Linda's picture
Linda from Sweden is reading Fearful Symmetries October 29, 2014 - 3:48am

I'm trying to outline (for once), but I've across a mental hurdle of sorts. My plan is to follow a narrative structure: to divide the story into parts, each with a specific purpose, and insert plot points/twists in the "right" places. Basically every Hollywood movie ever made.

This is new to me, I'm never the woman with a plan. 

Problem is (it's probably not a problem), I'm using three POVs and I want to break them up with chapters, but I can't really figure out how to handle a proper plot line in terms of how it would affect all three characters. For example, and even though it ties to the same thing, the characters have different goals, so the conflict facing the MC won't be the same as the one facing the others. I don't know if this makes any sense, I'm bad at articulating technical stuff. But basically, should there be one sort of major plot line, and I make it fit with the MC's arc, or would I need to find a way for all three POVs to fit snugly into the structure?

This is where end up when I try to think things through :)

I know the answer is in every multiple POV book I've ever read, but I can't see it.

Any thoughts?


Brandon's picture
Brandon from KCMO is reading Made to Break October 29, 2014 - 6:57am

I do this exact thing in my newest novel.

The trick (for me at least) was to map out a timeline so that everything could converge at the exact right moment. I'm not gonna lie...this multiple POV shit is hard. You're going to have to use some trial and error.

R.Moon's picture
R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion; Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schimdt PH.D; Creating Characters by the editors of Writer's Digest October 29, 2014 - 7:47am

What tense are you in?

I think I understand what your saying. You have one major plot, a throughway, that all three characters are following, but they each have their own conflicts separate from each other and separate from the major plot?

Are their goals separate from each other or are they the same final destination, just with different reasons and motivations for being there?

but I can't really figure out how to handle a proper plot line in terms of how it would affect all three characters.

Three guys are looking for the same bag of money (the plot line that affects all three of them).

Guy #1 wants the money to build a group home for kids in his neighborhood. His separate conflict outside of the major plot line is trying to get permits, finding a site, construction, etc... 

Guy#2 wants the money because he's in debt to his bookie. His conflict is hiding and trying to stay away from his bookie until he has the money.

Guy#3 wants the money because his daughter has leukemia and he wants to better accomadate her. His conflict is being a single dad, two jobs, his daughter, and a crazy ex who won't leave him alone

Their goals affect them in different ways, but they're still after the same bag of money. The bag of money is the connection between the three of them.

I don't know if that's even remotely close to what talking about, but there's an example of three characters with their own separate conflicts traveling the same plot line.

Redd Tramp's picture
Redd Tramp from Los Angeles, CA is reading Mongrels by SGJ; Sacred and Immoral: On the Writings of Chuck Palahniuk; The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault October 29, 2014 - 8:17am

I'm going to be trying this out in the short story I'm workin on now. The first POV is the main character, the second his brother, and the third the antagonist. By going through different first-person narrators, I hope to give the reader information that certain characters don't have. The whole thing though is pretty fucking scary, realizing you have to not only really really know your main character, but the other ones as well. 

Just yesterday I was reading about this Snowflake method of outlining, and while there was more to it, part of it was this simple kind of character outline (attached) that made me start to realize so much about the individual goals and values of each POV. Maybe it'll help you see some intersecting lines?


SConley's picture
SConley from Texas is reading Coin Locker Babies October 29, 2014 - 10:53am

Read Shogun.

Linda's picture
Linda from Sweden is reading Fearful Symmetries October 29, 2014 - 12:53pm

@Brandon, thanks for the advice, I'll take comfort in the fact that you seem to have pulled through. Just googling around I've encountered a lot of negativity towards the use of multiple POVs, at least outside spec fic circles, but I love reading those kinds of stories. And congrats on the novel, I've been following your column, and Good Sex, Great Prayers is on my reading list.

@R.Moon, I'm in the past tense. The bag of gold is a good pedagogical example, but things are a bit more complicated. The thing tying these characters together is a mining operation, and (to be crude) one of them has an interest in shutting it down, one in keeping it profitable, and the third is just a PoW laboring there, but he's also got a sort of family situation that is closely related to the mine. So, while some plot points related to this mine will affect all characters to some degree, their goals are so different it seems hard to come up with twists that will be a "game changer" for all of them. The alternative then, as I see it, is either to stick close to the MC with the plot, (attempt to) lay one hell of a puzzle to make one size fit all, or dose out the game changers between the characters.

@Redd Tramp, I sympathize. It's often hard enough to make one character interesting enough to hold a reader's attention. I'll stick with a 3rd person POV though, partly because I'm no good with the first, and also because I imagine it will lend some consistency to the narrative while going between characters. First person can be really powerful though. And thanks for the .doc, I'll have a look.

@SConely, I'm doing the NaNoWriMo thing so no time to read, but I'll look it up and save it for later.

Repo Kempt's picture
Repo Kempt from Nova Scotia October 29, 2014 - 1:02pm

I am working on a novel now that alternates between two POVs almost chapter for chapter for the first half of the book. The characters lives intersect near the midpoint. They both have different goals initally, but as the novel unfolds, their goals become one and the same and they work together (albeit independently) to achieve that goal. Trying to figure out how to do it has been a difficult task.

I just finished watching the first season of The Killing. Not my cup of tea it turns out, but it gives me a good example to discuss your problem. Imagine a novel where you have a cop trying to solve a young woman's murder as one POV. The grieving father can be a second POV as he deals with the his daughter's death. and a third POV can be a man who is suspected of commiting the crime, but did not kill her. They all have very different goals, but their lives (and storylines) are tied closely together by the murder. It also provides an opportunity for them all to interact within the larger story.  Each one has their own arc and their own conflicts set against the same backdrop - the murder. The cop solves the crime, the father comes to terms with his daughters death, and the man exonerates himself of the murder. Each one has their own path, but contributes to (or interferes with!) the goals of the others indirectly.

