This one is a doozy for me, especially since my novel has five different point of views (POVs) that I am telling the story from. There have been many, many times where I question my decision as to whether I really need to be inside five different heads. Can’t I just manage with my main character? Because it sure would be a lot easier and my novel would be done long by now. But I keep coming back to the answer of… yes.
My story is such that it’s bigger than the main character. It’s more than just about the people. It’s about the world they live in and the choices each person makes and how those choices affect the bigger picture. And because of that, the reader really needs to get a front row seat with each of these five major players.
The biggest problem for me in writing from five POVs is I get hung up on a single POV and can’t seem to get deep enough into their head. And this doesn’t happen with just one character. I’ve had this problem with all five at one time or another. I know that if I could just narrow things down and write from one or even just two people, things would be so much easier. But then, I always liked to do things the hard way.
I have found the key to writing multiple POVs is copious notes and a good backstory on each character as well as knowing everything about them (hence the need for good note taking). In fact, I have whole files dedicated to each character with detailed information that I add to when necessary (which seems quite often).
Also, it helps to not write in a linear fashion, concerning the story, but write in one characters POV for a time. This allows me to stay in “character” and get a good feel for that person instead of switching characters at each scene (yeah, that sometimes gives me get a little whiplash if I do it too much).
That being said, I do sometimes write the story in a straight line to help me keep all the facts straight. But that usually doesn’t last long before I have to break off and dig deep into one particular character. It’s all in what the story needs and how I can make the work as fluid as possible. This process can differ from day to day, depending on circumstances.
One piece of software that has become invaluable to me in writing multiple POVs is Scrivener. This program makes it easy to break down a novel all the way to individual scenes without loosing the bigger picture. I can also combine one POV in a single document for those times where I need to work out the kinks with one of my character.
Another big thing to have is good organization of the files, notes, research, and anything else needed for the novel. But even more than that is good organization of chapters and scenes within the novel itself. And this is yet again where Scrivener really saves my butt. All my scenes have the character’s name that the scene’s POV is written in, and all scenes are sectioned into chapters. So I can easily navigate to an individual scene if need be, but also know how many scenes each character is in the main POV. This is also helpful for deciding placement of scenes and keeping a certain rhythm for switching back and forth between characters.
Yes, it’s a complicated mess writing from multiple POVs, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil. Just remember to take a deep breath and not get too overwhelmed. Sometimes looking at the bigger picture is a bad idea (and can lead to serious bouts of depression and head banging episodes). Just think in small terms. One character. One scene at a time. Baby steps is the way to go with multiple POVs.
Not sure if you should be writing in multiple POVs? Check out this fabulous article by Lisa Gail Green titled Tips When Writing Multiple POV Novels. The article brings up questions to ask to determine if a novel should be written in multiple POVs, as well as some other really good tips on handling this process.