Most Common Mistakes (Purple Prose)

Most Common Writing Mistakes, Pt. 64: POV Problems

most common writing mistakes pov problemsPOV. Writers can’t live without it. It influences every aspect of story, right down to word choice. But in all frankness, sometimes POV can be a little hard for us to live with as well. The vastness and the complexity of the topic makes it all too easy for authors to accidentally stumble into POV problems. But fear not! Today, we’re going to clean everything up.

POV—short for Point of View–refers to the perspective from which a story is told. This might include:

Basically, POV is the artifice of suggesting that the story is not being told from the author’s perspective but rather from the perspective of a character, the perspectives of multiple characters’, or sometimes even the perspective of a nameless narrator who while technically you is understood to not be you. (Confused yet?)

I frequently talk about the importance of strong, cohesive POVs. In a recent comment, Meghan Weyerbacher asked:

I am itching to read an example of what you think would be a sloppy character POV. Do you offer this anywhere? I am still on my first draft of my novel but want to learn as much as I can along the way.

Today, we’re going to examine the fundamental principles of excellent POV—and the four major pitfalls I see creating POV problems over and over again.

The Art of Strategic POV

When chosen strategically, POV contributes to the immersion of a carefully-crafted narrative designed to communicate a very specific experience to readers.

Great POV choices=great storytelling.

Poor POV choices=poor storytelling.

Truly, great POV is an advanced skill that will immediately set your book far above the pack. Great POV is one of the major “it” factors that tell readers, right from the beginning of the book, You can trust me—I’m awesome and totally know what I’m doing!

There are a few hallmarks of excellent POV:

1. Vision

POV should never, never, never be arbitrary. Let me say that again: NEVER. Great POV is built on the foundation of the author’s specific vision for the story. When you know what your story is about—on the levels of both plot and theme—you’re able to deliberately make POV choices that contribute to that vision.

2. Consistency

Random POVs? Also bad. When you view POV as the frame that shapes your entire narrative, you realize it is a powerful tool for providing readers with a consistent reading experience. Stories that lean into strong, consistent POVs, rather than randomly popping in convenient narrators, create a much more polished and professional storyform.

3. Control

The fundamentals of POV are all about control. One POV=one narrator. And, yes, this is true even in an omniscient POV that looks into the minds of multiple characters. This means you must exercise absolute control in “staying in POV” and avoiding head-hopping.

4. Spark

Great POV is about so much more than just technical excellence. It’s also about spirit, surprise, memorability, verve, and entertainment. Great POVs bounce off the page thanks to strong narrative voices. They’re not just matter-of-fact tellings of the story; they’re evocative explosions of personality.

4 POV Problems You Should Avoid in Your Writing

Very often the best way to learn how to do something well is to first identify how to avoid doing it poorly (which is the whole point of this series of Most Common Writing Mistakes). In response to Megan’s question and in the interest of notching our stories up from good to great, let’s take a look at the top four examples of POV problems you should guard against in your writing.

1. Inconsistent Viewpoints

The first POV decision you have to make in writing any story is: What type of POV should I use?

The first of several choices you have to make is about what “person” the story will be told in. Although there are also a few experimental options, the following are the most prevalent and useful:

  • 1st-person (I, me)
  • 3rd-person (s/he, him/her)

Next comes choice of depth:

  • Omniscient (widest view of the story, not told from any one character’s POV, but rather from a distant, all-knowing narrator)
  • Tight (told strictly from only one character’s perspective per scene)
  • Deep (goes even further than “tight” to show the narrative from the POV character’s perspective, rather than simply telling or describing this person’s experience)

And then tense:

  • Past tense (this happened)
  • Present tense (this is happening)

There are no right and wrong choices. But whatever you choose, stick with it. Inconsistency in POV is one of the quickest tip-offs of an amateur narrative (and also one of the trickiest writing techniques for any of us to learn).

The ability to dip into any character’s perspective or experience is a heady feeling for any author. But as you learn to recognize the different types of POV, you will also learn how to limit your own narrative to your story’s advantage.

What Inconsistent POV Looks Like: 

Take a look at this sloppy mess:

Alessi had the sensation she was being watched. She didn’t know the creepy guy who had stolen her car was stalking her. She resisted turning and acting like a paranoid fool. But as she started past the Laundromat, the creeping sensation of her spine grew, and when she heard a sound, she shot a glance over her shoulder. Stupid girl, the man thought, drawing back into the shadows.

