MORE OFTEN than not, it only takes one great character to tell a good story. The reader sees the world through the eyes of the chosen narrator, experiencing what they see, hear, think and do from them and them only. Sure, there's often a large cast list of characters who wander in and out as the plot requires. But there is only one steady point of view.
Fascinating, but I came here to read about multiple points of view. Get on with it.
Of course. (Mutter, mutter...)
Sometimes, though, a story can only be told well with more than one viewpoint. For example, we could write a thriller story that starts from the point of view of the victim. Then, at some point we could switch to the point of view of the offending character and continue from here.
There are several reasons a writer may consider doing this, one reason being to keep readers on their toes. It would be difficult to stay comfortable for too long, as just as one version of events is established, the writer can then turn the story on its head and provide a fresh, if somewhat conflicting point of view. This will leave all kinds of questions hanging in the mind of the reader, making the conclusion all the more satisfying once reached.
I've put together a basic list of do's and don'ts, which you can follow as a rough guide. Don't let others opinions on this subject put you off attempting to write this way yourself. Practice makes better!
DO/ Add value with each point of view -- One way to ensure this happens is to create two very different characters to give a voice to. What can they add to the story that no other character can? What do they alone know that no other character does? Their contribution must add to the story's overall value.
DON'T/ Give every member of your colourful cast a starring role -- You may be able to think of a few exceptions to the rule here, (ahem, G. R. R. Martin, I'm looking at you...) but I strongly advise you not to compare yourself to the pro's. Think about it. Not only will your plot be stretched thin trying to cover so many large roles, (thin enough to poke holes in?) but it will be ten times harder to create the sense of intimacy with your readers that you can achieve with one, two or even three protagonists.
DO/ Give each viewpoint character a unique voice and personality -- Ideally, a reader should be able to tell who's point of view they are seeing the world from within the first paragraph (or so...). The sooner the better. This avoids unnecessary confusion, especially when writing in first person style. Give each point of view their own quirks that shine through in your writing. Personality, language quirks, mannerisms, outlook on life... There is so much you can play with here. Have your characters own their page time.
DON'T/ Recap an old scene from a new perspective -- Okay, I just want to clarify something before we go any further. This can work when written in the right way and not over-used. But generally, this is not the idea of writing with multiple points of view. The idea is to use each different perspective to advance the plot in new and exciting ways. And if you really must use the same scene twice, make sure it reveals something new.
DO/ Show one point of view character through the eyes of another -- Not only does this provide further insight on the inner workings of our protagonist's mind, it also adds depth to their character. For example, Character A may be shy and insecure. We know this, as we've been inside their head. But Character B does not know this. They see an aggressive, unfriendly person who isn't interested in being friends of any kind. Is this true? No, of course not. But Character A's insecurities are often misunderstood and their crippling shyness, in this case, is taken as standoffish. Using multiple points of view in this way adds a delicious complexity to the overall plot.
DON'T/ Neglect one point of view in favour of others -- There's no hard and fast rule that states how much page time each of your characters should get, but it's important not to forget about anyone. You included each point of view for a reason and your readers will expect some level of consistency. If too much time passes without hearing from one character, then it will be difficult to form an emotional connection to them. In other words, they will be harder to care for. Your point of view rotation doesn't have to be equal, just smart.
I could go on and on about this huge topic, but I'd love to hear your thoughts. What are your experiences with multiple point of view?
Author of short fiction and journals for writers.