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. Nice tip re selecting the POV of the character with most at stake for the scene. Have never seen it put that way.

    What about scenes where no major POV character is present?

    One possible solution: use the POV of a clearly minor character. This prevents the user from investing emotionally in the “disposable” POV character.

    Example: Neil Gaiman opens “Anansi Boys” with an omniscient POV that slips into the POV of the manager of a Karaoke bar to portray the inciting incident.
    He makes sure to add references to the book’s true main character, though.
    A bold POV choice but it creates interest and sets the tone for the novel.

  2. The idea that increasing POVs makes the reader have to spread their affection for characters is crucial to consider. The reasons for electing to use a POV are important to consider.

    Thanks so much K.M.!

  3. Thank you!

  4. This is something I’ve been wondering about with my WIP. Currently it has five character POVs, plus an omniscient POV at the beginning. I’ve been thinking this might be too many, but I just read Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire, which uses the same number (five character POVs plus omniscient for some scenes). I thought it worked beautifully in that book. I guess I’ll have to work through my draft and see if it’s going to work for my story.

  5. I usually read novels with fewer than 4 POVs, and that’s how I tend to write. Usually, I stick to two, but one of my books has at least six, though one POV is only utilized in once scene. Sticking to who has the most at stake is usually a good choice, though showing parts of the same scene through two different POV’s can be effective, too. I love having an intense scene between two love interests and have half of it shown through the man’s eyes, and the other part through the woman’s. 🙂

  6. @Danielson: If you choose to use the POV of a minor character who doesn’t have much at stake in a scene, he’s essentially filling the role of narrator. As such, it’s important that he have a distinctive and interesting voice.

    @Adventures: POV is a tricky subject, but the options are so diverse, that it’s always exciting.

    @Jennifer: You’re welcome!

    @Genie: It depends largely on the length of your story, the importance of the POV characters, and the plot itself. As I said in the video, there’s no magic number for POVs. It’s just a matter of figuring out what number your story can handle.

    @Liberty: Differing perspectives is always a fun trick to pull off. It’s always a good way to highlight differences in character personality.

  7. You’ve added to my understanding of multiple POVs here–thanks so much for the tips 🙂

  8. You’re very welcome. I’m glad you found it helpful.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this, I am currently re-writing my novel from omnipresent to narrator and 2 pov’s and needed to be reminded of the basics.

  10. We can do so much with POV if we, first, understand how it works, and then are willing to push the boundaries.

  11. I used to write in the first person, so POV was simple. My current work is my first attempt at third person and POV switches.

    Nice reminder about the POV character with the most at stake in a scene. I need to go home and do a re-write. 😉

  12. It’s amazing how that little tweak (moving scenes to the POV of a character with much at stake) can bring so much life to a scene. From writer’s block to inspiration in a quick change of pronoun!

  13. I’ve always written two POV characters (practically a ‘rule’ in romance), because I like mystery. I don’t want the reader to know anything before the protagonists do.

    That being said, my last two manuscripts had a 3rd POV character. One started as another romantic suspense, but the police chief showed up and demanded his time on the page.

    My current WIP has a villain’s POV, which is the first time I’ve done it–but it’s obvious from the beginning that he’s the bad guy, since the heroine is running away from him, so it’s not really a secret.

    Genre choices can play a big part in how many POV characters you choose. I think the ‘rule’ is “as many as you need to get the job done well.”

  14. Good point about genres. I’m not a fan of forcing stories to bend to fit genre rules. But it is handy to know what generally works well for particular types of stories.

  15. Nice summary! Thank you

  16. My pleasure. Thanks for reading!

  17. Good post. I like 2 POVs..:)

  18. It’s hard to go wrong with two POvs.

  19. I have two POV in my latest project and I find it hard juggling them. I can’t imagine 12. It would hard to give them enough page time.

  20. That was the biggest drawback of the multiple POVs in the book I mentioned. It wasn’t a long book either. I bet each character only had a few chapters apiece.

  21. I rotate two first person POVs’ in my work in progress, but each chapter stays in one person’s POV. On the other hand, My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult has multiple first person POV which really throws you off.

  22. I enjoyed My Sister’s Keeper, but the multiple first-person POVs and the use of different fonts to separate them was admittedly annoying.

  23. Thank you for saying this so plainly!

    Tomorrow I’m blogging about the Dicken’s Infection (too many characters), and I’ll be referring a few writer friends to this post. =)

  24. Sounds like a great post. I’ll try to remember to check it out tomorrow.

  25. 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

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

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

  29. 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.

  30. 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.)

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

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