And now compare this to Kristen Heitzmann’s solid handle on her character’s POV in Halos:

Again Alessi had the sensation she was being watched. She resisted turning and acting like a paranoid fool. But as she started past the Laundromat, the creeping sensation up her spine grew, and when she heard a sound, she shot a glance over her shoulder. She thought she saw something move into the shadows between the Hawkeye Gift Gallery and the Bennet’s Books front awning.

2. Too Many/Poorly Chosen Viewpoints

Here’s where we start getting into “advanced” POV problems. Most writers learn early on to avoid the basic problems of inconsistency with any individual POV. However, what many authors fail to recognize as equally vital is their choice of which characters, and how many, should be given POVs.

Everything in a story should be carefully chosen to contribute to an overall whole of cohesion and resonance. If this stands true when determining the importance of every scene’s presence in your story, it certainly stands just as much for every POV.

Here are guidelines for identifying and choosing the best POVs for your story:

1. The Fewer POVs the Better

Obviously, this is just a rule of thumb. Many successful books pull off dozens of POVs with beautiful aplomb. But the unique requirements of these stories (not to mention the authorial skill involved) will always be the exception to the rule.

Usually, you will accomplish a much stronger, more cohesive, more immersive, more resonant storyform by limiting the number of POV characters. Sometimes just a single narrator will be the best choice. Yes, fewer POVs will create limitations and challenges for showing all a story’s action. But most stories are better for forcing their authors to face a few challenging limitations (just ask Golden Hollywood).

2. Examine the Action

Keeping in mind that you’re striving for a minimum not a maximum of POVs, take a look at what you know about this story. Where is the plot going to take the characters? What’s going to happen? Which characters are going to be present at the most important events?

With a little ingenuity, it’s amazing how much action you can successfully convey to readers without needing a POV character to be right on there on the scene. But it’s best to examine the overall needs of the story’s plot before choosing POV characters. You won’t always know which character this story is even truly about until you figure out whose POV is most useful.

3. Examine the Climactic Moment

With the obvious practical considerations out of the way, take a moment to consider which POVs really matter to your story—on a thematic level.

How do you know? Easy. Look at your Climactic Moment. Which characters are involved in this final confrontation that definitively decides your conflict one way or another? These are (or should be) the characters who are most inherent to the story’s thematic arc. These are the most important characters in your story. These are your best and most obvious choices for POVs that will meaningfully contribute throughout the story.

This does not, of course, mean all the characters present at the Climactic Moment should be given POVs. But if they’re not present at the Climax, you have to question if they’re really important enough to get POVs earlier in the story.

What Poorly Chosen POVs Look Like:

For my money, Anthony Ryan’s fantasy trilogy Raven’s Shadow offers perfect examples of how to and how not to choose the right POVs.

His first book Blood Song (my favorite read of 2017) was an incredibly solid and resonant read that featured just one POV: the protagonist’s.

His second book Tower Lord veered from this formula to include three extra POVs. These POVs were well-executed—and yet, they still drastically weakened this second book. Unlike the first book, this one lacked focus, cohesion, and resonance in nearly every other respect (structure, theme, etc.), an unfortunate effect that was largely due to the unnecessary extra POVs.

3. Randomly Distributed Viewpoints

Okay, fewer POVs are better. Got it. So let’s say you’ve got a book with two POVs. The protagonist’s POV and one minor character. The protagonist’s POV is front center for 99% of the book. Then there’s just this one little POV scene that pops in toward the end of the book to offer an important snippet of info from a minor walk-on character. Surely, that’s okay, right?

Considering the tiny size of the anomalous POV scene, it’s not likely to upset the apple cart. But is it sloppy? Oh yeah.

Not only must you choose your POV characters wisely, you should also, optimally, be distributing those POVs in a consistent manner throughout the story. If a character’s POV shows up just once or twice, you have to question whether it’s really necessary. And then question again: Is it really so necessary that it’s worth creating a bump in your story’s otherwise strong and seamless narrative?

When selecting POV characters, you should be examining if it’s possible (or how to make it possible) for these POVs to show up at regular intervals throughout your story. This does not mean a secondary POV must be given exactly the same number of scenes as your protagonist. But it does mean that if it’s going to show up in the second half, it needs to be introduced in the first. Preferably it will appear at least once in every quarter of the book, creating a consistent pattern readers will recognize and lean into.

