Point of view? What about this stunning view! Banff, Canada. Photo by Kate Ota 2018
Remember last week how I ended by saying that my next post would be about trimming words? Well, despite deleting a chapter, I’ve managed to add 1000 words to my WIP. So, I’m going to go ahead and say I’m not qualified to write a word trimming post just yet.
It’s been a while since I added to my Easier Editing series, so I decided to write about one of the things my first round of beta readers said I did really well. Let’s talk about how to make different POVs in the same book feel like different people. They’ll all have your author voice naturally, so what you need to do is make them feel distinct from one another. The goal is that a reader should be able to put your book down, then come back and know who the POV character is without flipping back to the last chapter or scene break. (Need a refresher on POVs in general? I have a post for that!)
Here are the top things I do to accomplish unique POVs in a multi-POV book.
Once I build my characters and understand who they are, I decide what kinds of words they’ll use. A laboratory researcher might use precise and scientific language. Creative characters would use more colorful language. Someone really into trains might make analogies that always go back to trains. Also keep in mind what words your characters might not know. Think of Disney’s Ariel, who called forks dingle-hoppers because she’d understandably never heard the word fork. Perhaps you have an older character who wouldn't know teen slang, or a teenager who would be less likely to know name brands of alcohol.
Whatever is driving your character is bound to be on their mind. Think of a conversation between two characters. If told from one POV, the interaction may be boring pleasantries ending with a refusal to hang out. How rude! When told from the other POV, we might learn how this character is desperately avoiding anyone coming over and discovering the dead body in her basement. Something that urgent is going to color the narration significantly. Less urgent goals should still have an impact, too.
I tend to choose if my characters are overall optimistic or pessimistic, and then what mood they’re in for each scene. I end up with things like angry optimist, happy pessimist, irritated pessimist, etc. It’s much easier to write a specific voice knowing that combination of world view and mood.
It’s easier to have a very wild, quirky character voice if they don’t come up often. It’s harder to sustain and use that voice to convey complex plot points. You don’t want to get so niche that this character describes something and your reader is left with no understanding of what just happened. Let’s use an extreme example. Think about Shakespeare being read in modern classrooms. You read that aloud as a class and then the teacher had to explain what that entire scene meant. Yes, it’s in English, but man oh man is that Elizabethan voice difficult to decipher for modern audiences. If one of your POVs was written so uniquely, they’d stand out, but not in the way you want. However, if you toss in a relevant sonnet every now and then, you won’t lose your reader because they’ll trust you to lead them back to the more digestible story soon.
That’s my basic strategy for differentiating POVs in my multi-POV WIP. Do you have different strategies you use? Let’s discuss in the comments!