Sharing the Limelight

On March 25, 2020, Kit Kat Kitty wrote, I’ve started plotting a new book out (usually, I’m a pantser, but I’m trying this out), and I’ve run into a bit of a problem. I have two main characters, a boy and a girl. The boy is the actual main character, but the girl is a close second. The premise is that the boy is trying to get to the underworld and retrieve the soul of a man he killed by accident a year ago. (It’s a long story. There are gods in the story, and the boy happens to be the son of the death god, so he accidentally killed someone by touching them.) Anyway, he’s just starting out on his quest when the girl shoots him with an arrow that causes him to fall in love with her (that is also a long story; she didn’t want to, but she was worried her mother would love her less if she didn’t, and her mother is a goddess). The point is, I realized that the girl has just as much growth to go through as the boy, and the whole “love arrow” sub-plot is really only a hindrance for the boy but it’s a big deal for her, so I was wondering if I should make her a POV character as well. I also think her story would be very interesting to write about. Any advice?

A conversation ensued.

Katie W.: Go for it! Writing from someone’s viewpoint (especially 1st person) is a great character-building exercise, even if the scenes get cut later on. Unless you have a deadline, there’s no reason not to experiment. Sure, there will probably be a lot of garbage, but there may very well be some really good stuff, too.

Melissa Mead says: Sounds like a fascinating premise! Good question! Is the story more about him, or them? What would 2 POVs give you that 1 doesn’t?

Kit Kat Kitty: My main concern really comes down to trusting myself to make the right call. If the story ends up being two POVs, it’ll go in a very different direction than if I only do one. I have a nasty habit of deciding to write from a character’s POV just because I think they’re interesting. I suppose it really comes down to what kind of story I want to tell, and I’m thinking that one POV is better, but I think I’ll try writing a few chapters from the girl’s POV too, as Katie W. suggested.

All that said, I’m still not 100% what I’m gonna do or what’s gonna happen.

Melissa Mead: “I have a nasty habit of deciding to write from a character’s POV just because I think they’re interesting.” Sounds logical to me!

Kit Kat Kitty: I guess it does, doesn’t it? I guess I’m just worried about what people will think. I’ve been warned before not to write two POV’s in a story just because I want to, but since I’m in the really early steps, I don’t think it’d do any harm. I guess I just need to remind myself that I write because it’s fun.

Melissa Mead: I think the most important thing is to make it clear when you’ve changed POV, and why. Ex, don’t do it in the middle of a scene, because the reader will get confused.

I agree with Katie W. and Melissa Mead and with Kit Kat Kitty that we write because it’s fun.

Sometimes it isn’t. But we write for the fun times. And some of the fun is in experimentation and the growth that follows.

I’m certainly with Melissa Mead that the story premise is fascinating.

As you probably noticed, this question arrived over a year ago, and Kit Kat Kitty probably finished her story long ago. If you’re reading this, would you let us know how it went?

I’m in favor of experimentation. Timidity puts me to sleep when I’m writing and puts readers to sleep if a timid story manages to get finished.

I’ve written two books from two POVs. The cake in terms of number may be taken by Bat 6, written by National Book Award winner for True Believer (and my friend) Virginia Euwer Wolff, which is told by–count them!–twenty-one first-person narrators. It’s an excellent book and worth reading. Also, you’ll see how she pulled it off.

When we’re thinking about multiple POVs, we need to consider what we’ll gain, and Kit Kat Kitty, in my opinion, makes a good case for trying it. Both characters are children of gods, which affects them differently. The girl adds a complication to the boy’s quest. She reacts one way; he another. There’s a lot to explore in their differences.

My first two-POV book was my Mesopotamian fantasy Ever, which is told in alternating chapters by each POV character, one a mortal girl in the city of Hyte where the people believe in a single god, the other the young god of the winds from the kingdom Akka, where there is a pantheon of gods. The chapters are labeled by who’s telling, so the reader always knows.

It’s a love story, and I don’t think I could have brought the love aspect to life in the sole POV of either of them.

