A common trope in sci-fi and fantasy is the use of multiple POVs to tell the story. This isn’t exclusive to these genres, but it is certainly more common. Authors often use this to achieve a broad perspective on their world, offering multiple viewpoints so that their world-building can be effectively demonstrated.
Today, I will be writing about what readers look for in multiple POVs, how you can move them around in a meaningful way and how they tie into overarching plot.
What your POV characters should be
POV characters are there to offer a wider perspective, so make sure that they are different. This applies to almost everything about the character: location, status, profession, gender, sexuality, personality, whatever.
If all of your characters happen to be Princes or Kings and are all some member of royalty, I don’t get any sense of what the world is like for the common man. If they are all from the same place, I only get a very small view of your world.
Think about The Lord of the Rings. Two of the main POVs, Aragorn and Frodo, are widely different.
(I’m aware that the story is told as omniscient, rather than limited POVS, but for the purposes of this they are protagonists. The story follows them.)
Frodo - hobbit, village boy, from the Shire, unimportant.
Aragorn - man, future King, very knowledgeable and important, been around Middle-Earth
This gives us perspective of Middle-Earth from both points of view, which is a good thing. It would be even better if we had a female point of view, but Tolkien was very much of his time.
Please vary your POV characters.
How To Fit Them Into Your Plot
I’m referring specifically to the plotting method described in the ‘Finding the Plot’ blog post here. If you haven’t read it yet,go read it. It's here.
You see that 3 act, 9 box structure with your 2 points of no return that I sketched out? Do that for each of your POV characters. They all need a full arc, with growth, conflict and change. If you do not have a full narrative arc for them, they should not be a POV character - they should be a side character. A member of the supporting cast.
Your task is now write their narrative arcs so that they interact with one another. The arcs should be independent, but also lead into each other by the end of the novel (or trilogy, or whatever you are writing). This could be in the third act or even in the second. I wouldn’t do it in the first as you probably want to establish autonomy for your character’s arcs.
How do you do this?
Identify points in the narrative where their stories can cross. The best place to do this are the Points of No Return™. If you remember the post about effective protagonists, I talked about how you need to challenge their worldview. One of the best ways to do this is to have them confront another POV character with a completely different worldview to theirs. This then forces both characters to confront their views of the world and then consequently change.
One of my favourite examples of this can be seen at the end of The Way of Kings - the first book in Brandon Sanderson’s ‘Stormlight Archives’ series.
As it is a series, it can’t really be counted as an end, but simply another Point Of No Return™ for the characters involved. Dalinar Kholin and Kaladin Stormblessed have had very individual arcs and not met each other for the entire book, right up until the moment where Kaladin - who hates light-eyes like Dalinar with a passion - has to decide to save his life.
This is a huge turning point for Kaladin. His worldview challenged, he is forced to do the one thing that he would never want to do. As such, he changes in a way that he cannot come back from.
This is also a huge moment for Dalinar - he has been betrayed by Sadeas and his worldview, that people are generally good, is completely challenged and he must change.
As such, they both hit their challenges and Points of No Return™ simultaneously and in the same place. Dalinar challenges Kaladin’s worldview and Kaladin saves Dalinar from certain death. It is very neat, astounding fun to read and surprisingly easy to pull off narratively if you plan it out right.
How to move your characters to where they need to be
So you’ve got a diversity of POV characters all in different places emotionally, narratively and geographically. How do you get them where they need to be for the above to happen?
Think about your story like a chess board. Your POV characters are your King and Queens, your secondary and supporting characters are your Bishops, Rooks and Knights. Everyone else is a Pawn.
Let’s say you want to move your King or your Queen somewhere - what do you do? You send in the Pawns first, then the Bishops and Knights, then finally you make way for your main piece. You clear the ground and prepare the way for them.
You do the same thing with characters. Have your secondary characters head where they need to be first (physically, narratively or emotionally). Have them confront and converse with the opposing side’s King or Queen (in this analogy, your other POV character). Pave the way.
To use Way of Kings as an example again, before Kaladin and Dalinar meet, Kaladin has seen, met or had some level of confrontation with Adolin, Sadeas (he is one of Sadeas’ bridgemen after all) and other supporting characters in Dalinar’s story. He has interacted with the Pawns, at first, then the Bishops and Rooks.
Once you send in the troops, the protagonist can follow in behind and have their confrontation. This might seem like an odd analogy, but once you start applying it to your plan, you’ll find it can work wonders.
Next Week’s Blog Post: ‘How To Get Your Readers on Board with your Protagonist’
See you next week.
I am a writer, a reader and a teacher. I write about writing. Sometimes I write about other things too.