Reading Multiple Perspectives; What works?

As you have seen in my review of Monsoon Summer, the perspective changes killed my enjoyment of the book. After reading the story I even did an Instagram question of the day asking what other people thought about perspective changes.

A Sense of Order:

This is the big one for a lot of people. A friend of mine told me that she didn’t like reading books with multiple perspectives because it was hard to keep them straight.

We humans like routine. We like things to be neatly organized in pretty little boxes and categories. This goes for everything that we do, from our kitchens to society as a whole. Literature is no different. Take

Take The Forgotten Room, in that book we have three different perspectives. The authors for this story help us keep things straight by having a steady rotation. I knew that after I read a chapter from Kate’s perspective I was going to get Olivia. Then, after Olivia, it was going to be Lucy, then back to Kate. Keeping the reader in that rhythm kept us in the story (even if we wanted to skip ahead to see what would happen).

Labeling isn’t Just for the Anal Retentive:

When I started incorporating other perspectives into my Nanowrimo book, We are America” I didn’t label them. (nor did I have a set order for my characters) When I sent the first chapter with a different perspective over to my writing partner I immediately got an email back asking “What the hell?” Amanda explained how confusing this was for her because I went from an 18 year old girl’s perspective straight to her forty something dad…yeah in retrospect I saw how jarring that could be. I realized that I needed to label my chapters to tell my reader who was talking.

The Forgotten Room labeled its chapters in addition to having that steady rhythm. It served its purpose for that initial switch or if you set the book down for a few days and then picked it back up.

Chad Thumann does something else quite interesting with his perspective shifts in The Undesirables. Instead of giving us the character’s names it’s “The Choir Boy,”  “The Cellist,” or “The Organ Grinder.” I love these nicknames. It sets the tone of the chapter even before you read it. And when a new perspective is added we get to see a new nickname and a feel for their chunk of the story.


What’s the point?

The standard advice is to not do it unless you absolutely have to. So when should you absolutely have to, so when should you absolutely have to?

Well, basically when you can’t tell the story any other way. For instance when you have three generations of women who all have a story to tell. Or when you have characters at various locations.

One take that I personally like is Steinbeck’s take on the multiple perspectives in Cannery Row. Though there is one overall narrative each chapter starts off like it’s own short story.





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