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ALICE WOODLAND: Eyes of the Beholders (Writing Split Perspective Fiction)

Today I'm incredibly excited to have Alice Woodland - author of upcoming YA contemporary novel Mooney River - on the blog to talk about split perspective (or multiple points of view) in fiction!

When I copy edited Mooney River, it was important to always keep voice in mind, especially when juggling four very different first-person POV characters. Alice had brilliantly used many writing conventions to give each character a unique, vivid voice. As editor, I faced the challenge of knowing when to intervene and when not to - when did I need to let a 'mistake' pass because omitting it would flatten the voice, and when did I need to step in to ensure clarity? There's a balance writers and editors are responsible for creating, and it isn't easy, but this blog is a great place to start learning.

You can now pre-order Mooney River, set to release October 21, 2022. Trust me, this book is wonderful! (I'm biased, but I wouldn't lie!) I can't wait for the world to meet Alice's beautifully real and relatable characters, and I'm so proud to have been part of the creation of a book I adore so much.

Alice Woodland grew up in Australia’s South-West, where, at the age of six, she wrote a poem about having a bath in a tub of baked beans. Though hilarious, the poem received limited critical acclaim. More recently, Alice has worked as a high school English teacher, writing in her spare time. Mooney River is Alice’s debut novel. It follows four very different teenagers who band together to fight corporate greed in their small Australian town, navigating new and old friendships, falling in love, and trying not to fall apart. It’s good. Almost as good as the baked bean poem. Alice now lives in New South Wales, where she is writing her first sequel: Foxhead Bay.

Eyes of the Beholders


A lot of people are morally opposed to multiple first-person POV.

A lot of readers.

A lot of writers.

And for pretty compelling reasons.

Unless the author is careful, split perspectives can be confusing, messy and pointless.

But they can also be stylish, provocative and incredibly satisfying.

After all, who are we to argue with literary greats like Margaret Atwood, William Faulkner and Barbara Kingsolver?

For me, it all comes down to one crucial rule: make sure your characters aren’t just you.

To really bring your narrators to life, you need to create distinct voices with their own rhythm and style. Your characters need to see the world differently from each other, and (surprise, surprise) from you. If they don't, your precious creations could quickly morph into one homogenous blob of authorial voice.

Don’t get me wrong. Your voice, experiences and feelings can’t be banished from your work – pieces of you will slip into your characters in all sorts of ways, intentional and non. You’re writing the damn story! But a character won’t really sparkle until they can think for themselves.

This is also where the real fun starts.

So, if you’re up for a challenge, here are five tips to help you write multiple, distinct, first-person perspectives.

1. Map Personality and Motivation

Don’t just think about your characters’ physical and situational descriptions, but also their ambitions, motivations and flaws. In what ways do they lie to themselves? Where are their annoying blindspots? What qualities do they value in themselves and other people?

Playing with binaries can be a lot of fun. If one of your characters is dreamy and emotive, make another rational and aromantic; ‘odd-couple’ pairings may be a little tropey, but they work for a reason. They also make it easier for you and your readers to differentiate between the voices in your story.

If you need more help planning, a great character-building worksheet (which you can duplicate for each character) is available on Poppy’s Etsy page!

2. Plan Your Structure

Consider structure as much as possible. Move things around on a corkboard, or write out your first page using multiple tenses and perspectives. It might not be the best time you’ve ever had, but it beats scrapping your opening, or shifting tense when you’re 100 pages deep (though that might still happen… nothing is certain in the wild life of an author!)

Another early decision should be how many points of view you will include in your story. The most common, especially in romance, is two. My novel has four. Any more than five will make your life more difficult, and possibly confuse your reader.

Your next step should be planning when, and why, to shift perspective. What is each shift going to reveal about character? How will it change or propel the plot? Try not to give your reader mental-whiplash by transitioning too often. I would also avoid repeating the same content from an alternate lens – it's harder for a reader to turn pages when they know what’s about to happen.

3. Differentiate Style

By style, I’m mostly referring to the words and figures of speech used by each character.

People use language without even thinking about it. Words become automatic. Go-to. If you haven’t noticed, listen in the next time you’re on public transport or waiting for a coffee: notice how that lady in the purple hat calls everyone ‘Darl’, and that snotty-nosed kid says, ‘Yeah but,’ before each sentence, even when he’s agreeing. Some of us embellish our speech with unnecessarily verbose adjectives, while other Hemingway-esque individuals like to trim away the fat. Vocabularies are also restrictive. There are words we don’t know – slang we’ve never encountered. Not everyone talks just like you!

Likewise, figures of speech differ from person to person. As my characters emerged, I made purposeful choices about style, drawing up a table to keep track of the figurative language used and avoided. One of my characters, for example, uses a lot of personification, metaphor and synaesthesia. Another is almost always literal, with the exception of cultural idioms and hyperbole, abbreviating and swearing constantly.

4. Justify References

I was recently reading a great multiple first-person POV novel when a character made a reference to ‘a young Marlon Brando’. Up until that point, the teenage narrator had been characterised as uncultured, academically avoidant and emotionally repressed. Needless to say, I was confused. I couldn’t imagine a scenario where this boy would sit down to enjoy a black and white Tennessee Williams adaptation from the 1940s. So how did he become familiar with the work of early Brando? Did he have an aunt who was really into modernist cinema? Did he encounter a photo of the old-school stud in a magazine at the dentist? Or did the author just want to describe another character using this comparison, and forgot from whose mind the comparison was emitting?

I want to believe what I’m reading. I want it to feel organic. Justified. Characters making obscure references without justification can really shatter the fourth-wall.

5. Experiment with Spelling and Grammar

Now for the nittiest, grittiest step of all: fine tuning the elements of spelling and grammar. Just as characters will use different words and figures of speech, they will also express themselves with different speech patterns, perhaps deviating from the rules of spelling and grammar.

One of your characters might use constant contractions or speak in broken fragments, and that’s fine. Let your characters swear. Let them spell shit wrong. Allow them too many commas. Your priority as a writer should be creating authentic voices, not satisfying a list of commandments you memorised for year 9 NAPLAN. Besides – your editor and proofreader will be there, a little later on, to pull you into line.

For now, go too far. Experiment too much. Have an obscene amount of fun.

And make sure your characters aren’t just you.


Mooney River is set to release October 21, and pre-orders are available. Make sure you also follow Alice on Instagram for author updates!

If you've written a multiple POV young adult novel and are looking for an editor who can enhance your novel's readability while respecting character voice, contact me.


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