vicarious love multiple povs

Vicarious Love: The Greatest Advantage of Multiple POVs

Multiple points of view—should you use them or should you not? More genre books than not use multiple POVs to present multiple protagonists–or sometimes just to give readers a glimpse at what’s happening behind the main character’s back. Usually, I’m more inclined to discuss their drawbacks, because, sadly, they’re more likely to be abused than not.

But today, I’m actually going to talk about something I love (gasp!) about multiple POVs, and that’s what I call the vicarious love factor. Sounds complicated (and maybe a little shifty), doesn’t it? But it’s not.

When we write from multiple POVs, we’re able to show our primary characters from an outside perspective. In a single POV story, we’re stuck in that one character’s head. We have a hard time even showing readers what he looks like, much less what other characters think of him. The protagonist might think he’s a bum and keep telling readers he’s a bum. But from the view of another character, the protagonist might be Mother Teresa, John Wayne, and Dr. Who all rolled into one.

Huh. Who knew, right? Thanks to a glimpse through the objective eyes of another character, readers are able to better understand the protagonist. But it gets better!

The vicarious love factor (which could also be vicarious hate, come to that) plays out when the objective POV character appreciates things about the protagonist. When a protagonist is loved by another character, whether he deserves that love or not, readers will be given a major subconscious incentive to love him as well.

This effect can, of course, be achieved without multiple POVs, and sometimes the pitfalls of multiple POVs won’t balance out their advantages. But when you do choose to include multiple POVs, keep in mind that each character’s perspective of other characters will influence your readers’ feelings about all of them.

Tell me your opinion: How would readers’ opinion of your protagonist change if they could see him through multiple POVs?

vicarious love multiple povs

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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. Good piece! A novel I am open done drafting utilizes multiple POV–but too many, I fear. Feedback I am getting is that the writing/story are really good, but people seem to clamor for one “main” protag. I think what I’, endeavoring to pull off is an “ensemble cast” kind of approach. Your thoughts on that?

  2. Steve Mathisen says

    Great piece! I have found myself doing this almost unconsciously because so many of the books I read use this technique. I also find it useful to insert story elements that the main protagonist could not possibly know about but I want the reader to know.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      There are certainly advantages to letting readers discover suspenseful elements right along with the protagonist, but there are also advantages to letting readers peek outside the protag’s viewpoint. Particularly in our age of movies, we’re very used to doing so.

  3. Interesting. In my current WIP, the secondary protagonist and POV character actually starts out hating my protagonist!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s always fun. It allows you to explore both positive and negative sides of your main character.

  4. Jeriann Fisher says

    This is how I tell my stories. It works really well for romance. Especially when I want readers to know what the hunky hero thinks of the heroine.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Romance is often told through multiple POVs, and you’re right it brings a much more rounded effect to the overall production.

  5. Good thing to have in mind! I like using multiple POVs because I feel otherwise the story would be boring and incomplete. There is always a lot going on. And it doesn´t mean to kill suspense, but to highten it, it can show what it really at stake. AND that perspective chan really change the meaning of things.



  6. I definitely use multiple POVs in my mystery stories. It allows the reader to understand the actions and motivations of the antagonist / criminal, something the protagonist / detective can’t possibly know during the investigation. It also helps add a degree of authenticity as the reader sees the detective reach ‘reasonable’ conclusions about the criminal. The reader knows from the antagonist POV that the conclusion is wrong, and part of the mystery is how the detective works to adjust the working theses to solve the crime in the end.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Misdirection like this is another benefit of multiple POVs. Used well, it can bring lots of nice conflict to the story.

  7. Jeriann Fisher says

    Thank you for this. I write this way. It works well for romances. Not only because it’s sometimes nice to know what the hero thinks about the heroine. But having another POV available can revive a sagging – but – essential scene. You know the one. It’s a must have scene that you struggle with & never get right. I’ve had those. The fix? Take the same action, same dialogue, & flip the POV from the heroine to the hero (or vice versa). Magic! Scene is saved because it had the POV all wrkng.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’ve done that a time or two myself. Moving a scene to the POV of a character who has more at stake is a surefire fixer-upper.

  8. Jeriann Fisher says

    Spell check is amazing. The last word should say WRONG

  9. I actually prefer having at least two POVs to look through, even if one isn’t used as often. It sets us outside the protagonist’s head and gives us a break from how they think. It also (as you said), lets us see how the other character view him. This can get over used, but I’d rather risk that than get so bored with one character that I give up on the book.

    The Hunger Games sort of turned out that way for me. I was so tired of Katniss by the end of them. In contrast, The Outstretched Shadow books and the Darkfever books alternate enough that I don’t get completely sick of the main character.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      A few years ago, one of my Writing Questions of the Day (#WQOTD) on Facebook and Twitter was about how many POVs people preferred in the books they read. Obviously, the answers varied, but I was surprised with how many people said they preferred a single POV. I was even more surprised when I thought about it and realized that, as a reader, so did I. It pushed me to minimize POVs in future books. Which is all to say: we need to pay attention to our own preferences as readers and try to mimic them in our writing.

  10. I actually have a hard time writing just one POV. In fact, I struggle with trying to include too many. I much prefer books with multiple POVs, but too many is definitely distracting from the story. Author Dee Henderson is a favorite of mine; in most of her books, she has 2 POVs and will occasionally include a third POV but only with “impersonal” snippets here and there. It really helps the romantic style while keeping it focused yet open.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Fewer POVs often make for a better reading experiencing, but they can definitely cause a more difficult writing scenario. The limitations imposed by fewer POVs can be challenging, to say the least.

  11. Lorna G. Poston says

    I’ve written stories from one viewpoint and from multiple viewpoints. One advantage to the latter is it allows readers to know the protagonist from the eyes of other characters, especially physical features. I hate the old “look in a mirror” as a way for a character in their own POV to describe himself/herself. Other POV characters can also point out things about the MC he/she may not be aware of and therefore won’t share from their own POV.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, the advantage of being able to describe other characters is great. The pitfall here, though, is that if the second POV isn’t introduced quickly enough, readers may have already formed a vision of the original character – and may be jarred by physical details that conflict with their own ideas.

  12. It’s good to see a fan of multiple POV, especially at a time where single POV seems all the rage. From a love POV (pun intended), seeing emotional attachments from two, and often competing POVs, I think it raises the tension bar for the reader. Both want the same thing, but can’t get on the same track, and the reader wants to reach into the story and tell them.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Well, I will admit I much prefer fewer POVs. Tighter is better, and too many POVs can quickly end up being sloppy. But there’s a time and place for everything, and, when well done, multiple POVs have a lot to offer a story.

  13. Katie–
    Excellent post. the questions you raise are important to all fiction writers.
    In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the character Bottom is enlisted to perform in a play before the king of Athens. As the director describes each character for the assembled cast, Bottom keeps jumping up, insisting he is perfect for the part. Something of this mentality must figure with me: the idea of writing a novel and getting to play just one part–first-person narration–has never suited me. I conclude that frustrated actors like me are probably naturally inclined to use multiple points of view. In my novel The Anything Goes Girl, the lead character is seen acting and thinking, but she is also the object of thought–and action–for two other POV characters. The result (I hope) is a richer, more nuanced development of the person at the center of the book.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’ve always thought of writers as actors – of a sort. We experience the same creative call for self-expression that actors do, except that ours is much more internalized.

  14. I’ve written single and multiple. I actually prefer the multiple. Most of the books I read are done that way, so it feels natural.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      POV is such an important story decision. I always encourage writers to consider what they enjoy as readers and follow that if they can.

  15. As a reader I prefer longer books, which lends well to three or more POV’s. Which I also adore. I feel cheated on the story if there’s less than three. And it’s rare I read a book with one POV. When I do I tend to choose ones with a male POV. That’s what I like.

