Last time I wrote about captivating the wide, tricky YA audience. This time I have another tricky topic to cover: multiple narrating characters. There is nothing more confusing when reading a partial manuscript (a.k.a. the first three chapters or the first 50 pages) where the narrative point of view changes without any indication. I have been befuddled and completely lost within the first ten pages of several partials and left to decipher which character is narrating. Nothing is worse than having a confused reader because it leaves them feeling either unintelligent for not being able to follow the reading, or uninterested in the novel completely. Neither of these options are good for you as the author.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the writing mastermind behind narrative POV changes and I have read numerous published books and a few partials that nail this and allow the plot to completely open up through multiple characters. There are two main differences between those partials that nail this literary concept and those that flop: the lack of signaling and consistency.
Signaling is not difficult, but necessary. This can be done through each chapter being titled with the characters name (i.e. William Faulker’s As I Lay Dying), diary entries/time stamps, noticeable spacing, etc. It is important to have a clear indication that the reader can easily identify.
Also important is that you are consistent with how you indicate to the reader the change in POV. In addition, be consistent to the POV you allocate to each character. If Jane is introduced using third person narration, while Bob is introduced using first person, then Jane’s narration should consistently be in third person and Bob’s narration should always be in first.
Point of view changes are manageable, so don’t be discouraged. If you believe your novel should be told through multiple viewpoints, my greatest suggestion would be to proofread your manuscript yourself or have a proofreading buddy. If you become lost, or your buddy becomes lost because of the switches, then don’t send the partial in. The last thing you want is to send your partial to an agent and have the agent and interns lost before your partial submission is complete.