7 Do’s and Don’ts for Writing from Multiple Points of View

by Kassandra Lamb ~ Awhile back, I wrote a post that was intended to be the first in a three-part series, and then I got distracted… But finally here’s Post 2 on writing from multiple points of view.

photo by Joshua Fuller on Unsplash.com

This post is mainly for writers, but readers may find it interesting as well. As I outlined in my last post on this topic, there are sometimes compelling reasons for writing from multiple points of view in a story. But there are some guidelines for how to do it in a way that is helpful and not confusing.

#1: Don’t Head-Hop

What is head-hopping, you might ask… It’s jumping frequently from one person’s POV to another with no breaks in-between, no transitions, and often for no good reason.

I learned the hard way that this is not true multiple POVs. And it will not help readers feel closer to a story’s characters. Indeed, it tends to have a distancing effect, as the reader is often confused about whose head they’re in at the moment.

#2: Do Limit the Number of POV Characters

The reader does not need to hear the thoughts of every character. I was once reading a book, an early work of a well-known author, in which she head-hopped all over the place. At one point, the main character bolts into a road while running away from the villain, and whoosh, suddenly I’m inside the head of an anonymous cab driver—who never shows up again in the book—and he’s thinking she’s crazy.

writing from multiple points of view
We don’t need to know every character’s thoughts! (images by Videoplasty.com~White Man Thinking Cartoon Vector; Black Man Thinking Cartoon Vector; Professor Thinking Cartoon Vector–CC-BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Talk about being pulled out of a story. I literally held the book away from me and said out loud, “Say what?”

The author could have so easily shown his reaction by having him yell at her out his window. But instead I was yanked out of the heroine’s head, and I lost my sense of connection with her fear.

#3: Do Clearly Show When POV Changes

Preferably, there should be a definite break in the action, such as a chapter or scene break.

And then the author should ground the reader quickly in the new POV character’s perspective. In the very first sentence of the new section, that character needs to feel an internal sensation or think a thought.

#4: Do Use Deep POV with Each POV Character

This is not omniscient POV where the narrator tells the reader what various characters are thinking, feeling, etc. This is truly getting inside the head and body (Deep POV) of whatever character is currently in the POV hot seat. They should be sucking in air, clenching their teeth, swallowing lumps in their throats, and talking to themselves in their heads. (More on Deep POV in Post 3 of this series.)

I’ve had many readers comment that they love being able to relate closely to all the important characters in my Kate Huntington books. In the latter books in the series, I was tempted to just show Kate’s perspective, but those comments kept me on the more consistent (and somewhat harder) path of writing from multiple points of view.

#5: Don’t Repeat a Scene from a Different POV

You can have a different character react to what happened in a previous scene. But please don’t regurgitate the events of that scene. I’m including this because I recently read a book, by a very well-known author, in which she has FIVE different characters flash back to the same scene from their collective past. And the entire scene is replayed each time!

writing from multiple points of view
First book in my first series, where I head-hopped initially. I later fixed that, however. This book is FREE, by the way.

First Rule of Writing: Do not bore the reader.

#6: Do Have a Character Arc for the More Important POV Characters

Especially in a series, if a character is important enough to have a fair number of POV scenes, then they are important enough to show development, for better or worse, over time.

One of my favorite characters in my Kate Huntington series is Rose Hernandez. She is a short, sturdy young woman with a tough exterior and an overdeveloped sense of duty, loyalty, and fairness.

At the beginning of the series, she shows very little emotion, but the reader sees some of what is going on inside when Rose is the POV character in a few scenes. The pivotal decision that she makes in the first book provides the opportunity to develop friendships, almost despite herself, with the main characters. And over the course of the series, those friendships mellow her, even though she maintains her tough exterior with the rest of the world.

This brings us back to limiting our POV characters. I intentionally decided NOT to give Rose’s love interest, Mac, more than the occasional POV scene, even though he’s in every book in the series. There are only so many full-blown character arcs one can manage in one series.

Which brings me to my last point…

#7: Do Make the Time Spent in a Character’s POV Appropriate to Their Importance

writing from multiple points of view
All POVs are not created equal. Make sure your most important characters stand out in the crowd. (Photo by Davide Ragusa on Unsplash.com)

In my Kate Huntington series, Kate’s best friend and her second husband get a lot of POV time, because they are important secondary characters. But they don’t get as much as Kate does. Rose, Kate’s friend and Skip’s business partner, gets more or less POV time, depending on how important her role is in that particular book. Three other characters in their circle of friends and family get the occasional POV scene.

Readers expect a character with a lot of POV time to be fairly important to the story. If s/he turns out to be little more than a supporting character, the reader will feel off balance, maybe even tricked.

Hope this is helpful. Anything else you all would like to know about writing from multiple points of view? Or additional thoughts on the topic?

Part 3 of this series, Deep POV, will be posted in September.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida. She also writes romantic suspense under the pen name of Jessica Dale.

Misterio press produces an array of quality crime fiction. We post here twice a month, usually on Tuesdays, to alert you to new releases, to entertain, and to inform.

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Merrie
    August 12, 2021 at 10:57 pm

    Loved the insight on the POV dilemmas authors face while writing.

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      August 13, 2021 at 12:02 am

      Glad you found the post enlightening. Thanks, Merrie for stopping by.

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