Sunday, June 20, 2010

Multiple POVs

SO. Let's talk about point of view.

First, some quick stats, just so you know where I'm coming from.


--Of my recent (read: decent) books, two use more than one point of view (hereafter POV.) These two are THE ANIMALS WERE GONE and ALL TOGETHER WITH FEELING, both of which you will have heard of if you are a regular reader of this blog, but the latter only if you are a REALLY regular reader. Because it has been in hiding for a little while. If you're curious about either of these, they're tagged at the end of the post. Click on the link and you'll see all the posts about 'em.
--THE ANIMALS WERE GONE is my favorite of all my manuscripts, and I love ALL TOGETHER WITH FEELING, too (though I like INVINCIBLE SUMMER more. In fact, if I ranked my top three of my YAs, it would probably be 1. ANIMALS, 2. INVINCIBLE SUMMER, 3. ALL TOGETHER WITH FEELING. Am I allowed to say this shit?)
--Here are some of my favorite books written with multiple POV, some of which are epistolatory, which may or may not be the word I'm looking for: Will Grayson, Will Grayson, The Realm of Possibility, Love Is The Higher Law, Are We There Yet, (can you tell I love David Levithan?) The Kings Are Already Here, The Year of Secret Assignments, Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, Caddy Ever After, P.S. Longer Letter Later, 33 Snowfish.
--Despite that long list, the VAST majority of my favorite books are written in one POV.

So. It is fair to say that I am far more experienced, both in reading and writing, in single POV than in multiple.

However.

I love writing multiple.

I don't know. I just love it.

I wasn't planning to write THE ANIMALS WERE GONE in two POVs. In fact, I'd already considered and dismissed the idea. It was all going to be in Craig's POV. And then I finished the first chapter, hit enter a few times, and typed LIO at the top of the page. Because apparently it was Lio's turn.

Listen, I don't pull all that shit about how I'm controlled by my characters or my books have a mind of their own or something like that, because frankly, I think that stuff is stupid. I'm sorry if I offend anyone (but seriously, if you're reading this blog and you choose THAT to be offended by...)

I love the roles my characters play in my stories. I love writing them. I smile when I write good lines for them. I don't ever forget that they aren't real people. They are words on a page. I'm happy you like them. I like them too. But they're here to tell a story--my story--and, even though I'm a romantic (I am, damn it, don't laugh) I don't like to get stuck in that sensitive writer mode of thinking your characters are real people with real minds of their own. It sounds cold-hearted, but characters are tools. And point of view is a tool. And words are tools. All of these are tools to tell your story. Characters are not beautiful and unique snowflakes, etc.

So. Lio did not jump off the page and insist I write his viewpoint or anything like that. I just knew, in that second, that Craig's part was closed for now, and it was Lio's turn, or we were only going to get half of the story. But it was a revelation that came after I'd started writing.

ALL TOGETHER WITH FEELING, on the other hand, came into my head as four different points of view, because it's a story about four kids in a high school chorus--one soprano, one alto, one tenor, and one bass. (Yes, yes, girls, I'm writing girls.) The point of views, in this case, are a bigger toll for the story than the are in ANIMALS. They form the premise of the story, while, in ANIMALS, they're just making sure that you hear from both the quiet character and the loud character.

Which leads to another problem I'm having, now that I'm hardcore revising ALL TOGETHER WITH FEELING. Keeping voices distinct. This gets harder and harder the more POVs you have, and four is definitely in tricky territory for me. I'm concentrating a lot on speech patterns, rhythm, and word choice--my bass, if run through one of those scanner things, would result in a much higher reading difficulty than my tenor. But I'm still struggling with this. My alto and my tenor are still blending together a little, and sometimes my soprano starts to sound a little like them, too.

So. Let's wrap this up. What are your thoughts on multiple POV? Do you read it? Do you write it? If you do, how do you keep the voices distinct, and how do you approach revisions? (basically, HELP ME.)

20 comments:

Oobzie said...

