#Writers, how do you handle multiple viewpoints in fiction? #amwriting #amediting

mistakes

As I am still buried in the endless edits for The Prince’s Son, this will be another short(ish) blog, reflecting on how I’m tackling the multiple viewpoint characters in the book – and perhaps then I might find out how others do it as well.

When I began this book, I had 6 viewpoint characters. I quickly realised that 2 of those could easily be told in a separate book, and indeed that would work better, because although the event occur concurrently in real time, after the opening, the action does not intersect. So those 2 viewpoints now have their own book under construction, which will be no. 3 in what has now become a quadrilogy.

The 4 remaining characters were all necessary to this tale, so I set off as usual, then discovered I was having a hard time keeping track of each of the individual character arcs I’d planned.

My solution? I created 4 separate files, one for each character, and wrote their individual stories in isolation. Of course there were times when they were involved in the same events, and although I didn’t write strictly to the timeline, I found jumping between characters not such a challenge when I could look back over a single file and see the events and progress of that one character alone, without having to skip through multiple chapters of other characters to trace the individual evolution of one.

When it came to putting it all together, I used the Scrivener cork board feature (if you haven’t seen this, I recommend taking a look). I created one virtual card per scene, with a one sentence summary, and colour coded to each individual character. That meant at one glance I could shuffle scenes around to distribute the viewpoints more evenly while sticking to the overall timeline with ease.

I write in Word, so I admit I had to do the hard work of cutting and pasting the scenes together to create the whole book, because I haven’t yet figured out if it is possible to export from Scrivener back to Word. (If you know how, I would love to hear.) It didn’t take too long, and I’ve become very happy with this way of working.

So now that I’m editing, I am literally going through each file without reference to the others to see weaknesses in the individual character arcs and strengthen them before final assembly.

Does any one else do anything remotely resembling this? Or do you not tackle that many viewpoints in a single book? I needed to, so I ‘invented’ this way of coping, but I’m sure curious as to how other people do it.

expert

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13 comments

  1. ichabod2014ic · · Reply

    It sounds like you know what you are doing to me, Deborah.
    I have come to the conclusion that most writers have a method that works for them, and probably no one else.
    My method is linear. From start to finish without taking a breath.
    Here is a link to a young blogger/writers recent thoughts on writing.
    http://paperfury.com/write-perfect-bestselling-novel/

    1. Hey, Icky, that’s a great fun blog! Thanks for sharing it 😀
      And don’t forget to breath sometimes…

  2. I love multiple POV’s, Debby, and have never written a book from a single one. Yet. 🙂 I tend to write in a linear fashion, not skipping around too much during the main story, so I haven’t gotten mixed up yet. I know where each character IS (physically) when each chapter is underway, so I just move between them in sequence. I DO make sure that each POV is in a different scene, and each scene is set off from the preceding one via a space and usually a dingbat of some sort, to make it very clear we’ve moved to a different character, or day.

    I juggled four POV’s in Swamp Ghost that way, and it seemed to work. With WRR, I had three POV’s in one time frame, and two in another. The book involves two women who lived in the same cabin, 50 years apart, so I moved back and forth from the first owner’s life to the current one. Again, I used separate scenes and/or chapters to keep it all clear.

    I like your system for your more complicated story line. I’ve used Scrivener for one book, but spent more time monkeying around with it than I did actually writing. (I’m a dweeb). So for my newest one, I’m just working in Word. I do have character sheets and What-If sheets, but they are just in the book folder. This book also has 4 POV’s, though two of them are predominant.

    Thanks for sharing your technique, because I never know when I might want to try it a different way. It sounds like you’ve got a good handle on it.

    1. Marcia, I’m also meticulous about separating viewpoints – there’s nothing so infuriating as ‘head hopping’ in a novel. (Along with cliff hanger endings…)
      I think what caused my issue at the start of this book was that because it’s a sequel, I was finding myself re-capping info from the first book over and over again, and I struggled to remember if I’d already covered a particular point with a specific character or not. I don’t think I’d have had the problem with a first in series.
      Awesome how you managed to keep things straight in WRR with the time difference involved.
      I’ve really enjoyed writing from so many different perspectives this time around. Prince’s Man had limited viewpoints, and Desprite Measures, being in first person, only has the one, which brings its own challenges!
      I reckoned most people would probably work linearly, though I know a few who don’t, but they are meticulous plotters, with every detail known before they start writing. For me, that would kill the creativity and enjoyment of the process. Hence, the evolution of ‘my own system’.