    The least POV’s I’ve ever written is three. My comfort zone is four, and I write 95K+ science fiction romance. I have the hero and heroine, then usually two secondary characters showing other plot threads. The stories I’m telling right now can’t be completely told in less than three POV’s. And I don’t like writing less than three anyway.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’ve found that my sweet spot is usually three POVs, though lately I’ve been skewing the number toward fewer. My last project features two POVs, and my current WIP features only one – the first time I’ve ever done that. I have a feeling the next book is going to bounce back up to at least two. It really just depends on what’s best for the story.

      • K.M.
        I’m with you on three (or fewer) point-of-view characters. I could not figure out what was wrong with novel #3 in my series–until I asked myself whether I had one too many points of view. The answer was yes, one too many. Once that was determined, things seemed–I think–to fall into place.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          POV is such an important decision. It affects everything about the book. Sometimes we won’t know which POVs are right for the story until we start writing. But it’s always great when we can identify the right POV from the very beginning. Makes our jobs a whole lot easier in the long run.

  16. To me, having just one POV feels the most realistic . In real life, I don’t truly know what people think of me or what their perspective is unless they tell me, and even then, there’s no guarantee they’re being honest with either me or themselves (not that stories are direct analogues of real life, but still). A writer can set up a lot of unfulfilled needs and expectations with this deficiency of knowledge among characters. Because of all this, I find it much easier to identify with the main character in a single POV story than any one of the characters in a multi-POV story.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It makes the narrative experience much more intimate, that’s for sure. We’re bonded at the hip to the protagonist, and it creates a stronger throughline for the story. But it doubles the importance of having an awesome main character!

    • That’s very interesting. I have the opposite reaction to single POV stories. With two exceptions, every single time I’ve tried to read a single POV I end up not finishing it. Because I’m locked into the head of the character I care least about. It’s why I hate first person so much. Nine times out of ten (literally, I’ve been counting) I don’t care about the POV character and I don’t finish the book.

      If a book is in first person, it’s an automatic turn-off for me. No matter how interesting it may sound. Because I know I’m going to be locked in the head of the person I care least about.

      My exceptions are a third-person single POV fantasy trilogy, The Books of the Raksura by Martha Wells, because the POV character is male and unbelievably fascinating. The *only* first person book I’ve ever finished was a science fiction romance in a future where Russia was the culture in charge and I found the world fascinating. But, again, I just barely tolerated being in her head for the whole book. I wanted his POV so. Bad. He was way more interesting to me.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        There’s no excuse for un-fascinating narrating characters ever, but it’s especially important in single-POV stories. Because, as you say, what are readers left with if they dislike the narrator?

  17. I used to love multiple points of view, but in my current book I’m sticking to one. It’s a psychological thriller, and I’m interested in what happens, and what my character thinks is happening. It’s claustrophobic, but if I can do it, I should end up with a page-turner. I hope. 🙂

    Excellent article, BTW. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I like that approach. I find most antagonist POVs unbearably boring. Worse, they have a tendency to sap more suspense than they engender.

  18. Siegmar Sondermann says

    Doesn´t it also depend on what you are telling?
    Are you telling a story of a person or a persons story?
    The story of a person can be seen from all kinds of perspectives, a persons story is a period of time lived through by him (and hopefully the reader).

    Just my two cents.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Excellent point. POV choices tremendously influence the tone of the whole piece. It’s often best to decide upon a tone before deciding upon POVs.

  19. Hi Katie
    Good post, thanks.
    Characters can become so much more interesting when we see them from someone else’s perspective. This made me think about the character arc series you’re going through at the moment. That alternative POV can help us realise the lie the protagonist is telling themselves for instance.
    I love using multiple POVs, mostly because I never have just one story to tell. I’m intrigued that you think they’re often overused. Would you mind explaining why please?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The fewer POVs a story has, the tighter the book as a whole will be. Granted, this tightness isn’t always a positive trade-off for the benefits of those extra perspectives, but a tight story is almost always going to be a well-written story. Often, what we lose in the broader perspective, we gain in a closer intimacy with the main character. Ultimately, whether multiple POVs are right or wrong for a particular story depends entirely on the story itself and the overall effect the author is trying to produce.

