multi-pov tricks

I'm working with four POVs in this book. It's no mean trick to do it right. Ideally, people would look at the start of a section and just "know" which POV they were in. But even a master like George RR Martin can't erase his own voice completely. So, what is a lowly writer to do when differentiating between POVs, besides putting the character's name at the top of each chapter, which I am doing, btw?

I've found a number of ways to switch up voices when it's come to my twins, so I'll list them here, and then you all can tell me what else I should be doing.

The biggest tool in the box is internal narrative. This is when the characters think via narrative. I often call it internal dialogue, not because of multiple enitities in one body, but because good internal narrative consists of conflict. Should I or should I not? Boy, I really want to, but my smart side is telling me it's wrong for X,Y, and Z reasons. But boyhowdee I really want to...and so on.

There's definite stylistic and character-based decisions to be made. I like to sprinkle these thoughts among true dialogue, or even better, have it conflict with the actual action of the character. People (by whom I mean readers) identify with these types of conflicts. How many times, after all, have we driven to work, thinking we've died a small death just by getting in the car?

Now for some examples:

Kaelin is a thinker, but he also carries on with the efficiency of the sniper/assassin he someday will be. He packs a lot of punch into every action, be it decisions or killing someone. Oh, and he's got a wee anger management problem. He sounds like this:

The last thing Kaelin wanted was tea. His stomach pressed against his throat; he didn’t know if he could even swallow. He limped to the window, still holding his side. It stung, but the bleeding had slowed.

Aidan had tried to warn him that Marwick wasn’t trustworthy. He had been as frightened as Kaelin had ever seen him, but all he’d offered in return was trite reassurance.

He knows what to fear because he knows the future, Kaelin thought, even while some part of him still denied it as implausible. He reached out toward his reflection in the glass, realized his fingers were clenched in a fist, and drew it back, jamming it in his pocket before he did something he regretted.

The second way is to think how the character perceives the world and why. For instance, Aidan, via his telepathic/psychic ability, knows a terrible truth about his mom and about the nature of the enemy they face. He knows lots of things normal people don't, and this colors his world, especially when combined with his immaturity and denial. This is a scene with his father:

“There’s nothing to admit--”

His brother's scream cut off Aidan’s protest. He buckled to his knees, gripping his throbbing head, sinking, tumbling through hot, dark air. A maddening whisper echoed around him and through him. He cried out, but the heat and the pain stole his voice. He knew this place. Hot air crackled as he slammed against a stone floor.

Kaelin screamed again. Aidan thrashed in the darkness, searching for the wall he knew was there. This time. This time he would escape. He would make them stop hurting his brother. He tried to climb the wall, but the jagged edges cut his fingers. Kaelin wouldn’t stop screaming. What were they doing to him? Stop it. Please stop, please stop, please--

The pain was gone, replaced by utter stillness. It took a few seconds to remember to breathe. He felt the woolen rug beneath his hands and knees, glimpsed light through his slitted eyes. He opened them cautiously and stared at his hands. Fresh scrapes stung his knuckles. His nails were torn and bleeding.

Nathanial walked forward and extended his hand to help him stand.

Aidan shrank back.

Nathanial let his hand fall to his side. “No. It wasn’t me. It’s Maliquium. He’s taking advantage of your weakness.” He crouched down to look at Aidan closely. “I am the only one who understands what you’re up against, and I’ve little time. Let me help you, Aidan. Maliquium isn’t going to stop. It’s only going to get worse.”

“I don’t want your help,” Aidan whispered. It wasn’t Sight or a demon. Nathanial was torturing him, had hypnotized him or something. And now Sentinel was going after his mother. They even thought he’d provided the excuse to hurt her.

Then we get into actual word choice, structure and style. Even though the book is third person, I try to emulate how each character thinks and talks through these means in the narrative. This can be tiresome to fix during revisons, but worthwhile, I think.

For instance, Kaelin's POV has about three adverbs in the entire book. Since he doesn't tend to describe things unless they're immediately important, he uses few adjectives, strong verbs, and specific nouns. Most of his sentences are simple, correct subject/verb structures, even when they're compound. When he's thinking, he's focused on action, previous or upcoming, or worrying over the motives of others. He strives to maintain self-control, which I tried to reflect with a simple, tight style. He often asks questions to get his point across, and to give the other person the illusion of having the upper hand. This isn't just about sentence structure, but getting to the meat of how he deals with other people, and so his narrative includes questions as well.

Aidan sees the world very differently. He can see auras and he knows people's thoughts and intentions. But he's young and doesn't have full control of his abilities. He feels like the world impacts him, not the other way around. His sentence style is looser and less controlled, like Aidan himself, especially during his visions, and I reckon his passages are full of fragments and run-ons. He can't avoid noticing his surroundings, and he's an art history major, so he's used to describing things in adjectorial detail. He also lets adverbs slip in because he's a drama hound. His noun and verb choices are simple and direct; his spoken dialogue often consists of short sentences, sometimes too simple and stuttery for the idea he's trying to get across.

The final tool to work with is relationships within the cast. This is valuable two-fold because by this you can develop the secondary characters as well as show the main characters by virtue of reaction.

For instance, denial makes one quick to anger. Since Aidan knows things about people, he never hesitates to take potshots in order to distract them from the main topic. The people around him constantly must garner their patience, and sometimes they simply make him do the things he should. He hesitates at getting too close to anyone who pushes him into his responsibilities. His father, for instance, was very like him as a younger man and tries to keep Aidan from repeating the mistakes he's made. This, as you can imagine, makes for lots of conflict. He loves his son and desperately wants to be close to him, but since Aidan won't step up, he also gets frustrated and angry with him.

Kaelin holds everyone at arm's length for a different reason. He feels he could ultimately lose control and it would be dangerous for those he loves. He inspires many futile efforts at kindness from those around him, but most secondary characters are careful with him. His father, for instance, will correct Kaelin, but he never really gets angry with him. His efforts at correction almost feel contrived. His father also respects his standoffish nature and so very gently teases and gives him affection.

And of course there is the primary relationship between the twins. They alone have the ability to call each other out on what truly matters, to dig at the heart at what bothers the other, to give affection and to argue, just like real brothers. If one is careful around the other, I hope that is a signal that some important conflict/change is going down.

Any other ideas out there? I have this multi-pov series, but I don't know that I'll do it again. Writing HINTERLAND with one POV was much simpler. But some stories are meant to be told by more than one character.

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