Have You Chosen the Right POV Character for Your Story?

Note: After all the excitement of launching my new book Writing Archetypal Character Arcs last month, I’m giving myself a little break this week from the usual post and podcast. Instead, I am sharing a fast tip that I hope you will enjoy and find useful! I will be back next week with a brand new post about the pros and cons of prologues vs. flashbacks when writing stories with complex backstories.

Also, if you didn’t know, I have been posting lots of goodies on Instagram lately, including a weekly Q&A vid (which you can also watch on YouTube). I hope you’ll come visit me!


One of the single greatest decisions authors make for their stories is selecting the right POV character for the story. And yet this is often a decision we make in a split second. Usually, the answer seems to be staring us in the face right from the beginning. The main POV should go to the character who inspired the story to begin with, the character we love the most—that’s the character who should get top billing, right?

Ninety percent of the time, yes. However, it’s wise to double-check yourself by taking at least one look beyond the obvious choice. You may look at your options and decide, after all, that your first choice was indeed your best choice. But in opening your narration prospects just a bit, you may also find some surprising opportunities for your story.

For example, Daphne du Maurier’s swashbuckling historical The King’s General is based on the life of Sir Richard Grenville, a prominent and colorful character in the English Civil War. At first glance, he would seem to be the prime choice to narrate his own story. Du Maurier, however, bypassed Grenville as both the narrator and, as a result, the main character. She chose instead to entrust her story to a surprising source: a fictional paraplegic woman named Honor Harris whose life frequently intersects with Grenville’s.

A cursory examination of this choice might make us question du Maurier. After all, she not only chose a bit player to star, she also chose someone who, at first glance, might seem limited in participating in much of the physical action.

However, a closer look proves du Maurier’s choice was that of a seasoned storyteller, who knew how to achieve just the right framing for her story and just the right distance from her sometimes unlikable historical hero. She chose a unique and compelling point of view that allowed her to pace and shade the story to her own specifications.

Not every story will benefit from the choice of an unconventional narrator, but this is a reminder that it’s worth taking a look at all your options before choosing your story’s main character.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Who did you choose as the main POV character for your latest story? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. I chose a curious and ethical young journalist named Silvia Malone as my POV character in The Gorey Affair. It didn’t start out as a mystery, but after I started writing the story I realised it was, so I needed a storyteller. I could have chosen the grieving widow, an antagonist, Ray’s sister or another character.

  2. I actually have 4 POV characters in my first manuscript. Two are protagonists : a journeyman mage (traveling with her sarcastic servant), and an engineering student on summer break (traveling with a ‘Presented Scholar and Doctor of Experimental Philosophy’). Two represent the antagonistic forces: the journeyman’s bitch of cousin (plotting vengeance against the journeyman), and the Lord of the Ominous Tower. (Although, I must say that the main antagonistic force is the journeyman’s own arrogance.) Sounds complicated, but this allows me to work 4 subplots and weave them together in Act 3.

  3. Oh, I’m sure others will bring this up, but the classic case of the POV character being the sidekick of the protagonist is …. Well, I’m sure you can deduce the answer. It’s really quite elementary. 😀

  4. Gabriela B. says

    I’ve gone with multiple POVs for both of my stories.

  5. I didn’t struggle with WHO was going to be my POV, but would it be 3rd person or 1st. I chose 3rd and now that I’m half-way through the manuscript, I’m doubting whether I made the right choice but I am not going to change it. haha

    I cannot stand stories that have more than one POV, and will often just stop reading them if the POV changes. I don’t know what that is,… just a personal buggaboo, I guess…

  6. Right now I’m trying to write 3 POVs, one per chapter, and it’s hella hard to write the FL one. The other 2 are the co-protagonists, very different from her (she is the quiet one, they’re the chatty ones). Don’t know why, in the first draft she was quite easy, but now…man, don’t have it (I should check, maybe I’m messing the POVs, giving hers to another character). I’m thinking of leaving her out of POVs for the moment (give her some mistery) and re-add her later on a important point.
    Thanks for the post!

  7. Love these posts. This was actually a difficult choice for me as I have two strong characters (male and female… enemies to lovers trope). I made them both have a POV. Also a secondary character, who greatly influences both protagonists, was given a POV and will be in novel two of the series. I write historical romance adventures (1850, aboard a clipper ship)..

  8. Colleen F Janik says

    Thank you for another helpful topic. This one is always a tough one for me. I wrote an entire (short) novel in one point of view, then changed it to another. At first glance, I think a lot of writers assume that first person will be the best, but I suppose that is rarely the case. I’ve never read Du Maurier’s The King’s General. I’ll have to check that out!

