3 Tips for Using Mulitple Point of View Characters
- Limit the number of POV characters. A general caution is to limit the number of POV characters so the reader can be emotionally invested in those few. Zuckerman, in How to Write the Blockbuster Novel, recommends no more than five main characters. Usually, one of the characters emerges as the main character and gets more space, leaving the others as secondary-main characters, so to speak.
Of course, there are lots of exceptions. On the extreme end of the spectrum, Seedfolk, by Paul Fleischman, changes POV with every chapter, dipping into the life of a different member of the community and never repeats a character; I would argue, though, that the real main character of that story is the community, arrived at through these multiple POV. In the end, I still cared for the characters, which is the main point here, and many of their conflicts were resolved while in a different POV, keeping the conflict/resolution connections intact.
- Changing POV perspective. When you change from one character’s POV to another character’s POV, can you change from 1st person to third person? In Donna Jo Napoli’s, Zel, she has three main characters: Rapunzel, told in 3rd; the prince, told in 3rd; and the mother, told in first. Napoli said that the mother had to be in first person so the reader would understand how much of her actions was motivated by love for Rapunzel. So, yes, you can change from 1st to 3rd: the question is why do you want to? What will it add to the story? Napoli had a reason for this choice — better characterization of the mother. What is your reason?
- Use Strong Scene Cuts. One good reason to use multiple POV characters is it allows for strong scene cuts. Just as one character falls into a dangerous situation, SCENE CUT. We leave that character hanging on the edge of a pit, while we explore another character’s side of the story, until that character is in danger and. SCENE CUT, back to the first character, where we left him about to fall onto a shrub that breaks his fall before he finds himself in some other danger.