On Writing Multiple POVs (and Not Going Crazy) by Tara Sim

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Photo credit: Bruce Guenter on Flickr

“We write to get rid of the voices in our head,” is something writers tend to jokingly say. Well, to some degree, that’s true. We have many stories, and many voices, clamoring for attention up there. Our outlet is getting those voices on paper.

Some authors tend to prefer one POV, but others like having multiple to work with. This can mean anything from dual POV, such as Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races, to three person POV, such as Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King, or multiple POV, such as Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows.

Sometimes the project will determine what style you use. If there’s a large, sprawling world with different cultures, it’s probably a good idea to use multiple POVs so the reader can see as much of the world as possible. But if you’re writing a contemporary set in a small town with a limited number of characters, one POV would help the reader get close your main character and their environment.

Of course, this changes for each author/book and what they want to accomplish with the story, and also what they’re comfortable with writing. But if you’re thinking of tackling a multiple POV book, here are some tricks and tips to help:

  • When you write notes, give each character a color or a symbol. When I think of a character, I tend to think of images associated with them. If they have fire magic, I see oranges and reds. Giving your characters different colors or symbols will help distinguish them not only in your story notes, but in your mind as you work with them.
  • After writing up a story outline (if you outline), write separate outlines for each character. While writing my most recent book, I had five POVs to juggle. Something that helped considerably was having a master story outline to refer back to, but also having five separate outlines attached to it—one for each POV. This helps break down important plot points and emotional turns in the book, and also keeps track of what knowledge each character has as the plot unfolds.
  • Give each character a different voice. We don’t all sound the same, so it makes sense for your characters to not all sound the same. In this instance, “voice” means the relationship between the narrator and the reader. Does your character have a native language but think primarily in another? Throw in some words or phrases from their native language to distinguish them from the others. Do they curse a lot? Do they have a poetic way of thinking? Do they focus more on people than setting, or vice versa? Cultivate those voices and make them as specific as possible.
  • Make sure that each character has a goal and stakes. It’s fun to watch a bunch of people running around and getting into mischief, but you also need to give those people something to fight for, run away from, get over their fear of, etc. Each POV character needs to have a goal (which could coincide or clash with another POV character’s), and they also need stakes. What happens to them if they don’t achieve their goal? What happens to the other POV characters if they don’t achieve their goal? What about if they do achieve it? Remember that they’ll all be interconnected; the more connections you can make between them, the better.

It may seem daunting to write multiple POVs, but when you find a way to organize your characters and get them on the page, it’s fun to see a group of characters playing off each other. Find the tricks that work for you and have fun!

 

Tara Sim is a YA author found in the wilds of the Bay Area, California. When she’s not writing about magic, clocks, and boys, she drinks tea, wrangles cats, and sings opera.  To find out more about her and her books, check out her website: tarasim.com. Follow her on Twitter: @EachStarAWorld.

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One thought on “On Writing Multiple POVs (and Not Going Crazy) by Tara Sim

  1. caseyfaehewson says:

    Hi Tara. This is a great post. I’ve struggled with keeping POVs separate and these are good tips. I particularly liked the one about giving each character a colour. I’m a really visual person so I can see this will work well for me.

    Like

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