MULTIPLE POV CHARACTERS: Readers, Does It Work?

Have you read novels that use multiple narrators? Do you enjoy a writer who seeks to draw you into the mind of more than one character, allowing you to grow close to and care about all of them? Is this something you’ve not thought much about, or have you formed preferences?

In single POV stories you connect with only one character, learning about the others through their interactions with the one the author wants you to follow. Some say that multiple POV makes it difficult for readers to develop a sense of connection with and desire to follow them through the story. Having used both in short stories and novels, I find both equally attractive. It’s a matter of…well, you’ve heard this before…following your nose.

Omniscient narration is something entirely different than multiple. The former switches back and forth between one character and the other practically all the time. The latter stays in one voice at a time, for instance for the length of a chapter. We see far less omniscient in contemporary fiction, but we see little – but more – of multiple narration. First person and limited third seem to be the order of the day.

The last book I read that used multiple narration was the one I mentioned in my fourth post, Jonathon Franzen’s Corrections. He rotates the POV through three siblings. There are others like this that have landed in my hands. It’s another one of those occurrences that I regard as more than serendipitous. It seems to compel me forward.

I’m using multiple narration in Third Floor, which I might present serially on my website in rough draft form. (You could become my responders.) You know from my last post what it’s about. I rotate the narrative voice between sister, brother, mother and father, offering the reader each character’s insights into their experience of a family in trouble. In addition, I am dividing the story into four parts, each jumping ahead seven years, though this may change if the characters tell me this isn’t working. Thus far it is quite a challenge, but it’s working.

I wonder what different readers and writers think of this. Among the books that you have read, what point-of-view works best for you and what doesn’t? What is more accessible and appealing? If you were to write a story, or when you find yourself telling one to friends, what happens naturally for you before you even think about it? What is your experience of spoken stories, both those you tell and those you have heard?

Readers’ insight helps as much as writers’. As a poet friend of mine said, you don’t have to be a writer to be a good responder. This might make for some interesting conversation for both.

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