How to Write An Awesome Story With Multiple Perspectives
When someone first coined the term, “the more the merrier,” I swear they were talking about perspectives in a fictional story. If you’ve stumbled here looking to learn how to write multiple points of view in your story, then you’ve happened upon the right place.
Skillfully switching perspectives in a story requires finesse to pull off properly; it’s easy to make the jump choppy and awkward or venture into the ever-dreaded territory head hopping.
Of course, there’s a limit to everything good in this world (ice cream, pizza, and multiple points of view), but we’ll cover that in this article, in addition to:
- What we mean when we talk about multiple points of view
- When you should use more than one perspective
- How to properly write with multiple POVs
Let’s get all those voices out of your head and into your story.
What Does Multiple Points of View Mean?
When someone says they’re writing from multiple points of view, it doesn’t mean they’re writing the same events from different perspectives (though they totally could), nor does it mean they’re jumping back and forth between first- and third-person narration (though, again, they could).
If you’re writing with multiple points of view, it means that the narrator’s perspective changes throughout the course of your story. Maybe the first five chapters are told from the perspective of your protagonist before switching to your villain for a chapter. Then a few scenes go by with your hero again, then switch to a secondary character to help with developing that character or the world you’ve created.
As I mentioned before, you can replay events from multiple characters’ perspectives (i.e., various eye-witness accounts of the same crime told in first-person epistolary perspective) or switch the style of writing from first to third person.
That said, this article will focus solely on navigating the waters of multiple characters throughout a story. We need to establish our writing foundation with multiple POVs.
Why Do We Write With Multiple Points of View?
Now, you might be wondering why we would want to write from multiple perspectives. There are a handful of reasons you might want to expand beyond the limits of one singular narrator.
Let the reader know more - One restriction of first-person or third-person limited narration is being confined to a single narrator. You can’t know what other characters are thinking or feeling, nor can you see the world of your story beyond what your narrator can see. You can expand the scope of what you share with your reader by using multiple narrators in your story. If you want to, that is.
Deepen character development - When you have a strong cast of characters, you might find that your readers fall in love (even if it’s a love-hate relationship) with your antagonist or a secondary character. By sharing a scene or a couple chapters from the perspective of non-protagonists, you get to flesh out those characters and deepen their development.
Change up the tone and style - Whether your book is 50,000 or 250,000 words, your readers are spending a lot of time with your narrator. Their voice, quirks, flaws, and tone can start to get boring after a while, even for well-written characters. By switching up your point of view, you can use a different tone or writing style, adding a refreshing spin to your storytelling.
Add tension - Not every story thrives on tension, but writing with multiple points of view can add a nice dash of anxiety to your tale. Not that you can’t up the ante with only one POV, but consider a scene where a serial killer breaks into 13 Shady Lane, only for the next scene to switch to our protagonist and her friends talking about breaking into the old, abandoned house on Shady Lane. Or a woman who is out for a girls’ night, celebrating in one scene, but we see that she is recognized by her “away on a business trip” partner who met up with someone for an illicit affair in the same bar.
For the fans - Some readers simply enjoy reading a story with multiple plot lines woven together through different perspectives. I once had someone comment on a book ad “Is it like Game of Thrones style where each chapter is a character and it jumps from POV of each character each chapter? If so, I'm gonna read.” Just like some folks like enemies-to-lovers romance and others like epic fantasy with lots of elves, some readers look for stories written from multiple points of view.
Because you want to - This one should be pretty straightforward: if you want to write a story with multiple perspectives, then write a story with multiple perspectives. If you don’t want to, then don’t force yourself!
How Many Points of View is Too Many?
I started this article with “the more the merrier,” but please take that with a grain of salt. There is such a thing as too many points of view in your story. Unfortunately for us, there isn’t a concrete number. It’s–*le gasp*--subjective.
Okay, so like 100 points of view is too many. In fact, getting into the double digits is probably too many, but I’m sure someone out there is now getting angry at me because they read an amazing book with ten different perspectives in it.
On the other hand, more than one perspective might be too many for your particular book.
Really, you are using too many points of view when you start using perspectives that don’t add to the story in some way. This could mean any of the following:
Does a new perspective add to the plot? Switching to another character’s perspective can give the reader a glimpse into what’s happening somewhere miles away from your protagonist or simply in the next room. Make sure it adds to the plot, though, and it makes sense to come from that character’s point of view. Even if the scene is necessary for your story, why is it coming from that character’s perspective?
Does a new perspective add to character development? While every scene should push the plot forward in some way or another, some scenes are instruments of character development more than advancing the plot (bonus points if it does both!). Telling a scene from a secondary character’s perspective or the POV of the antagonist can do wonders for their development. Similarly, a scene narrated from the perspective of a minor character can reveal aspects of other characters in unique ways.
Is this new perspective’s voice unique? Every new POV should be unique in its storytelling. Your protagonist might be naive and optimistic, while your villain is jaded and cruel. Let this voice be as dominant or as subtle as you want, but let it be there. If you’re jumping from character to character and not changing the way your narrator sounds, then what’s the point?
When Should You Write From Multiple Points of View?
Understanding when you should change to a different POV is an important part of writing with this style. Using those three questions above are good guideposts for figuring out when you can introduce or switch to a new perspective.
But I want to mention something else: timing.
You can’t just switch perspectives willy-nilly. If you want to roam from one character’s thoughts to another, third-person omniscient is what you’re looking for. If that POV doesn’t speak to you though, there’s really only one rule about when it comes to switching perspectives.
When using first- or third-person points of view, you can only switch perspectives by starting a new scene or chapter.
To put it another way, you can’t switch to Perspective 2 if you started the scene with Perspective 1. Doing this is called head-hopping, and it’s one of the deadliest sins an author can commit.
