To all you brave and wild NaNoWriMo people: Ever onward! I’m cheering for you!

On September 16, 2017, Melissa Mead wrote, What does everybody think of changing viewpoints? If there’s more than one POV character in a book, do they need to take turns in a predictable pattern, or does that not matter as long as the author makes it clear whose head we’re in at the start of each scene?

I asked for more info, and Melissa Mead added, The first book starts out with chapters from several viewpoints, then settles into the MC’s viewpoint for the last 2/3 of the book or so. I did it because:

Prologue- the MC’s only a few weeks old, so the POV is more “camera eye.”(MC’s POV for a bit.)

Then the MC is blind and in a cage, so he’s limited in what he can take in. Also, I want the reader to feel sorry for him, but not for him to feel sorry for himself. So I switch to the POV of a demon-hunter-in-training who sympathizes with him and has more freedom to act.

Then we see him from his uncle’s POV, so we can get a feel for both of the cultures the MC’s struggling to live in.

Then we see him from the POV of an innocent child.

It’s pretty much the MC’s POV from then on.

It works logically in my head,, and agents haven’t complained about it, but I worry that it could be jarring for the casual reader. (Especially since the demon-hunter-in-training doesn’t turn up again right away.)

(And the agents may not have complained, but they haven’t offered to represent it, either.)

These ideas followed.

Christie V Powell: ‘Bella at Midnight’ by Diane Stanley does this. I actually really liked seeing the story from different perspectives, but I know some reviewers were critical. It added more depth to the story. I think it would be far worse to throw in a new POV at the end than to start out with multiples and then settle into one. ‘Bella’ also works because the storyline is the same even though the POV is different. I think several people have commented before that we had some trouble with ‘Lord of the Rings’ because of the jumps between two plotlines.

So far I’ve stuck with one POV, but I’m planning on jumping between several for my next NaNoWriMo novel. I’m not planning on sticking to a predictable pattern, although I did appreciate it when Brandon Sanderson’s ‘Elantris’ did that.

Melissa Mead: I’m having trouble with the plotline thing in the second book. For the first, I’m hoping it’ll work as long as I keep things really, really clear.

Song4myKing: I don’t think it matters if there’s a pattern or not. Patterns are nice, but I would think they would be more difficult to write, depending on the story, of course. Without a pattern, you can choose which character would show this particular scene best.

I think if part of the story seems to call for single POV and part seems to call for multiple, it would work best if there is some kind of clear division. I don’t know how a typical “Part One, Part Two” division works for submitting a story, whether that’s cumbersome to do, or if there are any reasons to not do it. There could also be ways of making a division clear without the use of a hard and fast “part” break. You’ve mentioned having a twenty-year gap somewhere in the story. If that corresponds to where you go from multiple to single POV, I’d say you’ve got a natural break. Another possibility is to title the chapters with one theme for one section, and switch it up for another section. Basically, I think acknowledging that there’s been a change of some kind is better than breezing on through.

Does your MC have any POV scenes between the Prologue and where he takes the single POV? If not, the very fact that you’re now switching to him would be a clear enough change.

Melissa Mead: You remembered the twenty-year gap!    Nope, that’s after it’s all him.

Yes, it’s his POV until he gets imprisoned, and mostly afterward, except for the bit from the child’s POV. In the cases where it’s someone else’s POV, he’s generally too physically incapacitated to do much more than be really miserable. Plus, it gives us a look at both how others see him, and how he sees himself. And in the beginning, there’s a big gap there.

Whenever the subject comes up, I say how much I love this blog, and one reason is wrapped up in Song4myKing’s recollection of the twenty-year gap. Here on the blog, we pay attention!

I agree with Melissa Mead’s pledge to be really, really clear. If the reader is invested in a story and knows–effortlessly–what’s going on, he won’t mind plunging into other POVs. If he’s confused, he’s likely to be annoyed and we may lose him.

Multiple POVs can be fun to write and to read. Obviously, the POV of a character is determined by the character’s personality. For example, say the demon-hunter-in-training is hyper-alert. The tiniest sound or smallest movement captures his attention. When we write from his POV, we reflect that attentiveness. We should also think about how each POV character thinks so we can make each voice a little different. A book that’s a masterpiece of this (though I read only a little of it) is The Poisonwood Diary by Barbara Kingsolver (high school and up).

I agree with Christie V Powell that it’s best to introduce POV switching early, when the reader is still discovering the world of our book and will more likely be open to anything.