I don't write it simply because I like making one voice as completely distinct as possible without the possibility of overlapping them. Yet my favorite books in the Animorphs series (YUP. I know. I know) were the ones where all of them each had a chapter.

Linda said...

I've only done multiple POV once and only with two POVs. It was one girl character and one boy character, which I think helped a little. For me, the biggest part is making sure they have very different personalities which helps keep the voices a little more distinct. But four POVs is a lot and I can see how that would be tricky.

On a side note, I read Break (for the fourth time) in the hospital last night while my boyfriend was being treated for a broken rib. It seemed appropriate.

Lisa Desrochers said...

I'm offended! You may be the Hannahtron, but you don't know everything. My characters are REAL!!! Don't you try to tell me they're not, cuz I'll take my book and go home!

Okay, so I'm not really offended, but I think my characters are much less scared of me than yours are of you, because they seriously do write the story. My Personal Demons novels are told from multiple first person POVs (PD in 2 POVs, OS and HB in 3 POVs) and my characters come up with lines that I'm nowhere near good enough to think of myself. My demon just showed me a totally awesome plot twist for bk 3 that I never saw coming. I'm going to marry him and have his babies. (Because he's real dammit!)

Robby said...

There is something about novels with multiple POVs that I have always loved. The perspective, all of the different views- if it's well written, it works SO well.
I can't wait to read Animals, and All Together, and Invincible Summer. Why aren't they out yet!?

Ant said...

Heh...how timely! I wrote a blogpost about this very thing recently (much less eloquent than your post, btw, and um...I have like...three blog readers or something pathetic like that). I am struggling with this a bit myself right now, and I am actually attempting to talk myself OUT of writing in multiple POV, but it's not exacty working. Deep down, I KNOW the story will work better if told from more than one POV, but I'm scared. I'm SCARED! Good for you for jumping headlong into it. I'm hoping to read some good feedback and hints here in your comments section...

hannah said...

Ant, if you look through my archives (you don't have to, I'm summing it up right now HERE I GO) I had three readers, too, when I started. Just don't stop blogging. The internet admires persistence :)

That's interesting that you say your book will work better from more than one POV, because what I see SO often is people writing more than one POV because they're too scared to keep it in one. They're scared the reader won't understand the story unless they see every single thing that's going on, which is something that only experience and really good readers can teach you out of, I think.

Bookewyrme said...

I've begun (barely) a historical novel which is going to be in two POVs. It was originally going to be from three, but once I began writing I realized that the third voice wasn't necessary for the story and reduced it to two. I'm a little nervous about it, but we'll see how it goes!

~Lia

Claudie said...

I love love love love multiple POVs. Every time I try to restrict myself to one, I fail. Perhaps it's because most of my favourite books are in multiple POV, or perhaps its my propensity to try and see all sides of a conflict, but I can't seem to tell a story from a single viewpoint.

The only time I tried, I had an unreliable narrator with a very biased view of his actions. He said such terrible things, though, I stopped after 5000 words. His story will need another approach (or I'll have to develop a thicker skin).

Anyway. Multiple PoV = awesome. Yay, word math. :)

Becca C. said...

David Levithan is my god. Have you read Wide Awake? I'm reading it now and it's BLOWING MY MIND.

PS I totally agree about characters being tools.

But this is a timely post for me. My current WIP is written from two perspectives, but it's complicated. See, one perspective is a first-person, present-tense narrative. Fairly traditional. The second POV is from a different character, but it's epistolary (diary entries and emails to the other narrator). And another section, which I would say is a third POV, is written in IM conversations between the two narrators, who are speaking to each other as their alter-egos - role playing, basically.

It's easy for me because my narrators are entirely different people. The first-person narrator is a girl in a repressive, ultra-religious family, and her POV is very intense. The epistolary narrator is a ridiculously enthusiastic boy who uses a lot of chatspeak and makes a lot of spelling mistakes and is way more upbeat.

But before this story, I was absolute shit at multiple POVs. Everybody sounded exactly the same and a lot of information was repeated. I think multiple POV only works really well in a story with a LOT of different angles and settings, but is still unified as ONE coherent story.

maine character said...

