10 Best Tips for Writing a Multi-Perspective Book
I'm finally talking about it, okay? You’ve been asking me forever about how to write a multi- perspective novel, and seeing as I'm in the thick of writing one, now seems like the perfect time to dive in. Multi-perspective novels are super popular in genre fiction, particularly fantasy and romance, so I'm not surprised you guys want to hear about it. This topic was requested by two of my patrons over on Patreon, Kody Ryan Munson and Karayah Whiseheart. These two sweethearts wanted to know the do's and don'ts of multiple perspectives, and you know me, I aim to please.
So, just for you, I'm listing the 10 best tips I've learned throughout this process. Some of these tips should be common sense, but well, common sense ain't common! And some of these tips just might break your poor little writer heart. But I don't care, ya need to hear ‘em! Check out my advice for writing a multi-perspective novel, and sorry in advance for the last one.
(I’m not sorry)
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Number 1: Calm Your Tits
I know you love your characters and you want to give each of them their own point of view, but don't do it. Why? Because you're the only person who gives a shit. It's annoying as a reader to flip through a zillion different perspectives. One, because that's a whole lot less time we get to spend with our favorite characters. Two, because it distances us from everyone, as opposed to allowing us to get close to one or two characters. And three, if you've got a million different perspectives, chances are most of them just aren't that valuable. The general consensus I've seen among writers is that you probably shouldn't do more than five perspectives. However, I think more often than not, three is plenty.
Number 2: Outline
I'm sorry, but if you're trying to pants a multi-perspective novel, you're gonna be at it for a decade trying to wrangle all those details. I'm sure you can think of a writer who fits that description. It's hard enough to keep track of one plot and one main character, let alone multiple. This is especially true if each of your perspectives is in their own setting, embarking on their own journey, and it's even worse if they are in their own timeline. It behooves you to outline these perspectives ahead of time. That way, you already know where everyone is at any given moment. It'll make the writing process so much easier.
Number 3: Voice Matters
When you switch perspectives, you are switching to a new character, a new mind, and a new point of view, so their voice needs to reflect that. First person perspective is written directly from a character's point of view, which means any shifts in perspective need to have a very obvious change. My voice ain't the same as Cliff's (my fiancé’s) voice; we are different people and thus we speak differently. In third person, the change might not be quite as drastic because the narration isn't coming directly from the character's mouth. But it is coming from their mind, so you still need to include some kind of shift or change.
The way they think and view the world needs to be reflected in the narrative voice. In The Savior’s Series, Tobias is way more romantic than Leila, so his viewpoint reflects that. Both characters are fighters, but Tobias reacts on more of a primal instinct, whereas Leila is cunning and trained. These types of distinctions matter, and it's imperative to consider them when switching between perspectives.
Number 4: Equality Matters
Multi-perspective novels are nearly impossible to make completely equal. There's no way to ensure that each character gets the exact same amount of page time. It's just not gonna happen. And if you are literally counting pages, I'm afraid for you! But you should at least try to ensure that the perspectives are equal-ish. That means each character has roughly the same amount of page time. Maybe not exact, but close enough. If you've got two perspectives, aim for 50/50, though 40/60 is perfectly fine. If you've got three perspectives, each character should have roughly a third of the book. But you should not walk away from your draft with one character carrying 80% of the novel, because if that's the case, this book probably only needs one perspective.
Number 5: Mix It Up
It's very annoying when you read a book and there's only one perspective for a hundred pages, and then suddenly, it shifts. People get comfortable with a particular voice. They are used to that style and character, so be sure to mix it up frequently enough so that readers are comfortable with all perspectives. If it's impossible for you to do this–say, the second perspective only becomes relevant 300 pages in–ask yourself, “Do you need this perspective at all?”
I know it's not always possible to do a perspective shift every other chapter. Though if you're able to do this, I highly encourage it! But try to keep the shifts varied. Otherwise, readers are going to get comfortable with one particular voice and then they're gonna struggle to adjust to another.