And I’m with Song4myKing that clear divisions can help. We can separate voices by chapter, even if we create irregular-length chapters thereby–another element that we can bring in early. We can even name the POV under the chapter heading. Doing something obvious like that can support the change in voice, too. The voice differences may be subtle. If the reader is told whose POV the chapter is in, he’ll be looking for the change and will notice it more.

We can use other POVs to inform the reader’s sense of our MC, a neat trick that Melissa Mead suggests she’s doing in the demon-hunter-in-training’s POV. The demon-hunter-in-training seems to like her MC. If the demon-hunter-in-training is likable, too, the reader will be swayed in the MC’s favor.

Another plus of multiple POVs is that more than one perspective can be lived by the reader. In Melissa Mead’s book, the uncle may accomplish this. He’s so embedded in his culture that he can’t help but reflect it.

So I’m fine and happy with multiple POVs if there’s clarity. As a reader I don’t think I’d care if the POV switch was regular or not..

In Stolen Magic and Ever I switched POVs. In Stolen Magic, since the three MCs are separated and can’t communicate, and what they’re each doing is crucial to the plot, I thought I needed three POVs. In Stolen Magic, the three POVs are written in third person.

In Ever, Kezi has no idea of the civilization Olus is part of and thus can’t experience it for the reader. Also, the two POVs allowed me to develop a love story from two perspectives, which was fun. In Ever, the two POVs are written in first person.

However, in both books I probably could have made other choices. I could certainly have told the stories in third-person omniscient, an option that’s always available. There would have been a single voice within chapters that jumped in and out of the thoughts and feelings of the MCs.

I could have told Ever entirely from Kezi’s POV. The reader would have made discoveries about Olus as Kezi made them. I can’t say if the result would have been better or worse.

There isn’t any right or wrong choice on POV–or, uncomfortably, any certainty, even after a book is finished and out in the world, that we couldn’t have done better. Oy, the writer’s life! But on the other hand, the more books we write, the better we get in whatever POV we choose.

Melissa Mead mentions that her demon-hunter-in-training isn’t active in the story for a while and then pops up again as a POV character. We can keep a character in the reader’s mind, however, even when she’s absent from the action, by having our MC think about her and have other characters talk about her.

Now let’s imagine we don’t want to shift POV. What can we do? In Ella Enchanted, I used Ella’s magic book to reveal events she couldn’t experience directly. In addition, Char’s letters tell her about Ayortha and also open up Char’s character in a kind of interior way.

We can use hearsay. A secondary character can tell our MC what went down, whatever it was when he wasn’t there. We can use newspaper reports, letters, diaries to convey information our POV character can’t know directly. Very judiciously, we can give him magical aids, like a crystal ball or a cloak of invisibility. We don’t want to get him out of jams with these, but we can use them to give him knowledge he wouldn’t have any other way. And we can use the magical props to get him into trouble, too.

If he happens to lose one sense as Melissa Mead’s MC does, we can sharpen the others.

Ella, Fairest, and The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre all begin before my first-person MC is old enough to remember, but the events are necessary for the plot. Ella in Ella and Aza in Fairest are able to relate the history because others have told them what happened. In Lost Kingdom, Perry finds out via a fantasy version of a movie.

In Melissa Mead’s book, I’m not sure what to do about the uncle or the innocent child, but I suspect there are options–not that Melissa Mead needs to change her course.

Here are three prompts:

∙ Your villain has a cloak of invisibility. Whatever your MC does keeps getting foiled because the villain is always one step ahead of her. Write as many scenes as you need to to have her figure out what’s going on. If you like, keep going with her attempts to capture the cloak–which is invisible, too.

∙ Write a scene in “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” from the first-person POV view of one of the enchanted princes. Write a scene, the same scene or a different one, from the first-person POV of the soldier. Then from the POV of one of the princesses. If you want to keep going, write one from the POV of the king. Make their voices different. Then, if you like, try a scene in which all of them are present in an omniscient voice.

∙ To get a little topical, write the saga of an election. Could be a race for class president or mayor or judge or best pie baker. Your MC is one of the candidates or her daughter. The other POV characters are the opponent’s campaign manager and someone hired to dig up dirt on one of the candidates. (Just saying, because I’m so tickled by this, in a local election here in upstate New York, the absentee ballots haven’t been counted yet, but one candidate is up by a single vote, absolutely giving the lie to the notion that the vote doesn’t count!)

Have fun, and save what you write!

    • Me too! I just finished a 12 Dancing Princesses retelling and went back and reread the Grimm’s tale for fun. It’s one of my favorites!

