Mastering Multiple POV in 6 Steps – Fantasy Writing Discussions November 11, 2013

It’s helpful seeing how other writers tackle thorny writing issues such as multiple POV – hence my repost here. My personal advise for first time novelist is to pick a simple format such as a single POV and single not-a-series book. However if you are “crazier” than the average writer then I say “full steam ahead,” don’t give up, and learn as much as you can as you go because it’ll be a long hard road.

The below post is from Mythic Scribes. Hope you enjoy.

Fantasy Writing Discussions November 11, 2013.

Eddard Stark
Multiple POV storytelling has a bad rap.

Sure, the practice of splitting a single narrative across multiple characters’ perspectives has a long history. And its popularity continues to expand as our society grows ever more distrustful of singular truth, in favor of individual realities.

But multiple POV writing is not without its critics—and some of them are quite loud. Many writers and readers complain about poor or confusing execution. Others cite their traditional literary tastes. Why hop between multiple character’s minds, they argue, when you could tell a story more simply through one pair of eyes?

Points taken.

But let’s say you’re a fantasy writer who is (like me) hopelessly attracted to this kind of complexity. Maybe you admire Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, or Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles, or maybe Larke’s Stormlords. Each series (and many others!) uses multiple POV differently. Each has merits and foibles. And each inspires a sharp audience reaction—either adoration or dislike—in part for its perspective choices.

Multiple POV writing, then, is not for the faint of heart.

Personally, I’ve been fascinated with this approach my entire career. I also struggle to write it well. But after years of study and experimentation, I recently experienced breakthroughs that helped me start to tame this unpredictable but powerful beast.

Here’s how I craft a multiple POV novel, from start to finish:

Step 1. Determine why you need multiple POVs.

Like any other writing decision, multiple POV is a choice with consequences. I think some writers choose it just because it’s harder, or because their favorite author uses multiple POV. These are fantastic inspirations, but inspiration and intent are two different things. Some stories might be better served with a single viewpoint. So make sure your story really warrants multiple POVs before you start writing.

I’d list all the possible reasons to choose multiple POV, but this thorough blog post has done it already. (For my part, I choose multiple POV because I’m a cinematic writer with a strong alignment to the intertwined structure of TV drama. I’m also fascinated by the unreliability of individual perspectives. These are two great and common reasons to choose multiple POV.)

Step 2. Design your plot for multiple “drivers.”

Once you’ve settled your own reason for writing multiple POV, it’s time to examine your story. Here, you’ve got two choices. Either you cover a single set of events from different perspectives, or you create a multiple sets of events that deliberately move from place to place and character to character, without much “overlap coverage” of any one incident.

Personally, I choose the latter because I’m writing adventure with lots of action and mystery. Writers interested more in drama, romance, or fantasy of manners might choose the former approach.

Step 3. Assemble the appropriate cast.

Once you know what kind of plot you’re working with, it’s time to determine how many (and which) POV characters you need. Will three suffice, or do you need four? Why is each POV truly necessary? Will each POV character have a complete arc of transformation, a mini “hero’s journey” of his/her own? (I advocate this approach, personally.) Or will they simply appear as needed to move the plot along?

Most writing coaches recommend no more than three to five POV characters for writers who are just “getting the hang” of multiple POV storytelling. But honestly, there’s no hard and fast rule. Just don’t take on a casting burden you’ll later regret!

Step 4. Decide whose POV best carries each scene.

Personally I find the previous steps easy, but determining specifics is a bit more challenging. My own multiple POV novels were a mess at the scenic level until I did an analysis of scenes in A Game of Thrones (the novel). That’s when I realized the true key to scenic decision-making: Not every POV character’s scenes should be IN their POV.

For example, the first time we meet Eddard Stark, we see him through the eyes of his son Bran. This is an ideal POV to establish our concept of Eddard as wise, just, and serious about his lordly duties. Eddard’s own first POV chapter comes not long after. But if we had met Eddard in his POV first, instead of Bran’s, how might our first (and most important) impressions of him have been different?

Sometimes, it’s a toss-up about whose POV a scene should be in. In these instances I ask myself, “Who has the most to lose in this situation?” This question usually makes the best POV character obvious.

Step 5. Make each POV character unique.

Each POV character should be a living, breathing person. They should talk, behave, react, and think like themselves. After all, the magic of well-done multiple POV is its ability to shatter our comfort with one perspective. So make sure we really feel like we’re getting more than one!

Can you make us weep for the humanity within your villain? Can you grip us with a naïve child’s downward spiral into a street-hardened thief? What about the creature shunned by its human counterparts, or the political refugee struggling to “pass” as a citizen?

If all four are in the same book, there shouldn’t be any question as to whose chapter the reader is in, based purely on how the prose is written.

Step 6. Reduce to the minimum viable story.

Revising a multiple POV novel adds a few complications to an already-complex process. For one thing, you’ve got to ensure all those ornery POVs are working in harmony, and I guarantee you, they won’t “heel” after just a draft or two.

