Fiction Writing Made Easy

#139: 5 Multi POV Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them)

April 23, 2024 Savannah Gilbo Episode 139
#139: 5 Multi POV Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them)
Fiction Writing Made Easy
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Fiction Writing Made Easy
#139: 5 Multi POV Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them)
Apr 23, 2024 Episode 139
Savannah Gilbo

Telling a story through multiple viewpoints can be a great way to create a more expansive (and objective) look at your characters, world, plot, and/or theme. But with each additional viewpoint character you add to your story, the more room there is for mistakes. In this episode, I'm sharing the 5 most common multi POV mistakes writers make and how to avoid them in your draft.

Here’s a preview of what’s included:

[2:10] Mistake #1: Including too many POV characters without an intentional reason for including each one.

[6:10] Mistake #2: Not developing each POV character as if they were the protagonist of their own story—they lack their own goal, motivation, and conflict.

[9:01] Mistake #3: Not tying the characters' storylines together via a common plot problem, a central relationship, or binding their fates together.

[11:47] Mistake #4: Head hopping between different POV characters without making the switch clear to the reader.

[14:56] Mistake #5: Rehashing the same scene from different POVs without offering the reader new and potent  information.

Links Mentioned In This Episode:

Interested in becoming a book coach? Author Accelerator has a free quiz you can take that tells you if you're a good fit for a career in book coaching. Click here to take the quiz and to learn more about Author Accelerator's Book Coach Certification program! 

Support the Show.

Looking for a transcript? If you’re listening on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, scroll down below the episode player until you see the transcript.

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Telling a story through multiple viewpoints can be a great way to create a more expansive (and objective) look at your characters, world, plot, and/or theme. But with each additional viewpoint character you add to your story, the more room there is for mistakes. In this episode, I'm sharing the 5 most common multi POV mistakes writers make and how to avoid them in your draft.

Here’s a preview of what’s included:

[2:10] Mistake #1: Including too many POV characters without an intentional reason for including each one.

[6:10] Mistake #2: Not developing each POV character as if they were the protagonist of their own story—they lack their own goal, motivation, and conflict.

[9:01] Mistake #3: Not tying the characters' storylines together via a common plot problem, a central relationship, or binding their fates together.

[11:47] Mistake #4: Head hopping between different POV characters without making the switch clear to the reader.

[14:56] Mistake #5: Rehashing the same scene from different POVs without offering the reader new and potent  information.

Links Mentioned In This Episode:

Interested in becoming a book coach? Author Accelerator has a free quiz you can take that tells you if you're a good fit for a career in book coaching. Click here to take the quiz and to learn more about Author Accelerator's Book Coach Certification program! 

Support the Show.

Looking for a transcript? If you’re listening on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, scroll down below the episode player until you see the transcript.

Speaker 1:

This is one of the reasons why multi-point-of-view stories are harder to write. You have to develop each character as if they were the protagonist of their own story and give them enough time and space on the page without writing a story that's too long compared to the average word count length of your genre. Welcome to the Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast. My name is Savannah Gilbo and I'm here to help you write a story that works. I want to prove to you that writing a novel doesn't have to be overwhelming, so each week, I'll bring you a brand new episode with simple, actionable and step-by-step strategies that you can implement in your writing right away. So, whether you're brand new to writing or more of a seasoned author looking to improve your craft, this podcast is for you. So pick up a pen and let's get started. In today's episode, we're going to talk about five mistakes to avoid when writing a story with multiple point of view characters, and this is something that I've wanted to do an episode about for a while, so I'm very excited to dig into this topic with you today. Now, telling a story through multiple viewpoints can be a really great way to create a more expansive and objective look at your character's world, plot and or theme. But with each additional viewpoint character that you add, there's more room for story ruining mistakes, and I'd like to help you avoid making some of those mistakes. So the first thing we need to do is identify them, which we will do in today's episode, and then I will also provide you some ways to avoid making these mistakes or to fix these mistakes if you've made them in your draft. So if you know that writing a novel with multiple point of view characters will help you tell the very best version of your story, then here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid and how to fix them if you've made them in your draft. Mistake number one is including too many point of view characters without a good enough reason to include those point of view characters.

Speaker 1:

Many first-time writers feel that the best way to create a compelling story is to include a bunch of different point of view characters, and these writers usually want to include multiple perspectives for one of three main reasons. So, number one they want to give readers a glimpse into why another character is doing what they're doing, so essentially, to inform the reader of information that the protagonist can't naturally provide. Number two they want to create suspense. So they think that if the reader knows what's coming and the protagonist doesn't, it's going to help create tension and suspense in the reader. And or number three, they love their characters or their world so much that they want to explore the story through as many eyes as possible. Now don't get me wrong All of these instincts and reasons are great, but they're not necessarily good enough reasons to include a bunch of different viewpoint characters.

