You Say Tomato, I Say Tomahto – The Challenge of Multiple POVs

My current novel has two Points of View (POV), and boy are they completely different. One is the quirky, slightly dorky heroine from modern-day America, and the other is a sweet, hunky hero from 1834. (It’s a time-travel romance). As you can imagine, their voices are completely different in tone and syntax. I thought I’d share my method of making damn sure they didn’t sound alike, not because I think this is THE WAY to do it, or that it is in any way groundbreaking, but just in case it might work for another.

  1. First and foremost, this WIP is an outcome of last November’s NaNoWriMo, and so as such, I didn’t have a lot of time for research and dilly-dallying. I wrote quick and dirty (not that kind of dirty; the sloppy-kind of dirty) and let the characters talk to me and tell me about themselves as I wrote. I didn’t worry too much about the hero’s voice other than writing his without contractions (which had the added benefit of adding to my word count. Weee!). I just let his voice come out without forcing it at this stage or worrying if it was anachronistic. I think this part is important, because if you worry too much about anachronisms at the creation stage, you can stifle your creativity. That’s what revision is for (and critique partners!)
  2. Starting in February I reread all of Jane Austen’s novels (I know, what a chore! <– sarcastic tone) and watched the adaptations I have and loaded up my Netflix queue with the rest. Basically I breathed, ate, slept and slurped Austen. Total immersion.
  3. When I was dreaming, thinking and accidentally talking like Austen’s characters, I knew I was ready.
  4. While doing this, I started a notebook where I wrote down patterns of speech she employed and also made a sort of glossary of words (modern word – Austen word pairing)*
  5. Next, I got some pink and blue post-it flags from Office Depot and went through my draft and marked the respective boy/girl POV switches.
  6. Then, I flipped to each blue section and revised the sentence structures, rhythm and word choices. I probably made about 2-3 passes total through it, just focusing on this and nothing else (not continuity, not plot, nothing but his voice).
  7. I then integrated these changes into a new draft and went from there. Of course, this method skipped any dialogue of his while in her POV, but by the time I got to those, I had his voice (I hope!)

The biggest problem that evolved out of this was my heroine picking up word choices that she wouldn’t normally use. I tend to write more formally also (this blog is helping me shed this habit) and so on revision, I had to concentrate on analyzing her word choices and syntax and making sure it was modern-sounding. Reading her parts out loud helped to catch more. However, I allowed her tone to get more formal as she stayed longer in the past, as I think that would be a natural evolution.

I didn’t always catch her old-fashioned word choices, so luckily my fellow critiquers on pointed out when she sounded too much like the hero. They also helped me dial back the hero a bit. I wanted his tone to sound 19th Century, but not so much so that it left people scratching their heads (like my mom does when she reads tries to read Austen). One sentence of his that I liked because of the emphasis it gave to the starting phrase, one critiquer said sounded too much like Yoda. Yikes! Can’t have that, so had to revise that one.

I still worry I overdid him, so am biting my nails waiting to hear back from my Beta readers.

*Would anyone be interested in this list?

Have you written more than one POV for a novel? How did you keep their voices distinct?

10 Replies to “You Say Tomato, I Say Tomahto – The Challenge of Multiple POVs”

  1. What a great post, Angela! My current WIP is from THREE POV, all modern but very different. There are also a few characters from around the Civil War and I, too, avoided contractions and had to do research to make sure I was close to authentic.

    Once I finish, I’ll go back and nitpick, but for now, I just run things by my husband, who’s a Civil War buff. I may also read some primary sources (Diary of Mary Chestnutt, etc.) to get the language right.

    Your description above reminds me of “Lost in Austen.” 🙂


    1. Excellent post, Angela! Both my first and second novels use two POVs, but only one POV per chapter. In my first book, my female protag is in first person, and the male is in third. I also use first and third in my second book although the characters are both male. Granted, writing in first and third makes the POV distinctions much easier, although that’s not why I did it. 🙂

      Love that you’re writing about Ada Byron Lovelace. She was an amazing woman. I don’t think many people know her contribution to the world of computing.

    2. Whoa! Haven’t tackled 3 yet. My first was in just 1, so this is my first time doing 2. Yep, don’t nitpick now unless it affects your whole plot. Time for that in revision. Chestnutt’s diary is great (am a Civil War buff).

      Loved Lost in Austen! Saw it after I’d written my 1st draft and it was one of the movies I watched during that Austen submersion phase I mention in the post.

  2. Your process sounds terrific, Angela! I think I have to do something like this myself. I have (mainly) 2 POVs in my WIP, and my fear is that the two characters sound the same. This should go a long way in correcting that. Great idea!

    And I’m @ critiquecircle too! It’s been great for getting a second (and third, etc) eye on my MS, especially since I’ve had trouble finding an in-person group in my area. I’ve met some very nice and helpful people there. An invaluable resource.

  3. Just curious… Is one PoV effectively the primary PoV or are both equal in your book? One of the very useful pieces of advice I got from my PhD examiner (thankfully, before my viva!) was that it’s really hard to sustain two equally interesting perspectives: readers tend to have a preference for one or the other. The consequence is that they tend to find what they view as the ‘secondary’ story-line rather boring if both are given equal time. Her advice was to decide which you think is the primary perspective and then slightly ’tilt’ the story so that the reader will agree by giving this story-line more time and a bit more conflict. Her key to keeping the secondary plot-line interesting when it clearly _is_ secondary, is to ensure that it has some clear bearing on the primary one. Anyway, just wondered whether you’d run across those sorts of worries and what you did if so.

  4. This is so helpful, Angela! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    Just curious: Did you have your period-related research out of the way before your started NaNoWriMo (so, before drafting)? And how do you approach period research in general (i.e. do you research before you plot? before you start drafting? or …?)

    p.s. It was already on my TBR list, but now I really, really want to read MUST LOVE BREECHES!! 🙂

    1. That’s a good question! I actually research a lot before I start drafting, usually general histories of the area until I can narrow down where I’d like to set my story and then I’ll find histories on that particular era or event. For Breeches, a lot of it I was already familiar with before NaNo, and so I just needed to do some general research on Ada before I could write, though I did a lot more afterward. Then when I start revising, I also research particulars that I didn’t think of until I was writing, or to flesh out the setting, description or plot.

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