Brain Hopping: Easy Guidelines for Writing Multiple POVs

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How many point of view characters is too many? That is a question I return to regularly, and unfortunately I find that the appropriate number of POVs depends. It depends on the length of the story. It depends on how frequently POV jumps occur. It depends on what the POVs add to the plot. It depends on how distinct the POVs are.

It’s no secret that my current novel incorporates multiple POVs – in fact, it features enough of them that I recently had to cull one from a draft – but just because I use several POV characters doesn’t mean that I am blind to the problems that they can cause for a story.

In order to make sure that all of my POV characters are not only acceptable but necessary, I’ve created the following rough guidelines.

Make sure each POV has a distinct voice – There is very little worse then reading a book and being confused about which POV character is leading a specific chapter. I have several ways to minimize this issue. First I try to use a slightly different writing style for each POV. I also try to incorporate the character’s thought and speech patterns into the text. Paying close attention to setting and emphasizing details that one character but not another might notice can also help differentiate between POVs.

Have a distinct story arc for each POV character – No POV character should just exist in the story; he or she should develop and grow. In multiple POV stories, there tends to be a lead character that emerges, but even the supporting POV characters should have storylines that matter to the overarching plot.

Evaluate how much of a story each POV character should have – As the previous point suggests, not all point of view characters are created equally. This means that POVs do not need to have the same number of chapters dedicated to them. At the same time, the reader needs to spend enough time with the characters to maintain a connection to their trials. Unless there is a very good reason for it – the reader thinks a character is dead for example – the story should loop around to each of the POVs regularly. This is a delicate balancing act that requires a lot of attention during the editing process.

Use each POV character to move the plot forward – In general, I am not a fan of telling the same scene from multiple POVs. Even in less action oriented stories, each POV section should propel the plot somehow. If a POV is just repeating information that the reader already knows, then it probably shouldn’t exist.

Maintain focus – The more POVs a writer uses the more difficult it is to focus on the story’s endgame. In a mystery, that may be solving the crime. In a romance, it may be the climax of a love story. As more POV characters are added, however, it can be easy to drift away from these main plot goals. It is tempting to develop a POV character by writing pages and pages about his passion for horticulture, but unless that interest is relevant to the larger story, those pages probably shouldn’t be included.

There are other facets to keep an eye on when writing using multiple POVs, but these guidelines are enough to get me started.

I suspect that I am not alone in having mixed feelings about POVs. How do you feel about multiple POVs? When you are reading a book, are they the love of your life or the bane of your existence? If you are a writer, I’d love to hear about how you make the decision to use multiple or single POVs in your own writing.


Image Attribution: Cornelia Trefflich’s ‘Viele Gesichter’


13 thoughts on “Brain Hopping: Easy Guidelines for Writing Multiple POVs

  1. I am a fan of stories written in multiple POVs but I never incorporated it much in my stories. There is just too much chaos in my head. But I did write a story once with 2 POVs.
    Perhaps through your guide, I may be able to make another one. Thanks for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Kristen, so happy to have found your blog! 😃 I like reading different POVs but find them tricky to write. This is something we’ve been exploring on my masters recently and I’m going to keep experimenting because of its done well I think it can really add to the story 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome! I’m glad you made it here.

      Multiple POVs can certainly be a bugbear to manage, but I hope you’ll keep us all updated about whatever you decide to do. I love hearing about other people’s writing processes. (And congratulations on starting your masters program! That is exciting, and I hope it is everything you need it to be.)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Kristen,

    I enjoy reading multiple points of view, say three of four (eg Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Robber Bride’), but not too much hopping about and not so many that as the reader you lose track. My first novel is written from the points of view of two women, where I alternate them carefully giving them equal weight. I really enjoyed doing this, but agree that too many can dilute the whole story’s tension and create lots of ends that need tying off, so I’d say enjoy it, but do it with care and with a conscious purpose for each POV, rather than gratutitously.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. These are some great tips. Thanks! New to WordPress and blogging here and just poking around trying to figure it all out. Your blog came up when I gave the search bar the vague command of “writing”. I got what I came for! Thank you again.

    Almost every story I’ve written has had more than two POVs. The most is seven. It definitely gets tricky. I’m bookmarking these tips for the editing process!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you stumbled over my way, and welcome to the world of WordPress! It’s so fascinating to see what pops up when doing random searches.

      Balancing POVs can be so tricky, but some of the best stories have multiple ones. If you end up sharing your writing journey on your blog, I’m sure you’ll get wonderful feedback. The blogging community here is such a supportive one.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m struggling a bunch with the app, trying to get the hang of it (like just finding your reply now! Lol.) But everything else about the blogging experience so far has been great. I definitely plan on sharing my writing journey! The reception so far has been small but very satisfying. Thanks for your reply!

        Liked by 1 person

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