How many POV's?

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khanes
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How many POV's?

Post by khanes » June 22nd, 2010, 6:37 pm

So, I'm having trouble directing my cast of characters. I wrote my first manuscript in the first person, and found that it flowed pretty well out of my fingertips. The reader sees the action from one person's point of view, plus knows her thoughts and deepest insecurities. Now, I'm attempting a second novel with three main characters. I read my first 9 pages, and feel like they sound harried and shallow. I want to hit "delete." I'm finding it hard to differentiate the characters enough to find their individual voices. This makes me want to scratch the entire thing and tell the story from one character's perspective in third person closed (limited, I forget the term).

How do you typically write fiction? Are multiple POV's harder than a single first/third person POV? Do multipe POV's make the book richer, and less boring? Does anyone have any advice?

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Re: How many POV's?

Post by polymath » June 22nd, 2010, 6:50 pm

Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections has five central viewpoint characters and a covert narrator. In several scenes several of the characters interact but are reported from only one viewpoint character's perspective. In several scenes all five characters are in the scene.

I studied the novel's viewpoint transitions carefully for that reason. Mostly, the transitions are "in the cut," take place in section and chapter break jump cuts. Distinctive character voices and narrator reported cues mark the openings of scenes in the viewpoint transitions.
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Re: How many POV's?

Post by heyimkt » June 22nd, 2010, 7:52 pm

I think choosing a point of view really depends on your style, what you're comfortable with, and what your story really calls for. If you try one and just don't feel it, try another.

My current WIP is told from three points of view, all in first person. I'd never done this before, but I love it. I don't think the story or plot could have worked any other way. And I see what you mean about voices. I think each of my characters talk differently and interacts differently with the others. They've got their own lingo and thoughts, and to me, this makes the story interesting.
I have an older WIP that I will be starting to rewrite soon, and originally, it was told from two points of view...third person. I liked this format, but with a few eyes reading the first few chapters, they didn't get as hooked in. I think changing these views to first person may make the story deeper/richer, so I'm going to try it. But, hey, that's just me. If it doesn't work, I'll switch it back.

So I say try it. What have you go to lose? Write the whole thing or just a view paragraphs again in a different point of view. You'll know the one that's right. You'll feel it. And if you want any ideas about point of view, here are a few books I've learned a lot about POV from: Gone, by Michael Grant (third person, many views) and Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater (First person, two views). Hope this helped!

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Re: How many POV's?

Post by Down the well » June 22nd, 2010, 7:55 pm

Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible is told from four (?) different character viewpoints. I've read that Kingsolver took ten years to complete the novel, writing it in its entirety from each character's perspective. Then she integrated the points of view chapter by chapter in the order that made the most sense. What she achieved was an intense understanding of each character and how the story individually impacted them. It never got confusing - only more interesting as the novel progressed. It's a brilliant novel and one that I think of often when considering whether or not I've dug deep enough into my characters' lives.

Sometimes I think writer's forget that a good seventy-five percent (totally made that up) of a novel is never shown. Give your characters a little more stew time and you might find them easier to differentiate when you know them better. Just a suggestion. Good luck.

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Re: How many POV's?

Post by Claudie » June 22nd, 2010, 8:20 pm

There are two fundamental things to keep in mind when you decide to write in multiple PoVs.

The first, polymath already mentioned: you need an unique character voice for each POV character. Readers have to distinguish easily between the different narrators. Stating who is talking quickly helps, that is certain, but if you can't make each voice unique, you might as well choose the most interesting and stick with it for the entire novel.

Of course, characters with different personalities help with this. The calm and wise character will spend more time thinking over his actions, while the impulsive one will act often, with little of his thoughts on paper. There are other tricks, though. Does your character have a good education? He might talk in longer sentences than the farm boy. What's his favourite colour? When describing, he'll notice it more than the rest. Is he a visual or an auditive? Or does he learn by touch? This will influence how he describe the world around him.

Take the time to detail your character. Know what they want, what they think of the world around them and how they perceive it. This will help you create an unique voice for each of them.

