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You Should Write From Multiple POVs if Your Story Demands It

Categories: Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, Guest Columns, What's New, Young Adult Literary Agents.

When I first got the idea to bring Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow back to life in a young adult novel, I was faced with multiple dilemmas:

•    Write it in a modern day or historic setting?
•    Portray the outlaw couple as monsters…or humans who made mistakes?
•    Create a love triangle, a love ‘em and leave ‘em story, or skip romance altogether?
•    Who should tell this story––Bonnie, Clyde, or someone else?
•    Do modern teens even know who Bonnie & Clyde are?

GIVEAWAY: Kym is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Maureen A. won.)

 

Screen shot 2014-06-25 at 1.04.33 PM       Screen shot 2014-06-25 at 1.04.19 PM

Kym Brunners debut novel is WANTED; DEAD OR IN LOVE (Merit Press, June 2014).
Her second novel (also YA) is ONE SMART COOKIE (Omnific Publishing, July 2014).
When she’s not reading or writing, Kym teaches 7th grade full time. She lives in Arlington
Heights, IL, with her family and two trusty writing companions, a pair of Shih Tzus
named Sophie and Kahlua. She’s repped by Eric Myers of The Spieler Agency.
Find Kim on Twitter, Facebook, or her blog.

 

First things first.

My basic underlying question was this:  What would a teen girl do if she met a charismatic guy and started to fall for him BEFORE she knew he had a rap sheet?

This sorta-kinda happened to me when I was a teenager. I started dating a hot guy, a year or two older than me, who rode a motorcycle. Side note: my parents were not happy about this, but I was young and he was cute, so let’s just say that safety (and my parents’ wishes) weren’t my first priorities. On or about our third or fourth date, he lets it slip that he got his motorcycle for free. I was like, “How? Ohmigod, did you win it?” Okay, so I wasn’t the quickest draw in the West, but eventually he admitted that….why no, he stole it, but isn’t it a cool ride? My answer:  Um…yeah. And wow, look at the time! I need to get right home.

I was so totally out of my element that I wasn’t sure what to say, how to act, or whether I should even get back on his bike or not. I wondered if I should give him a quick kiss goodnight or make an excuse not to, since I knew I wouldn’t be going out with him again (but didn’t have the guts to tell him that to his face).

Transport me decades into future and zhrriip! I’m at home watching a breaking news story about the Barefoot Bandit (a cute teen guy who had been eluding the Feds for two years) and I was immediately reminded of my own adventure with that handsome, motorcycle-stealing outlaw. And right then, I realize I wanted to capture (no pun intended) that queasy, mixed-up feeling of what would/could/should you do if you were a teen girl and met a sweet-talking boy who turned out to be a lawbreaker?

(Learn why writers must make themselves easy to contact.)

Now that I had the driving question in mind, I needed to execute it. I started to write about a random girl meeting a guy on the run, when the idea of bringing Bonnie and Clyde back to life sprung into my head. I wondered how many dates those two went on before Clyde admitted his criminal background to Bonnie. Based on history, I’m guessing she kissed him goodnight that evening, despite his declaration.

What made Bonnie stay with Clyde? Did he tell her flattering lies to her to get her to stay, or did she believe she couldn’t live without him? Did Clyde continue his life of crime because he really couldn’t get an honest job, or because he loved the thrill of having his name splashed across the headlines?

Ultimately, I realized that a dual POV was needed––one from a modern day teen girl and the other from Clyde Barrow himself––with the voices of the other two personalities (Jack Hale, a teen male, and Bonnie Parker) popping in as the tension increased. I wanted the reader to know each character’s true thoughts about what was going on, while at the same time, reveal which lies they kept to themselves. My intention was to write an intense and psychologically suspenseful tale, while also staying true to the historical details of Bonnie and Clyde’s lives.

It took several years of rewrites and sage advice from many brilliant minds, including my two awesome critique groups (*waves), my rock star agent Eric Myers (The Spieler Agency), freelance editor Jennifer Braunstein Rees (who edited the Hunger Games’ trilogy) and the editor of Merit Press, the hard-working and unflappable Jacquelyn Mitchard (author of many novels, including NYT bestseller The Deep End of the Ocean)–––to make all the various POVs sing like canaries.

My advice? Surrender to the calling of multiple POVs if your story demands it, making sure each character has his or her day in court to tell the truth, the whole truth, or nothing even remotely close to the truth.  After all, you’re the one orchestrating this caper and it had better be good, or your book could get tossed into solitary confinement for a very long time.

(Check out the book trailer for Wanted: Dead or In Love here on YouTube.)

GIVEAWAY: Kym is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Maureen A. won.)

 

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26 Responses to You Should Write From Multiple POVs if Your Story Demands It

  1. Kym Brunner says:

    I love the analogy of “moving the tripod!” Getting a different viewpoint can make all the difference. We probably have all heard the adage “Walk in someone else’s shoes before you judge.” Peering out of the eyes of our characters really gives you an conflicting perspective––one that can very interesting to explore. And thanks!!

  2. leighmarrott says:

    You are my saving grace! Seriously. I’ve been working on a manuscript for over 3 years and the biggest struggle has been POV. I’ve rewritten it from the original 1st person of one character, to first person from 4 characters, to 3rd person omniscient.. and I keep feeling this pull for multiple characters POV. Thanks for setting me free :)

    Also, awesome story concept. Can’t wait to read it.