Doing so not only prevents the jarring effect readers experience when they run into a completely strange POV deep in the book, it also enhances thematic resonance by highlighting how the plot’s progression is impacting this secondary character at every juncture.

What Random POVs Look Like:

I see this one all the time in stories with average narrative control—in other words, stories that are functional but not artistic, decent but not great. One example that always comes to mind was in a popular fantasy that kept its focus on two main characters throughout only to suddenly, in the Third Act, jump randomly into the POV of a man who was a prisoner in a city about to be liberated.

This was his first appearance and he was never heard from again. His POV existed only to provide an outside perspective of the sounds of the siege the heroes were about to enact upon the city. It was totally extraneous and definitely not worth the bump of confusion when the narrative moved away from the familiar characters.

4. Weak Voice

Great POVs aren’t just about control, they’re also about style (said in a Kingsley Shacklebolt accent). They needn’t be blatantly flamboyant, but they must never be ordinary.

A compelling narrative voice is ultimately all about breathing life into a character (even if that “character” is an unnamed omniscient narrator). It creates a story that couldn’t possibly be read aloud in a dry monotone, but rather one that offers its own inherent inflection and verve.

Great voice usually starts with great characters. But, sometimes, great characters are born of a great voice. The key word is personality. Seek to make each voice distinctive to the narrating character, even if the differentiations are subtle. Look for lively word choices and interesting constructions.

What Weak Voice Looks Like:

My TBR pile is now literally five feet high (not counting e-books). I’m not adding anything to that pile unless it looks amazing. And how can I tell it’s amazing? Voice is always the first thing I examine. I use Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature to read the opening paragraph.

Is the voice a bland “I was doing graffiti”?

Or is it an opinionated directive that tells me this author (and this character) knows exactly what this book is supposed to be about, as in You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner:

Six stencils in and it’s gone. Okay, the tag vanished by Stencil Number Two, but I have a point to prove. I’m not covering your scribbled slur with just anything. I’m making art here. I’m creating. I’m on fire.

If you’re uncertain how to write a living, breathing voice for a POV character, ask yourself: What is one sentence I can write from this person’s POV that will tell readers exactly who she is?

Start there. Then write another one.


As a reader, nothing makes me happier than an author’s mastery of POV. And… nothing makes me grumpier than sloppy POVs. So here’s to writing strong stories told confidently through excellent POV choices. (Because trust me, you really, really don’t want me to be grumpy.) Happy writing!

>>Click here to read more posts in the Most Common Writing Mistakes Series.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What are your top votes for annoying POV problems? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in Apple Podcast or Amazon Music).


Love Helping Writers Become Authors? You can now become a patron. (Huge thanks to those of you who are already part of my Patreon family!)

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

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. Robert Billing says

    Another great article, thanks!

    I think I’ve only ever used two choices. In one novel which has an anti-heroine, a woman who becomes a major drug dealer, then realises her guilt and tries to put things right, I used first because I think it was the only way I could make the reader sympathise with a character who deals heroin, organises a lot of crime and has her rivals killed. From inside her head these are all reasonable things to do.

    For the main line SF I almost always use third as I usually have two or three plot threads going and switch at chapter breaks. This also lets me go close into the protag’s head, but back off when she has just had one of her weird ideas, one that might just save the situation. By moving from deep to tight, but staying in the same character’s head I can I hope conceal things that must come out later.

    The present WIP is more problematic. It is a contemporary romance between a man who was wrongly convicted of a murder, and a woman who believes she killed her husband by driving him to suicide. What I want is for both characters’ backstories to come out very slowly, so that it is only when they finally discover the truth about each other that they get together. At the moment I’m using a not-very-tight third, but any advice would be appreciated.

  2. It’s quite a paradox. It ought to be common sense that the story’s defined by its viewpoints… and yet most of fiction’s history was a jumble of omniscient views until *Robinson Crusoe* shocked everyone by having one narrator (and it had to put him on a desert island to justify it). There’s something in writing that tempts us to get careless with our views, as if just because we Can use every head in the story we think we Should.

    My favorite example is Lois Lane. The poor woman’s defined by her cluelessness about the obvious hero, so of course if the story were a regular novel she shouldn’t be a viewpoint character. At least, not for most interpretations– the first secret identity story was *The Scarlet Pimpernel*, and that book was told through the eyes of the hero’s wife slowly catching on. That’s a story too.

