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Friday, April 8

Two Sides to a Story: Plotting For Everyone

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

One of my favorite writing techniques is dramatic irony, where the reader knows information but the characters don’t, and some of the tension comes from wondering what will happen when those characters finally meet or realize the truth. Playing one off the other can add a nice layer of mystery as well, since the reader might not be sure which one is telling (or knows) the truth and which one is wrong. There’s also the fun of seeing how things would be different if only they knew what you knew. (This works especially well in the romance department) I’ve been doing a lot of this with the new book, and not only has it been fun from a narrative standpoint, the two sides have also been quite helpful from a plotting standpoint.


By allowing me to make connections about things that then cause conflict.

For example, I have a situation where an event (a break in) has occurred that affects both my POVs differently.

In POV-1, the character is part of the investigation. He knows things about this break in that the other character doesn’t.

In POV-2, the character has things to hide, but she’s not connected to the break in at all.

One obvious plotting idea is to make POV-1 suspect POV-2, but that’s no fun because these two are friends and potential love interests for each other. Putting them into conflict in the first act wastes an opportunity for bigger conflict later in the story when the stakes are higher. (And it lacks tension because you know POV-2 didn’t do it) Instead, I want to cause trouble with these two in an indirect way. I want their goals to butt heads, but not them personally.

As each side works on resolving their goals, an opportunity appears.

POV-1 discovers a suspect and acts to prove that person committed the burglary.

POV-2 is connected to the suspect. She needs to protect that person to protect her own secrets.

The suspect is in the perfect position to connect these two goals and cause trouble, without actually putting the two POVs into direct conflict.

POV-1 can pursue the suspect, unaware that he’s going to cause serious trouble for POV-2.

POV-2 can try to protect the suspect, unaware that the more she does the more she risks exposing her own secrets, which will be very bad for POV-1.

The sheer joy of it is that both POVs also want to protect each other, and their actions are motivated by that. So by protecting one another, they’re actually putting each other in so much more danger than if they’d done nothing.

The reader is aware of both sides and how bad this is going to be when those two sides crash into each other. It’s inevitable that they’ll find out about it, but the question is when. And that wondering helps keep the tension high, especially when every act adds more trouble to the pile.

Not only is this tons of fun to write, but it’s adding layers and twists and turns to the plot to keep it unpredictable and interesting. As you work on your own plots, even if they’re not multi-POV stories, look for:
  • Ways in which other characters might act in ways to be helpful, but that actually cause trouble
  • A common person or goal that has very different effects on different characters
  • Places where you can share information with the reader, but keep the characters in the dark
  • Places where misunderstandings can cause trouble (but not in a cheesy sitcom way)
  • Spots where misguided intentions create the opposite desired effect
Seeing the crash coming is often more compelling than a sudden crash from nowhere. If you’re looking to craft a little tension to your plots and add a few twists and turns, playing with dramatic irony could be just what you’re looking for.


  1. I usually have two different POV of views, and one of the ways I keep the conflict going is doing just this!

    I really like your idea of letting them help each other, but it actually making things worse overall. I am definitely going to bookmark this post.

    Do you add this in while you're writing the book? Or is this something you look at while editing? Maybe both?

  2. More excellent plotting advice! This is really helpful. I may have to print this out and keep it in my notebook. Thanks, Janice.

    IMHO, keeping characters in the dark doesn't work as well with a single POV, especially 1st person. Most of the ideas in that last bulleted list can work fine, but not the third one. With 1st person, you can't reveal information to the reader and keep the character in the dark without making the character seem—a little slow. That really bugged me in CATCHING FIRE.

  3. This is great! I'm just plotting out a new book now, so very timely for me--thanks!

  4. My mind is a-whirr with possibilities! Although I'm writing in the first person, I'll find a way to make this rock. I love it Janice when you do writing posts that get the juices flowing....which is most always. Liz

  5. Elizabeth: A little of both. Some stuff I know, others appear as I write. I jump back and forth a lot as new things pop up that I can tie back into something I wrote previously. And I'm sure I'll have more things to tie together once I have the first draft done.

    Ben: Yep, it's a real challenge to keep a first person POV in the dark about stuff. What I've found that works fairly well, is to have them notice things that have no real context yet, then later let them put the pieces together. Some readers will pick up on things early on and know the answer before the POV. But you're right, you can't leave them dumb too long or they just look stupid.

    Elle: Most welcome!

    Liz: Awesome! I love it when that happens.