Cowritten by Akshaya Raman
One of the toughest things about writing multiple POVs is figuring out how to structure your book. If you’re adhering to basic story structure, then you know you need a few key plot elements — an inciting incident, a dark moment, a climax. But with multiple POVs, each character’s storyline has to map onto this story structure AND make sense together. Now you have multiple inciting incidents, multiple dark moments, and maybe even multiple climactic scenes. Building tension and maintaining momentum between these plot points becomes a lot more complicated.
Another big issue that complicates this is balance between POVs. When I was first starting out, I read a lot of advice that said in a book with multiple POVs, all POV characters needed to be represented equally and needed to be introduced at the beginning of the novel and flip between all POVs consistently.
I’m not going to say that’s bad advice, because it’s not. You should absolutely think about how equally POVs are represented, when they’re introduced, and how often you return to a POV. But also keep in mind that everyone writes a different kind of multiple POV book. And if yours involves deviating from the expectations that’s totally fine–but you have to know why you’re deviating.
Balance isn’t just about making sure each POV character has exactly 13 chapters or 20k words or rotating between four POVs in the exact same order each time. Balance is about how well those POV switches and order of chapters impact the narrative flow and cohesion. It’s totally fine to have a shorter chapter. Or two chapters in a row from the same POV. Or even not hear from a character for 7-8 chapters because the story doesn’t require their perspective. And it’s also totally fine to introduce a new POV a third or even halfway through the book.
The key is that each character’s emotional arc needs to feel complete and satisfying, but at the same time their actions and plot events need to feel like each a piece of a whole. They must each be driven by their individual and specific needs a desires–but these unique needs and desires must play into a central overarching plot. The balance between individual character arcs and overall plot means that figuring out the pacing of the novel can make the difference between a multiple POV novel that feels like a mess and one that feels like a layered story featuring multiple compelling characters.
Multiple POVs can also give you a lot of fun new tools to play with for pacing. For instance, you can prolong the tension of a cliffhanger by switching to a different POV in the next chapter. Or you can reveal some piece of information to character B that is crucial to character A, giving your readers a bigger view of the plot than each individual character. You can introduce a conflict in character B’s storyline that will later cause a threat to character C. Different characters can make choices that echo or contrast one another, enhancing the thematic impact of these plot points. By making intentional choices about when POV switches happen, why they happen, and how they happen, you can make sure each POV storyline builds on one another, creating a more dimensional and multi-faceted plot.
Writing a book with multiple POVs? Check out these other posts in our series about Multiple POVs: