I’ve completed five novels, of which three are in apparently perpetual revision. Two of those five have been first-person narratives; the other three are third-person, multi-POV.
In third person multi, I tend to establish a pattern of POV characters chapter-by-chapter and stick to that pattern until fairly late in the book (where I let it collapse under the story momentum—I let some POVs vanish, let more than one into a single chapter, etc.). In Shock and Awe, if the characters were letters of the alphabet, then the pattern is a simple rotation: A—B—C—D, A—B—C—D…(although after some point I ease in character E and ease out character D).
Tomorrowville takes place in 2088. The protagonist, Toby (sorry, Alis—but I wrote it back in 2002) is someone from our own time, but the other POV characters are all from the world of 2088. In this case, the chapter rotation pattern was Toby—Toby—Somebody Else 1—Toby—Toby—Somebody Else 2…which is a lot of Toby, punctuated by some radically different viewpoints. (Indeed, some people who’ve read the book remember it as being first-person from Toby’s POV.)
Why am I blathering on about this? Because this rotating narrative structure isn’t working for my current novel.
I think I have three third-person POV voices in my current work-in-progress. But try as I might, A—B—C, A—B—C isn’t working for this one. For starters, the three story lines are not immediately connected, and any time you juxtapose two apparently unrelated chapters, readers start hunting for the connections. This can be a good thing, but spinning round and round through the pattern without any clear intersection can make the reader crazy after a few iterations.
A related issue is that I have big backstories with dramatized scenes. So we start with character A in the present, but at some point we need to drop back for a long chapter into character A’s past. Fine. But jumping in time and also rotating POV characters not only dilutes the impact of each story, but also may be downright confusing. As in the earlier post about musicals, it would be nice if these characters could just stride onto stage and get their backstories and motivations out of the way…but novels don’t work like that, do they?
Which has brought me to a horrible realization. My standard policy of rotating POVs isn’t going to work—at least not on a chapter-by-chapter basis. I need maybe eighty pages, four or five chapters, from character A; and then a similar amount from character B; and then again from character C; all of these, as sort of novellas, before I let the three stories collide.
This is making me very nervous. Each time you pull the reader away from one POV to another, you are asking them to make an effort, but if you keep this up in a predictable pattern, they will adjust. On the other hand, writing a novella's-worth and then yanking them away into another novella may really make them frustrated. I don't know. I've never done it.
Another fear is that I don’t have all my wares on display at first. With rotation, you get to meet all the POV characters early, and see the POV span of the novel. I have three very different POV characters in this one—an American male doctor, a Canadian female biologist, and a Peruvian male revolutionary—and each of the POVs has a rather different voice and emphasis. If I don’t rotate early on, people may think they are reading a book about just one of those characters
This book is making me crazy.