  1. Thank you! I hope I’m not hogging the questions too much.

    The demon-hunter-in-training isn’t actually a POV character when she turns up again. We’re in the MC’s POV by then. I kind of have fun with it, because when they first meet she’s an 18-year-old girl who calls Malak “Dirty Demon,” and Malak’s blind. Many chapters and years later, somebody calls in a demon-hunter to capture Malak:

    The middle-aged mortal woman wore patched, tight-fitting black leather and a belt hung with jingling tools. Although she looked unnaturally short next to the hovering Auren, she moved with determination. She fixed Malak with a grim smile.
    “Keep away, demon-hunter…” (Malak said in the voice of possession) “Go away.”
    The smile widened. “Nice try, Dirty Demon. That hasn’t worked on me for a long time.” The woman pressed her fingers to her lips, as though in thought.
    The face was a stranger’s, but the voice was not.
    “You…” Malak stammered.
    “Does he know you?” Auren Prisca demanded.
    The demon-hunter chuckled. “He’s never seen me before in his life, Winged One. “Come on, Dirty Demon. March.”

  2. My sisters gave me a “50+ Ways To Pay If Forward” list for my 50th birthday. This is one of the items on it:

    65 email a favorite writer and tell them what you loved about a story you read.

    They also said I can tweak it a bit. So, Gail, in addition to your wonderful books, thank you for this friendly, inspiring, and encouraging blog. Some days it really helps me keep going.

  3. POVs! POVS are a special for me with my book… I have about five of them, and it changes multiple times throughout each chapter. Perhaps that sounds too confusing, but I’ve been perfecting the perilous balance between keeping everything simple, yet intricate, for several years, and I would say it’s nearly down pat. When my fab five (the five POVs), are finally getting together near the center of my story, it’s quite fun to decide whose eyes the reader will get to look through!

  4. Zoe/TheSixthHobbit says:

    One of my favorite series, which has tons of different POVs, is the Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson. He uses usually three main characters, and he usually switches off every chapter, but not always. It works really well because each character has their own storyline, but they all weave together and they also have a common storyline, so it’s very helpful to look at the story from each different point of view. I love it because you always know more than any of the characters. For example, all three characters have different secrets that they hide from each other, but the reader is in on all of them, and it adds a lot of tension. In addition to those main characters, sometimes he’ll show you some random characters’ point of view, and it often has little to do with the main plot, but it shows you how the outside world is faring, and it also shows you different parts of the world, which is really cool because Brandon Sanderson’s world building is really rich.

    That said, these books are super long, like 1000 pages each, so you have to be a super committed fantasy fan to read them! They’re very good, though, and I highly recommend them.

  5. Hi friends! I am doing NaNoWriMo and am in need of assistance! Part of my book’s setting is an enchanted forest, and though the plot is moving forward (at breakneck speed, it feels like!) I have really been glossing over the setting in favor of hitting certain points in my outline. My question: Is there anything you guys think would be essential to an enchanted forest? Just to spark some ideas for me. I feel like I’m forgetting what an enchanted forest needs. A unicorn, certainly. Trees and toadstools. Probably a talking frog, or a variation of some kind. What am I missing?
    Thanks in advance 🙂

    • I love enchanted forests! I tend to picture them as having some kind of stream/pond/waterfall (drink at your own risk!), the occasional berry bushes or fruit tree to entice the hungry traveler (see the note about water), mossy hollows, flowery clearings with sunlight slanting down (and maybe a deer or unicorn), and once in a while a lonely cottage, all bathed in the dappled green light filtering through the leaves.

      • Melissa, thanks for getting that ambience right! That’s just what I’ve been needing…the dappled green light, the slanting sunbeams, not just blurred green going past as my MC fulfills each requirement of her quest. Thank you! 🙂

        • You’re welcome! I had another idea last night. If you like LOTR and The Hobbit, go through and compare how JRR Tolkien describes Mirkwood vs Fangorn Forest vs Lothlorien to give them each a different feel. Old Man Willow could never grow in Lothlorien! 🙂

          • Yes! Great ideas Melissa! I’ve been doing that a bit with the Enchanted Forest Chronicles and a few different books with forests, but I’ve actually never read Tolkien. Thanks for the suggestion 🙂

    • Ooh, I love enchanted forests! I agree that they can be portrayed in many lights, so it depends on what you’re aiming for. That said, Melissa Mead’s description had me dying for more! Good luck with your story!