Head-hopping makes for muddled writing and confuses your reader, disorienting them within your story and ruining their immersion. Nothing is more frustrating than not understanding what you’re reading or who’s saying it. Head-hopping used to be common, like 100 years ago. These days it’s a no-no.
So remember: one scene, one perspective.
How to Write Multiple Points of View
Time for the good stuff: how to write multiple points of view. We’ve already covered a few so far, but this section will cover some deeper-level tips. But, to recap, here’s what you want to keep in mind from what we’ve covered:
We write with multiple POVs so…
- The reader can learn more
- We can deepen character development
- We can play with tone and style
- The reader can feel more tension
- The fans who like multiple POVs can love your book
- You can write the story you want!
When writing multiple POVs, ask yourself…
- Does a new perspective add to the plot?
- Does a new perspective add to character development?
- Is the new perspective’s voice unique?
Remember the golden rule: one scene, one perspective.
You’ve already absorbed so much info! But let’s add a few more pieces of multiple-POV knowledge to your writing toolkit.
First- or Third-Person POV
Before you even start writing, you have to determine whether you’ll be writing in first or third person. While using multiple POVs is more common in third-person narratives, it’s still effective with first-person writing.
When writing in first person, you really need to focus on creating those unique voices. Where some readers may be forgiving about third-person narrators who sound similar because they’re more detached from the characters, first-person stories are told straight from the character’s mouths and minds.
But third-person allows for more freedom in worldbuilding and details, both of which you will have plenty of by incorporating multiple narrators.
There is no right answer, only the one that works best for your story.
Which Scenes Matter to Which Character?
As you’re writing your bestseller, every new scene forces you to choose which character it will be told from. For scenes where there is only one character, this is a real no-brainer. But for others, consider how the scene affects different characters.
Do the events impact one character more than others? Then it’s usually best to tell the story from that character’s perspective. This lets your reader get an inside look at how incredible or devastating things are.
Do you want a detached perspective? Maybe you want to hide your main character’s thoughts or use a secondary character to show us the impact on their friend rather than explaining it first-hand. This detached perspective can add a new twist to a seemingly normal scene.
Is there an expendable tertiary character? This one is a little niche, I’ll admit, but genres like sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and others can make use of expendable tertiary or minor characters to show the bad side of things. Rather than using your antagonist’s perspective to show how bad they are, use a minor character’s perspective as the victim of that cruelty. It really drives the point home.
If you want a fun exercise, try rewriting a couple scenes from the perspective of a different character who’s also in that scene. This seemingly subtle shift can change the scene completely.
Choose a Main Character
While the whole point of multiple POVs is to expand beyond the limits of one narrator, it’s also good to choose a main character (or characters) who will be the center of most scenes.
Maybe you have five or six different perspectives in your book, but 80% of scenes are from the POV of your protagonist. Or maybe it’s a 60/30 split between your protagonist and antagonist, with the remaining 10% filled in with secondary characters.
Choose one or two main characters that will carry the bulk of your story. This gives your reader some stability and consistency while still giving you the flexibility you want with multiple POVs.
Get to Know Your Characters
Maybe I’m bashing you over the literary head with this one, but you really need to get to know your characters if you’re going to write from their point of view. I’ve mentioned before that each voice should be unique, but it goes beyond that.
How does each character react to romance? Violence? Fear? Excitement?
This will influence the way your scene is written.
What about goals, dreams, and motivations?
They influence your narrator’s perspective, too.
As an author, you’re responsible for creating awesome characters. Get to know them with interviews, draft up character profiles, and bring them to life with more than 100 character traits (seriously, use those links to make the best characters ever).
These characters will be telling your story. Get to know them and it will make your multi-POV book so much better.
Write All Those POVs With Dabble
If it isn’t obvious already, I love writing stories with multiple perspectives. Nothing lets authors like us have so much freedom to explore our world, get to know our characters, and create the perfect story quite like switching points of view.
And while you now have all the information you need to go write with all those voices, putting it into action can be difficult. Luckily, Dabble makes writing from different perspectives easy. Not only can you create easy-to-access notes to keep track of what’s going on, but marking your Scenes with ribbons is an easy way to keep track of which perspective you’re writing the scene from.
This lets you know what’s going on at a glance and can help make sure that you aren’t using too many points of view.
Combine that with automatic cloud syncing, writing on any device, the Plot Grid, co-authoring, goal setting, and so much more, and you have a novel-writing platform that actually helps you write your book.
So what are you waiting for? Get your two-week Dabble trial, no credit card required, by clicking here.
And happy writing!
The Chosen One. It’s a trope that many people love to hate despite its pervasiveness across popular culture. If you’re unfamiliar with the Chosen One, it’s a popular trope or narrative device used across books, TV shows, and movies where a character is destined to fulfill a certain role or mission, often because they have unique abilities or traits. These traits are frequently tied to magic, meaning you’ll see this trope a lot in fantasy and other types of speculative fiction, especially those with a young adult audience.
So how do you write well then? Realistically, there are a few things universally considered “good” writing. The story should follow a logical plot where one action feeds into another. The characters should behave in ways that align with their established personalities. There should be some high points and low points and stuff in between. Generally, good writing is also well edited and follows most of the conventions for grammar and punctuation. While you can write well with typos and mistakes, you run the risk of distracting the reader to a point where that good story becomes not so good because it’s unreadable. Ultimately, the success of things like your voice and your characters are going to be up to your reader and you’ll never please everyone. But we can take some steps to ensure we please more people than not.
That’s great—our fiction should reflect the world as it is and that means including people of various ethnic backgrounds and skin tones. But the history of writing about people of color is kind of… awful and it’s important to remember that you can’t just throw in a BIPOC character without giving some serious thought to how you represent and describe that character.