Multiple POVs: Keeping it real
My first book The Sleepless Nanny, was written in the first-person from the protagonist’s point of view. It’s basically the easiest, most natural way to write, and a good place to start for beginning writers.
When I began writing my first mystery/crime novel I knew I wasn’t going to write it in the first person as Lexy Cooper. And I knew that Lexy, not being a private eye or police officer would not be able to solve the murder on her own. She wouldn’t have access to the evidence: DNA, autopsy results, fingerprints, and she wouldn’t have authority to question reluctant witnesses. She needed a counterpart with the access and authority to do all of that and that’s where Detective Mike Malick comes in. And the two of them alternate scenes throughout the three Lexy Cooper novels. Of course, I’m writing from the point of view of both characters and sometimes I slip up and give Malick a Lexy-ish thought and vice-versa. My goal is to write each POV so that a reader can determine whose head they’re in even without being told. This is accomplished through dialog and description. Lexy and Mike speak differently and they see the world through their own unique lenses.
Here’s an example of dialog:
“While I was working my ass off in Germany some fucking douchebucket decided to post my cellphone number on the Xenon.com forums. So every horny little gamer fucknugget in the goddamn world has been calling me, texting me, and sending me pictures of their junk.”
“I need you to visit Google and talk to Fletcher’s former boss and coworkers. See if there was any bad blood there. Also, get his personnel files and see if there were any HR incidents. Yi, you’re tracking down the ex-girlfriend, and I want you to talk to his parents, too.”
Hopefully, you know right away which is Lexy and which is Malick. Here’s another example:
Lexy sipped an extra-hot, extra-shot venti cinnamon latte in her office at Xenon Corp. She had turned away from her work to face the window while she drank. The trees blossomed in pink and white. Spring was awesome—full of potential. It was a close second to Summer in her book. Both Fall and Winter could suck a fat one.
Malick spent the morning doing paperwork at the station. When he got the phone call from forensic investigator Kari Hertzberg at the ME’s office that Beth Grey had identified her husband’s body, he closed his file folders, hitched up his pants, and put on the suit jacket that concealed his shoulder holster and Smith & Wesson 5906 semi-automatic 9mm. The department was moving to the lighter, polymer-shelled M&P line, but Malick resisted change. He drove back up the winding two-lane road to Gunshy Ridge.
Now, Lexy and Malick each have a fair amount of sex in my books. Lexy gives details while Malick prefers to be a little more discreet. Lexy has sex once for 375 words. Malick’s sex scene is just 255 words, but he manages to get busy four times.
It’s easier for me to write Lexy’s point of view, so I find myself having to be extra diligent when writing the Malick scenes. For example: Lexy would say something was emerald green or kelly green, but that’s the way women describe colors. Malick would say “green” or if he wanted to be very specific he’d use “British racing green” a color that he can relate to.
Here’s a scene from the upcoming third book. Malick is interviewing potential witnesses in their home and this is what the living room looks like through his eyes:
The room was completely white. White shag carpet—they still made that stuff?— white walls, white furniture, white sconces for white-shaded white light bulbs. The brick fireplace had been painted white and a large white Chinese fan stood where a fire should be. Over the mantle, a print of Georgia O’Keeffe’s White Trumpet Flower.
My trouble, you probably guessed, is the painting. Does a forty-something homicide detective recognize a Georgia O’Keeffe painting? Well, if he’s in the hard-boiled Sam Spade vein of detective, definitely not. He’d pride himself on NOT knowing such things. But Sam Spade has become a cliche. I want my detective to be unique and surprising, so I left in the painting. Maybe Malick had a girlfriend who was an art history buff or perhaps he just appreciates art. I don’t explain how he knows it, because I like my men with a little mystery, thank you.
Another thing that has almost tripped me up a couple of times. Lexy is in the habit of referring to people as their distinguishing characteristic. Like this, from Pwned:
The taller young man in the UNLV cap smiled shyly and said, “Can we get a picture?”
“Yeah, of course,” she said and held her hand out for his phone.
UNLV and his friend with the chin-strap beard and Demonrage t-shirt exchanged confused looks.
Chinstrap said, “No, dude. We want to get our pictures with you.”
“Ohhhh! Sorry. Yes, I’d love to.” She could feel herself blushing. She put her arm around UNLV as Chinstrap took their picture, then reversed. They thanked her and walked off. She was not yet used to this, and wasn’t sure she ever would be.
She later refers to a paramedic with ‘dirty seventies sideburns’ as “Dirtyhot” and then merely “Dirty”
Now check out this bit of Griefed; when Malick arrives at the crime scene he describes a witness like this:
He wore a video game t-shirt, cargo shorts, and Adidas sport sandals. Though his expression showed concern, his tanned face was lit with excitement and he licked his lips and swept tawny, unkempt hair from his forehead.
Malick beckoned the neighbor over and opened his notebook. “Mr. Barley? I’m De—“
“I know who you are. You’re Lexy Cooper’s uncle. You caught Callie Caldwell’s killer. And Declan Brown’s.”
“You work at Xenon.”
“Yeah, I’m a marketing manager. I, uh…work with Lexy.”
Malick knew what that “uh” usually meant. He got a flash of the guy plowing his niece and pushed it firmly away. Dammit, Lexy. “The deceased—uh, Fletcher didn’t work at Xenon did he?”
Originally, I’d written “He got a flash of Cargo Shorts plowing his niece…” But that’s a Lexy thing. Now in real life of course we pick up the speech patterns and slang of our friends and loved ones. But in fiction, with two distinct characters, that’s the kind of thing that can pull a reader out of the flow. So I changed it.
One more example. As mentioned, Lexy and Malick have very healthy libidos. And they need to hold themselves in check–though for different reasons.
He grinned, and hooked a finger in a belt loop on her jeans. He pulled her toward him and the devil forever perched on Lexy’s right shoulder said “Go ahead. No one will ever know and you deserve a tasty treat after all that hard work.” God, his dimples. She was a complete sucker for those. They were her Kryptonite. She felt herself weakening. Where was that lazy-ass good angel? Fuck it.
“It’s important,” he told her. “But it will hold until after you’ve…” He nodded at the staircase.
“All right,” she said. “I won’t be long.”
When he caught himself watching her thighs as she climbed the stairs he shook his head and went to the study.
If you’re writing multiple points of view, those are the type of things you have to look out for. Would this character know that? Is this how the world appears to that character? Is this a word he or she would use? You really have to try to inhabit the character you’re writing, even if you’re not using the first-person.