Dual Perspectives: Should Characters Have Equal Time to Speak?

2 Feb

A few announcements before I talk about today’s topic:

February started off with a bang! The Amazon rankings of Minutes Before Sunset skyrocketed to #980 in Fantasy and #628 in Romance-Paranormal. To celebrate, my Author Facebook Page had a little sunset party. Thank you to all of those readers! I hope you’re enjoying the romantically dark tale. If you’re thinking about checking it out before book 2 releases next month, here’s the Amazon link. (Only $3.89 right now.)

After that, I was delighted again when The Fussy Librarian emailed me that Minutes Before Sunset has been added to their shelf. The website is totally free, and it is dedicated to emailing you with the ebooks matching your unique interests and content preferences.so check it out here.

I also did two interviews this week – one with Paris Carter, a fifteen year-old-boy from Georgia dedicated to book reviews ranging from genre and age group, and another with Ariesgrl, a blogger who brings children and adults happiness through good books. Click the links to check out the interviews. They both have fantastic websites that I recommend.

Now, today’s topic:

As many of you know, my published novels – November Snow and Minutes Before Sunset – are told from two perspectives, one boy and one girl. To make this discussion simpler, I am going to be concentrating on The Timely Death Trilogy, including Minutes Before Sunset and Seconds Before Sunrise, but I will be referring to them as “MBS” and “SBS” as we continue forward.

Telling a story from different perspectives isn’t a new style. There are many novels written this way, one of my favorites being the Guardians of Time by Marianne Curley, but this style does seem to spark a debate – should chapters rotate from one character to the next? Should each speaker get equal time to speak? Should you show the same scene from two perspectives or never repeat a scene? These are a few of the many questions writers and readers have asked and answered. I am going to share my decisions in the hopes of clarifying why some writers choose what they do in dual perspectives:

MBS – as well as the entire trilogy – is told by Eric Welborn and Jessica Taylor. Believe it or not, they do not get to tell every other chapter (ex. Chapter one is Jessica’s, chapter two is Eric’s, chapter three is Jessica’s, and so on and so forth) and they definitely didn’t get equal speaking time. But this was done with a purpose in mind, and it does change in SBS.

Below is a page count chart for MBS. Blue is for Eric, and red is for Jessica. (We will get the change in SBS in a minute.)

Page count

MBS page count

As you can tell, Jessica only told about 40% of the first novel, while Eric told more. This was because of what the first novel is focused on – the Dark. Since Eric has more experience in the Dark, his voice came out more. He needed to say more, and I listened to him. This also brings up my main point: When the character wants to speak, I let them. They are in charge, not me, and that is the singular reason as to why my chapters do not rotate on and off. Jessica might have to tell three chapters in a row before Eric remembers he has a turn to speak up. This is the same reason that my second novel will not be told in the same way as the first.

Below you will see the page count for SBS. Purple is for Jessica, while green is for Eric.

SBS

As you can see, it’s a lot more equal, but Jessica tells more this time around. (Yay for Jessica!) This happened for many reasons that I can’t quite explain yet, but it mainly happened because SBS revolves around being human, and Jessica has more experience in the human world than Eric. (The third novel is focused on the Light, if you’re curious, but I’ll have to show that perspective later!)

Many writers and readers ask whether or not to show the SAME scene from both perspectives. Many say “no” for the simple fact that no one wants to reread the same scene, but I have gone against this. I had a repeating scene in MBS, and this is why:

The scene is first told by Jessica. She finds Eric sleeping in school, and he wakes up, and they make plans. At one point, she thinks he doesn’t care what she’s saying because he isn’t responding to her. Later, when the scene is shown from Eric’s perspective, we learn that he is talking to someone telepathically. So, he isn’t responding because he’s distracted – not because he doesn’t care. There are a few other things shown that explain how the two view one another, but I only want to concentrate on one. Telling the same scene from two perspectives can be confusing, but if done correctly, it can show a lot about how the characters think. If you’re going to do this, I recommend only doing it once or twice for effect reasons. (Plus, we don’t want to be too redundant.)