The second is my Trojan War book, Sparrows in the Wind, for which I am waiting (endlessly, according to me) for edits from my editor, who is almost certainly not reading these words. In Sparrows, the first half of the book is told by Cassandra, the seer whose prophecies are never believed. The second half is told nine years later by Rin, an Amazon girl who rides to the aid of Troy with her mom and eleven other Amazon women.

In Sparrows, my initial reason for the two POVs was because Cassandra ages out of childhood while the war continues, so I felt I needed to introduce a fresh girl character. Since this is fantasy, I could have shortened the ten years and stayed with Cassandra, but I wanted to stay as faithful as I could to the established mythology. I didn’t anticipate that the double POV would create a buddy story, and I was happy about that. I’d never written one of those before.

In both stories and in Kit Kat Kitty’s as she’s described it, the POV characters have different backstories and different perspectives, which form their varying responses to events. We can keep that in mind when we consider what we’ll gain from the added complication of more than one first-person narrator.

In Sparrows, for example, Cassandra lives in a society in which women have no freedom. Zero. Except for religious festivals, they rarely even step outside the women’s quarters in their houses. Turned loose in the wild, a Trojan woman wouldn’t last long. On the other hand, an Amazon can fend for herself and better; she lives to hunt, fight, raid villages, and collect spoils. Amazons are contemptuous of so-called “village women” and prefer death to captivity.

Aside from chapter headings in Ever and the passage of time between the two halves in Sparrows, we want readers to always know who’s speaking. In Ever, I tried to make the two voices different. I reasoned that Olus, the god of the winds, would be more educated than a mortal girl, and I tried to give him an advanced vocabulary and to have him think and speak in longer, more complex sentences. I don’t think I succeeded. But when I just opened to pages at random I always knew who was talking. Their history and world view are so different that it affects everything. Besides, since Ever is a love story, each one is usually either speaking to the other or thinking of him or her.

In Sparrows, to differentiate speakers and also for plot reasons, I wrote the first part in the past tense and the second in present. That alone differentiates the two, but also the world views of the two of them have little in common.

These are two strategies for differentiating the POVs. There must be many more. For example, one POV could be told through journal entries, another through live action. One might even be presented in italics.

If we’re working from a traditional tale, like a fairy story, more than one POV will expand its scope and most likely lengthen our page count. We can consider if we want that.

Multiple POVs will also complicate the arc of our story. For pantsers (like me, mostly), that will make the telling more difficult. I would want to come up with a skeletal outline. But this isn’t to say that complete pantsers shouldn’t try it. The pleasure is in the journey!

Here are three prompts:

• Tell “Jack and the Beanstalk” from two POVs, Jack’s and the giant’s. You may have to give the giant a backstory. What were his hopes and dreams when Jack brought him down to earth?

The English version of the tale has this rhyme, which you can read about on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fee-fi-fo-fum. Here’s the rhyme:

Fee-fi-fo-fum,
I smell the blood of an Englishman,
Be he alive, or be he dead
I'll grind his bones to make my bread.[

If you want to use this, you can bring in geopolitics!

• Tell the fable of the hare and the tortoise from three POVs: the hare, the tortoise, and the fox, who judges the race.

• Go wild. Tell the story of a spelling bee from the POVs of the final seven contestants, a sibling of one of them, and the judge.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. The first actually good story I wrote had two first-person POV’s, one for the hero, the other for the villain. I wrote it in present tense because it ended with the villain being executed, and later, I added in a third, third-person POV from the perspective of the other major character. I’m not saying it’s good because of the multiple POV’s or the present tense (it’s because I finally understood what I was doing), but all three choices are necessary to make the story flow the way I need it to. Although now I’m thinking I could add a fourth POV and reveal the plot the other three are unknowingly, and to some extent, unwillingly, participating in, either as a prologue or a “While the hero is confronting the villain, back at home, these things are happening” sort of thing. On a different note, don’t write in present tense unless you absolutely have to. Ninety-five percent of readers will never notice, and it saves having to proofread something five times to catch all the places you automatically switched back to past tense.

