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Multiple Perspectives Question


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So I'm planning an epic fantasy, and I want to do a lot of different perspectives, I'm just wondering if it'll be too much to keep track of.


I'm thinking of 3-4 main viewpoint characters, each other them in a largish group of people who they both agree and disagree with on different important matters to do with a larger war that they're fighting. If I can write it as like separate intertwining novels so each viewpoint character and the people around them get enough page time to be clear, would that work? I know in WoR

it got frustrating and hard to keep track of all the secret societies

and I don't want to end up with that issue. But i really want to write a big, complex story and I'm not quite sure how to go about it.


Edit: Or have you seen this done particularly well or particularly badly in examples that you can point me to?

Please and thank you :)

Edited by Delightful
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I find that to introduce a new character/plotline, they should be:


1) Memorable. If you find the character dull and indistinct, then your readers will too. The more of a lead role they have, the more estranged, different and distinct from their surroundings they have to be. Think of your favorite character in any novel. They are probably your favorite because something separates them from their surroundings.


2) Able to contribute the overarching story (as a discovery writer, this is difficult, but there are ways around it. You can do this by having someone's weakness be DIRECTLY RELATED to the type of world you're building. E.g. Have someone with a strong disrespect for authority be plunged into a highly autocratic society. (Kelsier, or Kaladin.)


3) Able to produce humor. Again, most characters can produce humour if they are original enough. This can be in different ways. Wit/Hoid in SA has a quick, humor that pokes fun at others. Dalinar, on the other hand, produces humor through his interaction with others, seeing the contrast between the near-comical features of other highprinces and his own military uniform, showing them as ludicrous and strange.


In terms of keeping track of characters, again memorability helps. If they are distinct from the other characters in some way, you will remember them.


But when it comes to actual writing tips, rather than character building tips, it depends on whether you are an outliner or a discovery writer. Each has there own issues with this sort of thing.


Outliners tend to know the nuances of each plotline, including the motivation, the events, and what the character had for breakfast this morning. The problem is, when they try to put it down on paper, it ends up as a huge big blobby mess, which beta readers can't make heads or tails out of. To keep on track here, you need to write bearing in mind that the audience knows nothing of your world at the minute, and you need to explain it to them, rather than assume they know it and gloss over it.


Discovery writers are the ones who tend to get more internally confused. They will create a new character that they find interesting, plonk them down in a different part of the world because they don't fit in the society for all the other characters, and then spend several hundred pages trying to get the plotlines to converge. They should probably pay more attention to points like the ones above when creating new characters and plotlines.


Ideally, having a boundary line somewhere in the middle is ideal. Look at this great new idea you've got. Think... could this character interact with other characters in my story and create an interesting twist/ development? In other words, does this character have the potential to make this story better further down the track? If the answer is no, then you probably shouldn't add them in.

Edited by TheYoungBard
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Having not even finished writing a book yet I feel inadequate to dispense advice as a writer but I am happy to give my advice as an avid reader of High and Epic Fantasy.

In terms of examples I'd point you towards Malazan, particularly Gardens of the Moon, way too many characters in way too many settings introduced way too quickly, don't get me wrong I love Malazan but the first book is an absolute trial to get through for many readers. Wheel of Time is a series that started off well but tended to bloat with viewpoints towards the middle, something of a common problem in Epics. In terms of a positive example I'd say the first books of the WoT are good but my standout favourite is Stormlight, particularly the Way of Kings, there were not a great many viewpoints but the balance between them was fantastic, definitely recommend picking through it to see how Brandon balanced character screentime and story arcs, in particular how it didn't really feel like it was just Kaladins book even though he got all the flashback sequences. I'd also recommend comparing it to how Brandon dealt with cycling character viewpoints in Elantris to see how he developed and what the differences were.

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Great advice so far.


I'd like to add that (in my opinion) Malazan is a terrible way to do it. Wheel of Time was good, it introduced characters well but suffered from other things (nothing to do with the amount of characters).  


Stormlight is a good example, a small group of main characters to progress the story and then Bradnon Sanderson used the interlude characters to expand the world. I personally loved every single interlude. I think the best example of multiple perspectives is a Song of Ice and Fire, where I have lost track of the amount of characters but each chapter advances the same story. It is also one of the most complex stories i've personally read.


The only tip I can give you from my own writing expereince, is this; introduce characters before you change perspective.


It doesn't matter how much you change perspective, some people love it, some people hate it. What matters is constanly introducing new characters that the reader know's nothing about.


It takes a few chapters for the reader to really understand and sympathize with a new character. Lets be honest, who instantly found Kaladin an endearing character. He was a depressive slave stuck in a cage, then he was a depressive bridgeman stuck in a barracks. Despite being curious to his past and present predicament, I couldn't care less if he died in his first run. Compare that to a few chapters in, where Kaladin transforms bridge 4 into a team and I really, really, really want Kaladin to survive the highstorm.


Building a believable and inspiring character takes time. It doesn't happen in the first few chapters. So if you have a 50 chapter book, with 10 seperate characters. That gives each an average of 5 chapters each. Not long to build anything but the foundaitons of a memorable character. 


The best way to get around this is split the characters into groups and introduce new character by another persons perspective. For example; Rock, Lopen, Moash and the rest of Bridge 4 are introduced from Kaladin's POV, and we see them enough to get a good idea of their personalities. So if we switch to their perspective, it's it doesnt matter, it's not a completely new character we have to learn to love. This is also how it's done in ASOIAF. George R R Martin intrdouces the Lannisters from the Stark's perspective, then futher into the story we get more Lannister perspectives. Brienne of Tarth is introduced from Catlyn Stark's perspective, then we get loads of Brienne of Tarth POV. etc.  






I'm not that great at explaining my thoughts. It often comes out in a tangent, like above :D  but I hope the advice helps a little. 

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Ok guys, this is really helpful, thank you!

So I've been wanting to read Malazan for a whe but can't get hold of a copy, and I've been avoiding ASOIAF because I think the sex and gore and deaths might be too much for me. :/

Tyson, I want to have characters in very different places, but as friends or relatives of each other - do you think if I mention them in abstract before introducing them as a viewpoint, that would be enough? Obviously you can't tell me exactly and im not sure myself how im going to do it.

Spencer: thank you! I'm still planning and haven't even started writing yet, but I'll keep you in mind :).

You've all definitely given me plenty to think about. It's greatly appreciated :)

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If they are friends or relatives, can you introduce them all in a prologue? Something like a holiday party or a graduation ceremony. The trick will be introducing both their personalities and dreams, while setting up the right promises for your story.

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Unlikely for all of them but it's worth thinking about. I might try put some together geographically and see how that works out. Or have one viewpoint character have a cameo in the beginning and a proper perspective later......especially if they're doing things behind the scenes that suddenly gets interesting. But it might not work throwing in a whole nother arc later in the story (thinking 'out loud' here).

(And ahhhhhhh why am I trying something so hard I must be totally mad!!)

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