Agent Monday: Too Many Points of View?

MP900321197Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Recently I’ve received a number of novel submissions with multiple viewpoint characters. Today I’m happy to welcome the following guest post by one of my interns – Colin Gironda. As a first reader for me, Colin has his own point of view on why multi POV’s sometimes work really well, but at other times can actually lead to a rejection.

So here’s HIS view of things. Take it away Colin…

A book written from one perspective can sometimes become limited in its scope, but using multiple perspectives in a manuscript can be a great tool because it allows for other characters to have a voice.

The way one character views themselves or others can be different from the way another character does. With two sets of eyes on a person instead of one, you can create better developed characters by revealing different aspects.

Also, perspectives can foil one another. Using this technique, you can place in the reader mistrust or curiosity about another character’s actual intentions. This allows a reader to be drawn deeper into the plot and to become more compelled to discover the truth. This can also help the reader identify more closely with a character –  we are choosing sides and deciding who we like and believe in.

But there can be pitfalls and dangers for writers using multiple points of view as well. Each perspective needs a distinct voice. Without that distinct voice, the plot can feel convoluted; the reader can lose track of who’s doing or saying what.

Each point of view character must also be well developed. If the character isn’t 3-dimensional, or they don’t have a large voice, you may want to refrain from using their perspective. The reader will likely become bored with them or confused at the presence of someone so minor.

When not used properly, multiple view points can spell trouble for your plot, too. Bouncing from character to character too quickly and too often can slow your story down, especially if the storyline itself doesn’t advance enough. Readers can lose track of what’s going on, and when they don’t feel invested in what happens next, or truly know why it matters, they might just stop reading altogether.

Multiple view points really can have multiple benefits in a story. But as powerful as this tool can be, it’s just that – a tool. Don’t let it become a distraction to readers or drag down the pace. Instead make sure it’s enhancing your story, adding depth. Get that right, and the end result will be complex and rich storytelling.

Colin Gironda is earning his Bachelors degree in Creative Writing at Franklin and Marshall College, and is an intern for The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City .

*Marie is an Associate Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

8 thoughts on “Agent Monday: Too Many Points of View?

  1. Thank you for a great post, Colin. I enjoy writing with multiple points of voice but I’ve struggled with having a distinct voice for each one. I had several characters speaking the same way, using the same colloquial expressions, etc. Fortunately I had a great editor who pointed this out.
    Barbara of the Balloons

    • Hey Barbara,

      Thanks for letting me know your thoughts. Expressions are a great way to make voices distinct but I can see the struggle of characters of the same group having the same expressions. I would try reading it over and making sure each narrator sounds new and different.

      Good luck

  2. I was delighted to read this article. A few years ago I took both a novel writing class and a style writing class at a University of Wisconsin summer workshop. My novel had multiple points of view, as this article describes. The writing professors for both of my classes told me to give up the project, as it was no longer acceptable to use this technique. At the time, I followed their advice and put aside the novel to begin work on my current project, a memoir about a surprising challenge I faced at age 60. Although I am delighted with my new effort, I am also happy to know that maybe someday, I can get back to that novel!

    • Hey Ardyth,

      It’s a shame the professors had such harsh criticisms of a great technique. Some of my favorite books use multiple perspectives. I’d say to go back and have some fun with it; writing is supposed to be fun. One thing my professors have told me is that a piece of work is never really done and so it’s also never too late to return to a piece.

      Good luck,

  3. Great article, Colin. I appreciate the insight. While I think it’s good to see multiple viewpoints at times, I believe that one character should still have the lead. I think this would make it difficult to allow other characters a strong voice. Like you said, it can become quite complicated and confusing for the reader. My two cents is that, it should be used sparingly, for example, in cases where the main character is not around (for some reason) to help advance the story. However, to those choosing to use this tool best of luck to you.
    Thank you Marie for inviting Colin to share. Have a great day all.

    • Hey Sharon,
      I absolutely see your point. In most cases it is best to have one character with the lead. There are, however, very successful novels that don’t follow that. George R R Martin has done it successfully, to say the least. Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad won a pulitzer and it has no main lead. I think it can be done successfully for a novel, but not easily. I think your perspective is right most of the time. Thanks for the response.

      Thank you,

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