually write in first person and for a multiple POV story, I have yet to write in third person. That said, I am definitely open to writing in third person if that’s what a future story that is multiple POV calls for.

Christine: I’ve done both first and third person multi-POV novels. Third is so much easier for me for a multitude of reasons — the lack of intimate focus allows you to have a more unified writing style across multiple POVs. And, as Katy mentioned, I find it really difficult to write multiple first person POVs in one day because I want their voices to feel fresh and different, while I don’t have those problems with third. However, I will say that first person came more easily to me when I  began writing, and my third-person style developed later. So I think this is always subject to change. Also, first person is a lot of fun when they fall in love, I’m just sayin’.

Akshaya: I definitely agree, Christine–there’s this kind of built in distance with third person that allows you to sort of have a narratorial voice that helps unify the POVs. I also think if you have more than two POVs, third person is better to help readers quickly orient themselves and figure out which character’s head they’re in.

Amanda: I personally prefer third person stylistically, regardless of my number of points of view; however, I’ve written multiple POVs in both first/third, past/present. My writing style doesn’t fluctuate much between first and third, as I opt for an extremely close perspective either way. I normally opt for third person if there are 3 or more POVs, and if the feel of the story calls for it.

Katy: Yeah the way i see it (for my own writing) is that 3rd person is kind of the default. it’s the natural storytelling voice. If I’m going to write something that’s in first person, there needs to be a reason for it — something I’m trying to do with structure or voice that I can’t achieve in third person. and i think if you’re doing something complicated structurally with the narrative and voice, adding multiple POVs can lessen whatever effect you’re trying to achieve.

Christine: oh my goodness, yes! as someone who’s been writing in exclusively multiple POVs since I was in my teens, it definitely adds extra dimension to a narrative that requires extra editing and lots of extra consideration. But I also love what it adds to a story, so I keep doing it. Either that or I’m just a glutton for punishment.

Katy: I’m just like…why have one point of view when you could have four!! Why have one single plotline when you could have three intersecting storylines that are impossible to plot! Why write something straightforward when you could suffer.

Christine: Why have one complicated character arc when you could have three, forcing you to triple the size of the side character cast you have to flesh out?

Amanda: Again, depending on the story, I’m also a fan of the mini-POVs! The characters who aren’t main characters but have a few chapters here and there with their perspectives. I think this can offer deeper flavor to a fantasy setting and to the plot. Think the SHADES OF MAGIC series, or even HARRY POTTER in some of its introductory chapters.

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Melody: I just know. The main characters come pretty easily to me, right after the idea hits me. But if I have to give a real answer…. Ask “Why is this POV vital to the story? What does this POV contribute to the story that the other POV does not? How does this POV advance the story?” If there are no compelling answers behind this, then I don’t need to tell the story from that person’s POV. And once you’ve got your POVs, you then must ask yourself, “why is this chapter compelling from this POV?” and again, if you don’t have a good answer for that, you need to go to the drawing board.

Christine: Um, well, this is going to be a frustrating answer, but…I just know. Like I gut-level know. For me, story comes from character, so whoever shouts the loudest gets to tell the story. And when there are two or three voices shouting, I’ve learned to trust my instincts and include them all. However, in an effort to stop myself from losing my mind when I revise, I have started making a more concerted effort to tie plotlines to characters before I start drafting, giving myself an easier time of adding motivation to a potential character arc and figuring out if a voice is necessary.

Akshaya: I tend to default to multiple POVs so I often start with too many main characters and then eliminate/consolidate. I try to think about what I’m hoping to accomplish with each perspective. Sometimes it’s that I want to explore a certain character dynamic or play around with story structure or reveal/hide a certain piece of information. And I think knowing that helps me figure out whether or not a particular story absolutely needs to be told from a particular perspective.

Amanda: If a character has a piece of the story to tell, they can have a POV. If they are present for something a major character isn’t, they can have a POV. My decisions are story first, character later. Character decisions determine the size and scope of their chapters, but not whether or not they have them.

