Who’s Telling the Story? A Case for Multiple POV

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I had just completed Chapter Five in my “still in progress” novel. My protagonist is a single female, late twenties, public school biology teacher. Chapter Five ends with her accepting an invitation to serve as the “Green Counselor” at a month long summer camp for girls. Chapter Six begins with her turning into the driveway of her best friend’s house. She will leave her dog with this friend. Chapter Seven has her arriving at the camp.

Now, thus far I’ve written this narrative in Third Person Omniscient. We see the world through my protagonist’s eyes and her eyes only.

BUT, by the time I had gotten to the end of Chapter Six I had an uneasy feeling. I let it go and finished Chapter Seven. But upon a quick read, the unease set in again. Chapter Five was just wrong. But why?

My epiphany was that Chapter Five would be vastly better if I used a different POV for my protagonist’s arrival at her best friend’s house. I changed the POV from my protagonist to her best friend, and sure enough the narrative took on a new life, seen from another person’s eyes, as it were. The improvement, if I may call it that, was a source of amazement.

Of course, I also realized I would have to go back to my outline and figure out POVs for each chapter. But even with the added work, I’m now convinced the multiple POV will work best for this novel.

What are some pros for multiple POV?

  • Greater mobility. For instance, with Chapter Six, I can avoid the cumbersome “arrival scene” and start with the person in the house! It works so much better.
  • Greater depth. I can reveal the attitude of “reliable” others towards my hero. An effective way to reveal your protagonist’s flaws.
  • Increased tension. I can, through various conflicting views, raise the bar, as it were regarding my characters’ actions.

What are some cons?

  • Derail plot movement. I spend too much time with a secondary character, and the narrative bogs down travelling in the wrong direction.
  • Character deflation. I spend too much energy with other characters and lose my protagonist in the turmoil. (In the novel I’m currently reading, I find myself liking the secondary characters more than the protagonist!)
  • Narrative implosion. My story line goes off in a thousand directions curves back in on itself and implodes into total oblivion! Whoa!

 

So dear Blogger writers, what’s the point of all this? My point is that we should be open to our “highly intuitive writer minds” when, for whatever reason, you suddenly feel something is not quite right with the way your narrative is moving—then believe me there IS SOMETHING WRONG, so, stop and review your work. I was reluctant to change my Chapter Six. But, I did it, and I am happily surprised with the results.

NOTE: As a writing exercise, re-writing a scene from one point of view to another often reveals some very interesting aspects of your story. I’m sure this has been said a million times…sorry.

Picture above: Crows in our front yard. Talking!

What are your thoughts about shifting from one POV to another?

25 thoughts on “Who’s Telling the Story? A Case for Multiple POV

  1. Sha'Tara

    My approach seems to be, “whatever works” in the matter of POV. Since I write mostly short short stories, it’s never a problem for me to change my mind at the end, go back over and change the POV. Or tense!

    Liked by 5 people

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    1. Paul Post author

      And that is a very good approach! I think sometimes writers get bogged down with what may be minor issues when a change of POV may be just what they need. My interest is: “What was it that made you change your mind? What did you see that compelled you to change the POV? I think it’s so interesting that we intuit certain problem areas without always completely understanding why a scene goes better being told from a secondary character’s POV rather than the protagonist.
      Thank you so much for reading and responding, Sha ‘Tara Your comments are valuable to me.

      Liked by 2 people

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  2. michnavs

    I admire you guys for being able to write short stories…much more being able to decide which point of view to use…everytime i attempt to write one i cant seem to end it…my openind and body have always been powerful..but it dies down towards the end.

    Liked by 2 people

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    1. Paul Post author

      Sounds like the kinds of problems we all have! 🙂 Thank you so much for the good words! I think sometimes when we have to face our writing we have to face a mysterious resistance the story will sometimes offer. In other words, we get the “idea” for a story. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Perfect. Until we start writing then all hell breaks loose. Character vie for narrative presence, the setting gets all mixed up, dialogue whirls about saying nothing, and the ending disappears! Dang. This is all to say, I think you’re on the right track! 🙂 Keep writing dear friend. And thank you for reading. Your response is always refreshing.

      Liked by 2 people

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  3. Millie Ho

    Insightful post! I agree that we should review the work when we suspect something is wrong. This may be when exploratory writing comes in. I see “increased tension” as one of the biggest benefits with multiple POVs, though I haven’t written many stories with more than one POV. I’ve heard that there was a magic number for multiple POVs, something like three or four POVs max, and that POVs should be given to only the major characters (antagonists, protagonists, etc, which helps with increasing tension). However, “Dark Places” by Gillian Flynn featured a minor character’s POV only once, so I think this rule can be broken depending on the effect you want to create. Maybe it worked for Flynn because the POV only appeared once, so there was no “narrative implosion”.

    I will have to try writing different POVs more!

    Liked by 3 people

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    1. Paul Post author

      This is my first effort at multiple POV so thanks you so much for your great advice and information. Hmm, the “magic number” is something I was thinking about last night as I was mulling over my plot sequence. It’s rather tricky to figure out who speaks and when. Of course we have to keep the narrative flowing in a logical sequence which isn’t so difficult. I “think” I’ve got the narrative thing down to four…I think. A bit more work to do there.
      As always you provide great insight. Thanks a ton Millie and now, back to work!