The other question I hear is, “Should each novel be told by the same characters?” I would suggest using the same speakers, only because your readers are probably attached to their voices and inserting a new one might be hard on everyone – writer and reader – but if it’s right for the story, go for it! Delirium by Lauren Oliver is a good example. Two novels of the trilogy are told by one character, but the last novel gives Hana a voice. At first, as a reader, I was thrown off, but I ended up loving it, and it was completely necessary for the story. I believe the fourth novel in the Twilight Saga did this as well.

Basically, if you’re considering writing in dual perspectives (or omniscient third) I would trust your characters to show up and speak when they need to. Don’t force one character to show up just because the other has been taking control for a while. Let them handle the flow. They’ll come through for you. They might even wait until you’re editing to come through, but they will. I, personally, think the characters normally know more than the writer, but that’s probably why I listen to them so much. It’s their story, after all.

What do you think? Have you ever written (or read) in dual perspectives? How did you handle it?

I do have to take a moment to express how excited I am for the release of Seconds Before Sunrise! I am glad Jessica gets more time in the spotlight, and I’m looking forward to other characters getting more attention – like Camille, Pierce, Luthicer, and Eu.

Again, thank you for your growing support! 

~SAT

Get your copy before Seconds Before Sunrise releases next month!

Get your copy before Seconds Before Sunrise releases next month!

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12 Responses to “Dual Perspectives: Should Characters Have Equal Time to Speak?”

  1. Margaret Taylor February 2, 2014 at 12:31 am #

    I’m like you. I let the characters talk as much or as little as they like. (I agree 100%, it’s *their* story, I’m just the typist!). I generally write 3rd POV but I’ve branched out – expanded a bit – and I’m delving into 1st POV’s in my current WIP. In this one, so far, we have H & H who are both getting somewhat equal speaking time, both in 1st person. It’s a challenge, for me as the writer, to sink into their respective heads, but it’s getting easier the more I get into it.
    I do not like repeating scene’s because to me if feels like I just hit the rewind button and it’s stuck. (I picked up a book not too long ago that didn’t split the POV’s into chapters but told a scene from each POV per chapter – it was roughly half and half but it still felt like I was stuck on a continual loop and after four chapters it got boring – for me. It was one of the first books I just couldn’t finish…) Just my two cents…:D
    Nice article by the way. Thanks for the insight!

    • Shannon A Thompson February 2, 2014 at 1:06 am #

      Margaret Taylor,

      Thank you for sharing your experiences! It’s nice to hear about other writers, and I enjoyed reading about how you’ve done both 3rd and 1st. I agree. I think showing the same scene twice can be redundant – something that, if done, should be done with care and sparingly. Thank you for reading and commenting!

      ~SAT

  2. Charles Yallowitz February 2, 2014 at 7:32 am #

    I never tried dual perspective. Being a present tense author, I don’t know if I’d ever get the chance. I do like how you mention that the characters choose the amount of screen time they get because that would give the story a more organic feel. Cut straight down the middle could make some scenes forced. As for repeating a scene, I think it’s like using flashbacks. If it’s necessary and not overdone then it helps flush out the characters involved. Your example is an excellent point because without repeating the scene, the readers wouldn’t understand what Eric was doing and jump to the wrong conclusions.

  3. IsabellaStines February 2, 2014 at 7:54 am #

    Thanks for the tips! My current WIP (a series) is written in three different perspectives, with a different character narrating each book. Their paths do cross, and it’s fun to make connections and rewrite the way scenes in their eyes.
    Great post!

  4. heatherbcosta February 2, 2014 at 8:12 am #

    Great post, Shannon!

    My current WIP is a multi-layered story with several plot threads running through it and because there are several characters, the story switches from one to the other when the plot allows. I did try writing a scene from one character’s perspective and then the next, and the next and so on. I actually found this jarring not only for the flow of the story, but for the writing process also and so now I have reverted to letting the characters speak up when they feel the need to.

    I have also experimented at showing one scene from the perspective of two different characters and how they can view the same event so differently. It was a fun exercise but I agree that showing the same scene from different viewpoints should be used sparingly.