Katy: This is something I’m still revising my thinking on as I start fleshing out more projects, but I think for me it comes down to the narrative itself. How do I want the structure of this story to play out, and where do I want the tension to fall? There’s a lot of fun stuff you can do by allowing your reader to have more information than your character, and multiple POV is a great way to do that.

Christine: Omg yes! Katy, I love the way you can play with and subvert reader expectations by adding extra character perspectives! It gives you so much more leeway with what a character sees/thinks/believes.

Katy: I used to think that it was about character arc — ie if a character goes through a great change, they need their own POV. but in reading a lot of excellent fiction in the last few years, I do think you can have a very satisfying character arc without ever stepping inside that character’s head (the best example i can think of right now is the CAPTIVE PRINCE trilogy. Laurent!) So for me it comes down to — what information do I want the reader to have and where can I create tension and complicate the version of the story they’re getting through the primary POV character?

Christine: Laurent does technically have POVs I think? But like, barely enough to have the kind of character focus Damen does, so I think your point stands.

Melody: Yeah, that’s my favorite part of writing multiple POV, being able to play with expectations, structure, and such.

Amanda: I love adding additional POVs to later books in a series, so that the series expands with each new book. I love it as a writer and as a reader.

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Katy: For me it’s very of intuitive. I’ve heard of people making lists and such for each character to make sure they’re maintaining the voice, but I don’t work well that way. So it’s something I try to feel out while drafting and continue to refine as I revise.

Melody: I need to know each character’s upbringing, motives, stakes, strengths, weaknesses, fears, conflicts, outlook on the world, etc. Each main character has their own playlist as well. Sometimes, I also make a list of things I’d find in each MC’s room for clarity on their distinct self.

I also like the idea of looking at astrological signs and personality by blood type charts if I need to flesh out more but I haven’t really taken those two methods up.

Amanda: Voice is usually fairly natural to me. Especially when first easing into a character’s voice, I think of the writing almost as developing a caricature rather than a character. I exaggerate certain aspects of their personality, fiddle with sentence style and rhythm, so that the characters are almost larger in life in who they are. Particularly in their earliest chapters.

Christine: I’m so glad you asked because I’m obsessed with developing voice. It is possibly my favorite part of being a writer. I’ve honed this method over many multi-POV books and I adore it so I’m going to share it with you guys, because maybe it can help! What I try to do for each POV character is create clear instructions for the themes, metaphors, images, colors, scents, etc. that are essential to the core of them — I love giving them motifs because I’m pretentious and terrible. For example, my character Justin is surrounded by a lot of “prince/lion-hearted” imagery and his metaphors often link into trees & branches — things that are very specific to how he sees the world, who he is, where he’s going, and, crucially, how I want the reader to see it.

Melody: Ahhh, Christine, I want to stay in your head forever.

Katy: Yeah i also find that I use a lot of linked metaphors and motifs for each character! I’m trying to get better about doing that with more intention from the get go instead of stumbling my way through the draft and uncovering those things slowly (so slowly).

Akshaya: Christine, that’s an incredibly structured way to look at it! I really love that. I’m not that detailed but I do try to choose metaphors that reflect a character’s experiences. For instance, if a character grew up wealthy, their reference points in life will be a lot different than someone who grew up in poverty. I try to honor those differences when I revise by being more deliberate with word choice.

Christine: However, I will say that there is a great deal of intuition involved in this process. Sometimes I just know a certain character would think something another character wouldn’t, and I can’t explain how I know that, I just do. They feel real enough to me that I can tell that. I try not to question it. So…again…gut? Oh goodness that is not helpful advice but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that a lot of my voice development didn’t just come from me feeling as if I sort of permanently reside in several fictional people’s heads at a time.

Katy: I also find that I sort of automatically, subconsciously use certain language and writing tics for certain characters. For example, I had once character in my manuscript who would use a lot of rhetorical questions in his internal monologue. And there was another character that never had rhetorical questions — and when I sat back and thought about why that was, it made perfect sense. The first character was trying very hard to figure out what he was supposed to be doing and why. Constantly questioning whether his choices were the right ones. The second character very much had to focus on what she was doing and the outcomes of her choices. She couldn’t question herself because that would upset her equilibrium and reveal how deeply fucked up it all was. Once I made that connection on a conscious level, I could use that information to go back and further refine their voices in revision.