      1. Yeah, I’m more of a pantser/plotter combination, myself, because I enjoy the flexibility of changing some things on the fly. I guess that makes me a plantser? 🙂 I don’t mind one of my POV characters being written in first person, but everyone else has to be third. And the one in first person is the one the book centers around. Throughout the Wake-Robin Ridge series, that would be Sarah, and all the others are in 3rd person. In Swamp Ghosts, it was Maggie, but in the sequel, Finding Hunter, I stuck to 3rd person all the way. I’ll probably do the rest of that series in 3rd, just because each book will be about different people in the town of Riverbend. Not like in the WRR series, where the Cole family is the central focus now, and Sarah is the heart of the family.

        So many choices, and each impacting the shape and feel of your book. I love that about writing! It makes it new and exciting every time. Says she, who has only written five books, so far. I suppose that new and exciting element could wear off over time. Maybe. 😉

        And thanks for the compliment on WRR. Now that I’ve written a couple more books, I might have chosen to do that one differently, but since I get a lot of kind words about it, maybe it’s good I didn’t know any better. 😀

      2. I do so hope the excitement never wears off – although I’ve only published two so far, I’ve written more than that, and I found swapping between micro-genres to be very refreshing (epic to urban fantasy and back), so there’s an option to help keep things fresh.
        I like the idea of a plantser – that’s what I am too. Oh, and that’s just reminded me I need to go water the garden…

  3. I guess I’ve never really thought about restricting POVs from numerous characters as long as I’m writing in 3rd person past tense.. Some characters have large parts, while others may only have small opinions, but all the perceptions add up to a natural flow of storytelling. If the plot sounds ambiguous as far as who is speaking or thinking about certain key items, confusion can result for the reader. That’s when you know some extraneous material needs to be removed or rewritten. I think I personally would have a problem with writing the story 4 different ways, then trying to piece them together in a smooth, forward progressing flow, but we all create differently. I write in scenes like a movie or play and must have the interaction of characters to write my scenes. I actually act them out, speaking the dialogue, experiencing the action, emotions, etc. I hope this helps you untangle the POV issue.

    1. Deb, I also write in movie-style scenes, but I think in many ways I’m writing similarly to the way a movie is filmed. They don’t film scenes in order, they cut it all together later at the editing stage, so I guess I’m taking that route for my structure.

      1. Deborah, interesting concept. I may have to try that on one of my shorter novellas to see if it works for me. I actually believe I do some channeling when I write, but that seems to come with the paranormal genres I write. I always have a structure of beginning, supporting events, and ending, but my characters have been known to take on a life of their own, so to speak. Yes, the cut-and-paste and rearrange stage, the last rewrite before editing is always the most grueling. I hope it goes smoothly now that you’ve figured out what goes in which book in the series.

  4. Excellent post Deb. I should think keeping characters viewpoints etc, should make life easier using a stylesheet, which sounds similar to what you’re doing. But Scrivener, whoa, the beast I’ve yet to master. Although, learning here that you are working in Scrivener and pasting to Word does have my interest. I may in fact give that a whirl, and if so, I’ll be sure to get back to you, lol.
    I’ve read in places about the process of transferring from Scrivener to WordPress is very possible, although I don’t understand it. So if that’s something you really want to learn, I’d suggest googling it up and you should find many forums about Scrivener. 🙂

    1. I actually invested a small amount in an online ‘how to use Scrivener’ course, which is fantastic as it’s modular, and once you’ve paid you have permanent access to the video tutorials, so I can just dip in and find out what I want, rather than trying to master the whole beast.
      It’s easy to import from Word into Scrivener, but I’ve yet to discover how to export back to Word. You can export it as a mobi file, no problem, but I still want to do final edits in Word. Hence my cut and paste assembly. But I just LOVE the Scrivener cork board for ease of moving scenes around in a visual manner.
      Of course I could do it the old fashioned way, with paper cards and my office floor (desk doesn’t have enough room) but somehow I suspect my Jack Russel might have as much fun moving things around (randomly) as I do!

      1. Lol to that last sentence. And lol to the floor method. This has been my chosen method of moving chapters around since I began writing books. Nice to know I’m not alone. But seriously, good on you for taking on Scrivener. I promised myself last book I’d work in Scrivener. Maybe, just maybe I’ll attempt it with my current WIP when I anxiously get back to it in the next week or so, after a very long hiatus due to my hubby’s health issues. 🙂 I’ll keep you posted. 🙂

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