  6. For Kaela Puff:
    I did search on Wikipedia, and it has an entire page about enchanted forests! I’d check it out if you’re still looking for ideas.
    Personally, when I hear “Enchanted Forests” I think of a happy place, with good fairies, wise trees, as well as friendly, talking animals. That’s because the word “Enchanted” immediately brings up positive feelings in me. That’s one category for me, then there’s “Magical Forests” which have both good and bad, and even “Cursed Forests”, which are definitely evil.
    Hope I was able to help! : )

    • Thanks Poppie! I think my forest is a mix of “cursed” and “enchanted”. The wikipedia page was helpful, I hadn’t looked at it in awhile. It mentioned several stories involving magical deer, and some that had birds with glowing feathers. I might incorporate some of those into the background as my characters are traveling in the forest. I definitely will have talking animals and fairies. Thanks for all the ideas! 🙂

      • Yeah, and don’t forget that enchanted forest FEEL different than those run of the mill, wonderful, regular forests. Usually. The last few that I checked recently, anyways. You know, there’s something in the air…smell…sound…

  7. Another reason to love Gail’s “Save what you write!” advice!

    A couple of years ago I really wanted to write a story for the Zombies Need Brains -Were anthology. The stories could be about a were-anything except wolf. I tried to write a story about a were-skunk, but I just couldn’t come up with an ending in time, I saved it anyhow.

    Now ZNB has some new anthology themes, and the were-skunk story, now complete, may just fit one! I sent it, anyway.

    So “Save what you write” is great advice.

  8. Indigo Pierrot says:

    The project I’m struggling most with is narrated by the MC in first-person, but because the MC (and the reader) needs to know what’s happening in other places, I have the MC basically “dream true” whenever necessary. Is this way too obvious? Her psychic dreaming is important to the plot in other ways (supplying backstory to avoid the Info Dump and prophecy going forward), but is it overdoing it to have her “tune-in” to happenings elsewhere while she’s asleep? Thoughts? Advice?

    • I think one way you could make this work without it being too easy, is to give her gaps in her psychic dreams for a time when she really is relying on them, maybe at pivotal plot points to increase the tension. You could also play with making the reliability of her psychic dreams spotty. Maybe one or two are either incorrect, or vague, or she interprets the context incorrectly. A few bad experiences for your MC in this way could add an extra dimension of tension to this aspect of the story, so that it’s more than just a tool for storytelling purposes. If she NEEDS the psychic dreams, but cannot always trust them, that could be exciting!

      • How do you suggest keeping a single psychic dream from sticking out like a sore thumb? I have a very young character who’s dream plays an important part of the plot. It’s supposed to serve as a warning that the other travelers ignore, which gets them into trouble of course, but I’m having kind of a hard time making the dream blend in. I want her character to be sensitive to the people and world around her, but she’s so young and is just starting out. Any ideas?

    • Riordan did this with most of his mythology books. The demigods have dreams whenever they need to know something. It seems to work for him.
      There are other ways if you want to be unique: Ella, of course, has her fairy book that keeps her updated. Eragon casts a spell to scry on people.

  9. Melissa, you might try writing a swatch from several POVs. And trying several different approaches to it, to see what options you have or what you like best? I remember Mrs. Levine gave that prompt for one of the chapters in Writing Magic.

    Also, my book club is reading Ever this month!

  10. Thanks for the great post, Mrs. Levine! I’ve been writing in different POVs a lot as well, and I’ve been following different characters through my NaNo story. This is a really helpful post!

  11. A friend is beta-reading the Book Of Many POV characters. She read the Prologue and said that it was darker than she’s used to (It is for me too!), but she had sympathy for Malak and wanted to know what happened to him, so now she’s reading the whole thing, and I’m nervous. 🙂

    • First I’d think about what you like about elves that makes you want to write about them. Keep that. Anything else is fair game for change. Then it’s just like making any other character come alive.

      • I want them to appear human from a distance, but when they are closer there is something different. I don’t know what it is that’s different.

        • It’s commonly a physical difference: pointy ears, elevated senses, immortality. But I think it could also be fun to play with a more abstract difference. What makes their culture different? What do they value as a people? Do your elves stand for justice or are they wholly unattached to the world around them? Are they very precise or do they just accept mediocrity? Are they nature-loving or do they pay no more mind to the world than any other character might? How does that affect what they wear, what they eat, what materials they use to operate their society? Are they light elves or dark elves? Are they short like Santa’s elves are commonly depicted or are they tall and graceful like Tolkien’s? (I know you said you wanted them to appear human, but I’m just trying to make a point.) While the physical is clear, humanoid, what is it about the elves that makes them very decidedly non-human? Is it something in their very character or is it merely a physical difference only noticed up close? A tinted skin color and hidden ability to blend into the world around them? An ancient species history or a playful new species birth? Doesn’t answer your question, but hopefully made you think. 🙂

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