Monday, July 23, 2012

Writing in Multiple POVs: Mistakes to Avoid

I know I’ve talked about multiple POVs before, but lately I’ve been seeing an influx of submissions where multiple POVs were used, and not effectively. If you decide to write with more than one narrator, here are some things you want to be careful of:

1.       The biggest, most important question you want to ask yourself before writing with dual points of view is: Can you tell this same story in a single POV? If you can, then do. There should be sound justification for writing with multiple MCs because reading this type of book/manuscript requires more effort and the reader needs to be ensured that he/she is putting forth this extra energy for good reason. The second POV needs to ADD to the story, propel the storyline forward and build on character development (for BOTH characters).

2.       Disorienting POV switches. If the reader has to take extra time and energy to figure out which character is speaking, most likely they’ll end up putting the book down. Not great if that reader is an editor/agent/intern. Ensure the alternation between POVs is clear and consistent throughout—consistent being more important of the two. Readers are smart. No matter if your switches occur with chapter breaks or scene breaks or some other creative feature you’ve come up with, be sure to continue that all the way through the story.

3.       Many times after finishing a book/ms with dual POVs I think to myself this story would’ve been stronger had it been in a single POV. Like I said above, it takes more energy for readers to switch between characters—get in their heads, understand their thoughts and motivations and frustrations. By taking that away to add in another character (to which the reader tries to understand), you run the chance of weakening ALL the characters.

In the last POV post, I mentioned Will Grayson, Will Grayson (Green and Levithan) and How to Save a Life (Zarr) as books with effective dual POVs. Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone (Rosenfield) is another I recently finished and is definitely one I’d add to this list. Can you think of any other dual POV books?

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  1. Thank you for this! I've been trying to decide whether to make my next book dual POV, but I really can't justify it - especially after reading this.

    Oh, and I'm listening to Will Grayson, Will Grayson on audio right now. Just started it two days ago, in fact. It's wonderful! The two characters are distinctive, and so are their voices. I never find myself wondering whose head I'm in (and not just because they used two different narrators).

    Raven Boys uses multiple points of view, too. I'm read that now as well, and it's very good, though I'm holding out to see why all those different POVs (four so far?) are necessary to the story.