Juggling multiple POV characters? Do THIS!

Congratulations! You’ve gone and done a heroic thing and put multiple heroes in your book. As the saying goes: two heroes (or three or four or…) are better than one.  Yes, I’m paraphrasing a tad.  My point is, you have a big, beautiful, complex book – more than likely part of a series – and you’ve woven together a rich tapestry of personalities, quirks, talents and phobias in the form of multiple point-of-view characters.  You’ve got guts, and you’re in good company. In the world of Young Adult literature, there are many fine books told through multiple points-of-view. Maggie Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls and Raven Boys series. The Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo. Sabaa Tahir’s Ember in the Ashes set. And, one of my favorite multiple POV series, The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. By the time WINTER rolls along, Meyer balances at least eight (EIGHT!) points of view.  I know there are more books that fall in this category, across all categories; these are just the ones I can name off the top of my head.

Let me throw one more out there: The FourBorn Saga series by D.M. Domosea. Haven’t heard of it?  You will, my friend, you will.  I have more to share with you on this subject, however, than just a shameless plug of my own work-in-progress.  I have a trick I deployed in crafting and editing my multiple-POV work that I wager you might find useful.

Allow me to set the stage: the series features four main characters. These characters are wildly diverse in background, interests, culture, appearance, etc. They’re also quadruplets, but nevermind that for now. The story is told through their alternating points-of-view, separated by chapter based on which character has the biggest rat in the race for that chapter’s scene. Initially, I wrote the book using the much-maligned “head-hopping” style of narration (that’s all fodder for another post…), but eventually, I split up the chapters among the girls. However, I found that just splitting the scenes wasn’t enough.

Dedicating an entire chapter to one character POV at a time gives a writer more time to develop and enrich that character. Yay! And, oh no!  Yay, because robust character development is a must for any good novel.  And, oh no, because this means I had a lot of work to do.  A lot. Before the Great Divide, the action carried much of the plot, and the character development was done in spurts in reaction to the action.

With each sister now getting an entire chapter at a time, I was able to delve into more of what makes each one tick. I enhanced their inner dialogue, their opinions of the other characters, and their motivations within each scene. Doing this with a 94,000-word book took about four weeks and added nearly 2500 words, but I got it done.  Yet…I still wasn’t done.

This is where we come to the point of this post. In four weeks, I was able to rework nearly every scene from each chosen girl’s perception, add the necessary inner dialogue, and edit for grammar and flow. Each character now had a more prominent voice, but I worried that their voices were neither unique nor consistent. Enter my little trick: I saved a master copy (always save a master copy before taking on major revisions!) and then divided the book up by POV chapters.  (Note: If you divide POV by scenes and not chapters, make sure you label the scene with the parent chapter, so that all the little kiddies find their ways back to the proper place.) With this method, each sister’s chapters run seamless from one to the next – all the Oriana chapters in one document, the Evadne chapters in another, and so on.  Doing this has had two benefits.

Benefit #1 – I was able to concentrate on one character voice at a time, without the distraction of the other girls. I flowed from one Isaura chapter to the next, which provided a more direct eye/ear on her personality. I was able to ensure she was consistently stoic, haughty and humorless, but perceptive and patient, in her interactions with the others and her environment.  Same-same with the other girls.

It was also much easier to check for consistent use of character-appropriate metaphors and phrases within their inner dialogues, which can enhance character voice. For example, Oriana is a warrior and Evadne is an artsy type.  Of the two, Evadne is most likely to think of an issue in terms of music, and yet, I had Oriana comparing a situation to melodies and tempos in one scene. Concentrating on “just the warrior” or “just the scientist” (that’s Kaia) allows me to spot something that might be out of character and correct it.

It’s also easier to build on issues, thoughts, and quirks from chapter to chapter.  Remembering something Kaia said or thought in chapter 4 when it might be appropriate for her to recall it in chapter 20 is easier to do when they are only two or three chapters away, not sixteen.

Benefit #2 – Consistency is key, and not just in character voice but in actions and dialogue, as well. For example, my four main POV characters meet for the first time in this book. They don’t know each other’s names yet, and so they think of each other as descriptors: “the tall, awkward girl” or “the wispy whiny one.” Eventually, they’ll refer to one another by their proper names, but this needs to be consistent.  Oriana can’t be “Oriana” to Isaura in chapter 10, and then “the demon girl with the leather wings and bone hammer” in chapter 14, as if they haven’t been introduced.  (Side note: She can, however, be “demon girl” anytime Isaura wants to belittle or vilify her, which happens a lot in this book…)

This “divide and conquer” method also helps when it comes to ensuring POV characters don’t repeat themselves needlessly during inner monologues. Sometimes this is necessary to keep your characters on target with their goals, or to remind the reader of the stakes.  But, each pondering should reveal new information or be measured against information that is new to the character.  You don’t want your character to sound like a mopey broken record, and this editing method will help highlight those potential issues.

Once done with this editing trick, just shuffle the chapters back together, and voila!

I’d like to note that this method doesn’t catch every consistency issue, which is why chronological or actual chapter order editing is still essential. Your dragon warrior may wield a sword with her right hand in all her chapters, but you need to ensure she wields it that way in other character’s POV scenes, too.  But, I guarantee that if you employ this Great Divide editing method, each of your POV characters will have strong, consistent voices throughout that big, beautiful, complex book of yours.

Shoot me an email to let me know if you try this, and how it works for you!

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