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Writing from Multiple Perspectives by Karen M McManus

18 July 2017

Medium one of us is lying
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We asked Karen M McManus, author of One Of Us Is Lying, to write a guest post about one of the things she found most difficult about the writing process; writing chapters from multiple points of view.

Yale hopeful Bronwyn has never publicly broken a rule.
Sports star Cooper only knows what he’s doing in the baseball diamond.
Bad body Nate is one misstep away from a life of crime.
Prom queen Addy is holding together the cracks in her perfect life.
And outsider Simon, creator of the notorious gossip app at Bayview High, won’t ever talk about any of them again.
He dies 24 hours before he could post their deepest secrets online. Investigators conclude it’s no accident. All of them are suspects.
Everyone has secrets, right?
What really matters is how far you’ll go to protect them.

When I first got the idea for One Of Us is Lying, I floated it past my writing friends (as one does) and the reaction went something like this:

Me: It’s like The Breakfast Club, but with murder.
Them: OMG YES.
Me: Five students go into detention but only four walk out.
Them: KEEP GOING.
Me: And I’m going to write it from the POV of the four surviving students.
Them: silence
Me: That’s a good idea right?
Them: Um…

I’d never attempted multi-POV (multiple points of view) before, and they knew what I didn’t: it’s hard.

A lot can go wrong when you’re writing multi-POV. Some characters might be less compelling than others, or have a less satisfying arc. The voices might not be distinct enough. Your writing runs the risk of becoming redundant if you try to explain the same situation from multiple perspectives. And all that head-jumping could be jarring or distracting for readers.

The golden rule when writing multi-POVs is this: don’t do it unless you absolutely have to. In the case of One Of Us Is Lying, I felt like I couldn’t tell the story any other way. Bronwyn, Cooper, Addy, and Nate all had reasons for being in that room with Simon, and for wanting the secrets he was about to spill on his gossip app to stay hidden. I needed the perspective of all four characters to support the narrative structure.

My goal was to create one major plot line that drove the story forward and allowed (or in many cases, forced) the characters to interact with one another, along with separate subplots supporting their individual journeys. By the end of the book, I wanted each of them—for better or for worse—to be doing things that would have seemed impossible in the first chapter.

To make each character distinct, I tried to give them all pet expressions and thought/speech patterns that were specific to them. For example, when Nate believes someone is taking on an impossible task, he says, “Good luck with that.” But Bronwyn says, “I doubt they’ll have any luck.” Subtle differences, rooted in how they view the world and interact with others. I also had separate playlists for each character, and used those to get inside their heads while writing.

Multi-POV has its challenges, but it also has benefits, especially when you’re writing suspense. It helps build tension between characters, and lets the reader see them from different perspectives. And it gives you a natural “out” from giving away too much, too soon. One character can be edging toward revealing a key element that’s keeping the reader guessing and then BAM—you switch perspective, and the mystery is maintained.

There was a reason behind every scene being told from a particular POV. Sometimes I wanted a situation to reveal more about that character. Other times, their unique take on a piece of evidence was required to move the story forward. And occasionally, I needed their personality to bring out the humor or the pathos in a scene.

Bronwyn, Cooper, Addy, and Nate each had their individual secrets, dreams, strengths, and flaws. My goal was to gradually turn their individual stories into one cohesive whole with a believable, satisfying conclusion. Reader mileage will vary, of course, as to how well I succeeded! But I loved telling the story this way, and I won’t shy away from dual or multi-POV in future books.

One Of Us Is Lying is one of our Top Ten Volunteer Reads for 2017 summer volunteering. Find the whole Top Ten Volunteer Reads book list here.

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