Speaker 1:

And what ends up happening when you have too many point of view characters without having a strong enough story purpose for including their perspectives? You could end up creating a story that becomes a tangled web of overlapping and confusing stories versus something that feels intentional and organic and well put together. So the key thing to remember is that a viewpoint character needs to exist for their own story purpose, not just to offer up key plot explanations or to carry your protagonist to the next stage of the journey or something like that. So a good way to look at a potential viewpoint character is to ask yourself two questions. Number one are they going to have their own arc of change? And number two is their arc of change thematically relevant? If you can't answer yes to both questions, then you're probably better off not using their perspective in your story and instead I would challenge you to look at whatever you wanted to include from that character's perspective to see how you can still get that into your story using a point of view character who does have an arc and whose arc does touch on your theme.

Speaker 1:

Now, something else I want to touch on here is using the antagonist's point of view in your story, because I see a lot of writers that want to do this, and the reason they want to do this is they think, okay, if I let my reader in on what the antagonist is doing and planning, that's going to create suspense because the protagonist doesn't know what's coming, and I think this is well intended. But what usually happens when we go down this line of thinking and we include our antagonist's point of view, is that it actually doesn't have the intended effect. So, instead of leaving your reader in suspense because they know something the protagonist doesn't, your antagonist's point of view essentially broadcasts what's to come, and that can spoil the tension for the reader as the story moves forward. Now, sometimes stories can pull this off, and it's not necessarily something that creates tension or suspense. It's more about creating that sense of dramatic irony. So it's kind of like the reader knows what's coming, the protagonist doesn't.

Speaker 1:

We're very concerned for the character because we have this sense of what's coming right, but that's not the same as creating tension and suspense in the reader. So I just like to call that out, because they are two different reading experiences and neither one is incorrect or wrong. But we do want to be intentional about what kind of experience we're giving readers. So if there's a character like your antagonist that doesn't have an arc of change, or if there's not really an intentional reason to include their point of view other than just because you want to or just because you need to convey information, then you can most likely leave their viewpoint out and stick to your protagonist and or your other viewpoint characters that do have a more intentional reason to be included. So again, just to kind of recap this tip, because it is very important if you can't quickly think of how each one of your viewpoint characters will play an integral part in your story and also experience a story worthy transformation arc of their own, then you probably are better off sticking with one protagonist or one point of view character.

Speaker 1:

Okay, so that's mistake number one. Moving on to mistake number two. Mistake number two is not developing each point of view character that you do include in your story. So essentially, this means not giving yourself enough time or space to properly develop each viewpoint character, and when this happens, there's usually one of two scenarios that I'll see on the page. So scenario number one is that all of the point of view characters are underdeveloped and it just feels like there's not enough time and space to really get into their point of view and to empathize with them and all of that. Or in scenario number two, there are some point of view characters that are way more developed than others. So let's pretend there are two really well-developed point of view characters and then there's one that's very underdeveloped and they stick out kind of like a sore thumb. In either scenario, this can leave readers feeling like they're not quite connecting to your point of view characters, whether that be all of them or just some of them, because there's not enough time or space to get to know them, and this is one of the reasons why multi-point of view stories are harder to write.

Speaker 1:

You have to develop each character as if they were the protagonist of their own story and give them enough time and space on the page without writing a story that's too long compared to the average word count length of your genre. So what this means is you have to make sure that each of your viewpoint characters are different enough so that the readers don't confuse them with someone else, which means doing the work to flesh out their goals, motivations, backstories, inner obstacles and more. You'll also need to give each character their own unique, individual voice so they sound different to the reader, to you know, whatever it takes to avoid confusion In the show notes, I'm going to link to an older episode of this podcast. It's episode number seven, called five questions to help you write better characters. If you do have multiple point of view characters, I would recommend going through the exercise in that episode to help you properly flesh out each one of them so that they do feel well developed and three dimensional and all that good stuff. Now let's say that you do feel well developed and three-dimensional and all that good stuff.

Speaker 1:

Now let's say that you go through that exercise and you realize that one or a couple of your point of view characters aren't distinct enough. So let's say they don't have their own unique goals, their own unique motivations, their own unique inner obstacles and conflict, right, then that might be telling you there's not a good enough reason to include them as a viewpoint character. So, again, if you come to this conclusion, just challenge yourself to say okay, what is it specifically that I wanted to convey through this character's perspective and how can I still include that? Because I'm sure your intentions are spot on with whatever it is you want to include, it's just how do I include that from the viewpoint characters that are developed that do warrant their space as a viewpoint character, versus including a whole different viewpoint? That really just makes the story feel kind of cramped and doesn't give me enough space to develop my other point of view characters. Okay, so that's mistake number two not developing each point of view character enough and not making them feel like the protagonist of their own story. Mistake number three is that the point of view characters' individual storylines don't intersect, and what I mean by this is that the different points of view aren't woven together to tell one story from multiple perspectives, which is a problem, because when the individual storylines don't connect to or impact each other, then it's kind of like what's the point of doing it this way? Right Now I want to talk about dual timeline novels for a second, because dual timeline stories are different from stories with multiple points of view that intersect.