About keeping the voices distinct, I recently read an interview with Nick Hornby in which he talked about just that:

I loved your novel, "A Long Way Down", especially the character of Maureen. Reading the book, I felt as though four different people wrote it. How did you manage to write so convincingly from four very different perspectives?

I'm really pleased that the book worked in that way for you, because it was obviously what I was pitching for. Pretty much every book I have written has been in the first person, and only recently I realised that what I really did was write extended monologues rather than novels. So I took that idea and ran with it a bit further in A Long Way Down.

I didn't begin the book until I could hear the physical speaking voices of those four characters, so when I started they were very distinct in my mind, at least, and hopefully the readers' minds too. I probably listened to those voices for a good six or seven months before I wrote a word.

Another thing that helped with creating an authentic voice was reading Hannah Moskowitz's blog. She rocks.

hannah said...

bwahahaha. I love the interview! A LONG WAY DOWN totally should have been on my list; I absolutely love it.

hannah said...

Becca--I have not read Wide Awake. I've heard it's, er, not his best...

Becca C. said...

It definitely isn't his best - the characters are not the greatest. It's more of a vehicle to convey a message. But that message is incredible.

But as far as his books go, Will Grayson, Will Grayson is amaaazing. And it is an incredible POV book. But that could just be because it's written by two people xD

Jennifer Walkup said...

I love writing multiple POV. It's really hard to get distinct voice but once you get it, it can really work. When I revise, I usually revise all chaps of each POV together and then read through the whole thing for continuity.

Gary Couzens said...

Some more novels I've read recently in multiple first person are Jenny Valentine's The Ant Colony (two POVs) and Patrick Ness's The Ask and the Answer (two - the sequel Monsters of Men, which I've not read yet, has three). Oh and don't forget Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist.

As you know, Hannah, I beta-read All Together With Feeling last year and enjoyed it a lot, so I do hope it gets published. I was paying attention to your use of four narrators because at the time I was planning my own three-narrator novel Partings and Greetings, which is now at third-draft stage. I noticed you kept your narrators in the same order throughout, which is not something I was able to do with my three.

Trying to keep the voices distinct is tricky. One of my three has a more staccato style, and you'll find more sentence fragments in her chapters than in the others. Another one speaks in more grammatical sentences and I tried to make her a little verbally selfconscious because she's bilingual (Polish and English). The third narrator (male) is somewhere in between. Whether this all works is something my betas will tell me...

Terry Odell said...

I'd say at least 75% of the books I read have more than one POV character. I generally write more than one (it's virtually 'required' of romance), but prefer that the number of POV characters in a book have very good reasons for commanding center stage.

As long as transitions are clear, it's not a problem for me as a reader. I can even handle the relatively few books with both 1st and 3rd person POV -- Gabaldon comes to mind immediately.

Michelle said...

I love multiple points of view. I think it's totally great to be able to know what is truly going on with more than one character.

As far as writing more than one I never have up until right now. What I'm currently working on alternates between two perspectives and it's a lot of fun to write. Being able to switch from one POV to another really helps keep things fresh and different seeing as both characters couldn't be more dissimilar.

Izzy G. said...

I like multiple points of view when I'm reading books. It's interesting to see other characters' perspectives on a story. And in fact, when I was six and considered myself to be a soon-to-be author, all the stories I wrote were from multiple POVs. (They were horrible stories, too. My six-year-old self found it necessary to detail every scene from three perspectives :P )

But now I don't really like writing from 2+ POVs. It's just a lot of work keeping the voices separate; I have enough trouble establishing one voice for one narrator!

Sherryl said...

I've just started something (which seems to be the weirdest thing I've ever attempted) and it has three points of view, one of which is some kind of narrator or omniscient voice. I keep thinking it's not going to work, but so far I can't see how else to tell the story, and story, for me, is crucial - as crucial as voice and character. Your post reminded me that it's whatever works!

The Celebrated Author said...

Oh my God I love you. I'm going to go to the library and read one of your books pronto. Ha ha! You took ten minutes to win me over.