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Author Topic: Multiple main characters, POVs
thayeller
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How do you balance multiple main characters?

For Example: A have a story in the works and the more I have written the more characters who didn't initial have a strong voice are getting their own chapters because they are more important. I have two main characters who are where most of the story comes from. A few chapters for one and then a couple for the other, rotating. Their stories are stronger told separately but in the same area (one book). They are working towards the same goal, from different locations so they aren't in the same chapters at all except the beginning and the end.

In most things I have written - they have been shorter and just one POV - now I am balancing 2 with occasional ones popping.

[This message has been edited by thayeller (edited August 14, 2009).]


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skadder
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I've read a lot of stories (novels) with multiple POVs. The fact you are doing via chapters is good, although many novels simply have a scene break when they change POV.

I would steer away from making to many people too important and remember that each persons POV is a story in itself and so should have a story arc.


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Crystal Stevens
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I agree with Skadder. Who's story is it? Once you decide that, stick with that character's story and don't stray from it. You can change POV's, but keep your MC constant and don't change. Multiple MC's is fine, but I personally wouldn't do more than two at a time, and one should be stronger than the other one. Stick to the original idea of your story. Once that idea is determined don't stray from it. This makes for a tighter and more interesting story that will hold your reader's interest much more than if you drift away from your original idea and lose the story.
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Zero
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I don't care about keeping the POV's in any kind of balance, I'll gladly give more time to one character over another if the first's take on any given scene is more interesting. I also don't care about switching chapter by chapter. That's a fine convention if you want to use it, but I don't think you should be constrained by it.

Here's my rule of thumb:

Tell the scene from the character's perspective that is most interesting, for that scene.


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SchamMan89
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I'm afraid I have to disagree with you, Zero. Interesting is good, but I think as an author we have to do whatever we can to build the story.

I mean...if we have a murder seen by a number of people, where should the author put the POV? If the story is about revenge, maybe it would be best to have the event seen through the eyes of a family member. It would be interesting to have the killing recounted through the eyes of a nearby dalmatian, but would that necessarily help the story?

Just my two cents.
~Chris


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Zero
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quote:
It would be interesting to have the killing recounted through the eyes of a nearby dalmatian

If by "interesting" you think I mean "stupid".


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Zero, are you getting ready for a flame war?
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Zero
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No. But I don't like people creatively misinterpreting my points.

The POV that is most interesting at any given time is, with few exceptions, the character who is most able to act and move the story forward. Or, sometimes, it's the character who's most affected by what's going on.

So unless there's something damn spectacular about that dalmation, it's a pretty poor example of what I was talking about. Sorry if I wasn't clear.


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rich
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Zero, I can't speak for SchamMan89, but I think he was just using an extreme example as a way to highlight the difference between your use of "interesting" and "build[ing] the story". I don't think he was implying any stupidity.

I agree, generally, with what you said about the POV in your last post. However, based on your other comments, I'm not sure if you're advocating switching POV's within chapters, scenes, or what? Chapters are fine; James Ellroy does it well, and I think George R.R. Martin has been mentioned.

But I think "interesting" only goes so far, and it definitely doesn't mean one should switch POVs to the detriment of the story, OR the reader's ability to follow the story.


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Zero
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Fair enough. All I'm advocating is that it's okay to switch POV's if that improves the story, basically. And you don't have to conform it to some kind of convention.

I don't think you ever have to choose between writing something interesting and building the story. They're the same thing. If you have to write something boring to build your story then your story sucks.


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MrsBrown
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quote:
If you have to write something boring to build your story then your story sucks.
Sweeping negative statements aren't particularly helpful.

A writer could have a setup scene that is required by the plot, where the scene is boring. It may just be a matter of finding an angle or subplot that makes it interesting. A flaw in one scene or a slow scene does not equate to an entire story that "sucks".

[This message has been edited by MrsBrown (edited August 18, 2009).]


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Zero
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quote:
Sweeping negative statements aren't particularly helpful.
Maybe not but they sure are zingy.
"Writer's block is your subconscious mind telling you 'this sucks!"

Any scene can be told in an interesting way. If somehow you can't manage to do that, maybe you should re-evaluate its importance to the story. People don't pay $ to be bored.


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Zero
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But you're absolutely right. It doesn't mean the story sucks, I misspoke. It means the scene sucks.
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alliedfive
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I realize we are splitting hairs somewhat, but I agree with Zero. There is always a most interesting POV in each scene, and if that POV is still boring, your story is boring.

If your "set up" scene is boring, and editor/reader will never make it to the payoff.


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MrsBrown
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Yeah, I agree that every scene should be interesting. So what is this thread about?
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Zero
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Conventions of multiple POV's.

My argument is that you don't need to worry about adhering to strict conventions so long as you pick the most natural POV for any given scene. By natural I mean: interesting, important, most empowered to act, etc.


