Narrating the Thriller Novel. Are Multiple POVs Too Challenging?

February 21, 2016 | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Short answer—challenging but essential for most contemporary thrillers.

Point of view is something I think about while planning a novel. Once I have an outline, the basics are in place: story arc, main characters, subplot(s). Lots can change as I get into the narrative, but my upfront exploration of the story elements will help me decide on the most effective POV strategy.

For me, the one-character, first-person point of view works in short stories, and I would consider it for a police procedural or a traditional mystery of the P.I. or cozy variety. In a thriller, though, nothing is more exciting to this writer than having multiple minds to invade and explore.

Three advantages for multiple POVs in the thriller genre come readily to mind:
1. The level of suspense can be heightened as you raise the stakes for one character and hand the narrative to another whose story adds even more complications to the mix;
2. A more thorough exploration of the attitudes and thoughts of each important character is possible;
3. A more complex narrative with interlocking subplots is encouraged.

The disadvantages and problems that flow from multiple POVs have to be evaluated as well:
1. Readers can find all this confusing if the writer isn’t skillful;
2. The feeling of intimacy projected by the first-person voice is sacrificed to some extent;
3. The “heroic” stature of the primary lead character will be diminished (not always a disadvantage).

I think it’s important to note that variations on the multiple-character narration are possible. For my novel MADE FOR MURDER, I developed a first-person POV as a frame that surrounded a series of limited third-person narrations. The effect was that of a police detective recollecting a case and presenting the stories of the principals. In all, eight narrators were involved.

In short, I’m a fan of multiple-character narration. Diving deep into the psychology of each main character is one of the reasons I write thrillers. I think of it as my disappearing act–my magician’s trick. Perhaps writers like me are afflicted with a form of multiple personality disorder. Minus most of the alarming clinical symptoms, hopefully.

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