I’m not the only one offering free writing advice on the blogosphere, and I don’t pretend to be. There are thousands if not millions of people offering advice daily. Once you’ve read one tip, you’ve read them all, right? Wrong. Just because blogger A wrote a post about pronouns doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read blogger B’s post about the same topic. Thousands of people can write about the same thing, but none of them will write it the same. Even though they are all covering the same topic, they all have their own unique point of view.
Choosing the right point of view (POV) is as important to your writing as choosing the right protagonist. I know what you’re thinking. You’ve read other authors’ tips on POV; you understand the difference between first, second, and third person, etc. That’s great, because that’s not what I’m going to talk about. See how everyone’s perspective on a topic is different? Some people focus on the writer’s voice. I’m focusing on the narrative voice: Who is telling the scene.
How many POVs should you have: the debate
You might tell the story from a singular perspective or from many–or too many, George R.R. Martin!
Nah, I’m just kidding. You know I like to pick on George. Sometimes he deserves it.
Going back to online advice, some of the earliest
tips lies I learned was that you shouldn’t have multiple POVs. I didn’t see how this was possible. Most of the books I read had multiple perspectives, so I thought there couldn’t possibly be any truth to this.
I determined the question is not can you have multiple perspectives, but how many can you have? The long and short of it is you can have as many as you like as long as they benefit your story. What do I mean by benefit? Well let’s look at the pros and cons of multiple POVs, shall we?
- multiple POVs confuse the reader
- some POVs can distract from the main story
- the reader can lose connection with the primary character
- the reader can lose emotional investment
- with a new POV, you can write scenes that don’t include the main protagonist
- you can give information that would not be available to the main protagonist
- you can intertwine two or more stories and watch them come together
- you can answer questions that you can’t get from another POV
I’m not a fan of this series, but think of how much trouble the author could have saved if she’d given Edward a POV. Fans were so interested/confused/obsessed as to why he chose an average, mediocre girl that they found a partial draft of the sequel online to find out. Again, I’m not a fan, but I am likewise interested: What was it about her anyway? She had the personality of a Lego brick.
Looking at the list, the pros and cons seem about evenly stacked. So what is a writer to do?
My advice (and you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t want my advice), you shouldn’t avoid writing multiple POVs because it’s challenging. Just learn to do it right. Easier said than done. The easy way to do it right? First, learn how others have done it wrong.
Usually multiple POVs fail because the writer was trying to give every character a POV instead of just the major characters. Or the author wanted to make sure all their POVs had an equal amount of scenes.
The main protagonist should always have a majority of the scenes.
Choose POVs that are focused on the main story. If they aren’t, cut them.
How many is too many
Again, you’re looking for an actual number aren’t you. Sorry, there are no black and white writing laws that dictate how many point of views you can have. Most writing laws are unwritten and meant to be broken when necessary anyway. The correct answer varies from book to book. In a nutshell, how many can your story support?
Rule of Thumb: You have too many POVs if . . .
One of your POVs is telling a different story. All POVs should be focused on the same story.
More than one story? You have more than one book. You’ll want to eliminate some POVs. It’s as simple as that.
of Thumb to be Broken: I’ve heard it said that you can only have one POV per chapter. Again not a rule. Some chapters split into multiple scenes. You may need to switch to your antagonist or another character before the end of your chapter. Just make sure the transition is clear. I probably wouldn’t head hop mid-scene unless you can pull it off. Every rule is meant to be broken–if done well.
POVs need to be distinct and consistent
Think of your characters’ perspectives like smells. They should have a different scent. After all, no one smells the same, right? Even twins don’t smell alike. I’ll go sniff my sister to prove it.
Getting off topic . . .
Each character should have his or her own, unique tone, mood, beliefs, voice, outlook, and perception. If not, all of your characters will sound the same. This is one of the most common reasons multiple POVs fail.
Choose POVs that are different. I’m going to use my sister’s debut novel, “The Quest for the Holy Something or Other” as an example.
Pig: optimistic, delusional, hopeful, idealistic
Kay: grumpy, stubborn, pessimistic, realistic
You can see how those POVs will contrast. No situation, scene, or event will be weighed, judged, or experienced the same for these two characters.
Just make sure readers will identify with all of your POVs. Even though Kay and Pig are so different, readers can relate, sympathize, and understand both points of view.
Choosing the Correct POV
POV needs to be considered in every scene. Look at the characters in your scene. List them if you have to. If you’re not sure which one to choose, write it from all of their perspectives and choose the best one. Remember that it’s not just your choice. Never write multiple POVs “just because.” That is a horrible reason. The same goes for reason number 2. I really like this character and I think it would be super fun to write a scene from their POV. Tempting, I know, but consider the purpose. POV will impact the reader’s perspective and attitude toward events. Consider the tone you want to set.
Example: You want your reader to see the beauty after a storm. Would you choose:
Character A. He is grumpy and pessimistic. Always sees the glass half empty. He wouldn’t notice the sun because of the puddles.
Character B. She is always optimistic. Nothing brings her down. She’s observant and sees the best in all situations. She keeps her chin up no matter what.
Hands down: you’d choose character B. She’d probably notice the beauty of a storm–she won’t have any trouble seeing the beauty after one. She always keeps her chin up too. She’ll notice a lot more than grumpy gus.
Which one is the best one?
The easy answer is not your favorite.
The more complicated answer is: which is the best for the reader.
- reveals information you need the reader to know
- conceals information you want to hide from the reader
- most or least reliable (depending on which you want)
- the character that has the most at stake in that scene
That’s just my point of view on point of view. Now I’d like your point of view. Please comment below.