One of the most important decisions authors make when they embark on a new manuscript is which point of view, or POV, to use to best tell the story. Once you’ve decided between the first person and the third person, it may feel like your job is done. It's not.
What if you’ve chosen the first person POV, but you want to include another first person POV from a different character instead of sticking to just one? How will you differentiate between the two POVs, and what benefits and risks can come with using more than one POV?
Why You Would Use Dual POV
Most stories are told from just one POV. If you’re writing a novel about Judy and her journey to become an astronaut, you may choose to write her story in the first person POV. However, since the first person POV restricts the reader to seeing only through Judy’s eyes, using one POV can limit the sort of story you’re able to tell. It may be necessary to include another POV so we can get the first-person perspective of another character whose knowledge and experience will deepen your manuscript. If Judy is on Earth training for her mission and we need to know what’s happening on the space station, you might include the first person perspective of Bill, who’s up in space. By including Bill’s POV, you’re able to add elements to the story that are impossible to get from Judy’s POV back on Earth.
Switching Between Dual POVs
Once you’ve decided you need to include two POVs, how do you begin?
First, it’s important to decide how often you should alternate between Judy and Bill. It’s common to switch between characters with every new chapter, but giving each POV half of the book is not necessary. Instead, consider switching to the second POV when the story dictates this switch. We might stay in Judy’s POV for the first three chapters, but when we need to see what’s happening in space, shift us to Bill’s POV so we can know what he knows.
Even though it’s not essential to split the POVs in half, if you find yourself only sprinkling in a few Bill chapters over the course of the manuscript, you should ask yourself if his POV is truly needed. Including only a few chapters from a second POV can be disorienting to the reader and feel disruptive to the form you’ve established, and writing only a few chapters in the second POV is a good sign that the second POV is not needed.
Common Pitfalls of Dual POV
Dual POV can serve many purposes in your story, including adding a new and different voice, deepening the reader’s understanding of your characters, and revealing plot elements that can make a big splash in your manuscript.
Make Sure Each POV Has a Distinct Voice
However, working with two POVs also means that you have to make sure the two POVs sound different from each other. Each POV needs its own individual and unique voice. If you’re not sure if your POVs sound different from each other, ask a beta reader to read four chapters from two different POVs without telling them which POV comes from which character. If they can’t discern which character is narrating each POV, you may need to look back at the voice, diction, and tone of your characters and further differentiate the dual POVs.