This may seem like a no-brainer, something that happens instinctively as you write, but I often see stories in which the wrong perspective is used in a scene. The results can be ugly, ranging from decreased tension to reduced reader engagement. If you just gasped and placed your hand over your mouth, you understand how serious a matter using the right POV is for every scene.
The Pitfalls of Multiple POVs
The problem with pits is that they’re easy to fall into and hard to climb out of.
- Attachment Issues: with many POV characters, it can be difficult for the reader to bond with any one character.
- Head Hopping: when transitions between characters’ perspectives lack clarity, it can create confusion as the writer hops, frog-like, through the various POVs.
- Underdeveloped Characters: with so many POV characters to write, it can be difficult to make them all fully realized beings with unique perspectives.
- Spoiler Alert: an unearned POV, especially the antagonist’s, often does little more than broadcast what’s to come, spoiling tension as the story moves forward.
The simplest solution is to write in a single point of view. Barring that, limit the number of POV characters in your story to two or three. Less really is more.
When Your Story Demands Multiple POVs
Some stories are best told with multiple POV characters. Even with a small head count, it’s easy to trip. Besides tying your shoelaces before you go out, how can you avoid falling?
Always remember your story should have a clear protagonist at the center of the action. Of course, if you are writing a romance with a dual point of view, you may have two protagonists. If you are writing an epic fantasy with multiple worlds, you may have a protagonist per world.
However, for the sake of our discussion, we’ll assume a single protagonist at the center of an ensemble of three or more primary supporting characters with POVs. Even in a dual point of view story, you’ll be faced with having to choose the best perspective on any scene they’re both in, so read on!
Assess every scene you write in which there is a choice between POV characters by asking yourself these questions.
- Is this scene, in this character’s perspective, telling the reader something she already knows or can easily infer? If so, the scene may be redundant or explaining something better left to subtext.
- Is the scene broadcasting something about to happen? If so, the scene may be creating a spoiler and reducing tension.
- Is the scene emotionally flat, doing nothing much to enhance the reader’s experience of the action or character? If so, the POV character may not be the one with the most to gain or lose in this scene.
- Would the story be tighter, better paced, and have more dramatic tension without this scene? If so, it’s creating drag in your story’s forward momentum.
If you answered any of these questions with a yes, you need to revise or cut the scene. Or cut the character’s perspective.
When Your Story Demands an Ensemble Cast of POV Characters
Some stories need an ensemble cast to create an epic narrative. Organizing your ensemble before you write can save multiple revision headaches later, keeping you out of the pits altogether.
1. Create a Casting Hierarchy
Even if you haven’t written a word of your book, you should have enough prewriting under your belt to know who your team players are and what roles they’ll fulfill in the story. Line them up in order of importance.
You might decide rank based on:
- How long the character lasts in the story
- How crucial a role he fulfills
- How much readers like, or are expected to like, him
- How necessary he is to the forward movement of the plot
This hierarchy is your first guideline for how to choose the right POV. Look at the characters in the scene and use the highest-ranking character’s perspective.
Sometimes choosing the right POV is that simple, but often it’s not. That’s where other guidelines come into play.
2. Narrow Down the Heirarchy
For any scene in which the hierarchy isn’t enough to choose the right POV, ask yourself these three questions.
1. What is the purpose of this scene? The readers’ takeaway?
2. For which character is the stakes highest right now?
3. Who will readers be most emotionally engaged with?
These guidelines take the guesswork out of how to choose the right POV. They help you base your decision on both how to best advance your story and how you want your scene to affect your reader.
Get a Choose the Right POV PDF booklet, perfect for avoiding POV pitfalls. It will guide you through both character and scene assessment with an example and printable worksheets.
By choosing the right POV, you’ll be able to create the most compelling, dynamic, unforgettable scenes possible!