Friday Speak Out!: Nurses and the Vietnam War: Stories with Intersecting Points of View

Friday, November 04, 2022
By Pam Webber

Novelists who write from multiple points of view (POV) amaze me. Having worked with a writing group for two years under the tutelage of a New York Times bestselling author, I know writing one story from multiple perspectives can be demanding creatively and organizationally. However, after reading several wonderful books by authors skilled in the use of multiple

POVs, I felt driven to try it. Consequently, after many starts, stops, oops, and revisions, my third book, Life Dust, was written using two points of view.

As a long-time nurse educator and family practitioner, I wanted to weave a story that included the good and bad elements of nursing as well as my husband’s funny and heart-breaking experiences in Vietnam. Consequently, for the two POVs, I chose Nettie, a student nurse who found herself in a heap of unearned trouble while interning in a busy emergency room, and Andy, a young Army lieutenant who is leading a jungle reconnaissance squad in Vietnam.

While crafting the story, I learned the devil does indeed live in the details. Keeping the relationship between the two characters progressing while advancing their individual and collective storylines required careful integration of numerous details. To help keep the scenes, events, and sequencing organized, I developed a color-coded, intersecting timeline for the POVs that resembled the double strands of DNA.

The timeline allowed me to visualize what was happening with each character at every point in the story. It also aided in the development of a good story arc. Of course, the timeline had to be adjusted every time I added or deleted a scene or event, but it still proved invaluable in helping to maintain interrelatedness and progression of the storylines. It also helped with the transitions from one POV to the other. In Life Dust, I used letters from Andy to mark time and help synchronize Nettie’s life as a nurse in the Emergency Room with Andy’s life in Vietnam.

When using a timeline to guide two POVs, I’d suggest the following:

  • Identify the common beginning point and ending goal of both POVs, which is essential when planning the arc of the overall story.

  •  Determine the arc for each character/POV. While character arcs do not have to match, they should be close enough to ensure stability of the arc for the overall story.

  •  Decide which character provides the best platform for anchoring the story and lead with that character.

  •  Decide if the characters/POVs will have their own chapters or separated scenes within chapters.

  •  If you divide POVs by chapters, it is helpful to title the chapters. You can even use the characters’ names as titles, which eases the reader’s transition between POVs.

  •  Keep your characters/POV intermittently connected in a progressive and meaningful way. In Life Dust, this was done with letters and phone calls. Since it took two weeks or longer for letters to travel to and from Vietnam, I could move the story forward faster. I also connected the POVs through the characters’ old habits, phrases, and activities. For example, my two characters grew up together and used to lie on a hill and watch the stars at night. In Vietnam, Andy could see the stars above the treetops, and in Northern Virginia, Nettie could see them after leaving work late at night. The phrase, “Meet me in the stars. I love you,” became the last sentence in each of their letters.

  • When your manuscript is complete, check and recheck the sequencing and integration of the storylines against your timeline. Although I’d edited Life Dust dozens of times, I still found a sequencing error on my last readthrough. I was reading the manuscript aloud and heard the mistake instead seeing it.

Happy writing and best wishes!

* * *

Pam Webber is the Amazon bestselling author of a coming of age trilogy. Last month, She Writes Press published Pam’s most recent novel, Life Dust. Pam lives in Virginia near where her novels are set.
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Pam Webber, Author said...

Hey folks!
Welcome to my blog post! After going through the editing process for my debut(bestselling) novel, The Wiregrass, I decided to tweak my skill by joining a small writing group in Richmond, VA. Led by a NY Times bestselling author, the group took me on an amazing journey. By using teacher and peer critiques, group members improved their skills in multiple ways. My second novel, Moon Water, was largely an outcome of this group process. In Life Dust, my third and latest novel, I pushed my skill set again by writing from two points of view.

If you're just starting a writing career, studying with someone who understands literary criteria, novel infrastructure, points of view, progression and integration of storylines, scene setting, and rules of dialogue may help you on your journey as well.

Stephanie Barko said...

Thanks for the tip, Pam. Loved your post.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I've always been intimidated at the thought of trying to write multiple POV characters. Thank you for the information on how to do it!

Angela Mackintosh said...

These are super helpful tips. I just had an idea for a multiple POV story this morning as I was freewriting during NaNoWriMo, so thank you. :) Congratulations on your trilogy, too! I love She Writes Press books.

Pam Webber, Author said...

Hey Sue and Angela! So glad you found the suggestions helpful! Best wishes! Pam

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