Introduce Important POVs as Soon as Possible

This week’s video explains why introducing POV characters early in the book is important to your reader’s happiness.

Video Transcription:

By the time readers have read through the first couple chapters in your book, they’ve made an emotional and intellectual investment in your main characters. If they’ve read this far and plan to continue reading, they’ve obviously found the characters introduced in these chapters to be worth their time and attention. So imagine their annoyance when, deep into the book, the author suddenly plunges them into a strange character’s point of view. This is what happened in a fantasy I read recently, and it very nearly made me give up on the book. I had followed the author’s main characters through several hundred pages of adventures, only to be ripped away from them and plunged into a lengthy subplot that featured an entirely new cast of characters. In essence, the author was forcing his readers to begin a whole new story in the middle of his book.

Introducing a new POV late in the book occasionally works for short scenes, if the point is to offer an outside perspective of the protagonist. But when the characters the reader has grown to love are suddenly nowhere in sight, the author risks serious backlash. Readers may skip ahead to regain contact with familiar characters—or they may give up reading altogether in their frustration. The first few chapters are the place to introduce important POV characters. Coherent framing and foreshadowing demand the author use these chapters to guide readers’ loyalty and help them understand which characters rank high in the story’s hierarchy.

If you’re feeling tempted to add an entirely new POV character late in the book, pause to ask yourself a couple questions. Is this new POV absolutely necessary? Could you introduce this character’s POV earlier in the book? Could you work this scene into a previously introduced character’s POV? Consider carefully so you don’t run the risk of annoying your readers.

Tell me your opinion: Have you ever been tempted to add a brand new POV late in the book?

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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. A difficult one, I write for children in first person but soon to tackle a book for grown-ups and like the idea of the authorial voice, will def. try this.

  2. Authorial voice – in the sense that it presents a narrative apart from the main character’s voice – can be tricky, since it creates distance between the characters and the reader. It can sometimes be presented to great effect, but it offers its own array of difficulties.

  3. I have 5 POV characters – all of whom are introduced before the end of 1st chapter. Late in the book, there’s a short POV by another main character, but he was also introduced in the first chapter. I think it works…but we’ll see.

  4. Yep, that work with no problem. Good job!

  5. I don’t know. I think it all depends on the story and how it’s handled. I’ve read books from Stephen King, John Saul, Dean Koontz, Frank Perretti, and the Left Behind books and I have no problem getting dropped into new POVs as they’re needed. My inspiration comes from them actually. But if a story departs from the mainline too long, that can be irritating.

    I try to use POVs as early as possible, but sometimes, they just don’t fit in the very beginning when the story question and main character are the most important hooks. My work-in-the-wings is a braided plot with five storylines that seem separate at first but collide at the end, and I only opened new POV characters after they interacted with my MC in some way. I didn’t think it was fair to do so until my reader knew who the person was. Each POV is important to give readers the complete picture of what’s going on.

    I actually have several chapters without my MC because it appears as though she’s dead for a while and other characters are scrambling around looking for her. When it seems as hopeless as possible, then I show that she survived and how.

  6. There are always exceptions – and the book I referenced in the post managed to be one, despite the major risk the author took by appearing to switch stories midstream. As a reader, I always prefer the continuity provided when important POVs are introduced before the inciting event. But, in some stories, this isn’t always possible. When it’s not, connecting the new POVs to the main character is key. Show readers why the POV matters, convince them it’s not a rabbit trail taking they away from the protagonist, and they’re much more likely to reward you with their patience.

  7. In one of my books, I added a POV of a young man who was the son of the main character–but only for one chapter when he was dying.

  8. A POV of a previously introduced character showing up for one chapter isn’t something I recommend, just because it detracts from the continuity and cohesiveness of the narrative, but it’s done all the time, so readers are usually accepting of it. And one scene isn’t likely to test their patience, as a lengthy subplot with the MC nowhere in sight is prone to do.

  9. I have 5 POV’s currently in the 2nd draft of my WIP. Two of them are introduced around the 20% – 30% point by necessity. I don’t have plans (as of yet) for introducing anymore POV’s (unless they’re an existing character) past this point.

    When I saw the beginning of the post, I got my hackles up and was prepared to do some battle. I read stories all the time (particularly political thrillers) that introduce POV characters late in the game by necessity. But, there’s also not heavy exposition on what this person was doing up to their point of entry. This would be the exception to the rule. Get in, witness something awry, get out, that’s the job of these characters. Anything else would be awkward at best 400 pages into a 500 page book!

    BTW, like the new template for Wordplay. It’ll take a little getting used to, but it looks good.

  10. I didn’t count the pages, but the new POV segment in the referenced book was probably 100-150 pages – with the previously introduced characters nowhere in sight. The author’s saving grace was that the new characters actually ended up being more interesting than the original ones – once I got past several chapters of disorientation.

  11. The first few times I read political thrillers, it took some getting used to. You’d be with Character X for 5 or 10 chapters, then, out of nowhere, here came Character Y, then Character Z and AA. After about 300 pages, you figured out why the stories were interconnected, but I understand! 🙂

  12. As a reader, I almost always prefer stories where one or two characters take center stage. Too many POV characters, and the book starts to be more about plot than character. That’s never my preference.

  13. Was actually wondering about this recently. This was very useful. Thank you.My work in progress has 2 POVs and I was afraid of introducing the 2nd one too late. I’m relieved that you say it can be done within early chapters. I was afraid that it had to be done in the first chapter. I think I will write one chapter then introduce the second character.