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extrinsic
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Lord of the Rings, one narrative point of view, multiple character points of view, and multiple point of view characters.

Harry Potter, one narrative point of view, single character point of view, single point of view character. The narrator never loses touch with Mr. Potter.

Wuthering Heights, one narrative point of view, but two narrators, debateable whether multiple character points of view and whether multiple point of view characters.

Dune, one narrative point of view, multiple character points of view, multiple point of view characters.

Multiple narrative points of view aren't prohibited, but good stories with that are extremely rare and challenging to write and read.

Add in multiple timelines, then multiple narrative points of view, multiple character points of view, and multiple point of view characters and a story might be difficult to read let alone write.


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Zero
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I'm not very clear on the difference between narrative POV's and Character POV's. What I'm talking about when I say POV is "through which character's eyes are we seeing the scene." So, whatever one that is (I assume character POV) that is what I've been referring to.
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Zero
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Oh and in some of the later Harry Potter books we get snippets from other characters points of view. Like the whole Snape scene in Book 6.
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Kaz
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And for god's sake, whatever you do, don't let it turn into the wheel of time.

Also, to be precise, Dune's narration, at least the first Dune, is omniscient. Herbert will frequently relate the thoughts of various characters during the same scene.


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extrinsic
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Narrative point of view, character point of view, and point of view character often overlap in first person narratives. In subjective third person narratives, they're sometimes three distinct perspectives. O. Henry's "Gift of the Magi" has a subjective narrator with a distinct narrative point of view, no overt character point of view, and a distinct point of view character. Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" has a narrative point of view and no overt character point of view, nor overt point of view character. Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions is a hoary and complicated ride through a manifold of perspectives, near as I can tell, each and all and every one in all possible permutations and combinations of subjective first person omniscient.

Tone or attitude is one factor distinguishing a narrative point of view and a character point of view from a point of view character. Narrative point of view when objective in tone is nearly or entirely invisible. Tone then comes from a character's point of view, ideally subjective. How a narrator or character interpretaton of a theme, motif, or circumstance informs a story distinguishes their standing to a story's perspectives.

Psychic access to a point of view character's thoughts distinguishes a narrative point of view from a character point of view. When a narrator subjectively interprets a point of view character's thoughts and sensations, that adds a potential layer of meaning, complexity, and possibly distance. An objective narrator depicts a point of view character's thoughts and sensations without filtering.

When a character point of view subjectively interprets a different character's, who's a point of view character, thoughts and sensations, that too adds a potential layer of complexity, filtering, meaning, and possibly distance. However, a character point of view objectively accessing another character's thoughts and sensations stretches believability unless there's some mind reading going on in the frame of the story.

Narrative and character points of view are not just who's looking at who or what, they're also the tone-attitude-slant of who's perceiving and filtering who and what. Complex perspectives use all three in parallels and discordances that meaningfully inform a story.

I don't have a copy of Potter installment 6 to hand--and the library has been closed for eight weeks, scheduled to reopen in a week or so maybe--but I recollect feeling out of touch with Potter in the Snape interlude that was somehow reedemed in the novel, same with other stretches of point of view maintenance. I've not seen the movie, but the movies don't maintain narrative point of view as tightly as the novels, nor can they without disruptive voiceovers.


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thayeller
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I thought I would show up in this discussion. It has been helpful.

Random, but related question - what about POV change in a chapter?

What if you have a story start with one character, but they leave the room and it switches to someone else because that room is where the action of the story is.


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WBSchmidt
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quote:
What if you have a story start with one character, but they leave the room and it switches to someone else because that room is where the action of the story is.

I have seen several novels that do this and it works fine for me. Just make sure you have some form of scene break (blank lines between the paragraphs) so that the reader knows that a transition will occur in the upcoming scene.

--William


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extrinsic
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A strategy for depicting multiple point of view characters' thoughts and sensations then might surface from focusing on who's the narrator in relation to a story. An objective and entirely invisible reportorial narrator who knows all the salient information after the fact might know all the salient characters' thoughts and sensations, like in a police report detailing a horrendous murder spree. Past-present tense for it's after-the-fact-when-all-is-known quality works best in that scenario. That narrative point of view: objective third person singular reportorial omniscient past-present tense.

The attributes of a narrative or character point of view: tone, grammatical person and number, psychic access, and tense, ideally inform what a narrator's or involved character's point of view relationship is to a story. Access to multiple point of view characters--their thoughts and sensations--in a scene is generally labeled omniscient, but even there there's a spectrum of possibilities from unbiased reportorial to heavily biased filtering and depth of psychic access through a narrative or another character's point of view.

Omniscient psychic access is widely deprecated in present-day writing circles, but, like anything else, it's not an absolute prohibition. In part some of the resitance to omniscient access derives from reading comprehension skills. It's hard to keep up with who's who and who's doing, thinking, feeling what in intricate point of view stories.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited August 19, 2009).]


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