Friday Speak Out!: Four Reasons to Use Multiple Points of View in Your Novel

Friday, June 02, 2023
Writers often struggle with whether to tell a story through the lens of one or many characters. Multiple point of view (POV) can be tricky to master, but there are several reasons it can be very effective. Rather than go with your gut, consider if your intentions align with these considerations when making a choice.

First, a multiple POV approach can result in a rich characterization, because readers experience characters from both inside and out – at times from their thoughts and feelings and at times when other characters reflect on them. If you have an unreliable, complicated, or defensive narrator, you might benefit from this approach. A great example of such in-depth characterization is Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. By having Mrs. Dalloway’s interiority interlaced with others’ view of her, we get a more nuanced and multifaceted sense of her personality.

Second, because point of view refers to the consciousness through which we see and understand the events of a story, a multiple POV approach can offer the reader competing interpretations. In Atonement, by Ian McEwan, the shifting POV gives varying perspectives on the events of a single day that changes the lives of the characters forever, in a kind of collective understanding.

Perhaps your aim is to reveal different facets of a given world, the way Tom Wolfe skewers social class and politics in 1980s’ New York City in Bonfire of the Vanities. Varied walks of life and a chorus of voices can create a kind of kaleidoscope effect and capture a society as a whole. In my forthcoming novel, THE STARK BEAUTY OF LAST THINGS, I wanted to tell the story of the coastal area of Montauk, Long Island, an elegy of sorts, and the characters profoundly in love with that place. I wanted to suck in everything–the world of fishing, of landscape painting, land use, and every aspect of nature. Each of my point of view characters contributes a different kind of knowledge to create what I hope is a larger whole.

Multiple POV is especially successful in combating a lecturing tone in fiction that deal with controversial themes and issues. As different characters espouse different values or sides of an issue, the reader engages with these debates as well. In Her Sister’s Tattoo, by Ellen Meeropol, a conflict between two sisters and their warring views animates the story and challenges to reader to choose sides as well. In my novel each character has a slightly different relationship to the land, whether it represents beauty, spiritualty, heritage, or a resource to be bought and sold. Multiple points of view allowed me to explore various themes through the thoughts and opinions of a variety of characters and come at issues from contrasting angles.

It can be a challenge to manage the plot and timeline in a multiple POV novel, but it’s worth the effort if your aims and material align with any of these four reasons.

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Céline Keating is an award-winning writer living in Bristol, Rhode Island. She is the author of two novels: Layla (2011), a Huffington Post featured title, and Play for Me (2015), a finalist in the International Book Awards, the Indie Excellence Awards, and the USA Book Awards. Her short fiction and articles have been published in many literary journals and magazines. For many years a resident of Montauk, NY, Céline continues to serve on the board of environmental 
organization Concerned Citizens

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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!


Angela Mackintosh said...

Great post, Céline! I love the idea of multiple POVs, and it's an amazing read when writers pull it off well. That's such a good point about using it for controversial themes and issues. I'm a nonfiction writer who recently journeyed into fiction, and I'm loving the freedom, so I think I'll give this a try. :)

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