Home « Forum « Author Hangout

Forum: Author Hangout

Multi-POV

Lumpy

I'm curious if any other Authors have used much multi-pov. I'm thinking of a story that mostly would be third person following one main character, but occasionally switching to a handful of other characters as needed to show events going on that impact the overall story, still in the third person.

Any given section would only be the POV of a single character, but it would occasionally switch to another character. I've seen it many times in main stream books (David Weber does it all the time, if you read sci fi), but I can't recall seeing it much on SOL. I know G Younger did it in 1 chapter of Stupid Boy, and I seem to remember Crumbly Writer doing it once in Catalyst, but that's all I can can remember seeing.

Has anyone done this and so...how did you find it? And how was it received? Did readers have problems with it?

Ernest Bywater

I've used multiple POV in a few stories. In Rough Diamond I used first person, but had some sub-chapters with a different POV while still in first eprson but a different person.

https://storiesonline.net/s/59645/rough-diamond

In A Farmer's Life I used third person POV and focused on different characters at different times, especially at the start.

https://storiesonline.net/s/11053/a-farmers-life

So there's an example of how I've handled each type of multiple POV.

Replies:   Lumpy
Lumpy

@Ernest Bywater

Did you find your readers were at all bothered by it?

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Lumpy

The only complaints I had were from a couple of readers who bitch about every first person story I write. Most emails stated they liked the story. Many of the readers would have read both, but no one has directly compared the two stories.

Rough Diamond was posted in March 2009 is 289 kb - 59,000 words - 62,917 downloads with a score of 8.16

A Farmer's Life was posted in Dec 2014 is 246 kb - 46,000 words - 38, 386 downloads with a score of 8.32

Beyond that I can't help with a technical analysis. I have since started using the third person more often, because it's easier to change characters, and I think it's more effective. But that's a personal view.

Joe Long

I wouldn't want to switch from 1st to 3rd and generally don't like multiple 1sts, but no problem with multiple 3rds as long as it doesn't get confusing. This is pulled off well enough in film & TV.

Lumpy

To be clear, I am not talking about switching diff. 1st person POV or from 1st to 3rd. I would do everything in 3rd person, but following a specific character, and then switch to a different character, still in 3rd person....usually to a location where the MC isn't present.

Ernest Bywater

@Lumpy

I would do everything in 3rd person, but following a specific character, and then switch to a different character, still in 3rd person....usually to a location where the MC isn't present.


A lot of authors do it, and it works well, like it did in A Farmer's Life and in Survivor and a lot of my other more recent stories. Always a Marine does that with 3rd person past tense.

Replies:   Lumpy
Lumpy

@Ernest Bywater

Ok. I guess I just haven't come across it much, so thought it might not be common here.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Lumpy

Ok. I guess I just haven't come across it much, so thought it might not be common here.


Many authors write in the 3rd person, but most write in past tense, while I tend to write in present tense, and for a lot of stories I used first person, but now do more in the third person.

Many authors write with only the one character POV, so there are a lot of stories with only the single person POV. Another group will only have a small percentage of the story as another person POV. However, you're right when you say there's not a lot of the multi-person POV stories out there.

Ross at Play

In my experience what you're planning can be so seamless readers won't even notice.
My only comment is don't get fussed if you end up with chapters which are unusually short. Simply start a new chapter when following any new character and identify them ASAP in those chapters.

Switch Blayde

@Lumpy

Has anyone done this and so...how did you find it?


It's my normal way of writing nowadays. My novel "Sexual Awakening" tells the story through 3 major POV characters and 2 minor ones. (5 POV characters is a lot, though. It's just that it's a complex plot. Actually 2 sub-plots that come together at the end.)

That's what 3rd-person limited (multiple) is. You change POV character at a scene change. Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" does it. Most of a chapter is from one character's POV, but then he has a scene or two at the end of the chapter from another character's POV.

sunkuwan

Peter F. Hamilton does it. But especially in his Commonwealth/Void book, you had chapters were you didnt know which character it was for several paragraphs.

BarBar

My current story (Bec4) is a multiple POV story. I'm using a device to make it work and I wouldn't like to write that way all the time but I think it works for this story.

Oyster50 has a series called Smart Girls Universe where most of the more recent stories are in multiple POV. Oyster uses the simple device of a simple subheading "Lena's Turn" when switching to the POV of Lena etc.

Some authors do multiple POV badly. I've seen stories where the author seems to switch POV mid-paragraph and it gets very confusing for the reader.

Find a way of marking a change of POV. At the very least start a new paragraph, but also change style, or start the para with an indicator that shows this is a new person. Better yet, start a new chapter or have a subheading or something.

