Different writers have different styles. Some may write in the past tense, some in the present tense. Some may use adverbs in abundance, while others may cringe at the use of even one. But one of the biggest factors in a writer’s style is their choice of point-of-view (POV). First, second, and third person views are all different types of POVs we can use. But there’s more to it than that. Many POVs are broken down even further, including third person subjective, omniscient, objective, and multiple views. In this article, we’ll focus on using third person POV and being able to do so with multiple characters views—or simply put, “third person multiple POV.”
As with any style of POV, there are different benefits and disadvantages in using the third person multiple POV. One advantage is the ability to move into each of your characters’ heads, giving an in-depth look at those who normally may not have the chance to give their input. It provides you with the opportunity to grow a character every time you get in their head. The reader learns first-hand not just why the character is doing something and why they’re acting a certain way, but they also get very intimate with the characters as the reader witnesses their thoughts.
Say, for instance, you’re reading a crime thriller and the author uses the multiple third person POV. The reader is then able to follow along with both the antagonist and the protagonist and watch what drives them both to make the decisions they do. The reader will be in the head of the killer when they commit their crimes, get to know them as an individual, and—if the author is skilled—learn about the character on a whole different level than they would have had the author not used this POV.
Third person multiple is also frequently used in romance writing. You can quickly recognize the style by the use of pronouns such as she and he. Romance authors like to use this POV as it’s extremely helpful in watching the budding relationship expand between both the hero and heroine. Even though romances are intimate by nature, the third person multiple POV allows the reader to fall to an even deeper level with each character.
There is a trick, though, to mastering the third person multiple POV. A lot of novice writers sometimes try to use this form and get confused, break POV rules, and lose their readers. Multiple third person POV and head-hopping often get mixed up when, in fact, they’re two entirely different matters.
Multiple third person POV involves writing separate scenes from the viewpoints of each of your characters. The author must stay in the one characters’ head for the entire scene and maintain proper POV rules, such as not relaying to the reader what the thoughts of the opposite character are. Take the following passage, for instance. The antagonist is the murderer Bill and the protagonist is Detective Smith:
Detective Smith sat back in the chair, draped his laced fingers over his chest and eyed the man across the silver table. The room, set up for interview and interrogations only, had no paintings on the walls, nothing to adorn the tabletop sitting between them, and only held a two-way mirror, which sat directly behind his head.
He set his feet flat on the ground and leaned forward, moving his elbows to the hard metal separating them. He’d been chasing this guys for months and now all Smith needed was a confession.
“So Bill, how about you tell me where you were on the night of January 9th?”
Bill’s eyed widened briefly before the mask of granite came back in place, then opened his mouth and promptly shut it again. Detective Smith eyed the man, and fear levels spiked in Bill.
Bill hesitated, didn’t know what the Detective had on him, but had a sudden feeling that he might not make it out of this room without a brand new set of bracelets adorning his wrists.
Can you spot the POV error? There’s two: “fear levels spiked in Bill,” and “Bill hesitated, didn’t know what the Detective had on him but had a sudden feeling that he might not make it out of this room without a brand new set of bracelets adorning his wrists.”
Why are these POV errors? Because Detective Smith can’t tell what Bill is thinking and feeling unless Bill says so. This is a common POV error and one many novice writers make.
Another common error writers make when using multiple third person POV is switching characters too frequently. Some writers may use the POV as an excuse to enter the heads of several different characters within one chapter too quickly. There’s no real rule about how long a particular scene should be for any character, but switching back and forth too quickly can make the prose confusing. If you find yourself shifting heads more than two or three times in a scene, there might be a problem, and you might want to take a step back to see which character will benefit the scene the most, and then rewrite the scene to hold that one person’s POV. An easy rule of thumb is to try to stick to one POV for one scene.
An important part of maintaining third person multiple POV is to make sure each of your characters is different enough so that the reader doesn’t confuse him or her with a different character. Technically this falls more under character building than POV, but it’s a very important point to consider. A possible fix for this problem is to make sure your characters all have original and distinct traits. Give them each of them very different backgrounds, jobs, ages, and personalities.
Why should you use multiple third person POV?
It allows your reader to learn what drives each of your characters to do things they may do.
It keeps up the tension. You don’t want your readers bored, and this POV lets you shift heads and keep the reader on their toes.
It allows the author to broaden the scope of who should be included in the story, from main characters to secondary ones.
It keeps the pace moving. You want your plot to move along and you want your reader looking forward to the next chapter. Moving from one character to another gives the story that momentum.
It alleviates the boredom of having only one POV throughout the entire story. It offers the reader the variety of watching the antagonist plot his crimes while still letting them see what drives the hero or heroine.
How can you make multiple third person POV work for you?
Watch the amount of times you switch POV. As I mentioned, you want to make sure to use the character that’s getting the most benefit from the scene and stay in their POV.
Limit the number of characters in your book. Too many characters with separate POVs can end up confusing the reader. You can have many different characters, but limit the number of head changes in the manuscript.
Make scene changes distinct. If you change POVs in the middle of the scene, but it’s clear that you’ve changed. When changing scenes, make sure the story picks up where the last scene left off. If I had placed a scene cut after Detective Smith asked his question, I would have written it to immediately pick up on Bill thinking about the answer.
If you’re a beginning author trying out multiple third person POV, choose which characters are most important to you and stick to their heads. Switch heads only when there’s a need. Don’t switch characters just because you can! The result can be confusing.
Keep your story focused. Just because you’re giving the view of many characters doesn’t take away the need to maintain pace. Give each character their own weight.
An author who’s mastered the third person multiple POV can wind up with a really compelling story. Getting into the heads of characters can help the reader grow to love them almost as much as the author who created them did. Remember to keep a strong grasp on how your novel is paced and to strictly discipline the number of different views, and third person multiple can be a great tool for the author’s toolbox.
Third-person multiple POV, by Brandilyn Collins
First person or third person? by Nathan Bransford