    • Kym Brunner says:

      Woo-hoo! Glad I could help. I think writers are our own worst enemies sometimes. We keep trying to make it work, but that little voice in our heads keeps saying “Something’s not right!” When we listen to that voice and try something new, we might stumble on the answer. The first draft of this story was Monroe alone, then I tried a second POV from Jack (which is basically the same POV as Monroe, only male), but was a smartass and thought, “What if I wrote as Clyde Barrow?” Ooh…it was fun and exciting and I knew, “That’s what was missing!” Good luck with your own multiple POV exploration! :)

  3. bconklin says:

    Kym, thanks for the post. Good luck with your book. Nice title BTW. I can relate to the “bad boy” theme from an opposite POV. I’m a self-confessed nerd, so I’ve often lost women I’ve dated to guys from the other side of the tracks. I’ve read it’s an evolutionary thing. Women are attracted to adventurer types (from hunter-gather days). Men who are “gatherers” just aren’t as enticing. But we’re more or less stable!

    RE: POV. I think the changing perspectives lend interest as in a Cubist painting. As long as the switches don’t occur too often. I recently read a sci-fi novel that had POV switches within single sentences! The story was great, but the narrative kept getting tangled.

    • Kym Brunner says:

      Eeek! Head-hopping within a single sentence sounds like a difficult read. :)

      As far as the ladies going for the bad boys, it’s probably the mystique of not knowing what they’ll say or do, not so much the criminal aspect. Perhaps plan some unexpected dates next time, lol. Good luck to you both in your writing and your romance! :)

  4. momiji5 says:

    I’ve been arguing with this very issue on one of my stories. Trouble is one character is more interesting than the others but she has her own truth to say. It’s a difficult choice to make, but if the story calls for it, do it.

  5. dirtybird054 says:

    This is the exact issue I have been dealing with!!!
    thank you so much!
    Excited to read the book!

    • Kym Brunner says:

      Wish I could say it was easy, but most of the time you just have to try out a different voice and see if it fits. Was a little weirded out when Clyde Barrow came bursting forth the way he did. :) Good luck!!

  6. Dennis says:

    Glad to hear my approach of using multiple POV’s being supported. I even give my antagonist the spotlight a few times. Thanks for sharing this.

  7. M.L. Stover says:

    I always knew my novels would have multiple POVs. All of my favorite writers do the same. I never considered writing any other way. It’s fun to write and a great plotting tool.

    Your story sounds like fun! Congrats on your debut novel.

  8. Maureen A. says:

    I have been struggling with this exact topic in my novel for the past year, and I had decided an alternating POV was going to get me where I wanted to go. Glad to see a column on this topic.

  9. Want to go nuts with multiple points of view that sometimes change within in the same paragraph, sometimes within the same sentence? Read Ken Kesey’s masterpiece, Sometimes A Great Notion (Ken himself thought it was better than Cuckoo’s Nest).
    You can learn alot from the masters…

    • Kym Brunner says:

      Loved the Cuckoo’s Nest book and movie. Will have to check out the other – thanks for the suggestion. Sounds like it wouldn’t be the book to read as you’re lazing in bed before it’s time to turn out the lights. You’d need full cognition for that one I bet. :)

  10. npierson says:

    I love the idea of incorporating the story of Bonnie and Clyde! I can’t wait to read it! Multiple POVs are a little intimidating, I admit. Maybe you can show me how it’s done :)

  11. Robert_Hil says:

    The problem I find with writing from multiple points of view is that all of my Beta readers complain that that the story jumps around, that they do not know who to follow.

    Either my beta readers are not able to follow multiple points of view, even though I use speech tags and often times will seperat a shift in point of view by first using a blank line, or multiple bullet points like *** or action tags such as

    Robert skipped a line to type a new point of view. “insert quote here” He said. (I wish fall would come, I’m sweating like a pig.)

    A transition from narrator to character with a beginning action tag. Note that I used parentheses, because I could not italicize the internal thoughts.

    • Kym Brunner says:

      I dedicate one whole chapter to a single character before alternating to the next. No head hopping within a chapter. *Although in this particular story, the secondary character talks to the primary one in his head (via italics). So far no one has complained that they were unsure of who was talking, but you’ll have to see for yourself. Can definitely be frustrating when your readers don’t see it the same way you do, but generally, I listen to their advice. Good luck!! :)

  12. shortie says:

    loved the column, thanks for writing it.

  13. cakesbycarla says:

    Thanks for posting this article. I’m currently working on a piece with multiple POV, so it was encouraging to read your advice here. Sometimes you have to move your tripod in order to get the shot you want.

  14. Shelia says:

    Wonderful advice. Thank you

  15. cakesbycarla says:

    Thanks for writing about multiple POV. I am working on a story right now that has mulitple POV and I felt, like you, it NEEDED to be or otherwise I couldn’t explain the POV of some key players in the book. An analogy I like comes from one of my favorite hobbies – photography. If you have to move the camera to get the desired shot, you move the camera. I think the storytellers point of view sometimes has to shift in order to accurately encompass the picture you’re trying to create. Congrats on the book!

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