Joe Long

@Lumpy

I'm sorry...if I wasn't clear, I was trying to generalize and that was to say your proposal was fine while the others have issues

Joe Long

On TV the show that comes to mind is Law & Order: Criminal Intent. They made a point of switching POV to show the criminals committing the act and then try to evade the detectives. These changes were done at scene breaks.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Joe Long

@BarBar

I don't like multiple 1st persons. Once I started reading a character say "I" my brain wants to stick with the one character as the main and switching is tough.

However, I don't have any problems with multiple 3rds as long as the number is reasonable. Let the readers know the setting and which characters are present in the scene and then tell what happens. A novel I read recently did two 3rd POV's, the protagonist and the antagonist. The climax was a pursuit, where the author effectively flipped back and forth between the pursued and the pursuer.

Ernest Bywater

@BarBar

Oyster50 has a series called Smart Girls Universe where most of the more recent stories are in multiple POV. Oyster uses the simple device of a simple subheading "Lena's Turn" when switching to the POV of Lena etc.


He needs to do that because they're first person, and he needs to show the change is obvious.

Ernest Bywater

@Joe Long

These changes were done at scene breaks.


As long as the POV change is clear you can show the changes with things like horizontal rules etc. I use a variety of options from half-line horizontal rules through section titles, sub-chapters, and chapters. You just need to clearly show the reader who is the focus for that part of the story.

oyster50

I've used first person POV in most of my stories, switching quite a bit, sometimes in mid-chapter, always advising the reader who's taking over the narration. I enjoy doing it. It seems that A lot of readers like it because it allows them to get inside a character's head.

Crumbly Writer

@Lumpy

When I wrote Catalyst, I started writing in 1st Person, but found it limiting. The sections you remember were multi-POV in 1st person, not third.

In third, it doesn't take much to switch, you just do.

In either case, it's best not to head-hop. Instead, restrict POV switches to regular story breaks. It's best to start an entirely new chapter, but a simple section break, if it's short, is often enough. Still, a separate chapter break gives it more of a 'different perspective' on the story feel.

The key, though, is NOT to repeat details covered by the other characters. Many have tried, and the vast majority fail. Instead, present their views as you move the story forward, but don't repeat scenes from a duplicate perspective.

* * * Lecture Mode Off * * *

Replies:   Lumpy  Joe Long
Crumbly Writer

@Lumpy

To be clear, I am not talking about switching diff. 1st person POV or from 1st to 3rd. I would do everything in 3rd person, but following a specific character, and then switch to a different character, still in 3rd person....usually to a location where the MC isn't present.

Again, the key is NOT to do it in the middle of some other character's perspective. Instead, you want to break the story (section or chapter break) and focus exclusively on the new character, then break again to return focus on the other characters so readers know what to expect and won't be caught, wondering who the hell is talking.

You also need to make it clear who the section/chapter is focused on. Many authors don't even glance at chapter titles, so you can't rely on that to announce character switches. Your best bet is to start with a descriptive statement about the new character's actions, and then follow that character so it's obvious that section is about him/her, and not switch to anyone else until you're completed with them.

Lumpy

@Crumbly Writer

Sorry, it's been at least a year since I read that the last time (well, re-read. I do like the story quite a lot FYI), so I didn't remember, exactly. I just remember POV switching to his sister at some point.

That's good advice. Thanks Crumbly.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Lumpy

Sorry, it's been at least a year since I read that the last time (well, re-read. I do like the story quite a lot FYI), so I didn't remember, exactly. I just remember POV switching to his sister at some point.

That's good advice. Thanks Crumbly.

You're welcome. I went into that story, writing in 1st, and realized I couldn't delve into the details I wanted to, so I found a way to include other characters, but in the end decided I preferred 3rd all the time, though I retain what I learned from that experience in 1st.

Joe Long

@Crumbly Writer

The key, though, is NOT to repeat details covered by the other characters. Many have tried, and the vast majority fail. Instead, present their views as you move the story forward, but don't repeat scenes from a duplicate perspective.


I watched an Australian cop show, Rush, on Hulu. One episode they tried this, showing the same 15 minutes four times over, each from a different characters perspective. It was unnerving.

Crumbly Writer

@Joe Long

I watched an Australian cop show, Rush, on Hulu. One episode they tried this, showing the same 15 minutes four times over, each from a different characters perspective. It was unnerving.

I've seen it work, in fiction, but it requires a precise technique. The perspective has to be unique, i.e. the characters aren't seeing the exact same things. Instead, they're in the same room at the same time, but they're seeing, hearing and doing completely different things, so there's a commonality but they aren't repeating what the other characters did.

I don't recommend it for newbies, as it's difficult to carry off effectively.

Replies:   Joe Long
Joe Long
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


The perspective has to be unique, i.e. the characters aren't seeing the exact same things.