  2. The book I just published has three POVs, and this is the first time I’ve done that. Two are adopted (as adults) into the same family. The third is a teenage daughter of that family, who writes all in journal entries–so hers are in first person present, as she writes. The other two are close 3rd past. I’ve had a lot of fun deciding which scene goes where, but it definitely appeals to the head/ left-brain, more like plotting than pantsing.

    • The POV switches must really mess with your head. Like I said, I’ve done the reverse of yours (two ones and a three), but they were all in present tense and I stuck in the third-person one later. As a “there’s literally no point in planning this because who knows where it’s going to go” pantster, my brain hurts just imagining trying to write that.

      • In my case, the 6 POV shifts came about BECAUSE I was pantsing. I’m figured it would all be in the MC’s POV, but at one point he’s blind + in a cage, so I switched to someone who had more freedom. Them I realized that since the book is basically about how the MC perceives the world/non-demons, every time he encountered another major character, I showed how they saw him and contrasted it to his perceptions.

        I’m not sure it was a good idea, but it seemed logical at the time.

  3. i💜writing says:

    Would it be considered okay to have mostly one POV but another one three to four times for clarity and interest? Or is that weird, considering I’m not specifically writing experimental fiction?

  4. It’s been awhile since I read it, but I think Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley did a lot of these. In the beginning, the POV jumped around a lot… but those other characters were always interacting/thinking about the main characters, especially when they were young children. As the story goes on, it sticks more with Bella and her prince.

  5. Kit Kat Kitty says:

    Thank you for the post! It’s wonderful. The project I was talking about, I got pretty far into, but I have set aside for now. I plan on going back to it one day, but I’m working on a couple of different projects right now. This post will be helpful for the project I had questions about when I go back to it, and one of the projects I am working on right now.

  6. i💜writing says:

    How do you use a dash in writing? Like, “My sister loves chocolate—my brother loves vanilla.” (I just found that on Google.) Would you write it like this “–” or like this ” – “?

    • From my experience with Microsoft Word, I don’t think there’s a space. You can see that in the example you gave, too. Also, I’ve found the best way to make a dash is to put two hyphens next to each other and let autocorrect fix it. Although I will say that doesn’t work 100% of the time, like if you’re putting a dash in a preexisting sentence.

      • Gail Carson Levine says:

        This dash is called an em dash. The way to get it is to type chocolatedashdashmyspacebrother. As soon as you make the space after my, the dash solidifies. If you’re putting an em dash in a preexisting sentence, you have to make the space again after the next word and then delete the extra space, which, just saying, is stupid, but that’s the way it works, in Word anyway.

  7. Fantasywriter6 says:

    Great post! I’m writing a book with a friend right now, and we take alternating chapters and switch POVs. It actually works out pretty well because her character(protagonist) is super similar to her personality and the way she thinks, and same with my character(antagonist). So the thoughts and language and dialogue are obvious as to whose chapter it is. It’s been really fun, I totally recommend it. Plus, we hold each other accountable, so we’ve both gotten farther on this story than mostly anything else either of us have written solo. The only issue is that when I created a character, and then when he came into her chapter, his entire personality changed…we’re trying to think of a way to fix that since he’s pretty important to both of us.

      • Those books are the BEST!!! Maybe not actually better than the Dealing with Dragons books (otherwise known as the Enchanted Forest Chronicles) but it’s definitely close. I mean, Regency England, plus magic, and they’re funny? You’d have to be trying really hard to mess that up.

  8. FantasyFan101 says:

    Oh my gosh!!! I’m doing a project just like that! My friend and I write alternate chapters, and we each have 2 MCs that we’re in charge of. We’re not very far in, and I’ve still got a lot of ideas, but it’s coming along nicely. We’ve almost finished the plot, and we’ve got some chapters, though a couple aren’t finished.

  9. Gail Carson Levine says:

    Melissa Mead, Thank you! Usually spam seems to go to old posts, and I delete it. It doesn’t happen often, luckily. This time it came to the current one and I wasn’t on top of it soon enough. Sorry!

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