Focusing on different characters at the same time

by MF

Question: I've been writing a story, and I've made a lot of characters. Each character has to be someone the reader knows- even if it's not a very important person. There's gonna be battles and things like that on the plot, so that makes the names and personalities important. The problem is--every single time an important event happens, the writing feels... rather "lost". Example: That teacher is hurt and three people are worried and one loves her and I want to throw hints of romance; at the same time, other 3 characters also need attention to tighten the plot and show their emotions. So, the reader, even myself, ends up confused about what character does what and what's going on. At the same time, if I don't talk about every character's situation, it will ALSO get strange and confusing, like it's incomplete. Is there any way I can try focusing in all characters in a less confusing way?

Answer: To focus on multiple things at once is a contradiction in terms. Either you're focused, or you're not.

It's important to write your story from a specific point of view (POV). Most of the time, that means picking one main character and telling the story from that person's perspective. The reader will be privy only
to that person's thoughts and feelings (since your main character cannot read minds). The main character can perceive other people's actions, speech, facial expressions etc., which can indicate their state of mind. But the main character can also misinterpret.

The alternatives are...

1. To write from an omniscient perspective -- which may be considered the writer's perspective on the story. This allows you to transcend the point of view of any one character.

The trade-off with an omniscient perspective is that it makes it harder for the reader to imagine him/herself in the shoes of any one character, which means less of an intimate, emotional connection.

2. To use multiple POV characters. Note that you should not switch POV characters within a scene because it destroys the reader's sense of being one character in particular. Also, the more POV characters you have, the less of a connection the reader has with any one character.

If you decide to use multiple POV characters, you still should not switch points of view within a scene. Your POV character may see other characters react in ways that convey what's going on inside their heads, but cannot describe anyone's thoughts and feelings other than his/her own.

For a more complete discussion of this, you might check out this article...

Comments for Focusing on different characters at the same time

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by: MF

I used to have the main character being the "voice"of the story, so it was written in first person. Later, there was a part when the important characters had to split into two groups, so I kept using different POVs and it was confusing. In the end, I decided the text would be in third person but NOT omniscient. So it would still be in the MC's point of view but not in her words. Now I still wonder if I made the right choice...
But what I meant in this question was: if the main character is listening and watching all those things happen at the same time and it looks confusing because it talks about a lot of characters, whats the problem in it?

To: MF
by: Glen

I assume you have names or similar handles for each character so the main character can keep them straight?

I would suggest you follow the main character's focus of attention. In what order do things catch her eye? What does she perceive first, second, third, etc.? If there's a lot of action, she may not notice everything.

by: MF

Is there actually a story with no charcter names? Wow, I'm curious, how did the author make it make sense??
There are usually two kinds of things my main character notices:the main conversation, that she is paying attention to and listening; and the background conversations, where, for example, she notices two characters doing something, just to show some details about their personality. Using that method of informing, it never got too confusing. However, she obviously doesn't notice everything: she is actually in the dark about most of things.
The problem is this: 7 chaacters got injured. Each of them feels a different thing about the dangerous things they just got through, because, after all, it's the first serious fight the characters ever had. At the same time, there's pressure: they have to leave soon, or the police will arrive and they'll get arrested and executed. So I have to do two things: make all the injured characters wake up/heal enough to be able to teleport after a reasonable amount of time AND show each one's opinions and points of views in a short time, since they have to leave as soon as possible. Every single time the characters get this kind of time pressure, every conversation feels kinda incomplete and rushed, and confusing since all the characters have to wake up and talk in a short period of time. I'm sorry if this is kinda confusing... But that's it. I hope you can help me! And sorry for taking your precious time, but I'll be so very thankful :3

by: Glen

Well... the obvious approach would be to simply describe the escape from the main character's POV and then have that character find out later on what the experience was like for the others -- perhaps when they meet again.

You might also look for perhaps a single telling detail for each character that hints at what's going on with them, rather than take the time to explore their feelings/thoughts.

by: MF

Then I guess Ill try doing that. Thanks for the advice!

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