So add a POV pass (or two!) as a check on your revision list. Do you have all the POVs you need? Are any missing? Does each POV character’s story open in the right place (their own POV or someone else’s)? How unique are their psychologies, styles, and voices? Revise all the POVs together, and also revise each of them separately. You should strive to finish with no story gaps but no excess baggage, either.

Multiple POV writing sounds like a lot of work. And it is. Not everyone will agree with your choice, either, if you adopt this approach for your next project.

But if multiple POV is right for you, then wow, is it ever worth the effort! Crafting a compelling, complex story that celebrates the many, instead of the one, is an experience like no other.

I hope you find these tips helpful, but don’t forget to share your own! Have you tried multiple POV? How did it go? Which writers do you think have mastered multiple POV?

PS – If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this month, I’d be honored if you add me as a writing buddy under JourneyCraft.

Lisa Walker England writes a weekly illustrated fantasy serial, blogs about the art of storytelling, and develops sequential multimedia properties with two artist friends.

Villainy 101 Villains Are People Too How To Avoid a Protagonist-Centric Villain (repost)

Reposted from

Villainy 101: Villains Are People Too
How To Avoid a Protagonist-Centric Villain

Hello again. This is your friendly neighborhood Spy speaking.

In my extended stint as an unwelcome guest at the Academy of Ultimate Villainy, I met quite a few villains. Minor villains. Minions. Evil Henchmen. Super Villains. Criminal Masterminds. The works.

And if there’s one thing I learned, it’s that villains are not the mindless embodiment of evil that we think they are. At least not the good—bad?—ones.

Villains are people too.

Ever held a conversation with one? It’s not easy, I’ll admit. But once you can get past the typical shallow conversations about how magnificent they are, and who they’ve killed today, and their evil plans or hatred of the heroes, you’ll discover that villains are not so very different from you … though with different life plans and certain moral ambiguities.

Villains possess goals, motives, dreams, beliefs … just like anyone else. And their personal goals drive all of their actions.

A handbill printed by the Society for Villain’s Rights.

One common mistake among fledgling novelists is the tendency to make their villains protagonist-centric.

What does that mean?

A protagonist-centric villain exists for no other purpose than to make life difficult for the hero/heroine. Their one aim in life is to stop/kill/humiliate/embarrass/torture the hero/heroine.

What is their motivation? Oh, just because they enjoy seeing the hero/heroine stopped/killed/humiliated/embarrassed/tortured/etc.

Can you see the problem here?

The villain is no longer acting for himself to get what he (or she) desires. The villain acts solely to provide opposition for the hero. He is not a person. He is a puppet dancing at the tip of the author’s pen.

The author who writes such a villain strips him of any life he might have possessed in and of himself, making him little more than a robot programmed to oppose the hero.

But, you ask, how does one avoid this?

So glad you asked.

In order to avoid a protagonist-centric villain, you must look at things from the villain’s point of view.

Tip 1: Answer the question why from the villain’s perspective.

Every writer’s favorite question is why. You must know why your protagonist makes the choice that allows them to embark on their heroic journey. You must know why they fail halfway through. You must know why they are able to succeed in the end.

But you almost must know why your villain does what he or she does. And when you ask yourself why, write your answer from the villain’s perspective.

For example, instead of replying: Villain wants to destroy the protagonist because the protagonist is trying to stop the villain from dominating the world in a reign of terror.

(Can you see how this is focused on the protagonist, instead of the villain?)

Try writing: All Villain wants is power. A chance to unleash the evil genius that has always been neglected, ignored, looked down upon. The world will recognize his greatness … even if he has to force it on one person at a time at the tip of his sword. And no one is going to stand in his way.

Tip 2: Instead of looking at how the villain is getting in the protagonist’s way, try seeing how the protagonist is getting in the villain’s way.

Ever read a novel where the villain just seems to handily pop up from time to time, at just the right moment to foil the protagonist’s plan or issue some rarely-fulfilled threat? But you have no clue what the villain does the rest of the story? He just disappears whenever he’s not needed on stage. A puppet.

Don’t do that. When you outline, outline the story from the villain’s perspective. Know what the villain is trying to accomplish, and use his goals to thwart the protagonist. Know what the villain’s journey looks like. Know what the villain does when the protagonist is not around.

Which brings us to my final admonishment:

Tip 3: Get to know your villain.

Admittedly, it can be dangerous. Casual conversation with a villain usually is. But how else are you going to discover that your Dark Lord has an unnatural fear of spiders, likes cuddly kittens, and is allergic to blue cheese?

Quite a few of them are, actually.

Get to know your villain, know his deepest desires and his darkest fears, and your villain will no longer be protagonist-centric. He will possess a life of his own. Your very own Frankenstein.

I rest my case.

Tune in next time, for another lesson from the Spy and the Academy of Ultimate Villainy.

Previous Villainy 101 Posts:

10 Things Every Villain Should Avoid ~ 5 Things Every Villain Should Do ~ On Heroic Propoganda ~ 3 Steps to Launching Yourself as a Super-Villain ~ Proper Procedure for Hiring Evil Henchmen ~ How to Trap a Hero ~ Jail Breaks: What Not To Do