Christine: Basically just be a weirdo who hangs out with fictional people all the time and gets distracted when real people in the real world ask you real questions

Amanda: Another tip: Don’t get too precious about your characters’ personalities in revision. Obviously, you know the characters, and you love the characters, but through dozens of revisions, your character graveyard will likely be littered with characters you’ve cut and personalities you’ve changed. It’s ok. It happens. Even your most fun cast members might have to be surrendered for the sake of the story.

Christine: Also, Melody, I love that you brought up music, because I find that incredibly helpful in developing a character voice–my POV characters always get their own playlists and I listen to them before drafting and revising their scenes. I sort of think of it like an opera, or like Hamilton. They do the same thing–every key character has a musical motif that follows them. I like applying that to my writing.

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Katy: There was one scene at the beginning of my second act that literally went back and forth like six times between three different POVs. With each re-write i was basically trying to figure out the point of the scene. So I knew what had to happen but I hadn’t figured out what the impact of it was and which character was going to bear the weight of that impact.

Christine: Yes! I’ve had to do this a couple of times, and it’s been an awesome exercise in how much voice affects how a story is told. Also, sometimes I’ll write a scene in two POVs during revisions just to see what was going on with the other character while it was happening. Sometimes I’ve done this for characters who don’t even have POVs because I want to understand their insight. Maybe they can be deleted scenes one day, who knows. Or maybe I’m just secretly as much of a multiple POV aficionado as Katy is.

Akshaya: I feel like Katy and I have talked this very specific issue to death. But yes! I think when there is a significant scene (like a first meeting) between two POV characters, it can take me a while to pick the right perspective. Every character brings their own baggage into a scene. Which character experiences that significant scene in real time versus who reflects on it later depends on the tone I want to convey. And sometimes it takes a few tries to get the effect I want right.

Melody: Yes, I have rewritten many scenes from different POVs and it has really helped clarify what’s important in driving the story and how relevant each person’s views and actions are. I highly recommend rewriting a scene from a different POV even if no one else sees it.

Amanda: No, haha. I’m too much of a lazypants.

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Christine: Uh, I would really really love Hermione or Ron’s POV in HARRY POTTER, I’m not gonna lie. Or Luna. I would read the seven Harry Potter books from Luna’s pov they would be incredible I would die.

Katy: I 100% agree with that.

Christine: Or Fred and George those are my favorite characters in HARRY POTTER.

Amanda: I’ve always wanted a HARRY POTTER story about the Hogwarts shenanigans of the seventh book when the trio was away, told through the points of view of students and teachers. Mcgonagall POV!

Katy: I was thinking like, well most books I think the POVs are chosen for a reason and there’s reasons why there aren’t multiple POVs. But for Harry Potter like. Just yes. Give me all the POVs. Give me Oliver Wood POV and it’s just a book about quidditch matches.

Melody: The first book that comes to mind is SIMON VS. THE HOMOSAPIENS AGENDA but it’s like so perfect so I almost kind of don’t want to know hahaha.

Katy: Ooo Melody it would be so great to have Simon vs. from Blue’s POV. I would read that in a dang heartbeat.

Christine: This isn’t really an answer to this question it’s more an example of the author intuitively knowing what I wanted and giving it to me, because all I wanted from AN EMBER IN THE ASHES was Helene POVs and then Sabaa Tahir delivered in a big way and made my life.

Christine: Also, an example of an author who actually did this–these books are middle grade but have any of you guys read MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS? it’s the first in a trilogy of books about three friends over the same summer and each book is the same summer told from each character’s POV. So they’re three entirely different stories. They are fascinating. I love those books.

Katy: Marlon James’s fantasy novel is supposed to be like that too (it comes out 2018). Each book from another character’s POV covering the same time period. His most recent book, A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS also uses multiple POVs in way that’s kind of bonkers and amazing.

Join the conversation! How do you tackle writing multiple POVs? What are some of your favorite books with more than one POV? Tell us in the comments!

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