Speaker 1:

So dual timeline novels have two separate but parallel storylines set in different periods. Typically there's going to be one timeline set in the present and one timeline set at a point in the past, so they offer two different but connected plots. Each plot line in a dual timeline story is going to have its own main characters, its own specific settings and time periods. So on all accounts they are two stories that are distinct but somehow connected. And they're usually connected by the parallels that exist between them, which helps to harmonize the two different realities or the two different timelines.

Speaker 1:

So an example of a dual timeline novel this is something like the Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner. In this story there are two timelines. The first is in the 1700s, which revolves around a woman named Nella who runs an apothecary and long story short. A 12 year old patron makes a fatal mistake, which kicks off a string of consequences that echo from her timeline out through the centuries. In a different timeline, in present-day London, there is a character named Caroline who stumbles upon a clue to the unresolved apothecary murders that haunted London 200 years ago. So it's a dual timeline story that's connected by these murders.

Speaker 1:

Now, in contrast to that, think about something like Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo there are six main point of view characters technically seven if you include the first point of view, which only appears once and all six of these point of view characters are brought together by the heist that makes up the plot. So they're all connected and affected by the heist, and all of the plot lines occur in the same time period. Okay, so the key point here is to make sure that if you're writing a true multi-point of view novel, you want to make sure that the point of view characters are all connected in some way. So, generally speaking, this means your point of view characters should be in a relationship together, have their fates bound together and or face a common form of conflict. This is what connects them together and allows you to weave their individual storylines together to create a cohesive whole. Okay, so it's allowing you to tell one story from multiple perspectives, versus something like a dual timeline story, which does look a little different. Okay, so that's mistake number three.

Speaker 1:

Moving on to mistake number four, which is head hopping between the different perspectives, now this is the most common issue I see with multiple point of view stories. Head hopping happens when you switch from one point of view into another point of view without making the switch clear to the reader, and essentially it leaves the reader feeling confused and like they're floating around unmoored through the story. This can make the plot difficult to follow and it can be hard for readers to feel a rising sense of tension if they're generally confused about what's happening or who it's happening to. So a good rule of thumb is to stick to one point of view per scene and when you switch to another character's perspective, start a new scene and make sure it's super clear to the reader that you've made the switch. Now. Another thing I want to bring up here is the difference between writing a story from multiple perspectives and writing a story told from an omniscient point of view. A lot of writers get confused by this, and I think this is why head-hopping occurs sometimes.

Speaker 1:

Stories that switch point of view or that have multiple point of view characters are not the same as those that use an omniscient narrator. Both techniques do serve the same purpose in a way, so they allow the author to tell a larger story, get into the heads of multiple characters show more of the world and things like that, but they accomplish this in very different ways. So in a story with an omniscient point of view, the reader can see the inner thoughts and emotions of any character at any time On the page. This means that one sentence could reveal how the hero plans to escape, while the very next sentence could show what the antagonist is thinking. And, like I said, all of this is happening in the same paragraph, in the same section. So it gets a little wild at times, right? If you want to see a good example of this, you can pick up a copy of Dune by Frank Herbert. In that story, the omniscient narrator can dip into any character's head to convey their thoughts and feelings or show how they're reacting to the events of the scene. Okay, so that's stories told with an omniscient narrator.

Speaker 1:

Now, stories told through multiple point of view characters or different viewpoint characters would ideally stick to one character's perspective per scene. So what that means is, within that scene, you're limited to only the perspective of that point of view character. So we see the story through their eyes, through their worldview, through their perspective, right, even if another point of view character is present in that scene. So to make this super clear, let's say, chapter one is written through character A's perspective, so we're in character A's perspective that whole time, even if scene two is told from character B's perspective and even if character B is present in scene one. So scene one includes both character A and character B, but it's told through character A's perspective. Now if that still feels a little confusing, I think the best thing to do is go pick up a story that's written in third-person omniscient and go pick up a story that's written in third-person limited, with multiple viewpoint characters, and just look at the difference on the page. Sometimes I really do think that's the best way to learn or the best way to get clarity on some of these more confusing concepts.

