Writing a novel with multiple points of view

Last year, I wrote a blog on deciding which point of view – first, second, or third-person – to use in your novel. One thing I didn’t address is writing your novel from multiple viewpoints – using one or more characters to tell the story. The reader sees the story through their eyes and has access to their thoughts and feelings.

The topic of multiple viewpoints came up in a recent discussion my husband and I were having about my current work in progress. It is told through two viewpoints though one is more predominant than the other.

When I wrote my first book, I told the story mostly from one point of view but there were three other points of view that I occasionally flipped to. In the following two books (part of the same series), I expanded my list of character points of view to six. And one of those viewpoints was the antagonist.

I guess because I had done the antagonist before, my husband expected me to do it this time. But in this story, the antagonist is a group rather than one person and so far there is no clear “head” antagonist to use as a viewpoint character.

One of the biggest problems with using multiple view points is it can provide an unsatisfactory read as the reader might not get familiar with each person whose view point they see. There is a disruption in reading when you change character viewpoints. It would be like going to a party and talking to someone new every twenty minutes just when you were getting a good conversation going.

It is probably best to stick to just one viewpoint unless you have a good reason to use more. And if you do choose to go with multiple viewpoints keep the number to an absolute minimum. (Yeah, six probably is too many most of the time.)

You should also clearly indicate within the first paragraph – preferably the first line – that a change has occurred in the point of view. Why? Because there is nothing more annoying than reading along thinking you are looking at things from one point of view to find out it is actually someone else’s.

Starting a new chapter is the easiest way to signify a point of view change. I did not do this in my The Elemental series. I changed points of view during the chapters but left a break (a white space or three asterisks if the break was at the bottom of the page) to indicate the change.

Each point of view character does not need to have equal time though you can make it the same amount if you like. In my case, my protagonist got the most time. The reason I used other points of view was because the other characters were in other locations, and this was the easiest way to let the reader know what was happening. (No cell phones in a medieval-style world after all.)

There certainly is no reason you can’t write a story from more than one point of view. Just remember to keep the number of point of view characters to a minimum and always make it clear whose point of view it is as soon as possible.

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2 thoughts on “Writing a novel with multiple points of view

  1. sjhigbee says:

    I’ve just finished editing a novel where I have four viewpoint characters – and decided to start each new section with the name of the character whose head we were in. It seems to work quite well.

  2. […] You also need to decide what point of view to tell your story. (And if you do third person, how many POV characters there will […]

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