Number 6: Shift Responsibly
You can't just shift perspectives willy-nilly. For example, you can't be mid-scene and then shift from one perspective to another. Trust me, I've tried it. It doesn't work. What you need to do is separate the shifts and perspectives via scenes, chapters, or sections. In other words, if you're shifting from one perspective to another, this either needs to happen at the end of a chapter and the start of a new one, or at the end of a section in your novel and the start of the new one. And if you need to shift perspectives mid-chapter, this is fine if you utilize a scene break. A scene break is basically a decorative symbol (e.g., the chess piece below) that occurs mid-chapter letting readers know that we are shifting to a new scene. By utilizing a scene break, you can potentially shift to a new perspective without jarring the reader.
Number 7: Define the Shift in Perspective
It is so annoying when writers shift perspectives and the reader has no idea! I know you think it's obvious, but it's not always obvious to the rest of us. It's extremely easy to reflect the shift; all you have to do is label the shift. If you flip through any multi-perspective novel, you'll notice that most of them will label who is speaking at the start of the chapter or the start of the scene. They literally write the character's name under the scene break or the chapter number. I wish I could elaborate or make it sound fancy and complex, but it's that simple.
Number 8: Choose Wisely
This may be a multi-perspective novel. It may also tell several different stories. But all these perspectives weave together into a singular plot and you need to make sure that you are writing a scene from the exact perspective that moves the plot forward best in that moment.
“But Jenna, what if I'm writing a scene that includes all of the POV characters?”
Choose the point of view that carries the most weight. What is the theme of this scene? What exactly are you trying to convey? If you want to write a sad scene, go into the mindset of the character that takes this blow the hardest. On a similar note, which point of view is most emotional based on the theme of this scene? It's possible that this situation won't matter much to one character, but will be supremely impactful to another. That's the character you should be writing through. And most importantly, which character has the most to lose? High stakes drive a story forward better than anything else.
High stakes drive a story forward better than anything else.
Number 9: Don't Repeat
Every once in a while, you'll read a multi-perspective novel where the same scene is retold from another character's perspective for no reason whatsoever. Don't do that! Unless it is absolutely pivotal to see the same chain of events through a different set of eyeballs, rehashing the same scene in the same book isn't engaging. It's boring.
“But Jenna, I'm the exception to the rule!”
Is that because both perspectives reveal a plot point that moves the story forward and without these plot points the story cannot continue?
“Well, no, but...”
Then you're not the exception, dummy! Unless the story absolutely cannot progress without a
rehash, don't do it.
Number 10: Be honest with yourself
Are you including multiple perspectives because they all carry equal weight? Because their voices are engaging and entertaining? Because they each move the plot forward? If you cannot say yes to all of these questions, then the extra perspectives do not need to exist. Sure, you can include the character in the story, but they should probably be a part of the supporting cast. We don't need to follow them unless their actions guide the direction of the plot. This is when you need to be honest with yourself. There are plenty of characters that I love and adore, but I can honestly say that their side stories don't move my overall plot forward. If that's the case, and you've got some scenes you really want to write for them, write them as short stories and save it for your mailing list. But you don't need to add an entire perspective to your novel just to dish out fluff pieces. I know you really, really, really want to write from these perspectives because these characters are your sweet, precious babies and you love them...but no one else gives a fuck.
So that's all I've got for you today!
If you’ve been wondering how to write a multi-perspective novel, I hope this post was helpful for you! If you don’t take anything else away from these tips, remember to always be honest with yourself about whether or not you really need to include each perspective. By making sure each point of view is necessary, moves the overall plot forward, is clearly defined, and written in the selected character’s recognizable voice, you’ll be able to craft a story that readers can not only follow easily, but will get lost in.
Have you written or published a multi-perspective story? What did you learn from the experience? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below!
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