Thursday, June 13, 2013

POV: 1 or 2?

In the book you're working on, do you tell the story from one Point of View or two?

One POV is usually the norm. Most of the books I read are told by one protagonist or lead character. We're inside her or his head. We know what she thinks, what he sees, what she experiences, likes, hates. S/he can't hide thoughts from the readers because we are in the head of the lead character. This is the kind of books I write.

But I'm now planning on having two lead characters. Two Points of View. The reader will be in the heads, see the thoughts, know the plans, fears, intentions, hopes of two characters. Two opposite characters.

I have the one POV version of the book written. The reader identifies with the lead character, lives in the head of that character. Now I'm going to tear the book apart, let the reader see not only the protagonist's thoughts but those of the antagonist. Two heads.

Two heads with different goals, plans, hopes. Two opposites. One will live. One will die.

Each POV must be recognizable. You can't have the reader getting lost and not being sure which character's head he's in as he's reading.

Each POV must tell the truth to the reader. You, the writer, can't hide his or her thoughts. We're in their heads so we know what they're thinking, planning, doing. And yet, you have to keep the tension ratcheted up.

You also have to make the antagonist believable. Even the ultimate bad guy has something that keeps him "human". It could be a serial killer who talks to his pet turtle. It could be a grandma who is such a sour puss that no one in her family visits her. What they don't know is that she volunteers at a group home for orphaned children.

How do you make your characters believable and even relatable? Granted, it's not likely that your readers will relate to a serial killer, but if you know the character well enough, you will know that one little quirk he has that makes him human.

Have you written a book with two different leads? How do you make both characters "real"?

Helen Ginger
is an author, blogger, and the Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel Sometimes, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Dismembering the Past, is due out in 2013.


  1. My current WIP has two POV characters. Writing in third person is a challenge for me and I much prefer first person. I thought about alternating POVs, both in first person. It's a really tough decision to make, but a crucial one. After reading and writing so much in first person, third person feels so distant.

  2. I tend to prefer multiple POVs. (My current WIP has a dozen!) It is a challenge, but I feel well worth it.

    The key is that not only must you write the different aspirations, troubles, and preferences of the different POVs, but your entire writing should change as you move from one to the other. The tone, the mood, of the writing should be the character. Your reader should be able to tell which character it is, just from eating breakfast, with no other character clues. The word choice, sentence structure, even philosophical position of the character should come through. (Which character would see the glass as half full, and which would see it half empty?)

    Diana, I'm the opposite. I LIVE in third person, and almost never break out into first person. Even reading first person is a struggle for me.

  3. What? You want my POV to make sense, Helen? I like keep 'em guessing: 'Where am I? How the heck did I get here? Where am I going?' Makes for a more interesting read, don't you think?

  4. Obviously some writers are better at 1st person POV than others. I am not one of those writers. I am most comfortable with 3rd person, and I do write from several points of view.

    I hope Terry Odell weighs in with her explanation of deep third person. She has perfected that style and it has the immediacy of first person, yet the flexibility of getting into another character's head. I am trying to emulate her. (smile)

    David, I agree that the tone of the writing should change for different characters. I do try to change up the writing to reflect the personality of the character speaking, and that is usually done in the second draft.

  5. I love writing from multiple POVs and reading them as well. I also stick to third person. I think you'll discover that you love getting inside the minds of more than one character. So much fun!

  6. I recently read a novel that titled each chapter with the name of the POV character it was written in to avoid confusion. It was in the first person.

    I’ve dabbled in writing in the 1st person and think it has a lot of merit, although I’ve kept to the norm in completing novels in the 3rd person, with the POV of one or more characters.

  7. I'm writing my current WIP from several POV - one of them being in first person. I find writing mysteries is far easier if the plot's untwisting is seen through several pairs of eyes rather than just one.

  8. Of course, I'm an aspired writer, no books in print... yet, but I would think it would be confusing with 2 POV. Maybe not so much for the reader if the author does it well, but how does the writer stop him/herself from getting confused as to what POV is currently in the foreground? Do you end up writing some scenes twice from the view of both characters, and then combining somehow?

    Actually, I know you can do it. I just know I can't.

  9. @Glynis The best way to avoid that is planning. Include your POV as part of your chapter/scene outlines. It helps a lot.

  10. In romance virtually ALL books are expected to have at least two main POV characters: hero and heroine. In romantic suspense, sometimes the villian's POV is included. In my first mystery, I had 3 POV characters; the sequel had 2. I didn't use the villain because that would make it a suspense, not a mystery. However, I beg to differ with your "most books are written from a single character's POV." I have a wide collection of mystery/suspense/thriller and romance books on my shelves and I would say if you picked one up at random, odds are it would have more than 1 POV. Allison Brennan's first book had over a dozen POV characters.

    My preference with mystery is single POV, although I'm reading John Sandford's newest and there are a 'bunch' of POV characters.

    It's the story you want to tell, and the best way to tell it that matters.

    And thanks, Maryann -- I wrote the above before reading your comment, so I will have to see if I should leave a second one to address deep POV.

  11. OK -- Deep POV. Bottom line, you're in the head of the POV character to the point that you could substitute "I" for "He/She" and it would all make perfect sense. Dialogue AND narrative have to keep the reader in that person's head. David said this very well.

    And I prefer 3rd person, although I did write two detective short stories in first, and stuck with the single POV for those. I think straight mystery lends itself to single POV, 1st person, but there are no rules. As long as your reader knows whose head he's in, you're doing OK.

    Transitions are important, whether they be via scene/chapter breaks or sliding in and out by going shallow to withdraw, then shifting, then going deep (Suzanne Brockmann wrote a "how to" that she gave out at one RWA conference years ago.)

    Hope this is what you wanted, Maryann. I've been too caught up in the fire news to do much else today.

    Terry's Place

  12. I can't say I'm a big fan of head-hopping. It's very hard to do well from the reader perspective and even in tightly-written novels, at some point or another, will pull the reader out of the story. Good luck with that. We should do another post with book titles that demonstrate this successfully. Also, switching between 1st and 3rd POVs which is also easy to botch.

  13. I have three! They are three different generations and speak in different vernacular. I actually just went through each POV, one chapter after another (ignoring the others during the exercise) to make sure each had a strong enough voice for the reader to identify.

  14. I lean heavily toward multiple POVs. To me, this allows the reader a bit more insight and (hopefully) heightens interest and suspense. My last novel had several POV characters, but usually just one per scene -- except in the rare instance where more than one was needed to accomplish the scene's purpose. In this case, an extra line space indicated the POV change. None of my beta readers or proofers complained about POV confusion.

    On the other hand, a single POV (or first person) can create an interesting, compelling story in the hands of a competent writer.

  15. My first thougth was that "the norm" is multiple points of view. Maybe not for the books you read, but for me books that stay true to one POV are rare.

    I like both, though.

    One POV is good for creating tension because of miscommunication and misread motivations, especially when there are only a few characters. Multiple POVs are especially good for covering ground when there are a lot of characters, settings, and plotlines.


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