  9. Thank you for this post! I’ve always had a special fondness for books like “The King’s General,” that choose an unconventional POV character – which adds depth and dimension and nuance to the story itself. (Christie’s “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” is a truly stellar example!) In my current novel-in-progress the very tight first person POV thinks he’s center stage of an unfolding epic drama, but it’s actually his wife who is the focus. The reader only learns this as he gradually learns this – and the nature of the drama itself is only revealed once he realizes he isn’t at the center of it. Looking forward to others sharing their own POV twists and turns!

  10. “We are all the hero of our own story.”

    I just finished The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. At first I found the multiple POVs annoying. Most annoying was the shift between 3rd Person and 1st Person. But somehow he made it work. While the book leaves me with some petty annoyances, I think overall it worked. I would never recommend the approach Towles took, but handled deftly, it had its charms. Not really a ringing endorsement, so much as a “Hmmm. That was interesting.”

    • John Timm says

      I have to agree with you. Overall, I enjoyed the book, but when I need to struggle with the mechanics of what I am reading, it takes me out of the “fictive dream.”

  11. I love Daphne Du Maurier. I haven’t read this one so I’ll be looking into it. I usually choose the MC as the POV, but now I’m curious about alternates. My current story has two POVs because they are writing letters.

  12. For the story I’m working the most on right now, I went with the obvious choice, the protagonist, but I don’t see how any other POV character could work for this story, since his way of seeing things is the point of the story to a large extent. This character forces me to stretch my own observation skills since a) he’s literally from a different world and b) the setting is my neighborhood, so I have to consider many deeply-familiar things and ask myself ‘how would someone who’d never encountered this before react’? (For example, he barely understands what a ‘street’ is).

  13. Victoria C Leo says

    One protagonist but multiple 1st person POVs. My stories are part of a continuous 7 book story arc, and involve aliens with agendas and motivations that would be hard to figure out by a 21st century human reader without the alien being able to explain, worry, and have clandestine conversations and so on in the own heads.
    Anyway, letting the reader be with the protagonist in one end of the galaxy and the antagonists preparing their fell designs in another, which then collide in conflict, works for me.

    Will look for the du Maurier…. Sounds like fun.

  14. Of the 12 books I’ve managed to finish writing, only two have 1st person PoV (and one MC), the rest are multiple PoV (the story told from several character’s perspectives). I seem to prefer multiple PoV stories (for myself; my own story telling). I write Sci-fi thriller/mystery, so perhaps these genres ‘naturally’ attract multiple PoV? I suppose it depends on the story. I like du Maurier’s approach in The King’s General.

  15. Dave Pampu says

    I’m in 1st draft mode with my SF YA tale. I’m told that it’s customary to have the protagonist as the POV in YA with exceptions. However, I’ve employed about 3 characters for POV. I’m hoping this works out well as it stands. When I get to revising that could change. I don’t mind rewriting as long as the plot stays true to form. We shall see.

  16. Interesting thought. I’ve been pondering that question for my space opera – one that has many interesting characters where plots twist and turn. The one character, who I think may turn out to be the hero, would not be as interesting as a POV since he has a flat arc. He knows who he is and what his purpose in life is. And he doesn’t have many burning questions of which direction to pursue because he’s a slave without many choices. I’ve been trying to figure out whose eyes work best to watch him through.

  17. Eric Troyer says

    Whenever I think of a book with a narrator who is not the main character, I think of “The Great Gatsby.” That book does such a good job of painting a picture of a tortured man who appears to be successful, just one of many of the time (and now). The book would be vastly different if Gatsby had been the narrator. I doubt it would have been as good.

  18. I’ve recently been having POV problems. In general I’m more comfortable with 1st person POV because I feel like I’m telling the story as the main character but now I’m writing a thriller which involves some scenes to use 3rd person POV where the MC can’t know what’s going on. I feel like it’s illegal to switch between the two.
    Any thoughts on what to do?

    • Christopher P McCoy says

      This might sound lame, but have you tried watching “The X-Files?” Half the fun (at least for me) is watching Mulder and Scully figure out the conspiracy/mystery.
      Sometimes you see the pieces of the puzzle before they do so it’s not just about WHAT the mystery is but HOW they solve it.
      Columbo was famous for that too. You watch the criminal commit the murder, then you follow Columbo as he figures out how it was done. Just because the audience knows what’s going on doesn’t mean the protagonist does. You just have to figure out how much you want to let on and when.
      KM made a point somewhere about using reveals instead of info dumps. Ideally how you use your multiple POVs and when can help you accomplish this.
      Oh, maybe you could have the protagonists arc narrated by the witness and suspects. Like instead of having the gumshoe tell you about interrogating a suspect, the suspect tells you how the gumshoe harassed him. Just an idea….

