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Writing

How to Write Multiple Perspectives: 5 Tips for Switching Points of View

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Feb 11, 2020 • 4 min read

Some stories benefit from being told by multiple different perspectives. The challenge is how to do that without confusing your reader.

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3 Reasons to Use Multiple Perspectives in Your Story

Most stories are told from a single perspective—whether that’s an omniscient point of view or a close third-person point of view that is tuned into your protagonist’s thoughts. But sometimes your story feels so expansive that it’s necessary to tell it from more than one character’s point of view. The technique of writing in multiple perspectives can also create twists and dramatic irony. Here are a few reasons you may want to write from multiple perspectives:

  1. To create complexity: Giving secondary characters opposing points of view allows you to explore your subjects, settings, and moral gray areas from a wider variety of perspectives, which sustains complexity and keeps the reader interested. Changing point of view can help your reader get to know different characters’ voices and backstories and is especially useful in stories with intersecting storylines. Just remember that all that complexity will add pages to your narrative—so it’s probably not the best choice for a short story.
  2. To develop suspense: In a thriller or mystery, multiple perspectives can be used to create suspense. At times, you may choose the point of view of a secondary or supporting character. This secondary character’s curiosity or confusion can guide the reader to ask the questions you want them to ask. Perhaps your main character knows something you don’t want the reader to learn yet. The secondary character doesn’t know the information, so narrating from their point of view allows you to withhold the information from the reader in a plausible way. Point of view can also be used for the opposite: to give a reader more information than the characters have. Switching points of view allows you to give your reader a fuller picture. For example, your main character doesn’t know that a killer is just outside the door, but by switching into another character’s POV, you can let the reader know something that the hero doesn’t. This tension will keep a reader on the edge of their seat.
  3. To reveal an unreliable narrator: If your story is told in the first-person from the point of view of an unreliable narrator, you can switch to another character’s perspective later on to reveal cracks in the first version of the story. Your reader will then see the story in a whole new way. This can help you create exciting plot twists.

5 Tips for Writing From Multiple Points of View

Switching between characters’ perspectives can be a great tool in novel writing, but it can also confuse your reader. Here are a few ways to make multiple perspectives work in your creative writing:

  1. Hone in on the most important character. When choosing which character will serve as your main point of view for any chapter or scene, try honing in on the person who has the most to lose or learn. Whichever character is facing the highest stakes—the one who has the most to lose in a particular scene—will be the one to follow closely because their thoughts and reactions will carry the most tension for the reader. The character who has the most to learn is often an equally good choice. Readers tend to identify with characters who are learning like they are, and through these characters, you can provide valuable information to the reader. If you have two main characters, make sure each protagonist narrates around the same number of scenes.
  2. Use different perspectives to build characters. Point of view is an essential tool in character development. You’re describing the world through their eyes and letting the reader know what they think and feel. You’ll need to be aware at all times what your characters’ limitations are. Review your writing frequently to scan for mistakes you might have made in giving a character information or opinions they wouldn’t normally have.
  3. Stick to one point of view for each scene. It’s important to note that when you establish point of view, you are creating a type of contract with the reader: that you will adhere to that point of view for the course of the scene. It’s all right to have different subplots told from different points of view throughout your novel but you should treat each point of view as an individual section or chapter. For example, if you’re narrating in a second-person point of view from your hero’s perspective and, in the middle of a scene, you suddenly switch to the third-person perspective of a different character, the disruption will jar your reader out of the story.
  4. Clearly define perspective shifts. Each time you change perspectives, make it abundantly clear to your reader. If your reader is busy trying to figure out which character’s head they’re in, they won’t be paying as much attention to what’s going on in the story. All that head-hopping can make your reader feel frustrated. You can make this clear to the reader by giving each character a distinct voice, repeating a character’s name, or having one character narrate from the present tense and another from the past tense. Another strategy is to give your perspective changes a regular pattern, so your reader can anticipate those shifts.
  5. Give each character a unique perspective and voice. Each character should have something unique to contribute to the story that only they can share. You don’t necessarily have to change the point of view, but you should give your characters individualized personalities and opinions. If your characters all have the same voice, your reader will get confused about who is speaking. Plus, characters won’t seem as real or believable.
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