3 Ways to Make Your POVs Equally Interesting

3 Ways to Make Your POVs Equally Interesting

This week’s video discusses the dangers of creating unequal POVs and how to select only the most interesting and important narrators.

Video Transcript:

Multiple POVs are tricky. Not only do we have to create unique voices and arcs for every character to whom we give a point of view, we also have to deal with the sheer logistical problem of juggling all these people. And then there’s the rather scary possibility that readers may not like all of the POVs equally. Let’s say you split your book between two POVs. Well, if readers like one those POVs better than the other, they’re always going to be impatient to get back to the popular character—and that means they’re going to be less than crazy about fully half of your story.

On the surface, this seems like a totally subjective problem. How the heck are we supposed to be able to control our readers’ level of affection for certain characters? Ultimately, the answer to this is that it’s our job to control, or at least guide, reader affection. If we’re unable to make them like our characters, they’re gone. The good news is that if you can do it for one character, you can do it for as many POVs as you need to.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Do not give a POV to any character who isn’t either lovable or fascinating. Do not kid yourself about this. Take a good hard look at every character before gifting him with a POV.

2. Equalize the interest and intensity level between POVs. If you make readers leave a shootout for a tea party, of course, they’re going to be impatient.

3. Make good use of chapter cliffhangers. And by this I mean, always pay off the cliffhanger. You can’t hook readers with a cliffhanger for one POV, only to dump them into a different POV without this second POV gripping them with the payoff from its own cliffhanger earlier in the book.

In short, write every POV character as if he’s the protagonist. Love him to pieces and lavish him with awesome plot advancements. If you can’t do that, he doesn’t deserve a POV.

Tell me your opinion: How many POVs does your current story feature?

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K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Your posts always seem to come in perfect time. My story has 3 POVs.

  2. Juggling POV’s can sometimes be a double-edged sword whether you wrote it yourself or it’s in a series you like to read. With the latter case, the tension is broken up when the POV jumps to another side of the story, leaivng thinking “oh, it was just getting good” where it was before. Eventually everything does circle around and come together, but it’s not always easy.
    It’s really good advice, though. Making sure that the characters who have the POV are worthy of the responsibility. I’ll be sure to keep that in mind if I decide to give a multiple POV story a shot.

  3. @Hariprasad: Three is a pretty average number for me too. Both of my recent books featured that number.

    @Jackie: Less is almost always more. I like big sprawling epics with dozens of POVs, but very few of them are able to hook me with *every single POV*. Fewer POVs means a tighter narrative, and that’s rarely a bad thing.

  4. I love your posts. I write romantic fantasy (historical or modern) and I normally have 3 POV, the 2 romantic leads get most of the time in a 60/30 split (more or less) between heroine and hero and 10% left for the bad guy/creep/antagonist. Normally the heroine gets the bulk of the POV but sometimes the hero’s voice is very strong and he needs more of the story.

  5. Strong voices mean strong POVs. It’s always a delight when a character speaks up like that.

  6. When I write my fantasy romance, I usually have between 3-5 POV, most of it focusing on the hero and heroine who usually get about the same percentage of pages.

    My urban fantasy gets 1, but I’m also using 1st for that, which almost always dictates a single POV.

    My pure fantasy, however, gets more. The one I’m working on right now has 4, but I expect I’ll add a few more as the story develops. But then, I got into fantasy with the sprawling epics like Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series and George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. I love having lots of POVs, but it doesn’t work well unless the story is complex and expansive, something not all authors can pull off. Plus, I confess, when I’ve reread some of these book, I have skipped my least favorite POVs. Once I read The Shadow Rising, my favorite of Jordan’s books, only reading the chapters in Perrin’s POV or chapters that involved him. Surprisingly, his story still made pretty good sense.

    Thanks for the advice! I always find it helpful.

  7. The fantasy genre is a great example to study in regard to this, since its books almost always feature sprawling casts of POV characters. However, it’s worth noting that just because it *is* done doesn’t necessarily mean it *should* be. As you’ve noted even with Jordan and Martin, some of these POVs just aren’t going to measure up. I’ve run into very few fantasy authors who can successfully jungle *all* their POVs. Those who can are able to do it because they’ve aced all three of the tips mentioned above.

  8. I admire those who can juggle more than 3 POV’s. My current story has 3 and I find it daunting sometimes because I mentally have to ‘jump’ into a different frame of mind to write each view. It’s a mental game of gymnastics! Yikes, I might break my brain.

  9. In thrillers it’s common to give the antagonist POV. Granted, a villain should be fascinating, but not usually lovable. Often times, in mysteries, the identity of the antagonist is intentionally left vague. The end result violates your lovable/fascinating rule, but does carry vital information to the reader. Another common exception is POV for a victim of the antagonist, immediately before their death.

    Now, usually we’re not talking lots of POV, but there is some. I have a simpler rule. Keep POV with the protagonist whenever possible. Only give it to somebody else if there is a very good reason to. Good reasons include:

    You need to convey some information that the protagonist can’t know.
    You need to justify a villain’s deeds.
    You need to show the motivations of a supporting character because they don’t make sense otherwise.
    You want to promote a supporting character to a larger role in the story.

    For that last one there, I absolutely agree that any major character should be either lovable or fascinating, preferably both. However, I have run into a lot of situations where giving guest-level POV is the best, and sometimes only, way to get the reader some needed info or nuance. But, I’ll freely admit that I consider POV more of a means to an end than a stylistic choice.

