Eight-Layered Bean Dip: Writing in Multiple POVs

Writing a novel with eight points of view is messy and complicated, but in the end each layer is distinct and enjoyable both on its own and as part of the whole. Kind of like making layered bean dip (I think.) Admittedly I’ve never made an eight-layer bean dip. Perhaps I’ll add it to my “for when I have free time” list, next to knitting and goat yoga (yes, it’s a thing).

In truth, writing from eight points of view was a long and layered process. First, I wrote the essence of the story, trying to lightly keep my voices distinct. At that time, I was mostly just pushing the plot forward. The true differentiation took place during revision. That was when each voice became its own, when I looked for consistency one voice at a time. Each character needed his/her own nuances of speech, reference points, stylistic differences, backstory, culture, and character arc.

In some ways, having so many points of view helped to push the plot forward. I had fun figuring out how different characters would react to the same events, and playing around with secrets and misunderstandings.

When I began revising with an editor, and making some significant changes, revision became a balancing act, as I had to consider the impact on eight distinct voices. I wanted to give each personality equal playing time. All changes needed to be wound through each POV, affecting each character in his or her own way. I had to be sure not to lose a thread. And when I did purposely need to eliminate a thread, it needed to be eliminated throughout all the POVs.

Operation Frog Effect Cover from amazon.jpg

My characters arrive on my literary stage with their own unique personalities and diverse cultural/religious backgrounds, as well as learning styles. It was important to me to create diverse characters who both represented a typical Californian classroom and who were their own individuals with strengths and weaknesses. I found it extremely helpful to have authenticity readers. I identified a variety of different areas for which I might need an authenticity reader, and then I attempted to find multiple readers for each category. I’m so grateful for their assistance—if I’ve gotten it nearly right, it’s due to the help of my authenticity readers. Any mistakes that remain are my own.

Oops! Gina Perry's illustration from OPERATION FROG EFFECT.jpg
Art by Gina Perry

Two of my characters are closest to my own personality, and perhaps for that reason, midway through the revision process, I felt they sounded similar to each other. I made special effort to work on those two voices over and over to strengthen their differences both in personality and presentation. One of my characters, Blake, illustrates his entire thread. I love the inclusion of illustrations for so many reasons. I think illustrations help reach an additional group of readers, and of course brings the story to light in a whole new way.

Much like a zesty bean dip, I couldn’t have achieved the same end result without the important contribution of each layer. Even though it was a ton of work and required some deep cleaning, I thoroughly enjoyed the process. I’d happily write in multiple POVs again.

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Sarah Scheerger is a school-based counselor in Southern California, helping students figure out who they are, and who they want to be. Her middle grade debut, Operation Frog Effect (Penguin Random House) releases in February but is available for pre-order now. Keep an eye out for her new picture book, “Mitzvah Pizza” (Kar-Ben) which launches in April. In addition to MG and PB’s, Sarah also writes YA. To learn more, visit www.sarahlynnbooks.com.

2 thoughts on “Eight-Layered Bean Dip: Writing in Multiple POVs

  1. Sarah, I absolutely loved your book! It’s so inspiring to both kids and teachers. In my review on Instagram, I mentioned how much each of your characters grew throughout the year as they forged friendships and learned to support one another. Through the eight POVs we are able to gain insight into each of these characters. Thank you for your remarkable book! – Susan

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