    It’s all a choice, and it’s one of the most important choices in writing. But once it’s made, it’s one of the best tools we have.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Viewpoint always defines what the story is about. It’s not that you couldn’t do a primary POV for Lois Lane–but it would become a story about her discovery of Superman’s identity, rather than his obvious exploits.

      • A bit off the main topic, but there’s a lovely web comic called `Love and Capes’ about the life of a Lois Lane type character who discovers that her boyfriend is a super hero and how that affects their otherwise ordinary life. And yes, it’s not about his exploits, it’s about how his having to drop everything to fight crime adds stress to their relationship, and how they love each other enough to work around that. 🙂

  3. I’m currently re-writing the first book of my series (thanks to this website I realized how much of a mess it actually was) and everything I learn about POVs made me see that everything was fine up until the third act. Suddenly I jump from between characters because (I think) I wanted there to be a grand climax such as Return of the Jedi, which also makes use of multiple POVs. Nothing wrong on its own, but it made little sense in relation to the previous acts. I’m having a lot of fun reworking that whole bit and this article definetly helps to make the difference between POVs more clear. Thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good job! The thing about multi-POV climaxes, like Jedi‘s, is that they only work because they’ve established the multiple POVs earlier in the story.

  4. SJ Robertson says

    I’m working on a novel and alternating the 1st person pov for my hero and heroine, and then third person pov for a couple of characters. I know it sounds a bit out of the norm, but it *seems* to work for this spec fic novel. What do you think?

  5. Savannah says

    Such a great post! I have a set of 3 POVs because I have three protagonists who follow three very different paths, but I’ve had to use a fourth occasionally at a crux in the plot. It’s always the same POV and there for the same reason. It doesn’t really show up in the first half, though, so I’m revising my opinion on whether it’s vital. I’m going to do some reworking and make sure it’s necessary (or cut it).

    Also, I’m in the midst of rewrites. I just finished my first draft and the whole task of fixing the mess seems insurmountable. Do you have tips? Thanks!!

  6. I have two main protagonists, one is definitely “hero 1”. Most of the scenes are told from either one or the other protagonist’s point of view. When they are together in a scene, “hero 1” gets POV. I have a few scenes were “hero 1’s” love interest has POV, and I think it does makes sense there (none of the two main protagonists are present in those scenes). What I find more difficult is scenes revolving around the antagonist without any of the two main protagonists present. I try to keep those scenes neutral, but find it hard to stay out of his head. (Because of course I know what is going on in there, but want to show it through his way of talking, reacting, not through showing his thoughts directly.)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I wrote my last WIP, my superhero historical Wayfarer entirely from the protagonist’s POV. Indicating what the antagonist was up to or conveying his motivations was challenging sometimes. But it was definitely worth the extra thinking, IMO.

  7. POV is giving me a lot of grief at the moment.

    I had two POVs: the hero and the victim in a social mileau fantasy novel. My first beta reader prefers more POVs and seemed to struggle to identify the motives of non POV characters.

    I’ve also realised, belatedly, that antagonist POV is great for increasing tension.

    So now I am doing my final edits of my manuscript and wondering whether I should rewrite it to include more POVs or maybe just include an epilogue from an antagonist POV. The advantage of the epilogue might be that it clears up some misunderstandings for readers who aren’t good at making inferences and it might build suspense for the next novel in the series.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Actually, one of the reasons I (generally) prefer stories that avoid antagonist POVs is that they avoid the potential crutch of relying on the antagonist’s POV to spell things out. Strengthening the inference of non-POV characters’ thoughts and motives, via showing instead of telling, is an incredible technique when done well. You might find this post helpful: Inferring Non-POV Characters’ Thoughts.

      • Thanks Katie.

        I’m worried an epilogue has the potential to undermine my whole story like a magician explaining their tricks at the end of the show. I’m reasonably confident that I don’t have the necessary skills or subtlety to incorporate an antagonistic POV throughout the entire manuscript. At this stage I will write the epilogue and throw it to my betas and see what they think. If it’s short, conflict-driven and sets up the next book it might work.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          When in doubt, ask the betas. Include the epilogue and get their opinions about whether or not it works.

  8. My most insecure area–but I LIKE multiple POV stories where the various storylines come together (work together) to form the resolution.

    Right now: two MCs, 3rd person, but 4 arenas of action (established early and balanced) and they aren’t in 2 of them. So now I have a tight (not deep) 3rd in much of the first half with the MCs, italics for their thoughts, till their storylines converge. Then their scenes are like the 2ndary MC scenes–which I suppose are 3rd person omniscient by default.

