Multiple simultaneous POVs

by Manuel

Question: Ok, I've already understood what's behind the choice of having multiple Main Characters and the possibility to switch POV from one Character to another, as in the example given as an answer to another question (let's say 3 MC with 3 different POV all along). But what happens when two of the MC are together? or even ALL THREE of them are together? which POV should I use? Example (2 MC): Jane, and Bob. I tell the story from Jane's POV in one chapter. then in another chapter I show what's happening to Bob from Bob's POV. how I handle the next chapter, in which Jane and Bob are together? I think it's a bit tricky and difficult to handle without falling for the OMNISCIENT NARRATOR. Look at what Stephen King does in "IT", as an example.

Answer: An omniscient narrator is a viable possibility. Another is to write the scene from the point of view of one of your characters.

To decide which POV character is right for this scene, you must have a sense of how important this scene is to each character's arc - to their inner journey.

For instance, let's assume the scene involves an event, which is an irreversible change that sends the character or characters in a new direction. You might ask yourself which character will be prompted to act in a new way or with a new purpose as a result?

More importantly, whose inner journey will be most affected by this event? Who will feel most pressured to change? Some characters won't be affected internally, others will.

Now, this is tricky. Sometimes a character's inner struggle will be directly affected by a thing that happens to him. Other times, a character will be affected by something he sees happening to someone else or by something he sees someone else do. Even though other characters may be changed externally, your POV character should be the one whose internal process you want your reader to empathize with.

For example, let's say you have a scene in which a little boy witnesses a court trial in which his father gets sentenced to prison. Obviously, this event affects both characters externally. It could also be a major incident in the boy's inner story arc - affecting how he feels about the unfairness of the world. Or you could tell it from the father's point of view and convey his feelings of guilt around letting his son down or his fear of going to prison. You have to decide whose inner journey you want the reader to follow.

On the other hand, maybe you want a scene to be an important moment in the arc of two or more characters. Many writers solve this dilemma by presenting the scene first from one character's viewpoint, and then later presenting the same scene from another viewpoint. This can work because each character perceives different details in the scene, so the second telling can fill in important details that were missing from the first. It also gives the reader an opportunity to appreciate what the event meant personally to each character.

Of course, presenting the same scene more than twice gets increasingly challenging, but probably not impossible.

Comments for Multiple simultaneous POVs

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Mar 05, 2012
Thank you very much
by: Manuel

Well, first of all thank you very much for your most valuable answer, and sorry for my late thanks and my so-and-so English (that's not supposed to be my mother language..). Your answers to our questions are precise and very useful, and I'm really finding enjoyable and valuable this site, in my new writing experience. Switching back to the argument of the question, your answer gives me hints about what I should do. I'm considering not sticking with the omniscient narrator, the O.N., and I'd like to know if you agree with that, it's dangerous. It confuses the reader and it's recommended, I think, only in few cases, such as the ones in the Harry Potter saga, where it's used in few occasions when it's shown something the main character (HP, all the way long in third person limited) doesn't witness directly, or in case the writer is an absolute god of fiction writing like Mr. Stephen King, obviously capable of mastering such a tricky technique without misleading the reader, who used the O.N. in IT and in THE STAND, which proved to be maybe his most popular novels.
The need for multiple POVs comes from my desire to let the reader choose which character empathize with. but probably, to make it simpler, I will have to choose myself one of my characters and let him/her become the MAIN character. and then I will use the POV of THIS chosen character when in presence of the other protagonists (and all of them may have had POVs once in while), because his/her POV will be most useful to the understanding of the story, much like you suggested in your answer.

Response: Sounds like a fine decision. Incidentally, there's nothing wrong with having an omniscient narrator either. The reason it has fallen out of favour a little in recent years is because today's stories place more emphasis on the main character's inner conflict. An omniscient narrator makes it a little harder for the reader to feel like he's seeing the story through the eyes of one main character, and hence feeling the main character's inner conflict.

That's why choosing one of your POV characters to be the main character is a sound choice.

Best of luck,


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