Speaker 1:

Okay, so that is mistake number four head hopping between different point of view characters within the same scene without an omniscient narrator. Now, mistake number five is rehashing the same scene from different points of view, and this is a big one that I see happen all the time. So basically, what happens is a writer will write, let's say, scene one from character A's point of view, then they'll rehash the same events of scene one in scene two from character B's point of view. I've even seen someone do character C's point of view in scene three, rehashing the same events, and this is not ideal. The reason it's not ideal is because it slows down the pace of your story, bringing it to a grinding halt. So, with all things, we want to consider it from the reader's perspective.

Speaker 1:

Imagine you're reading a book where the same scene is told from three different perspectives all in a row. That could end up being 30, 40 pages of a draft that you're seeing again and again. So unless you're offering the reader new and potent plot information by rehashing the scene from another perspective, my advice is to default to always moving the story forward. Every single scene should move the story forward. Now, if you have a scene that could easily be told through the perspective of multiple characters, consider the purpose of the scene when deciding which point of view character to use. So some questions you could ask yourself are which character has the most at stake in the scene? Who faces the toughest choice in the scene, and is there contextual information you need to relay that only one character would know? And usually, by asking those three questions, it'll help you narrow down on the right point of view character to use for that scene.

Speaker 1:

So the key, really, when it comes to avoiding this mistake or fixing this mistake actually all of the mistakes we've talked about in today's episode is to make decisions with intention and to write with intention. Okay, now let's do a quick recap of those five mistakes before I let you go. So mistake number one was including too many point of view characters without an intentional reason other than just because you want to or just because you need to convey information. So always have an intentional reason for including each viewpoint character and think about how they're going to play an integral role in your story and also experience a story worthy transformation of their own. And if you can't do that, you're probably better off not including their point of view.

Speaker 1:

Mistake number two is not developing each point of view character as if they were the protagonist of their own story. So remember, you only have a limited amount of time and space to tell your story and to develop each one of your characters in a way that readers will connect and empathize with them. The more point of view characters you have, the less time and space you'll have to delve into their perspectives, which means you run the risk of the reader not connecting with them and getting to know them as you would like them to. So again, just something to consider. If the viewpoint characters you're planning to include aren't distinct enough, with their own goals, motivations and conflict, then there might not be a good enough reason to tell the story from multiple points of view. Mistake number three is that the point of view characters' individual storylines don't intersect or impact each other, and in that case it's kind of like what's the point? Right, and the key point to remember here is that if you are writing a true multiple point of view novel, make sure your point of view characters share a common quest, journey or experience to ensure your story ties together nicely.

Speaker 1:

Mistake number four is head hopping between different perspectives. So, again, not to be confused with using an omniscient narrator. Right, we just want to stick to one point of view character per scene to avoid confusion and to allow the reader to be fully immersed in your story at any given time. Mistake number five is rehashing the same scene from different points of view, and again, this one's kind of a simple fix. We just want to always focus on moving our story forward and if you're not able to offer the reader any kind of new and potent plot information by rehashing the same scene. You probably don't need to do it. Okay, so that's a quick recap of the five most common mistakes writers make when writing a story told from multiple perspectives.

Speaker 1:

I think it's no secret that writing a novel with multiple points of view can be challenging, but it can also be a clever and satisfying method of storytelling. Now one final piece of advice, or something I'll leave you with to think about, is that sometimes less really is more. So a lot of writers will ask me well, how many characters should I tell the story from? Right, and of course there's no one size fits all answer. But if you do want to tell a story with multiple viewpoint characters, limit the point of view characters in your story to two or three, unless you have a really good reason for including more. Some stories like George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series or the Six of Crows duology those stories can use multiple point of view characters to their advantage. But this is the exception, not the rule. Most point of view novels will only have two to four point of view characters, depending on the genre. And again, less is more, especially if it's your first time writing a novel If you do choose to write a story told through multiple point of view characters.

Speaker 1:

Hopefully, the tips I shared in this episode will help you avoid making some of these mistakes. So that's it for today's episode. As always, thank you so much for tuning in and for showing your support. If you want to check out any of the links I mentioned in this episode, you can find them in the show notes listed in the description of each episode inside your podcast player or at savannahgilbocom forward slash podcast. If you're an Apple user, I'd really appreciate it if you took a few seconds to leave a rating and a review. Your ratings and reviews tell Apple that this is a podcast that's worth listening to and, in turn, your reviews will help this podcast get in front of more fiction writers just like you. And while you're there, go ahead and hit that follow button, because there's going to be another brand new episode next week, full of actionable tips, tools and strategies to help you become a better writer. So I'll see you next week and until then, happy writing.

Avoiding Mistakes in Multi-Point Stories
Avoiding Mistakes in Multiple Viewpoints