    It all started as 3rd person omniscient but I wanted to maximize empathy for my MCs. (And many people advise against omniscient these days–but hey, I think I have a good omniscient voice, artful juxtapositions of statements and all that.)

    Question: is it problematic that I throw in thought italics in a largely omniscient POV?

    And I’m not sure I can avoid omniscient with multiple storylines unless I give FOUR characters close 3rd–which I’m gonna lose anyway when the characters start coming together. (How is THAT handled?)

    Anyway, your “4 hallmarks of excellent POV” above are BRILLIANT–clear and specific and inspirational all at once. That’s going on my corkboard.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m not a huge fan of thoughts in italics, since they can often create a jarring effect within the overall narrative if not handled well. But it really depends on *how* it’s handled. It’s a viable technique; it just needs to be handled with care.

      You can maintain close third on multiple POVs throughout. Just make sure each POV is divided into its own scene.

  9. Ms. Albina says

    Great article. I am writing in the third person for Lotus’s story which has her adventures. Lotus’s story-I changed that Lina aka Pearlina is bothered to Cas called Caspian. Lotus found out her younger sister, Lina was bothered to get married. Lotus is going to have training on how to use her powers that she has.

    The opening scene in story-Lotus was sitting at her desk on the top floor that five-floor in her bedroom. Then she put a raven lock out of her face. Along came Priestess Selena with three gowns for her to try on. Then Selena spoke. “Ryn is coming with his sister and cousins, he is looking for a wife and your sister Lina is bothered to Caspian, Ryn’s cousin. You will be nice to them since they are going to arrive today,”

    “Am I getting married?” Lotus asked the priestess.

    “Not right now but soon you will,”

  10. What sentence can I write that could only come from this character? My protag. was approaching a frog like alien cashier in a spaceport. An unfamiliar species which probably is somewhat nervous as he is designed to see predators coming–and that means humans.

    From Memory (needs reediting)
    “I walked toward the man, slow, careful movements so as not to spook him, all the while painfully aware that I moved like a hungry puma, albeit a polite one.

  11. sam steidel says

    To me character is king, an antagonist who the reader is not allowed to see into their deep reasoning is nothing but another obstacle in the way. The characterization of the pro and con makes the story.
    Also a story with many fun deep personalities who see things in so many fun off the wall ways, like real people, is the crux of the reading experience (to me). When I pick up a title that looks interesting, I purposely avoid the first bits and flip into the midst of the book. If the characters pop and seem real then I will see who the publisher thinks the opening should be about. If that does not coincide with the middle bits it is likely to go back on the shelf.
    In my reading group few people trust the first pages, it is well known the first pages are doctored to much. Also, a consideration, the last six books we read had multiple POV and all but one critiqued well in the group.
    Single and limited POVs are great, so are multiples, do not get trapped in academic good better best rules. As you often mention, when it is done well, anything works.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Nothing wrong with multiple POVs. Done well, they can add tremendous depth to a story. But if characterization is dependent upon being inside a character’s head, that may be a sign that the overall technique is lacking, particularly when it comes to show-vs-tell and subtext.

      • sam steidel says

        ??? sorry, I may be getting things all backwards, I often read about deep POV, meaning it gets deeper into characters intent and reasoning, emotions and perceptions. Thus a character is enhanced by POV. do you have any past references talking about Deep POV that explains it better?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Sorry if I was confusing. Of course POVs allow us to look deeper into a character. The deeper the POV, the deeper the insight. What I meant was that creating a good character shouldn’t be dependent on giving that character a POV. A great use of showing and narrative from the perspective of a narrating character can and should vividly bring to life every other character in the story, regardless whether we ever get into the other characters’ heads.

  12. Usvaldo de Leon says

    I know nothing about nothing about POVs. I am confused about tight 3rd and deep third. Is tight third sort of outside their head: “Steve did this, then Steve did that.” ?
    And then is deep third inside their head: “Steve did not like being used as an example. It felt like a violation.” ?

  13. I’ve just finished reading a YA fantasy trilogy that many readers and reviewers have raved over, but (just like in your example), the POV issues ruined it for me.

    Book #1 had one solid POV character. She was a bit teenage-whiney, but it was YA so I could live with it. I knew it was her story.

    Book #2 had three POV characters – the girl from #1, and her two romance interests. This could have worked if the boys sounded different …

    Book #3 had five POV characters – the girl, one boy, the other boy, the other boy’s alter ego (!), and another girl. And again, the character voices weren’t sufficiently different. I kept having to go back to the beginning of the chapter to work out who the POV character was.