  14. Interesting discussion–and tips I’ll file for the future since my WIP is middle grade and told only in the main character’s POV. Maybe I’ll graduate to multiple POVs in one of my future books? I won’t rule it out 🙂 As a reader, though, I’ll usually stick with a book with multiple POVs–even if someone new is dropped in in the middle–since, once I get started, I’m curious about how the author will bring all the angles together…

  15. General rule of thumb: If you introduce the character through another character’s POV early in the book, you have a little more wiggle room in introducing the first character’s POV. But, if you haven’t introduced the character previously, his POV will need to enter the story that much sooner. That said, it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the first chapter. For example, in my WIP, which features three POV characters, I introduce the POVs subsequently in the first three chapters.

  16. @Kenda: Sometimes writing a book from a single POV can be more challenging than multiple POVs, since the limitations are much stricter. It’s a challenge I’ve never been able to meet. All my books to date feature two or more POVs.

  17. Good points. In my WIP, there are several chapters which alternate between the main character and the sidekick who gets separated. I’m going to rethink this and take your points into consideration!

  18. Although my personal preference would be to streamline POVs whenever possible, you shouldn’t run into too much difficulty giving a sidekick a POV. Since he’s an established character, with an established importance to the protagonist, readers will be willing to follow him.

  19. in my current WIP, i have four POVs. the first is the most important, focusing on the protagonist of the novel. the second focuses on a guy is more or less the one that sets off the plot of the novel after his encounter with the protagonist. my other two POVs are for the protagonist’s siblings. (everyone’s introduced by the end of the first chapter)
    i also considered having two more POVs, one each for the protagonist’s mother and step-father, but i decided against it; i realized that i achieve a much stronger effect if the protagonist overheard their conversations instead 🙂 which is how i first imagined it anyway!

    thanks for the post! i’m rethinking when and how i should introduce my other POVs, and making sure that they don’t break in too abruptly.

  20. Good job! Usually, the reader is able to maintain a stronger and more intimate connection with the story when he’s able to see as much of it as possible through the MC’s eyes.

  21. I think in most of my stories there are 1-10 POV characters (in third person). Of course, only about 4 or 5 have long segments and appear in most chapters. As a reader though, if there are too many really short scenes told by several characters, it gets hard to tell who is telling the story and what’s going on. Then there are those characters whose POV I’d rather read than any, and sometimes those are just way too short. 🙂

    ~ Chy

  22. POV is always a juggling act. We have to figure out just the right number of POVs (and which POVs) to give the reader all the information he needs without distracting or confusing him. It’s a tough decision – even for the most experienced of authors.

  23. Generally, I focus on one or two characters in the first chapter, maybe two more in the second, but additional characters are often attached to these, and “no man is an island” when they interact. All the main players–some more prominent than others–are established within the first five chapters at most, and more information about them comes in the process of the story.

    As for introducing new characters late in the story, I always use an already established POV to talk about him or her. And they’re always minor characters, not a major subplot popping up from nowhere. The new character may briefly receive a POV of their own, but not without being introduced.

    ~ VT

  24. That’s a good rule of thumb. If the author can pave the way for the reader by explaining to him that a new character has significance to the plot in a way that relates to the previously established characters, he’s doing both himself and the reader a big favor.

  25. Ellyny Daniels says:

    I found this article refreshing, as I am currently in reflection while working on my first novel and have two Major POVs (they are love-beset Protagonists), with the first POV introduced in chapter one and carrying the next few chapters, while the second POV (who is referenced in the previous chapters) tell her side, and then switch back and forth between them every other or every third chapter.

    By the middle of the book, both POVs find themselves in parallel situations (imprisoned) and the 1st POV makes a hasty escape (in an fast pace action sequence—not a lot of detail will be given on how he is able to escape, its just go! GO! GO!

    Then the proceeding chapter is from a 3rd (yet to be heard from) POV, who is the loyal sidekick of the 1st protagonist. His narration will detail the plot points of his master’s escape, leading up to his sacrificial death while aiding his master.

    Will this be to jarring for a reader: Having the sidekick step into the limelight and reflect upon the UST between the two protagonists while being a hero?

    After this chapter, I’ll resume the 1:3 ratio between the two POVs, but truly feel the narrative would have more emotional persuasion if it comes from the loyal servant’s perspective.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      If I’m understanding correctly that the third POV from the minor character isn’t introduced until late in the book, then, yes, I’d have to say I recommend against it. Readers will have no investment in the minor character’s perspective by this point in the story, and chances are high they’d much rather see the action (and reaction) straight from the protags’ perspective. Plus, if this is the first time this POV shows up, you’re also running the general risk of jarring readers with the surprising inconsistency, since they’ve thoroughly settled into the main POVs by now.

      It’s always best to stay in the main characters’ POvs whenever possible. They’re what readers care about most. But if you do decide to go ahead and include the minor POV, I would definitely make sure to introduce it early and use it consistently throughout.

  26. Abbie Wilkes says:

    I know I’m super late commenting on this post, but I am currently writing a novel where I go from strictly the protagonist’s POV for the first 1/4 of the book, then working in two supporting characters POV’s around there. There is another main character who is referenced during that time, but not met till the 1/4 mark and is given no POV till nearly 1/2 of the way in. Is that too late to add a POV? She is crucial to the plot in the second half of the book but did the reader does not need to see through her POV till later, as the beginning is more about the main protagonists’s struggles. She is privy to events the min protagonist can not possibly be present at but adding scenes with her POV at the beginning seems contrived when she doesn’t need to be there till later. Thoughts? Thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Can you add a POV that late? Yes. We see it done with some frequency. Do I recommend it? No. It’s never going to be the best route to a tight, coherent narrative. Remember, characters–and specifically POV characters–are what drive and focus your story. If you have to fragment the POVs that late in the story, you have to question whose story this really is.

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