In my post about Head Hopping from Monday, I mentioned that I'd be writing a companion entry dedicated to
I don't think it's a huge secret that multiple-POV novels are notoriously difficult to pull off, right? I mean, if you weren't aware: they're super difficult to pull off. Just so you know. Yes, in theory, anyone can write a novel from the point of view of several characters, but that doesn't mean it's going to flow smoothly or make sense or feel right. At worst, a multi-POV story can devolve into a convoluted mess where it's impossible for readers to connect to any of the characters because it's all chaotic and BLEARGH.
First things first: deciding on your style. Are you going for a dual POV? Perhaps a romance that switches between both leads? Or are you interested in more of an ensemble set up? Will it be a small ensemble (perhaps 3-5 characters), or a very large ensemble, like in Tom Leveen's Party? Dude wrote a book with eleven narrators. ELEVEN.
Okay, you know how many characters you're following. Now you have to decide how you're going to follow them. Is your narrator omniscient and all-knowing; able to peek inside the head of any character at any time? Or are you interested in more of a close-third or first-person narration style, switching off between scenes or chapters? (Here's where that whole head hopping post may come in handy).
Next, it's important to ask yourself why you want to tell the story this way. You need to make sure that there is a real, functional purpose for telling a story from multiple points of view. How will following multiple characters best serve the story you're trying to tell? Will the story be genuinely stronger if it's told this way, or are you doing it "just because?" If you want to try multiple POV because you have this secondary character you really like and you think it'd be fun to have a chapter from their perspective, that may not be the right reason.
A few reasons for telling a story from multiple perspectives: to maintain mystery and reveal information slowly. To increase tension between characters. To tell two or more "separate" stories that will eventually intertwine. To give different viewpoints on the same event, leading up to a big reveal. Revealing information to the reader that will increase the stakes for another character who is kept in the dark. There are many more, but these may give you a general idea.
Hopefully you've made your decisions about all these elements. Now comes the hard part: making it work. How do you craft a narrative from multiple points of view without turning it into a Slap-Chopped noodle salad? Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Stick to one POV per chapter. In order to avoid the dreaded head-hopping, which will horribly confuse your reader, it's a good practice to only follow one character's POV per chapter. It gives the reader a clean break before they have to jump into a new mind. If you must switch POVs in the middle of a chapter (and by "must," I mean you're doing it because it's what best serves the story and it's necessary), do so at a natural scene break. It might be a good idea to use a line break (an extra space between paragraphs) to establish time passed and/or character switch, as well. For examples of switching POV each chapter, see Shiver and Across The Universe.
When writing in first-person, it's important for each character to have a distinctive voice. This is probably one of the biggest complaints I see about multiple POV novels: the characters all sound the same. The reader can't tell them apart. What's the point of telling a story from multiple perspectives if the voices aren't different, etc. To cite Beth Revis' Across The Universe again, she does a pretty good job of giving her two MCs, Elder and Amy, distinctive voices with their own verbal tics and unique outlook. This isn't as important in third-person, since the narrator is more removed, but in first-person, a reader should quickly be able to tell they're in a different character's head. They shouldn't have to go back and look at the chapter heading to figure out whose POV they're in.
Don't overwhelm yourself. There's a difference between giving yourself a challenge and biting off more than you can chew. Don't go for the ten-character ensemble cast if you can't handle keeping track of that many different threads. Complicated does not necessarily mean better. In fact, it's usually best to keep it simple and build small, rather than juggling more balls than you can catch.
Be mindful of whose head you're in. Tying right back around to the head hopping post: remember that you can't jump from head-to-head-to-head without giving your reader fair warning/some kind of indication. That's where the chapter breaks/line breaks come in handy. You don't have to beat readers over the head with it, but the shifts should flow naturally and not be confusing.
Remember: you should be telling a story in multiple-POV because that's the way the story MUST be told. Multiple-POV can be extremely messy. It can become too repetitive and convoluted, or it can reveal too much information and kill tension. It's difficult to balance. But when it's done well, man, it can be amazing.
What are some of your favorite multiple-POV novels? Why did you love them so much? What did they do well?