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.

Choosing a point of view in which to tell your story

When you set out to write a story, one of the first decisions you need to make is who is telling the story.  Usually the narrator of the story is the person who has the most to win or lose. But sometimes it’s better to have someone else tell the story.

POVAnd when deciding on who might narrate your story, you also need to consider which person – first, second or third – you want to use to tell the story. Each has advantages and disadvantages and can change the feel as well as how your story is told.

First Person

The narrator tells the story as it is happening to them, using the personal pronouns “I,” “me” and “my.” This gives your story a very intimate tone. It makes the reader feel like they are with a friend who is going to share some juicy personal experiences. The reader gets to feel the immediacy and impact of the action. That is why it is a popular choice for detective novels. (Example: Kinsey Milhone from Sue Grafton novels.)

Example of first-person POV:

I hesitated at the doorway, allowing my eyes to adjust to the darkened room. The lights flipped on and I heard everyone scream, “Surprise!”

Of course, it wasn’t a surprise at all. My best friend Jenny could never keep anything to herself. Not even the time I got my first hickey and she had told her mom about it right away. I smiled as she rushed over with a silver package in her hand.

Second Person

This is an extremely rare way to write a story in which the reader is the main character. In this case, you would use the personal pronoun “you.” It reminds me of the “Choose your own Adventure” type books from my childhood.

Example of second-person POV:

You stop at the doorway. The room is dark. You hear a faint noise. All of a sudden, the lights turn on and several people jump out. Your hand flies to your mouth as you stifle a scream.

“Surprise!” everyone yells.

Taking a deep breath you enter the crowded room, looking around for the red-head behind this event.  You see her smiling at you as she thrusts a small package into your hands.

Third Person

This is the most popular viewpoint in which to write. You will be using the personal pronouns “he,” “she,” and “they.” Everything about the story, including information on other characters, is filtered through this character’s perceptions.  The reader is only exposed to what this character sees, hears and thinks.

But you are not limited to using only one character’s point of view. You can jump to other characters and tell part of the story from their perspective.  If you do decide to go with multiple character viewpoints make sure it is obvious to the reader by separating the paragraphs with a marker (***), an additional space between sections or a chapter break. Typically, you should never jump from one to another in the same section. The key to using multiple character POVs is to limit the number of characters you use. Too many and you can confuse the reader.

Example of third-person POV:

Bonnie stood staring at the closed door. She knew her best friend most likely had gathered all their friends for a surprise party for her, but she wanted nothing more than to be left alone. Reluctantly, she slowly opened the door. The room was dark. She stepped in as the lights flipped on.

“Surprise!”

Bonnie  lifted her hand to her mouth as she plastered a look of shock on her face. Hearing laughter, she turned to see her best friend Jenny rushing toward her with a silver package in her hand.

As you can see each example gives the story a slightly different feel so consider what will work best from your story.