Who's Talking Now? Using Multiple Points of View

Courtesy of Morguefile.com
Writing a story with multiple points of view uses third person point of view, but the reader participates in more than one character's experiences.

When you write multiple points of view, there needs to be a scene break or chapter break before the narrative switches to another character.


Scene Breaks

A scene break occurs within a chapter and a blank line indicates the break. In many cases, the setting changes at this point too.

Chapter Breaks

Many authors use chapter breaks to switch to a different point of view which means each chapter is told by a particular character.  Publishing has used this in many genres where the chapters switch between four different characters.

Indicating a Changed Point of View

When changing points of view--whether with a scene break or chapter break--it's best to use the character's name in the first sentence or two of the new point of view.

In multiple points of view, each person thinks, speaks, and processes information differently. This must be evident in the writing. The epic fantasy genre supports more than one point of view because the stories tend to span several kingdoms or villages, and as the fight between good and evil progresses, characters become separated, for example George R R Martin's Game of Thrones series.  Even though Martin's series uses a multitude of points of view, most publishing experts advise you to keep the number of points of view to a minimum. Limiting these points of view to key characters helps the reader stay focused and not become frustrated with the story.

My unpublished epic fantasy novel, The Watchers of Moniah, uses multiple points of view.  The majority of the chapters are told from Adana's or Kiffen's point of view.

Adana's Point of View

Adana believed deep within her soul that her actions today could save her mother.  The air around her crackled with heat from the unrelenting sun, as she stared across the archery field at the target in the distance.  Sweat trickled down her back.  No air stirred, but she could smell the pungent incense burning in the estate’s halls.  Death clung to the air she breathed, unwilling to relinquish its hold on the kingdom of Moniah and its ruler, her mother.

Kiffen's Point of View

The room smelled of sour bodies and infection.  Prince Kiffen of Elwar slumped in a chair beside his brother Serrin’s bed.  He fought to keep his eyes open and alert, struggling against the effects of the same malady that attacked his younger brother.  Exhaustion overwhelmed him, but he didn’t believe his body would succumb to the disease.  Serrin lay in the bed like a dying leaf, a shadow of his former exuberant self.  The fair blond hair he had inherited from their father, stuck to his forehead in sweaty clumps.  A high flush bloomed on his cheeks, evidence of his fever rising as the sun set in the distance.

These two passages serve as the reader's first introduction to Adana and Kiffen and both occur at the beginning of a chapter.  As the story progresses differences in their attitudes, thoughts, word usage, and actions help to differentiate between the two of them and other characters.

Why Use Multiple Points of View?

Multiple points of view allow a writer to tell a broader story because the reader can learn things that other characters don't know.  In my work, Adana knows things that Kiffen doesn't know and vice versa.  We meet each of them under similar circumstances, but their response to their loved one's illness is quite different.

A writer needs to understand their character's personality and goals before writing in multiple viewpoints. When Adana and Kiffen are in the same scene, I had to determine who was telling the story. I chose the one who gained the most from the scene.  For this reason, Adana carries more of the scenes than Kiffen, but when the narrative places him as the key player, I used Kiffen's viewpoint.

Even if you don't write in multiple points of view, you might want to take a scene you're struggling with and write it from another character's point of view. You might not use the new material, but you will learn more about this character and what drives them.

Have you written in multiple points of view?  What challenges have you experienced?


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