      Liked by 3 people

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  4. Bea dM

    Thanks for a helpful discussion. We should always heed our intuition (even in matters other than writing), even if it complicates our lives! Inserting another POV is an interesting move and certainly gives new energy to a story, but in my opinion, the multiple-POV formula in some novels creates confusion and bogs down the flow.

    Liked by 2 people

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    1. Paul Post author

      You’re exactly right! The multiple POV can quickly turn into a nightmare, confusing everyone. I think as Millie Ho wisely suggested, there is a magic number of POVs one should stay with, and these characters should be closely involved with each other. One famous multiple POV novel is Faulkner’s AS I LAY DYING, with each character speaking in first person and present tense. At first it’s terribly confusing, but since it’s a family, it eventually starts to make sense. I absolutely refuse to try to mimic Faulkner, 🙂 but I think if I keep the folks close together and let setting and dialogue link the character’s together it may work…may! Thanks Bea for the good words. Thank you so much!

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      1. Bea dM

        I do have a question, as you’ve helped me focus on the importance and possible effects of multiple POVs: any suggestion as to a relatively recent novel with the “right” number of POVs? (I mean not so confusing that you have to get through half the book before it starts to make sense 🙂 )

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      2. Paul Post author

        As Millie Ho suggested and I think she’s absolutely right…three or four POVs max is the golden rule. Of course rules are meant to be broken, but I think you are correct in assuming that more than that would only serve to confuse. The next problem is to keep the flow going-that is, use setting and plot to keep track of who’s speaking and why!

        It’s a challenge! 🙂 Hope this helps.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. sepultura13

    I think that multiple POVs are helpful at times, especially when writing something that contains multiple “main” characters. For instance, I was doing some short stories on my blog and hit a roadblock on what the next portion will be – turns out, I feel the need to use a different POV from how the first three parts were running – hopefully, it will add to the short story!

    Do what that little, intuitive voice is telling you…I think that it’s a great idea!
    Love the photo of the crows, too – they’re great birds! Always fun to watch.
    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Paul Post author

      Thanks for reading and sharing. I agree with what you say. Sometimes just “seeing” through the other characters eyes is what a narrative needs to stay afloat!
      Oh, the crows are great. They roost around here behind the house, and every morning I enjoy watching them cawing and flying over to go heaven knows where. But they know! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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  6. daleydowning

    I’m using multiple POVs as well… It seemed to be the best way, in the end, to cover everything I needed to, in terms of plot, and character arcs. And I wanted to stay in 3rd person, to provide as much info/different angles on the same character to the reader as possible. Forever, I only wrote in 1st person, and trying to do that with my fantasy series was just too limiting.

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. Karina Pinella

    Similar to viewing a well edited film, I would just make sure to make the shift seamless and natural by staying with the dream flow. That is, when you read it, you should be able to tell if it jars or get confusing. For example, if the story has been from Mary’s perspective and then shifts to John in the same chapter or even three pages later, it may be too soon. Then again, it could also be dependent on the type of story you’re writing. There are quite a number of factors to consider.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Paul Post author

      Those were my very thoughts this morning which of course leads us all back to the issue of plot outline. I’ve come to realize how important it is to write out chapter by chapter plot sequence. Now I can go back and label each chapter with a name, that is to say, the POV. And from there get an idea of the sequence, frequency and all that. And too, the plot outline is flexible! Very important. Once I’ve got something written, it’s hard to get rid of it…even though I’ve done that, still it’s not easy.

      I think your analogy to a well edited film is good. It’s all about the flow, so true.

      Great response! thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

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  8. exoticnita54

    I love ❤️ how you find it easy to share with us your techniques of making your story a better one..

    I could learn a lot from you..
    thanks for sharing..

    And as a writer. Ones imagination is the source of your work.. and you seems to have a great imagination that keeps on working..

    Liked by 1 person

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  9. Deb

    IMO go with your gut! I think having varying POVs gives the novel more layers and depth. You like it, stick with it. Two other thoughts…your third scenario in your Cons made me laugh out loud, whoa! Two, what were the crows saying??? 😉

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  10. Simply-Me

    Paul an excellent approach to tackle it and I’m glad you managed to spot the problem, sometimes writing can be frustrating too, especially when you know something is wrong but can’t seem to point it out, till someone else does.

    Thanks Paul for sharing and I’m looking forward to your book.

    Liked by 1 person

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  11. sandyssmorgasbord

    I have been reading with great interest and learning as I went. Your conversation on POV was very mind opening to me. I didn’t know there was a rule on this, not that I have gotten into using POV’s too much but I’m sure it will come along in my writing at sometime or another. I always like to see different viewpoints and am grateful to be able to learn through your posts. I do agree, Paul, that if you think something is wrong or not quite right, go back and figure out why. Look at it from different perspectives and try rearranging or different view points. Thanks for the tips from all of you. Thanks Paul for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Paul Post author

      Thank you for your wonderful reply. Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. My wife and I are in Japan, having a great time! I’m going to put up a travel post soon!

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