      • Hi Katie
        Thanks for the response. I’m still very much at the early stage of learning all of this, but I’m intrigued by the expression ‘tighter story’. By this, do you mean a story more focused directly on the conflict and journey experienced by the protagonist?
        I enjoy reading broad fantasy epics like A Game of Thrones and The Malazan book of the Fallen. Have you read either of them and would you describe them as ‘tightly written?’
        Thanks again for your reply

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          I’ve read Steven Erikson’s work; haven’t gotten to GoT yet. Erikson’s novels are many things (complex, creative, insightful, beautiful), but I wouldn’t say “tight” is one of them, and that’s largely due to the sprawl of the POVs. Nothing inherently wrong with that. That sprawl is very obviously the effect Erikson is going for.

          “Tight,” in my definition, applies to a story that is streamlined, tidy, with no extra working pieces. It’s a story that’s focused into an elegance of economy – which, somewhat dichotomously, is *not* to say it has to be sparse, brief, or simplistic.

          An example I like to use is one of my favorite authors, Brent Weeks. His first trilogy Night Angel is amazing; I adored every minute of it. But it’s a sprawler, no question. His follow-up Lightbringer series shows how he’s grown as an author. The story is just as awesome as the first one, but it has the added benefit of being much tighter. It features fewer POVs, and it’s obvious Weeks really reined in his focus. And (even though I still have an emotional preference for the first trilogy), the second is definitely the better written of the two.

  20. Although I understand the huge problems when done wrong, I felt more gushing and portraying how it could have been done right should have gone in more depth since that’s what the article is advertised to be about. It was still a refreshing attempt though.

    On the subject, here are two good examples of multiple povs that come to mind: Wonder (R.J. Palacio) , and The Watch That Ends the Night (Allan Wolf). The former has a main character that is narrating most of the book, but has supporting characters narrating at other parts that are involved with the main character and are interesting on their own. The latter is historical fiction about the Titanic and has at least two dozen recurring points of view, and several others that are rare and only show up once, and yet it doesn’t get confusing and just makes it a more dynamic rather than clunky story overall.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      In all honesty, you’re probably never going to get gushing about multiple POVs out of me. :p Which isn’t to say there aren’t many great multiple-POV books out there.

  21. Multiple POV’s are useful in a lot of cases. Totally agree with that, but how do you switch from one POV to another without it being choppy to the flow? Is it something you should reserve for scene / chapter breaks?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Unless you’re in the always tricky omniscient POV, random switches between POVs will be considered “head hopping” (a no-no). Indicate POV changes with a scene or chapter break.

  22. justaminute says

    I am clearly missing something important and would love to be enlightened… Scenes within my main plot contain my POV character. But many sub-plot scenes do not contain the POV character at all until the main and sub-plots converge towards the final climax. How would one handle this with a single POV? Is this a magic trick or black art? And I can’t imagine a novel where there are no scenes without the single POV character unless it is also written in first person

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If your story is written in a single POV, then you’re constrained to dramatizing only those scenes in which he’s present. You can get around this by having other characters who were present narrate the events, but this can get tedious fast. If you simply can’t work around not dramatizing scenes in which your protagonist isn’t present, then you’ll probably be better off adding some additional POVs to fill in the gaps.

  23. Kay Anderson says

    Nice post! I’ve always liked writing in third-person point of view better than first person. I feel limited writing in first-person and often struggle with it, or I just get bored. Third-person can be a lot more fun, interesting, and easier to describe surroundings, not to mention you’re able to get into various characters’ heads instead of just one.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It is, of course, possible to switch between different first-person narrators. I’ve seen this technique used to good effect (notably in The Time Traveler’s Wife), but third is definitely the most flexible approach.


  1. […] Jami Gold shows us how to learn show vs. tell using macros and word lists, Kristen Lamb warns of the dangers of premature editing, and K.M. Weiland talks about the benefits of multiple POVs. […]

  2. […] Points out one of the best features of multiple POVs in fiction and why you might want to consider taking advantage of them in your story.  […]

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