The second fundamental is to restrict the number of voices to a minimum. Now perhaps this is only me, but I like to tell the story from multiple POV, and on my first drafts I often end up with too many of them. Look carefully at each of your POV. Do you need it? What does it bring to your story? Is it information you could add through another viewpoint? Is it a distinctive voice, someone who adds shades of gray to the story? When you have two POV that do the exact same thing for your novel, you might want to consider cutting one. Be careful with multiple POV. Perhaps it's a fantasy thing (which is what I write), but they often end up all over the place.

Oh, and a third thing (yes, I know, I said two). If you make transitions in the middle of a scene, they have to be smooth. Otherwise, you'll jolt the reader out of the story. With a few exceptions, I prefer to do mine between scenes or chapters.

There is a great book by Alicia Rasly called The Power of Point of View, with incredible advice for creating an unique voice. It's worth getting your hands on it.
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Re: How many POV's?

Post by cheekychook » June 22nd, 2010, 9:12 pm

I have written a lot of things in first person pov, but my current WIP is third person, told from multiple pov's, and I can't imagine this story being told any other way.

I had all my characters very clear in my head before I started to write, their backgrounds, their mannerisms, their childhoods, how they met each other, etc, so I was very comfortable with their different voices. I was also extremely clear on the entire plot. In the briefest nutshell, my novel is about two young married couples who meet as neighbors, become close friends, and impact one another's lives in unexpected ways. It's crucial to the story and the feel of the book to know what is going on in the different character's minds at different times in their relationships.

The majority of the story is told from the viewpoint of the husband from one couple; I'd say roughly 45% of the novel is his pov. Approximately 35-40% is told from the pov of the wife from the other couple. The remaining part is told from their spouses' pov's. In my first draft it seemed very clear to me when most pov shifts should occur. If I encountered a part of the story where I wasn't sure whose pov it should be I wrote it with head hopping (sort of omniscient---where I had the inner thoughts of whoever was involved in the scene) then I set it aside and came back to it a few days later asking myself "Who has the most at stake in this scene?" On the reread it always seemed pretty obvious whose pov that section should be told from, and if it was a tie I would split it and have the first portion told by one then the second told by the other.

I wait for natural breaks to make the switch, switch as infrequently as possible if the pov change comes within a chapter, and always make it very clear who is talking when a change occurs. Within a chapter I will separate the pov changes with a *** and double space in addition to making sure that you know who the pov character is in the first line or two.

If it was the olden days and omniscient was still all the rage I'd probably have opted to use that...and if I were Judith Mc Naught I'd just plug ahead with continual head hopping with a devil-may-care attitude about it....but overall I'm glad that I've had to think through whose pov is most important for each scene and I think it has added a lot of depth to my overall story to hear from all the characters. My crit group members and betas have told me that they "feel like they personally know all the characters", so it must be working. Or at least I hope it is! (I have to add, though, of the 6 members of my crit group I am the only one who is doing 3rd person multiple, so this style may not work for everyone---the bottom line is always that you, the writer, have to be comfortable writing in whatever style/pov/etc you choose.)
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Re: How many POV's?

Post by polymath » June 22nd, 2010, 10:49 pm

The ominscient narrator type cheekychook references is also known as an overt narrator with psychic access to multiple characters' thoughts. Overt narrators have a little more freedom to make transitions between multiple characters within scenes than covert narators, sort of like fly-on-the-wall-observing narrators with well-chosen greater or lesser range of motility and psychic accesses and reader-visible narrator presences.

Susanna Clarke's 2004 novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell uses that kind of narrative voice and narrative point of view. Many consensuses consider it old fashioned. It is out of vogue. I believe the voice works well in the novel due to its Nineteenth century setting, when that narrative voice was vogue.

Tom Clancy's 1991 novel The Sum of All Fears has a more overt narrator but also has access to multiple character thoughts within scenes because it's less a character driven plot and more an event, setting, and idea driven plot.

Another noticeable difference between the two novels is Clarke's narrator overtly expresses subjective commentary. Clancy's doesn't as much, perhaps somewhat only in the prelude-like first chapter, but it's an invisible, objective observation-reporting narrator, sort of just-the-facts, ma'am, journalistic-like.
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Re: How many POV's?

