Who’s telling your story?
That’s the first question readers ask when they begin reading your book—and it should be the first question you ask yourself when you begin writing it.
Whether your story has a first-person narrator or takes a third-person “over-the-shoulder” perspective, point of view (POV) is a huge determining factor in how your book comes across to your audience.
Perspective is the lens through which your story is told. It’s the keyhole into which your readers peer. It determines how much we see and hear, what we know about your fictional universe, how intimately we understand your narrator and the other characters in the book, and how large or grand the story itself can feel.
So whose perspective are we getting when we ready your book? And why?
Consistent and well-executed point of view is crucial to the success of your book. If you miss the mark here, your whole story will struggle, and your chances of getting a book deal from a reputable publisher will be very low.
A strong sense of perspective grants your narrative focus, structure, and direction. Without it, your narrative isn’t a narrative at all—just a sequence of semi-random events. Because a story isn’t a story unless we understand who’s telling it and why.
But what if your narrative is too big for just one measly point of view? Too grand… too global… too cinematic in scope?
What if your story doesn’t belong to just one character? What if you don’t have just one protagonist, but three—or five, or a dozen?
How do you pick the right point of view?
Why You Should Write in Multiple Perspectives
The answer seems simple at first: if just one perspective won’t cut the mustard, use more than one!
Multiple-viewpoint narratives have a long and proud tradition in literature. William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying switches narrators every chapter to show different perspectives on a complex, emotional story. Charles Baxter’s The Feast of Love uses varying viewpoints as part of the novel’s structure: a series of distinct-yet-intertwined vignettes that all discuss the nature of love. And George R.R. Martin famously utilizes a whole ensemble of point-of-view characters in his A Song of Ice and Fire series (which became Game of Thrones) to expand the epic scope of both his story and his fictional world.
So what do all these examples have in common?
Here’s the skinny: In each instance, the author’s decision to tell his story in this fashion was not a random choice. Multiple perspectives are narrative tools and should be used to serve your plot, characters, or fictional world—not as an aesthetic or a crutch.
If you’re writing from multiple perspectives because that’s just how you wrote the first draft, chances are you’re making a big mistake.
We’re here to help you improve your writing: this may not be a complete list, but here are just a few ways using multiple points of view can enhance your storytelling:
1. Dramatic Irony
By their very nature, differing perspectives bring with them different levels of “informed-ness.”
Simply put: some characters know things other characters don’t, and you can use this to the advantage of your narrative.
Picture this: Two characters are set to have a pistol duel at dawn. In one scene, we see one of the two duelists loading her pistol with blank rounds. But when the morning of the duel arrives, the scene is told from the perspective of the other duelist. As readers, we know that his opponent doesn’t have a deadly weapon, but he’s completely in the dark, ratcheting the tension of the ensuing scene up to DEFCON 1.
While this isn’t the only way to accomplish dramatic irony in your fiction, using multiple viewpoints can be a powerhouse technique to exploit differences in what your characters know—and to mine these differences for nail-biting drama.
2. Epic Scope
Say you’re writing a story in which a huge meteor hits Earth: the impact has global ramifications, with characters in many parts of the world all reacting to the devastation in different ways.
Writing from multiple viewpoints would allow you to capture the full scale of a crisis of this magnitude, from street-level civilians trying to protect their loved ones to world leaders bickering over red tape and disaster-relief funding.
Maybe you’re writing an epic fantasy set in a fictional kingdom of your own creation, one with dozens of interesting places to visit and people to meet. Instead of having your Child Hero Protagonist set out across this magical landscape and “discover” these elements one by one, you could write from the perspectives of multiple characters all living in different parts of the kingdom, establishing your setting as a living, breathing world instead of the background of a guided tour.
Or maybe your story is so grand in scope that it tells the story of multiple generations of characters, each with their own viewpoints and perspectives on past events—and the actions of past generations.
Whether you’re trying to make your world seem vaster, your plot beats seem more impactful, or you’re just trying to wrangle a huge ensemble of characters, “bigger” stories require “bigger” writing choices—and telling your story from multiple points of view is a grand way to accomplish your “biggest” goals.
3. Multiple Storylines
Not all books have a single narrative running through them, after all. Many popular novels take a “two lines, no waiting” approach to their storytelling, alternating between two or more storylines that occur simultaneously but don’t truly overlap until much later in the book.
Consider the always-popular example of the police detective and the private investigator each investigating seemingly unrelated crimes, only to discover that they’re working the same case in the third act. Or look to classic “pursuit narratives,” like Inspector Javert tracking down Jean Valjean in Les Miserables or Chigurh pursuing Moss in No Country for Old Men.
These separate storylines are clearly linked to each other, yet it is their separation that creates the tension and intrigue in their respective books. Adding additional perspectives lets you weave storylines together in intricate patterns and to later join them together for maximum dramatic impact.
Write from the Best Point of View for Your Story
You should always be thinking, is this the “best” point of view to be telling my story from?
Many authors just pick a POV that feels good without much thought into which POV would be the best for the story.
You can always change your POV after the first draft is written, but you should definitely have reviewed the POV in every scene and throughout each scene in your manuscript before your revisions are completed and you start working on the next steps of getting your book published.
If you’re not sure how your POV is structured throughout your story, read through the entire manuscript and do a focused edit to assess and improve your POV where you can.
More Writing Tips
Do you have any handy tips for wrangling multiple perspectives in fiction? Join the conversation by telling us about your experiences in the comments section below!
And for more how-to guides for planning your next book project, you need look no further:
- How to Write a Pilot Story: Crafting Compelling Lead Magnets for Fiction and Nonfiction
- How to Start Marketing Your Book Early: 6 Steps for a Successful Book Launch
- How to Write a Book in 60 Days
Latest posts by Jacob Mohr (see all)
- The Best Science Fiction Books: Our Editor’s Top Picks - November 15, 2018
- How to End Your Book: 5 Steps to Writing a Fantastic Final Chapter - July 15, 2018
- How to Sign and Sell More Books at Conventions: 6 Steps to Selling Your Books in Person - July 14, 2018