Multiple Point-of-View Characters

 Christmas Lights - Bruce Witzel Photo

It has been said by more than one, that my books are unique because I develop multiple point-of-view characters. One reviewer said he had never read a book like this before. Another said that it was difficult to determine which character was the main character. My style has been called brilliant, deep and somewhat confusing – depending on who is doing the saying!

To be honest, I don’t find it unusual. The style came so naturally to me, I can only conclude that I’ve read many such books in my life. One day, I’m going to go on a search and pull some out! But seriously, I had to have gotten the idea from my own reading history. There isn’t much new under the sun, as the saying goes.

Some style analysts write that the type of book and the audience it’s written for determines how far one goes with multiple points-of-view. Character-driven fiction tends to make use of this device because the multiple relationships among characters form a vital part of the narrative.

The type of books I wanted to write demanded I put the reader in the head of more than one character. I’ve shied away from solving this problem by going all omniscient. The voice from above, the narrator who knows the whole story from the get go – how it starts, how it ends, how each person in the story feels at every juncture. Though this approach adds a lot of scope, immediacy is lost and distance between the reader and the character widens.

I want my readers to feel the story from inside the heads of the characters. In Disappearing in Plain Sight, I wanted readers to look through Lisa-Marie’s eyes and see how she experienced being a bullied, high-school girl who suddenly finds herself transplanted to a different life. I wanted readers to know how trauma counsellor, Izzy, felt about her husband’s death and about her work and her growing relationship with Liam. And heck, why shouldn’t they also see it from Liam’s perspective and Justin’s.

For me, these multiple points-of-view enrich the story and make it come alive. I think this is why people say, after reading either of the Crater Lake books, the characters felt like friends, family, people I wanted to meet again and again. Or things like – I found myself thinking about the characters long after I had finished reading the novel. These reactions are based on being inside the characters’ experience and living it through their eyes.

But here’s the rub, as the Bard would say – it’s a tricky style to master. Readers need to be able to discern, easily and definitively, whose head they are in at any given moment. This means the writing must give crystal-clear direction. It comes down to character voice, too. Each one must be wholly unique – when a reader is in Izzy’s head, experiencing her thoughts, the things she says and the actions she takes have to distinguish her completely from the reader’s experience of being inside Lisa-Marie’s head.

A writer has to be intimately acquainted with his or her characters to pull this off. And like so many parts of writing, the devil is in the details. Not only does a character have a unique voice but how that voice presents itself differs when in interaction with different character or situations. To say nothing of how that character’s voice is sometimes not even fully known to the one doing the speaking.

So, what can we do to get this close to our characters? Like any relationship, we need to spend time with these people and learn all we can about them. Write and write and write until we understand what makes a particular character tick. What makes them laugh? What makes them cry? What brings a sarcastic comment popping into their heads? What triggers them? What are their hearts’ desires?

When we know our characters this well their unique voices cannot fail to be clear and then something very special will happen. These characters who we think we know so well will surprise us by doing something altogether unexpected. And believe me – that is a moment of pure joy for a writer.

This will do doubt be my last blog of 2014 and I want to send out a big Happy Holiday greeting and well wishes to all my blog followers for the likes and the thought-provoking comments I’ve received over the last year. 2015 promises to a productive year for me with two novels due to come out. I look forward to many more chances to interact with readers and fellow writers through the wonderful world of WordPress.

Winter scene at the lake - francis guenette photo

13 comments on “Multiple Point-of-View Characters

  1. That was an interesting insight Francis. I always enjoy your blog. I want to wish you a very happy holiday season as well.

  2. Roy McCarthy says:

    That certainly explains why your writing has such depth Fran. By comparison I don’t think I explore my characters very deeply at all. Occasionally I’ll jump into first person for one particular viewpoint, but that’s more to break the rhythm up a bit than anything else.
    Hope you and Bruce have a great Christmas.

    • We are in the midst of good holiday encounters with friends and family, Roy. Thanks for the well wishes. Maybe it is a style question on the writing but I just don’t know any other way to do it. In your writing, Jersey certainly came through with depth and I felt pretty close to Tess by the end of her novel.

  3. Maybe that’s it. Whenever I read fiction, within about a week I have forgotten the names of all the characters. If I have to put the book down for a few days, when I come back to it, I find I have lost the story line and forgotten which character is which. Not so with your books. Months after reading them I remember minute details about each character. I do find myself thinking about your characters and feeling as if I know them, wondering how they are doing as if they were truly real people. I am looking forward to your next Crater Lake book. You have a real gift for writing; I’m envious 🙂 I hope you and Bruce have a wonderful holiday season! Cheers!

    • This is the kind of comment that makes all the ups and downs, trails and tribulations of writing worth the effort 🙂 Thanks so much for caring enough about my characters to take the time to tell me this. I will be back at the third book in the series with writing and production deadlines all lined up, first thing January 2015 and expect to have it published by early June. We are having a great holiday season and thanks so much for the well wishes. I am hoping it is the same for you and yours.

  4. clareweiner says:

    Really love the Crater Lake books and go with you on all you say here. Reading one-viewpoint books always feel a bit deprived! My novels are multi-p.o.v. as well: I just hope the characters come over to readers as well as yours do. Happy Holidays a bit late!

    • Thank you, Clare. Nice to know there are other multiple p.o.v. supporters out there 🙂 Best wishes for the holidays – we celebrate right up until January 6th so nothing like too late for well wishes.

  5. P. C. Zick says:

    I am always a watch guard for POV and done incorrectly ruins a story for me. There’s a way to do multiple 3rd person and a way not to do it. You write it so the reader is rooting for each of the characters without disruption in the story. I’m never confused by it, only intrigued with the story. When I read your books, I don’t think about the POV, which means you’re doing it just right.

    • Hi Patricia – thanks so much for this vote of confidence. It means a lot from another writer who knows the dilemmas. You’ve really nailed the definition – if, as a reader, you don’t even think about it, then it is working.

  6. dex says:

    I love writing from multiple points of view. I tend to break things up by shifting PoV at chapter breaks, which I think is easier for the reader and the writer. It is a harder style in some ways, but really you should know your characters well enough to know their individual voices, even if you never narrate from their PoV. Ah, but that’s the hardest part of writing at all. Your characters MUST be real to you. (At least, that’s how I approach it.)

    • I totally agree, Dex. They must be real to me – even when the reader never has the privilege of getting inside their heads, I’ve still had to be there. Unless I’m doing a scene where all major characters are attending a common event, I tend to use breaks within chapters to switch p.o.v. But these rules seem always made to be broken and that’s what makes writing so exciting.

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