Post by Steppe » June 23rd, 2010, 2:48 am

I don't think the overt/omniscient is as out of vogue as it seems.
I like certain first person narrative by my favorite authors but they lack the depth
of a trusted narrator observing with the reader the complexity of the conflicts between
characters and the sets of characters that form alliances as the conflict reaches the point
of no return.
I think first person is easier and more chummy in the; "see it my way it's the most accurate way."
I always overdue first person narrative to make sure the main character is second guessed as they
approach a partial victory that leaves some of their first person assumptions in the dust.
Ultimately the overt narrator is always present as the editorial function of the author writing
as a character involved in a fictional setting.
It's an interesting dichotomy of approach the overt all knowing story teller verses the passionate
voice of an involved principal overcoming obstacles and meeting challenges.
First person is most effective when a writer becomes some person they could never imagine being
and tells the story successfully. One way or another I think this subject over regularly from both points
of view and use flashbacks and broadcast style events to switch voices back and forth when I think it works.

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Re: How many POV's?

Post by JABrown » June 23rd, 2010, 7:29 am

Hi khanes,

I have mainly written in third person, though my current WIP is in first. For me it was more a question of character, since the only way in to my MCs mind seemed to be to have him tell the story in first person.

When handling multiple POVs in third person, I tend to either separate it very clearly by chapter, or if I have the changes happen within chapter to clearly signal the new POV by beginning the section/scene with their name, almost like mini chapters within the larger one.

I don't think that multiple POVs are more or less boring - or richer or poorer - as a reader, but there is definitely a sense of a richer canvas when writing a multiple POV novel as opposed to the first person.

Have you tried to leave those nine first pages aside for a little more time before going back to them? Give yourself the distance to step back before assessing them. Also, you may find that if you continue writing, the characters voices will become clearer, more fluid and easier to define and differentiate as you go along. When you then go back for a second pass, you may be able to find ways of heightening those voices in the beginning sections as well.

At the end of the day, I would suggest pushing on a little further. If in a couple of chapters you're still struggling, it might be a sign that you need to change.

Most importantly, good luck!!

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Re: How many POV's?

Post by khanes » June 23rd, 2010, 1:21 pm

Wow, thanks for the suggestions everyone. It sounds like I may need to marinate with my characters a little bit more to make them stand out. Maybe I should write down quirks, their histories, likes/dislikes, so I can get to know them better. I've read women's fiction books with multipe POV's where there is NO change between the character voices, and others, like the aforementioned Poisonwood Bible, or certain Jodi Picoult books that do an exceptional job with character voice. I also need to decide whether my particular story needs three voices. My idea is to write a women's fiction (possibly chick lit, but I hate that title) novel with three college friends in their late 20's in Portland, Oregon, where each have their own difficulties with dating. These women decide to track down men in their own natural habitat: Portland brewpubs. The women challenge each other to date a new guy every week, and taste a new microbrew every week. My story will track their progress as each discover new aspects of themselves, and their eyes are opened to men they'd never consider dating. So far, this is a very loose idea, and I may decide its dumb and to scrap it altogether :) I probably just need to think through the story and the characters a little bit more!

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Re: How many POV's?

Post by polymath » June 23rd, 2010, 3:39 pm

Intriguing, brewpub crawling women. I used to be a pub crawler, built out and worked a microbrewery that's still a successful going concern. I had to move on from there though. Health reasons caused me to stop drinking. C'est la vie.

Consider the men and their tastes in beers, porters, ales, lagers, lambics, weizens, hops character, pub food, and cigar accompaniments as reflections of the mens' characters and personalities and therefore the women's character reflections and personalities, if the women's tastes in men are meant to be reflections of their personalities. Seems to me distinguishing their personalities by their beer and pub atmosphere tastes is a good way to characterize them.

There's quite a niche market for breweriana nationwide. Fiction related to brewpubs strikes me as targeting the niche. Gals who frequented brewpubs I noted had some rugged brass in their jeans. Perhaps not too unsurprisingly, a number loved the rich and dark porters.

I was partial to a stout Irish porter in winter, my favorite has a sweet coffee and chocolate bouquet with a hint of mint finish, a crisp lager or lambic in summer, refreshing citrusey bouquets were my preference. Darts and craft homebrew tasting competitions were my favorite pub pasttimes.