Not sure if that helps...


Redd Tramp's picture
Redd Tramp from Los Angeles, CA is reading Mongrels by SGJ; Sacred and Immoral: On the Writings of Chuck Palahniuk; The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault October 29, 2014 - 1:27pm

Right on, Linda. It's funny, but I write in first-person almost exclusively for that same reason. I don't feel as comfortable with 3rd person. And I'm going to use the 1st person so that I can have characters with secrets that other characters don't know, but that the reader will. I guess so it can be inconsistent. One narrator does drugs and hides it from his brother, and the brother doesn't know he's doing drugs, but knows stuff about the first narrator's past. So every section, from a different POV, will be about the different angle, and the different private info. 

Good luck!

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs October 29, 2014 - 6:05pm

Using multiple POVs in a novel is really tough if you're writing in first person because you need to invent a different voice for each character and be able to change back and forth while you're writing it while keeping the voices consistent. If anyone ever does that, I think it's easiest to work off an outline and write all of the scenes with a POV character in a row instead of going back and forth between them. Like if there's 3 POV characters. You'll end up with 3 different documents, and then you should cut-and-paste all the chapters into the sequence that they go in.

I find it difficult enough to create a single voice and maintain it through a novel if it's far from my own voice (like in my new one, Dodgeball High), so if I were using multiple POVs, I'd stick to 3rd person. Once I wrote a novella with 3 POV characters. Wrote the protagonist in first person, the antagonist in third and a side character in third. That might have come off kind of weird. It's called Cheesecake Smash-up and it appeared in a couple of different books.

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Ira Levin October 30, 2014 - 3:51am

^ Penny Dreadful is written like that, first person for protagonist and third for all the other multiple characters. It works very well.

I've been working on a first person multiple POV novella for the past year. I wrote it in the head hopping, interweaving form that its ment to be read in. The jumping hasn't bothered me, although I've mostly stayed in one character per writing period. 

I'm stuck in a full stop with it again at the moment. Nothing to do with voice and POV, just because I don't know what's happening next. Mostly I don't plan, but I think I need to make a few notes and see what happens.

Linda's picture
Linda from Sweden is reading Fearful Symmetries October 30, 2014 - 7:03am

I have come across another another related issue. Do you guys write parallel and/or overlapping timelines, or do you have one timeline so the story progresses with every chapter/character? I had planned to do the last one, but now that I'm outlining I don't think it'll work that well. Is it okay to mix and match or would you say it's generally better to stick with one? It seems that, while the characters are not in the same scene, it would work better with simultaneous/overlapping timelines, but when they get together it would just bog down the story and become repetitive.  

@Redd, there's definitely a lot of benefits to getting to having access to the inner workings of more than one character, let's just hope they outweigh all the related problems. And good luck to you too!

@Bradley, yeah I'm writing in 3rd person. But it seems like it would be a good idea to write a character's entire arc in one go before jumping to the next when writing in 1st person.

@em, I imagine it would make it easier to separate the protagonist from the other characters if he/she was written in 1st person. But again, I'm not very good at it so I'll have to stick with 3rd. I tend to get stuck when improvising as well, but aside from that it seems like it must be more fun than outlining and knowing everything from the start. Oh well.



voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Ira Levin October 30, 2014 - 9:06am

Mine run parallel and overlap/interweave, but only when characters aren't together. Scenes featuring two or more come from one of the narrator's pov and only happen once (unless I drop back into events leading up to that scene and take everything full circle, then I might hit that first/last scene from two different POVs to scewer everything the reader thought they knew in the opening.) Did that make sense?

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs October 30, 2014 - 9:37am

Linda: I guess it depends on how much the multiple POV characters have to do with each other as far as their stories/if they come in contact a lot. Because you may end up veering away from your outline a lot while writing, so if you're writing the arcs all at once, rewriting may be more difficult. I don't think doing it all at once is that necessary for third person. But it's probably a good idea if there's not a strong connection between each of the character's arcs.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal October 30, 2014 - 8:14pm

Maybe you're trying to make them fit too snugly? Because it probably shouldn't. People with vastly different aims come together because of mutual self interest plenty. Maybe (and I'm just guessing) you need to find the one common thread among them, and let everything that doesn't line up between the characters become a(nother) source of conflict. 

Linda's picture
Linda from Sweden is reading Fearful Symmetries October 31, 2014 - 5:51am

@em, yes it makes sense, thanks. It certainly seems like the easiest way handle it, and I think that for myself (as a reader) I wouldn't have any problems with it. I suspect a lot of the books I read do it like this, and I never even consider the timeline unless there's a issue/something becomes confusing.

@Bradley, they'll cross paths/ be in the same place quite often, and I fully intend to write this in a linear fashion. I can't do detailed outlines, so I know I'll keep adding/changing stuff as I go. I haven't tried writing anything on this scale before so I can't know, but I believe it will be easier to make it feel like one story if I write the first draft beginning to end, and then go back and see how each character's arc work on its own, if that makes sense. 

@Thuggish, I get what you're saying, and looking at this at a meta level, or whatever word I should use instead, I don't see a problem with how their paths interact. It's just when I try to fit it into a narrative structure that it doesn't add up. For example, consider the catalyst (or inciting incident). I'll want to put this somewhere in the latter half of the first chapter (the protagonist's), but what I have planned for this currently won't work as a catalyst for the other two characters. What I'm stuck on is whether I should come up with a catalyst (and later plot points) for each character, if it should be one that works for all of them, or if I can relax a bit with the structure concerning the two other POV characters? I'm leaning towards the first, although I hope that towards the second half of the story it'll be easier to come up with twists that affects all of them.