3 Guidelines to Determine if Your Book Has Too Many POVs

How Many POVs Are Too Many?Point of view—frequently referred to as POV—allow readers to see the story through the eyes of a character. In most instances, a skillful use of POV limits the story to only what is apparent to the POV characters. As a result, writers are sometimes tempted to include as many POVs as possible in an attempt to give their readers a broad view of the story. But… how can you tell if your book has too many POVs?

Some novels (particularly speculative novels, it seems) can feature dozens of POV characters. There’s no writing law that gives a limit to POV characters, but here are a few tips for figuring out how many are too many POVs.

3 Basic Rules of POV

For starters, consider a few basic tenets of POV.

1. POV indicates an important character, since it gives readers an intimate look into his mind.

2. Using more than one POV allows readers to see things through more than one character’s mind.

3. POV is most effective when assigned to the character who has the most at stake in any given scene.

In order to effectively utilize these components of POV, you must realize the more POV characters you have, the more you’re forcing your readers to spread out both their attention and their loyalty.

Multiple POVs can fragment your story and destroy its focus. So consider carefully every time you decide to introduce a new POV.

Does this new POV add something vital to the story—or could the scenes be reworked into an existing POV character’s viewpoint? The answer will affect your entire book.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Do you think there is a good guideline for figuring out how many are too many POVs? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

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. Thanks for taking the time to post this! Great tip on about using the POV of the character with the most at stake. I know when I read a novel I want to see the story from only one or two POVs as my brain cells are precious and already are way too scattered. lol

  2. As much as we authors like to experiment and flex our muscles attempting complicated narrative feats, we have to remember that most readers prefer things simple. If we’re confusing the reader, we’ve probably lost him.

  3. Nice work on this assessment of POV. Thanks!

    Give us a shout if you write any screenplays. We do written evaluations and host an online competition.

  4. Thanks! Don’t see any screenplays in my future, but I appreciate the offer.

  5. Hi! I’m writing a fantasy novel, and I’m using various POVs.
    I’m trying to limit myself to the protagonist, the antagonist, and a third character (a close friend/mentor of the protagonist).
    I’m tempted to add a fourth character’s POV, mainly because she will undergo a negative character arc (she’ll be the antagonist in the sequel), and I would love to show the gradual change as it happens in her mind.
    That’s the only reason, really, but it’s a big reason for me. I didn’t like how they treated Anakin Skywalker’s negative arc in Star Wars, it felt too sudden to me. Hence, the temptation to use her POV.
    Are four POVs too many for a fantasy novel?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Objectively, four POVs definitely aren’t too many for a fantasy novel. Just make sure each POV is adding something that moves both the plot and theme. If any two or more are repetitious of each other because the characters are all in pursuit of the same goal for the same reason, then at least one of them is probably extraneous.

  6. I have books with only one POV (not including first person) I have books with three or four. I have one with I’m not sure how many, I haven’t counted yet. It’s due to be revised and released in 2018. The thing there is each of the POV’s are unique. There is little overlap in terms of what character’s see and experience until it all comes together at the end in a cataclysmic finale.

    My policy is to eliminate a POV if I can show it from another larger character without losing anything essential to the book. ( I have a fondness for using the victim’s POV for murders. I’m just bent that way.)

  7. I’m so grateful to come across this article but I am still lost on how i should edit my novel down to 3-4 POV characters. I currently have 8 in mind and whenever i try to narrow it down to 4 I am completely lost on what to do.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      You don’t get nothin’ for nothin’. 🙂 But if you’re writing in an appropriate genre (i.e., epic fantasy), there’s no reason you *can’t* use eight POVs.

  8. I’m struggling with this myself and I’m glad I came across the article. In my current WIP, I’ve been using the Act 1/2/3 outlines I found online with your website on them. They’ve been fantastic! I’m blending that with a W Story Structure approach. My problem is reverse of the other’s who commented I think. I only have 1.25 POVs. The entire story is told Third Person Close through the Protags POV. I have snippets of the Antags POV peppered throughout each act. However, I keep coming up short on size. I keep trying to rush the end. I’m in that “big yawning blank” you talk about in your book. Act 2 first half is about 20K words but I just “finished” Act 2 second half at 10K words… I either need to flesh out the story more by adding more plot; or, flesh out the story more by adding a POV. I’m considering adding a third party (FBI agent) that is hunting the Protag and his friends, starts out the story as one of the Antagonistic forces but turns out a friend by the very end, slowly coming around to see him as the good guy and not the enemy… I think that last sentence just talked myself into doing it. ha ha ha… any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I recently wrote a post on POV problems, which you might find helpful. I would always be hesitant to add a POV just to bump word count. Choice of POV should be inherent to the weave of plot-theme-character and not just added to provide an exterior viewpoint of the action.

  9. I too, as many others, have the problem with too many POVs. I’m writing a story featuring a band of outcasts, thieves, criminals, etc who all have been victims of different circumstances that made them this way. The group consists of nine different characters who, for me, are all equals in the story overall. Here is where the problems arise because since every character should be seen as equals in the group, I want all of them to have their own POV. Which is where I fall short – like how am I supposed to manage 9 POVs? At the same time, I’ve tried and tried again to only have like 5 POVs but it never works. For the different scenes to play out as I want to, I need all of them. Or? Any tips for me?
    Btw I’m writing fantasy/science fiction/futuristic apocalyptic ish.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Plot and structure could always be a major consideration in framing a story via its POVs. I touch on the issues of plot points in multiple POV in this post on dual timelines. But the short answer is that you can handle this in two ways: either use the same plot point to drive the plot in both POVs – or time it so each POV gets its own structure-advancing plot point at the proper time. In the vast majority of cases, the first is preferable, since it will contribute to a much tighter story.

      You might also find this post helpful: Most Common Writing Mistakes: POV Problems

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