Outlining Multiple Point Of View Characters

What if your story has more than one POV character?  What if your storyline is made up of dozens of different threads which weave together into a strong plotchord.  (Yes, I just made that word up.)  That’s all well and good but how do you out line it?  How do you make sure that all of your POV strands end up at the end of the chord, and one of them doesn’t get lost in Flagstaff?  Well… here we go.

Do everything at once

No, seriously.  It’s incredibly difficult to outline one POV character at a time.  When writing multiple POV novels I always outline chapter by chapter, and not character by character.  Figure out what other characters are doing while your current POV is doing his thing.

Which leads too…

Keep a timeline

First tip, spend a little dough.  You’re going to be working on this project for a while, right?  Better to make sure you have the right tools.  Aeon Timeline is a visual timeline development tool created for people like us!

timeline

If you’re a poor college student (welcome to life) then you can use Excel to create your own timeline!  (I did this for my first dystopian sci-fi.  My system wasn’t perfect… but it worked.)

 

Make a distance map

One of the hardest things to coordinate when writing a multiple POV novel is travel.  Make a distance map to help you out.  Whether you’re writing in the real world or one you made up, make sure you have a map which tells you how long it takes to get from one place to another.  By air, road, and rail.  (Or something like that.)

And of course, once you have the map, stick to it.  Make sure that you don’t have a trip taking three hours in one chapter if it took seven in another.  Guess what helps with this… the timeline.

 

Take time for emotions

Every character is their own person, and none of them will make a decision just to make sure your plot moves forward.  (Unless they really like you.  Which is unlikely.  You killed their mentor in the black moment, after all.)  When you’re outlining, take time develop your character’s emotional reactions to what happens around them.  It’s like Emotional Outlining, but for like ten people.  (This was your idea, not mine.  😛 )

Your allies

There are a couple of trusty tools you should keep by your side while you outline a multiple POV novel.  Here they are:

Colors

Colors are amazing.  I color code my characters in my outlines for a lot of reasons.  (First off, who doesn’t like colorful things?)  Colors allow you a quick glance of who is where when.  They make it easy to catch little slip ups and show the continuity of your POV threads throughout your plot.  Colors are the best.  (You’ll notice my use of them in my excel timeline above.)

Logistics

This goes back to the map and the timeline.  Having and conferring with tools like a distance map will help you avoid some nasty plot holes.  Taking time to fix logistics often forces you to tweak your story… which can make it even better!  (Not to mention more realistic.  :P)

 

Flexibility

Just because you outlined it that way, doesn’t mean it has to stay.  If your halfway through your book and you have a fantastic idea, check it out.  Can you make it work?  Would it make your story better?  I’m an outliner, but I can’t tell you how many times I have changed my story during the post-outlining stages of the process… especially when I’m writing multiple POVs.

The wall

You’re going to need a wall for two things.  (Three things if you count banging your head against it.)  First of all, you’re going to need a wall to throw things against.  If you have an idea, give it a whirl, see if it sticks.  If you don’t investigate all your ideas, the one you leave out might be the best.  For sure.

But also, walls are like big, flat writing pads.  Get some post-it notes and go to work.  I like using post-its on walls early in the writing process because it’s super flexible.  I literally have a wall.  And that wall can’t stop me from trying out all my ideas on it.  Walls are your friend.  Find one.  Claim it.  Use it.  (And send me a photo of your awesome outline when you’re done!)

Don’t be afraid of failure

(Yay clichés, right?)

But seriously, when (not if) you find a plot hole in your multiple POV outline, don’t lose heart.  Most (if not all) of my good outlining ideas come when I realize what I had planned the first time would not work because so and so would not be present.  If you mess up, just swap post-its around until it works.  It’s just another obstacle in your growing story.  Don’t pull the plug yet.

 

Stories are organic, and you can never force them to grow up.  Get to know your characters, develop your story world, and your novel may just outline itself.  But don’t force it, don’t push it into being something it’s not.  Don’t ask it to bend time and space to get your hero where he needs to be on time.  There’s always a better solution.

Go find it.

 

Photo: Chemtrail Attack, Mark Turnaukas, CC BY 2.0


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Brandon

Raised on C.S. Lewis and matured (to whatever extent) on Tolkien, Brandon Miller is a huge fan of Christian speculative fiction. His favorite stories artfully bend the physical reality to reveal spiritual realities which apply to all realms, kingdoms, districts and solar systems (including our own.)
When not writing fiction Brandon spends his time tending his blog The Woodland Quill, sportsing, or just struggling through that last-year-of-high-school/first-year-of-college which is really neither but is definitely both.

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  1. Kate Marie November 9, 2016 at 5:05 PM - Reply

    This was so helpful, Brandon! Thank you!

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