When I finished an early draft of You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone, my debut YA about twin protagonists grappling with opposite results from a genetic test, I vowed to never write another dual POV book. Two female narrators had been a challenge—there weren’t many other single-gender dual POV YAs I could use as a guide, and it took me a long time to figure out how to make the voices distinct.
Naturally, when my next book idea hit, it was clear that it, too, needed to be dual POV. (Our Year of Maybe, out January 15 and following two best friends in the aftermath of a kidney transplant.) The two characters’ arcs were so closely intertwined that showing one side would have felt like half a story. Dual POV had ensnared me again.
Now that I have some distance from both books, I’ll admit I do have a certain fondness for dual POV. It can be an extremely powerful storytelling tool—if it’s right for your book.
So, how do you know if your book should be dual POV?
(Disclaimer: none of these are rules, and even if they were, there will always be exceptions!)
- Each character should have a complete arc. That means they should start out wanting something, and an obstacle should stand in the way of them getting that thing. They should also stand to lose something if they don’t get that thing. (Pretend I didn’t use the word “thing” four times in two sentences.)
- Ideally, the two characters are linked somehow. If it’s a romance, maybe you’re writing each side, or the characters are siblings, or friends, or they’re living separate but parallel timelines.
- The characters should share page time somewhat equally. I usually switch POVs every chapter, but I’ve also seen it work well when the POV switches every few scenes.
- I also love it when the characters’ arcs follow the same general beats, with the rising action, climax, and resolution taking place around the same time.
The trickiest part of dual POV is crafting two distinct voices. A reader should be able to open your book to a random page and know, without reading the section heading, whose POV it is. It took me a while to figure out how to do this most effectively, especially with so few resources available. Here’s a list of suggestions to help vary the sound of your characters’ voices:
- Play around with sentence rhythm. Maybe one of your characters speaks in longer, flowery sentences, and the other prefers shorter, punchier sentences.
- Give your characters a couple words or phrases that are unique to them. In Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, one of the characters replaces “God” with “Clark Gable,” so “OMG” becomes “OMCG.” Or in E. Lockhart’s Ruby Oliver series, Ruby is always saying “ag!” as an exclamation. These are little details, but they really help your characters feel like fully fleshed people. Case in point: I read both those books years ago, and those exclamations stuck with me!
- Compile a glossary of words for each character based on their personality and interests. This is probably what helped me the most. In You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone, Adina is a viola prodigy, and Tovah wants to become a surgeon. I spent a while brainstorming music-related words for Adina and science-related words for Tovah, and then I combed through the manuscript to see where I could replace a generic word with something more specific. In Adina’s voice, the doors of an elevator “sing open,” and her heart “thumps allegro” in her chest. In Tovah’s voice, a slice of pizza is “membrane-thin,” and she gets a B in a drawing class because her “apples and oranges looked like cerebral hemispheres, not fruit.”
- On a related note, you might also incorporate metaphors and similes that match your characters’ passions or hobbies. When something good happens for musician Adina, she describes it this way: “Inside my chest, a tiny orchestra bursts to life with ‘Spring,’ the sunniest of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.” When she’s stressed, she describes it as feeling like she’s balancing a grand piano on her shoulders. I also decided that when Tovah is anxious, she calms herself down by assigning meaning to what’s happening around her. So when she’s running in the cold, she focuses on the reason she’s getting goose bumps: “The tiny muscles attached to the hair follicles are contracting, making the hairs stick straight up, causing my skin to pucker.” Or when she thinks about how she and Adina aren’t very close these days: “the gap between us could span an entire geologic era.”
These are small moments, but they add up in a way that subtly reminds your reader whose head they’re in.
I hope this helps! If you have any questions or just feel like chatting dual POV, feel free to @ me on Twitter.
I’ll wrap up with a list of my favorite dual POV YAs:
Just Visiting by Dahlia Adler
How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
The Vow by Jessica Martinez
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho
Rachel Lynn Solomon writes, tap dances, and collects red lipstick in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of two young adult novels, You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone (out now from Simon Pulse) and Our Year of Maybe (out January 15, 2019). Once she helped set a Guinness World Record for the most natural redheads in one place. You can find her online at rachelsolomonbooks.com and on Twitter @rlynn_solomon.