Bad beers we called straw brews as a code word to spare sensitive feelings. They have a vinegar and stale straw bouquet from being spoiled by bacterial contamination and/or excess air and sunlight exposure. Should be sewered, not served. Another brewpub term of note: growler, a container for carrying take-away beer. In the pre-Prohibition era, a growler was a bucket of beer "runners," trade apprentices, collected from the local brewpub and delivered to senior workers working in the shops. Anymore, growlers take many forms. Adjunct is another term of note. An adjunct brew is one made with any ingredient other than water, malt, hops, and yeast, except in some vernaculars wheat for weisbiers.

If I were to characterize myself based on my brew preferences, appearance-wise I'm a pale stout. Personality-wise, I'm a three-row barley malt and Saaz, Hallertau, and Strissel hops complected lambic. I'm as tempestuous as a bubbling wort freshly innoculated with yeast when I'm aggravated, as smooth as a pale ale when I'm content, and as sparkling as a bright lager when I'm in my comfort zone.
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Re: How many POV's?

Post by Aimée » June 23rd, 2010, 4:20 pm

I've had a problem with this before. Unfortunately, I had too many characters to write from the first person, even multiple first persons, like each chapter. I tried cutting characters or combining, and that didn't work very well. I tried third person omniscient, third limited, but no matter what I did, the story didn't work. I love this story, but I just can't seem to get it right. I think after I practice and finish my current WIP, I'll go back and take a look at it again. I'm sorry, I'm not really helping you. :)

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Re: How many POV's?

Post by Down the well » June 23rd, 2010, 4:32 pm

polymath wrote:If I were to characterize myself based on my brew preferences, appearance-wise I'm a pale stout. Personality-wise, I'm a three-row barley malt and Saaz, Hallertau, and Strissel hops complected lambic. I'm as tempestuous as a bubbling wort freshly innoculated with yeast when I'm aggravated, as smooth as a pale ale when I'm content, and as sparkling as a bright lager when I'm in my comfort zone.
HA! And how many lagers does it take to come up with that self-description, Polymath? Kidding. :)

Actually, I also thought that basing the character's personality traits on the different brew characteristics - as Polymath so brilliantly demonstrated - would be a neat little trick. I like the premise of the story, but instead of letting your characters marinate, I think you'll have to let them ferment!

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Re: How many POV's?

Post by khanes » June 23rd, 2010, 4:40 pm

Polymath, I loved your descriptions of beer and breweries! Man, you know a LOT. I frequent brewpubs here in Portland; I believe Portland may have more brewpubs per capita than any other US city....or at least its up there. I may have to use you for a source while writing my book :) Too bad you can't drink beer anymore. My favorites are pale ales, Pilsners, hefeweizen and lagers. The stouts and porters are a little too heavy for me. But great idea to define the women's personalities by the types of beer they learn to love. Your post definately gave me more food (beer) for thought!

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Re: How many POV's?

Post by polymath » June 23rd, 2010, 5:39 pm

You're welcome, khanes, to tap the polymath knowledge base. Another area for consideration of the characters: Humans being socially intradependent entities tend to run in troupes. One troupe member typically dominates. One alpha female and two betas seems to me an ideal number relationship for depicting a troupe's interpersonal and public dynamics, and for depicting as much personality differences and similarities as a narrative needs. I've noticed one alpha can sway two betas, contrarily, two betas acting in concert can sway one alpha, a triumvirate troupe dynamic for antagonism's purposes and problems.

What defines an alpha's perceived superiority and personality magnetism is a matter for wide conjecture. Appearance has been done, though it is superficial, charisma and force of personality too, less so women's accomplishments and achievements, which is largely identified with male pecking order stratification, except in other social beings' societies successful mating strategies and consequent successful procreation tends to distinguish alphas from betas. However, a corps of Feminist Art and Literature movements explores womankind's unique roles and unique contributions to larger society and diminishes the signficances of biological functions. What might be each character's goal ideal they privately and/or publicly strive for?

What if the alpha is a diehard fan of brewpubs for whatever reason, like, say, she wants to own one, the other two are along for the experience at first? There's a subtle trend in an area of Western philosophy regarding the pursuit of enlightenment, where an aspirant who seeks enlightenment unintentionally guides companions to their enlightenment first. And from accommodating their needs, the aspirant then finds his or her own enlightenment. I guess, I'm kind of riffing off of Tom Robbins' Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. Although it was written by a man, it does go into some of what I've said above.
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