    Bozo

  10. @Jennifer: The more POVs, the more complicated the story, for a number of reasons.

    @Bozo: As you’ve observed, I view POV as more a stylistic choice than a means to an end. Although there are exceptions to every rule, I too often find it lazy writing to use minor POVs simply to convey information. This goes for antagonist POVs as much as anything. As a reader, if a POV isn’t consistently either lovable or fascinating, I would much prefer the author put in a little extra effort to convey necessary scenes another way.

  11. Great post! I’m rewriting my current wip. It had 6 POV (very old story) which I knew was WAY too many. @Bozo made some interesting points about thrillers (another wip), but my current story is a contemporary romance. I like the challenge of conveying the necessary scenes another way. Thanks!

  12. It’s true that some genres conventionally allow or even encourage more POVs than others. But there’s no reason every POV can’t adhere to these guidelines. The book will always be better for their having done so.

  13. I really don’t work with multiple POV’s often, but you made some really good points that I want to remember!

  14. I know I sometimes wind up with too many POVs, and my current WIP (a fantasy trilogy) might need some tightening up in the POV department when I’m done with all the first drafts. I generally enjoy both reading and writing stories that feature 3 or more POVs (again, because I like sprawling fantasy epics with a large cast of characters).

    If the cast of main and supporting characters is huge, but only 2 or 3 people actually are POV characters, I find myself wanting to get into the heads of all these other folks. But of course, as stated in the post and other comments, there can be such a thing as too many POVs and/or boring POVs.

  15. Nothing wrong with using few, or even one, POVs. There are a lot of advantages to the less is more philosophy when it comes to POVs.

  16. @Grace: Everybody’s got their own take on POVs – which is why it’s so important for each of us to get in tune with what *we* enjoy as readers. Figure out what it is about your favorite multi-POV books that makes you love them so much – and vice versa. If you can recreate that same effect on a reader with similar tastes to yours, that’s all any writer can ask for.

  17. This post came just when I was starting to flip a little. My current MG has 4 POVS – all working towards the same goal with two characters having high stakes and the other two getting roped into the debacle from “outside” the fantasy world. I *could* drop one but I love her perspective. My original draft had only one and it lacked the depth this one has. Still, I’m worried 4 is too many. I see lots of MGs with 2 and some with 3, but 4 might be pushing it in this category. I will decide at the end of this current revision. Thanks for this post, though. It makes me feel better to try to go forward with what I’m doing right now, because I’m enjoying this rewrite and rounding the corner on it. xo-cat

  18. Knowing the norms of your genre is always important. Whereas epic fantasies routinely feature half a dozen or more POVs, many other genres frown upon this. Yet another excuse for us to keep reading!

  19. Hariprasad says:

    One of characters is sulking a lot. Her POV itself tends to sulk and look at the negative side of the world. This is necessary for the story. What would be the effect of longer negative emotions in a story? Would the readers be interested in these type of characters?

  20. I would always be careful with a POV character who could come across as unlikable. Sulking is pretty close to whining, and few readers are going to like a whiny character. If you don’t *want* readers to like the character, that’s half your problem solved. But you should still realize that readers probably won’t enjoy spending long periods of time in her viewpoint.

  21. Hello.
    I’m looking for help with my narration. I had been struggling with how the story would come together until I realized that it would work if I used a character as first person narrator in a prologue that opens the “door” into the story of the MC. Then the story unfolds in third person until the end when my prologue narrator closes the “door” of the story which ends in tragedy.
    Is there any examples of such published that I could learn how to utilize this technique?
    Thank you for your help, I love your site.

  22. I just realized that I may be misunderstanding first person.
    I have a character talking to the reader in the prologue, inviting them to see the true story of a character. After they “open the door”…. (the description above is correct) But, is it second person narrative and not first if I do it this way?

    Thanks again :)

  23. First-person narration is the technique of allowing the character himself to narrate the story: hence, the character refers to himself as “I” (“I went to the store today”). Third-person is when the character is referred as “he” or “she” (“He went to the store today”). And the rarely used second-person is when the reader, in essence, becomes the character by way of referencing the main character as “you” (“You went the story today”).

    If that lines up with your understanding of first-person, then you would be absolutely fine book-ending your third-person story with first-person chapters. Many successful books have done that (I’ve even considered doing it myself), although I can’t think of any titles off the top of my head.

  24. Ohh this as a great post! But I think you don´t have to love every character with a POV, something the point is just to understand the character I think (like when it is the villain). And sometimes you just can´t make the reader love them all because you´re not meant to. I just finished reading a Jodi Picoult´s novel where two siblings were discussing if they should unplug their fater on a vegetative state or not. She´s not tying to make you side with any of the kids, that´s something you decide on your own.

  25. “Love” is probably too strong a word when it comes right down to it. It’s more that authors have to have compassion for their characters. We have to understand where they’re coming from and present their POVs in a non-judgmental way.

  26. I completely agree, if you can´t understand you villain, how will your reader do so? It will just look like a void cliché

  27. I realize I must choose the POV that suits my protagonist, but I must ask, is first-person the popular view for mystery, or limited third-person?

    I.e. which do you prefer as a reader when it comes to a gripping mystery?

    Thanks,

    Matt

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’m not much of a mystery reader, so someone else might be better qualified to answer this. But, in general, I don’t have a great preference, provided both are well done. Either option offers strengths and weaknesses.

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