    Heather xxx

  5. kingmidget February 2, 2014 at 10:19 am #

    Interesting. I’m writing a story from the first person perspective of three characters. While I’m not necessarily making sure that each gets an equal “say” in the story, I do generally go from character to character in a way that ensures that there is a chapter for each of them every three or four chapters. And, so far, I don’t think I’ve duplicated scenes. Generally, what I do is start each chapter with the character picking up where the previous chapter left off.

  6. debyfredericks February 2, 2014 at 11:20 am #

    Interesting topic! Having more than one viewpoint character, to me, is essential. Your story is richer if told from more than one POV. As you mention, characters bring in knowledge and perspective the others don’t have. My current novel, The Grimhold Wolf, has adult and child characters, and the child is witnessing things he doesn’t understand but the adults do (and, I trust, my readers will get clues the boy misses).

    If you have a wide universe, multiple POVs are essential because just one character can never be everywhere and see everything. Game of Thrones is a good example, where the reader sees the whole world and can put together disparate clues, but individual characters are still blundering with incomplete knowledge.

    Another thing about more than one viewpoint character is the element of risk. In the Harry Potter books, Harry is the only viewpoint character. You know he won’t die, because if he did the story couldn’t be told. So, no matter the danger, Harry isn’t really at risk. Compare that to Game of Thrones, where everyone is expendable because the multiple POVs allow readers to still get information necessary to the plot.

    The downside is that each viewpoint character will want “screen time,” as you note. If each has a plot arc that weaves into the whole, it can bog your story down and push up your word count. The Grimhold Wolf, with three viewpoint characters, was almost 150K words in the first draft. Makes sense, right? 50K words per POV. But I have brought it down to 125K in the draft I just completed.

    As for alternating chapters, Andre Norton did that in the ’50s so it isn’t a new concept. I suspect this is one of those things like outlining that authors must agree to disagree on.

  7. Laura February 2, 2014 at 11:39 am #

    Personally I find some of the “rules” declared as Truth from the Tablets by some writers to be ridiculous, and up near the top of the list are the assertions about POV changes. To me, there is one rule on this: Be clear. If it’s clear who’s doing the thinking/observing/anticipating in that moment, then you’re fine. (As to whether the POV change actually serves the story best in that moment is another matter.)

    Being a lifelong scifi fan, I point to Dune as a fine example of a story told from multiple points of view, often within the same scene. Years since my most recent rereading of the novel, I still recall so clearly the excitement of the grand reception and dinner on Arrakis and being thrown into a new world of hidden agendas and “feints within feints.” It’s masterful storytelling.

    I can hear it now: today’s arbiters of writing techniques lambasting Frank Herbert for Doing It Wrong. Pfooey!

  8. kenthinksaloud February 2, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

    Fascinating insight into your books Shannon. I’ll admit I tend to stick to one POV with occasional shifts to others but I think your approach works really well :)

  9. RoboticRAven February 2, 2014 at 6:28 pm #

    I’m trying this with 3rd person pov. It is difficult to find a good balance, but I’m trying to just tell the story as it needs to be told. If that’s a lot more from one character than the other, so be it. What I don’t like is stories that are in 3rd person but are rigidly told from only one character’s pov. I think a lot can get left out that way. And it makes me wonder why the author didn’t just go for 1st person. Anyway, I like jumping around because I like showing what’s going on with everyone :)

    I’ve never considered showing one scene from two different perspectives. I think it sounds interesting. It could be great if you do it right. Now I want to try it! Thanks for an interesting post.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. February Ketchup | Shannon A Thompson - February 28, 2014

    […] Dual Perspectives: Should Characters Have Equal Time to Speak? Both of my published novels are told from two perspectives. This is how I decided who got to speak more. […]

  2. An Interview with Shannon A. Thompson | Read to Write Stories - April 3, 2014

    […] Shannon A. Thompson’s novel Minutes Before Sunset was a Goodreads Book of the Month. Thompson discusses her approach to POV in the novel at her website. […]

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