The show did this. It was a hostage situation and the action followed the four officers of the tactical response team as usual, but upon arriving they split up, being in four locations surrounding the action and doing different tasks. They would only interact on radio, with themselves & HQ. I don't think I noticed in the 1st quarter that only one officer had been in the POV since the initial scene. Once the second quarter started, it rewound to the beginning but followed a 2nd POV, then repeated for 3 & 4. Whenever they were on the radio or looking out the window they shared events, but the rest was their own unique experience.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Joe Long


One episode they tried this, showing the same 15 minutes four times over,


The movie "Courage Under Fire" had Denzel Washington investigating the death of a female captain (Meg Ryan). Everyone told a different story (so they kept replaying the same scene from everyoine's POV), but the truth came out at the end. It was an okay movie.

"Vantage Point" was another. It wasn't so good.

Then there was a movie I saw that I don't remember the name. Each scene was told first from the girl's POV and then retold from the boy's. Boring!

Ross at Play

@Joe Long

One episode they tried this, showing the same 15 minutes four times over, each from a different characters perspective.

Sounds like Rashomon in which four characters tell their self-serving and contradictory versions of the same event.
I suppose if you're Kurosawa you can pull it off, but as CW suggests, it's not recommended for newbies.
It was also tried in a 2002 crime drama Boomtown. That got some critical acclaim, but was canned for poor ratings part-way into its second season.
I suppose they weren't Kurosawa.

lichtyd

@Lumpy

My current story, The Farmer's Daughter, is first person with multiple POVs. I change PoV multiple times within each chapter. I clearly label each POV change.

The only people that complained was my, sort of, first editor and one of his friends.

I moved on to another editor and have done OK.

My influence for the first person multi-POV is a series of novels by Larry Correia and Mike Kupari:

http://www.baen.com/dead-six.html

These two guys wrote this outstanding novel before either was first published. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the action genre.

Replies:   StarFleet Carl
StarFleet Carl

@lichtyd

These two guys wrote this outstanding novel before either was first published. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the action genre.


I'll second that recommendation.

Also, if you're into that sort of thing - all of the Monster Hunter books by Larry Correia.

graybyrd

@BarBar

Oyster50 has a series called Smart Girls Universe where most of the more recent stories are in multiple POV. Oyster uses the simple device of a simple subheading "Lena's Turn" when switching to the POV of Lena etc.


Yes, he does... and they're consistently in 1st person. I find the abrupt switch from person to person so distracting and off-putting that I've stopped reading the series entirely.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@graybyrd

Yes, he does... and they're consistently in 1st person. I find the abrupt switch from person to person so distracting and off-putting that I've stopped reading the series entirely.

That's a central problem with this approach. While it can be done well, a central tenet is to constrain the number of points of view. If you have too many, readers will flee. Also, as I've noted before, many readers don't bother to pay attention to chapter titles or section heads—especially if they seem redundant—to putting which POV the next section is in a chapter or section break is often self-defeating. Instead, you need to make it clear who's 'speaking' (as the narrator) in the story itself—even if you put it in the title!

Generally I'd limit myself to 3 to 5 (at the absolute maximum) different POV characters, though even that's pushing the limits.

1st person stories are supposedly preferred because the story is more immediate and relatable (i.e. the reader identifies with the Main Character). However, if the main character keeps changing, you throw that advantage right out the window. If you want to relate what everyone is thinking, switch to 3rd person omni, where the narrator know all!

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Lapi

@Lumpy

I have tried the Multi-POV and also related companion stories which involve some of the same characters but neither seemed to work well. For me it is difficult to tell since none of my stories stay above a 7's score though are over 500,000 in total no one story is downloaded more than 50,000 times. I think that readers do not like the switching POV's and it is difficult for the author to keep up in a longer story. Just my opinion though.

sunkuwan

In the story that I currently write (and more recently only plan the outline), there is only one POV, the MC. Chapters where the MC is not the focus or not in it are in third person. I don't know how this will work out for the audience.

MC POV Chapters to third person chapters should be a 75/25 ratio in my work.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


1st person stories are supposedly preferred because the story is more immediate and relatable (i.e. the reader identifies with the Main Character). However, if the main character keeps changing, you throw that advantage right out the window.


Agree 100% (not sure about the "immediate" part, though. The strength of 1st-person is for the reader to be intimate with the narrator).


If you want to relate what everyone is thinking, switch to 3rd person omni, where the narrator know all!


If you want to relate what everyone is thinking within a scene, write it in omni (it can be 1st-omni too, like "The Book Thief" where the omni narrator is Death and talks in 1st-person). But if all you want to do is switch POVs at a scene change, then 3rd-limited (multiple) is the way to go. That's how most genre fiction novels are written today.

Back to Top