There are a lot of writers out there that have still not got to grips with multiple POVs and are therefore still making avoidable errors such as switching POVs mid scene and having every character in the novel have a viewpoint. It might seem that multiple POVs are complicated, or they present the writer with all sorts of complications because of dealing with many characters, but that isn’t really the case.
They are not complicated to deal with, if you know what you’re doing. It’s how well the writer approaches multiple viewpoints that matters.
POV errors happen – and keep happening – because writers are not taking the time to learn about them and understand how they work. Fiction writing isn’t just about writing a story and self-publishing it on Amazon. Writing is complex. That means all the elements that go into writing are also just as complex.
One of the faults when dealing with multiple viewpoints in a novel is the inability for the writer differentiate between characters clearly enough, because having lots of characters and therefore writing from more than one POV can be distracting and sometimes confusing for the reader, as well as the writer. It goes without saying that the main character always has the strongest viewpoint.
Readers tend to like as few character viewpoints as possible – it simply makes it easier to follow the story that way – so when presented with lots more character viewpoints, they have to concentrate and focus harder to stay with the story. This is why writers should handle multiple POVs correctly and carefully by using few rather than many.
Another problem is that the writer wrongly assumes that he or she has to write from the POV of every character in the novel in order to tell the story. This simply isn’t the case. Not every character is important enough to warrant his or her own POV. Instead, by concentrating on the main characters, and a few key secondary characters, the writer can focus the story properly, on the characters that matter.
Writers also have a tendency to switch from one character to another every other scene, or within scenes. You have to remember that when you are in a character's point of view, the reader is also in that character’s point of view, so every time you change that viewpoint, the reader changes with it. The constant switching can leave the reader confused as to whose story it actually is and eventually they will give up reading it.
Also, if the writer is often flicking between characters, he or she hasn’t thought about who the best character is to carry the scene or tell that part of the story. That means the focus of the story is lacking.
There is also a tendency with multiple POVs that the writer doesn’t pay attention to the story arc, so characters and scenes end up meandering without any cohesion. That makes it hard for the reader to understand what is happening with the core of the story.
Avoid the Problems
Writing multiple points of view is all about how you create them, how you write them, and how you switch from one to another in order for them to be effective and easy to follow for the reader.
Firstly, determine if your story needs multiple POVs. If it’s the kind of story that can benefit from multiple POVs, then by all means work with it, however, if the story is better as one or two perspectives at most, then carefully consider the pros and cons of each one before you start writing.
You need to decide whose POV best carries each scene, because it’s wise to remember that not every chapter (or every other scene) will be from a different character each time. That’s just overkill, and it shows a lack of understanding of fiction writing.
You have to decide which character is best for that part of the story. If it really needs another character perspective, then make the switch, but think about it carefully and ask the following questions:-
- Does switching impart necessary information?
- Does it show and build characterisation?
- Does it move the story forward and expand the story?
If switching achieves these, then change POV. Do not switch character point of view because you think it’s another character’s turn to take the spotlight. If you read your favourite authors, you will notice that multiple viewpoints don’t expand beyond the main core characters. That means it’s far easier for the author to control, and easier for the reader to follow.
Careful and strategic switching between certain characters helps strengthen the story (rather than weaken it), because it helps the reader understand characters better, it helps them feel more involved with the story and that’s because the story will be told from different perspectives for the reader.
Change POVs the Right Way
Never switch POVs mid-scene. Doing so shows the reader, editor or publisher that the writer doesn’t have a clue what they’re doing. Ignore this advice at your peril.
If you must switch POV, wait for a new scene or chapter to do so. This helps the reader keep track of characters and their perspectives.
Every character in the novel does not need a POV. Just concentrate on the most important characters; those who can help tell the story. Think of a movie – it’s told through from the perspectives of two or three characters at most.
Your novel is no different. So don’t overcomplicate things.
Next week: Tricks to use to pace your novel