Earlier this year, I finished an entire (messy) draft in single POV. It was the quickest I’d ever written a draft, but yet it felt wrong. I loved every element of my protagonist’s personality, but it felt like she was the sum of multiple characters. As a result, her goals were pulling her in different directions that didn’t make sense. Yes, I had a finished draft, but it left me with a tangled plot that was impossible to unravel.
So, when I sat down to plan my revisions, I had questions to ask myself. Whose story was this? Was my plot too complicated, or had I simply chosen the wrong protagonist? Were there two protagonists? More? I thought I’d answered these questions when I’d first started writing, but I’d gotten them all wrong. And that’s okay. Flushing out each element of your story is difficult, but a necessary part of the journey. In the end, it turned out my plot elements were (mostly) right, but they needed to be divided between two POVs, two characters who could offer their own unique insight on this world and drive the plot forward in their own nuanced ways.
Sometimes, like in my case, we have a story that is too big for a character to carry on their own. Maybe the story takes place in multiple geographic locations (like in Game of Thrones), or maybe your reader needs to know elements of your story that one character is unaware of (like in the Throne of Glass series), or the characters act as foils for each other, or show different perspectives of the world (like in Six of Crows). While my story felt like it had the right pieces, they were stuck together wrong. Re-plotting my novel in dual POV helped alleviate many of my manuscript’s problems: it heightened my scene level tension, created conflict between my characters that had been missing in my first draft, and deepened my world building. This change also allowed the two characters to be in the dark for some crucial parts of the story, which leads to betrayal and tension in the last act.
When done well, multiple POVs can add a layer of complexity and nuance to the story. But like any other element of telling a story, it can be very difficult. Each POV needs to have a unique voice, a unique way of seeing the world. For example, in Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, having the perspective of both Noah and Jude gives the reader a deeper understanding of the loss they share, and acts as a wonderful way to tell a story that jumps back and forth between the twins’ early and teen years. Multiple POVs can be great for a longer series, love stories, friendship stories, and stories that jump across time or geography. Think of your favourite book that has multiple or single POV—what are its strengths and what are its limitations?
Remember: just because you have multiple perspectives does not mean they need to be balanced in terms of chapters or word count, as long as they are balanced in terms of their character growth and how they fit in with the narrative flow. If you’re starting to plan your next project and aren’t sure of what POV you should use, ask yourself:
- Who has the most at stake in this story? Is it more than one person?
- How do these characters’ perspectives fit into the overarching plot?
- Who is the best character to tell this chapter/scene/story?
- What is the goal of my story?
These questions will help you decide which characters are the best fit to tell your story. And you might discover something new about your story along the way.
So, tell us: why did you choose a certain POV? What have you been loving about it? What have you been struggling with? Have you ever switched from single to multiple? Let us know if you have any favourite books that are great examples of single, dual, or multiple POV in the comments (or on social media)—we’re always looking for book recs!
Useful Examples of Dual/Multiple POV:
- You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon
- The Raven Cycle by Maggie Steifvater
- Legend by Marie Lu
- The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
- The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
- All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
- They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
Extra goodies for your consumption:
- How to Choose Your Novel’s Point-of-View and Tense and My Top Tips for Balancing Stories with Multiple Points-of-View, Kristen Kieffer
- Pacing with Multiple POVs, Katy Rose Pool and Akshaya Raman
- Roundtable #4: Multiple POVs, Writer’s Block Party