  19. I wouldn’t consider it illegal to switch between PoV in a novel, in the one scene or chapter, for sure – when there are several characters, otherwise it gets too confusing. Better to stick to one PoV character per chapter/scene. In fact, I’ve read authors who’ve done that. I have switched PoV for each Chapter/scene in my latest book because I felt it made sense stylistically to go deeper with a particular character than stick to 3rd person which limits what can be said. So there are three PoV characters, the husband, the wife, and the support character whom I originally wanted to tell the story of the husband and wife, but then it became more interesting to tell the story from the wife’s perspective. So that meant switching between 1st and 3rd person throughout the story, depending on the chapter/scene. For example, the husband falls off a ledge on a mountain and breaks a leg. First person for this scene was far more emotional than 3rd person. Same when the wife is reunited with her daughter. There are other reasons why I chose to mix it up for that book, but mostly because found it rewarding in many ways to have the PoV of one of the main characters.

    • Katherine S says

      Very interesting take on the POV switch here: changing between first/third is something I’ve considered in my WIP where I have three different characters, and chose late into the draft to do third person all the way through to keep consistency, however, your post gives me hope that I can retain the original draft’s emotional punches and internal conflicts by doing something similar. If you don’t mind, could you explain how you do the transitions from third-first and vice versa? Currently, I have each POV broken into their own chapters, alternating between the three with each new chapter break, and I’ve taken to putting the character’s name underneath the chapter number also (mostly to keep track myself, but am seriously contemplating leaving it for the final draft). How do you do it?

      • Hi. Did you think I meant changing PoV within a chapter/scene? I don’t. I do what you do (during initial drafts to keep track of whose PoV it is I am writing from), have the name of the character’s PoV as part of the chapter heading (and scene breaks). So for example, in my latest WiP, Past Order Future Chaos: Chapter 1 opens with the husband and the first line is, We take a day trip…, which indicates 1st person PoV. Chapters 2 & 3 are 1st person PoV too. They are from the husband’s PoV because of what he does which forces his wife to react. So then in Chapter 4, I make it 3rd person PoV and about the wife because it reads better (for emotional reasons). I mean, for the sake of ‘consistency’ I could’ve made the entire novel 1st person PoV but didn’t because I was concerned about the emotional impact the story was having on the reader. It’s yet to be read by anyone so I don’t know if it really works. I got the idea of character chapters from reading Frank Herbert’s books (the Dune saga) and Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson’s books (the continuation of the Dune universe). My first novel was a problem for many people who hadn’t read Frank Herbert because he was notorious for switching PoVs within a chapter and a scene. Readers not used to that style of writing didn’t appreciate it; found it too confusing. I revised the novel making sure there were no PoV switches within a chapter or a scene. Hope that makes things clearer.

        • Katherine S. says

          Thank you for the clarification but I assumed you separated the switches into distinct chapters; it would be way to confusing and jarring to suddenly be inside the head of a character that was previously third. I’m thinking of changing the last chapters for each character into first, in hopes of leaving the reader with a lasting impression and motivation to pick up the next book. I was curious as to how you transitioned from first to third: do you dive right in or do lead the reader there? I’m trying to ascertain how to do in my WIP. I’d be open to a beta read if you’re wanting a second set of eyes on it.

          • I dive right in! Given the way I do it, I hope it won’t be jarring. But like I said, no one has really read the novel, so I don’t know if it is jarring – I just loved the idea of switching between the two and creating emotional depth. If you’re willing to beta read the story for me, I wouldn’t say no. Thanks.

          • Katherine S says

            I’d be more than happy to give it a whirl. I primarily use docs for all my manuscripts so if you want, send a link or copy of the excerpt (or whole thing) that you want me to read and I’ll do my best to give some feedback.

          • Katherine S. Where do you want me send the excerpt?

          • Katherine S says

            I normally use drive but I don’t want to put my email online. Do you have any suggestions? I’m thinking maybe Facebook message? Or LinkedIn?

  20. Jennifer Edelmeyer says

    If I remember correctly it was “Helping Writers Become Authors” who pointed out that Luke Skywalker was the best POV for “A New Hope” whereas a Princess Leia POV would have fallen short.

    It’s things like this that help us all!

  21. Choosing a POV character(s) can sometimes really alter a story. I haven’t read “The King’s General,” but DuMaurier must have had a talent for using POV to make the story. In her classic “Rebecca,” the story would have been totally different (or not even happened at all), if the POV had been from some other character besides the unnamed fish-out-of-water narrator.

    • I don’t know whether it’s a ‘talent’ or not for knowing which character’s PoV to tell a story. For all I know DuMaurier may have experimented with a couple of PoVs before settling the characters she chose to tell the story. I have done that for various reasons. I think it may depend on what you want to achieve with the story: create an emotional high or create interest in the history, e.g. The King’s General. Personally, I don’t think it’s right or wrong, just a decision to make in storytelling. It’s a shame she isn’t around to ask. It took me five goes (or more?) to settle on the PoV character of one of my stories and I was so glad when I finally arrived at that point. As I said, I mulled many reasons choosing a PoV. For some stories I knew exactly who was going to tell the story and never looked back.

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