I make it 3 days until November 1st, and that means that writers the world over are counting down until the start of NaNoWriMo 2014. Though I may be being slightly over-optimistic with a 5 month old baby who likes nothing less than sleeping permanently attached to me, I fully intend to complete the challenge this year. 2013 was the first I missed in 5 years, and that was only because I was in and out of hospital thanks to the aforementioned cherub.
The Scarlet Plague is fully plotted out to its conclusion – I know that a pantster approach to NaNo is going to be impossible this year. Therefore, I have over 2200 words of a deeply intricate plot ready to be transcribed, but now that November 1st is so close, I’m having a definite wobble about the structure of the story. You see, the steampunk adventure I have planned is, by necessity, going to be a multi-POV story.
I’m wincing myself at the thought of it. There’s no other way around it; for the conclusion to make sense, each of the four main characters (two women, two men) have to take turns in leading the narration. They’re all characters I know well, having written them before in short stories, so it’s not that which makes me feel uncomfortable. It’s simply that pulling off a multi-POV is that much harder than simply writing in a single, third person narrative from start to finish.
When I first started writing, one of my worst literary crimes was head hopping. I glibly shifted from one character to another, often within the same paragraph, and if there was a supporting character passing through the scene, I often roped them in too. Now, of course, my writing is much tighter. Even in a story told from two POVs, such as The Falcon’s Chase, one character leads the scene, and I make it a self-imposed rule not to switch POV without a chapter break. I feel it’s massively important to do so, because if you keep switching from one to the other, you risk breaking the emotional connection you’re asking the reader to form with your characters. Writing from their POV puts the reader into their head and invites a real intimacy, and constantly switching gives no opportunity for that bond to build.
That said, there are many examples of successful multi-POV fiction; one of the most notable from recent times being the wildly popular A Song Of Ice and Fire series by George R R Martin. Martin has literally dozens of characters leading the narration, but you’ll notice that he too follows my rule of keeping the same POV throughout a chapter. Clearly I don’t expect The Scarlet Plague to enjoy success on that scale – hell, I’ll be delighted just to finish it by November 30th! – but if I can maintain a similar level of coherence and clarity throughout my own multi-POV manuscript, I’ll be a happy author indeed.