    I put down Book #3 thinking it reminded me why I don’t like fantasy, but after reading this I’ve realised I was wrong. It was the POV issues which ruined it for me.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Epic fantasy uses more POVs than possibly any other genre. Sometimes this is a good thing. But sometimes the genre itself becomes an excuse for poor POV choices.

  14. Megan Brummer says

    I love this article!

    I’ve been playing with zooming in and out on POV. The “default” is an omniscient 3rd POV, but at critical moments throughout the story (like the main structural beats), I zoom in to tight or deep on my protag.

    Have you seen something like that used well? Or used poorly?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s a tricky one. It can definitely work (not thinking of any examples off the top of my head though), but it requires a careful authorial touch to keep the narrative from feeling bumpy–especially if you’re delving into more than one character’s head.

  15. KM- Firstly I wanted to say how much I appreciate and admire your insights and the clarity and intelligence you bring. I’ve purchased all the books and they (and your writings here) have made a huge difference to the structure, theme, meaning, and therefore the resonance of my writing. (I hope!)

    In my WIP, I started writing in 3rd person POV. It’s a young adult (ish) fantasy story, and I was very anxious about falling into a “gotta be in first person” cliched trap… So I wrote it in third … Right up to almost the midpoint. Then I read and re-read what I’d done. And sadly, scarily, frustratingly, I realised I’d used the wrong POV for my story and mainly, my protagonist. I did a few exercises where I visualised her to some of my favourite music- like a movie scene. I listened to and experienced the story in my mind. And guess what? She seriously wanted to be heard in first person POV…

    AARGGHHHH! So I rewrote it. Every single scene. I think it works much better now, but time will tell. It’s hard work to tell the story in as much detail as I want in this way, but personally I don’t enjoy reading changes in POV much at all, so I’m going to stick to it now. It was really comforting to read that you think the narrative can still work this way, even if it’s quite complex and far-ranging, like mine.

    Thanks again!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Kudos to you for having the insight and flexibility to recognize the problem–and the courage and determination to fix it. Not much in revision is more laborious than changing POVs!

  16. I really appreciate your blog posts and find them very challenging and helpful. But this one has me confused – one of my favourite authors is Jan Karon, a New York bestseller, and she has dozens of POVs, some not at all connected to the main plot. Does it depend on the writing genre? I know Karon writes pastoral literary fiction. Does that make multiple POVs appropriate?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I haven’t read read Karon’s stuff, but my impression is that she’s writing about a town as much as a particular character. So, in that case, yes, the choice is very genre-oriented–although it’s also possible she’s got a couple extra POVs in there that she doesn’t need.

  17. I just finished You’re Welcome, Universe! Loved it. the whole book has excellent voice-especially for a character who cannot speak (well). Then again, I’ve been marginally involved in ASL and Deaf culture for much of my life, so it appealed to me on that level.

    I am really struggling with POV in my current book. Right now I have at least two scenes where I leave the perspective of the MC. In both of them, she’s passed out (her magic makes her sickly, and in one place she’s beaten to the point of blacking out). One I have right now shows that the MC, who thinks she is invisible and unnecessary, is actually well taken care of and loved. She already has the thing she wants, but doesn’t see it. In the other, she’s picked up while still conscious but the scene continues after she’s faded out. I feel like it’s kind of the way Harry Potter is written–I’ve heard the HP POV described as usually someone sitting on Harry’s shoulder with the ability to see inside his head for a deep POV occasionally, but not Harry himself. (and iirc HP follows the POV of Austen’s Emma).

    I do think both scenes are important, but I know two isn’t enough to justify the POV switches. If I do include multiple POVs it will be the first time I’ve done it in a single book, and it’s far more complicated than I thought it would be…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      My immediate instinct is to cut the extra POVs, but obviously I’m operating off limited info.

  18. Your article has saved me so much pain. It answers so many questions that I have been wrestling with. Thank you so much.
    I am a new writer, busy with my second fiction book. I stick with two or three POVs, but in both my novels I have started with a very short chapter of the antagonist’s evil action, the action that triggers the whole story. This chapter is in an omniscient POV (the only chapter in this POV). I want it to give a sense of foreboding without giving away much detail (thereby asking many questions in the reader’s mind).
    From the second chapter onward I stick to two POVs as the plot progresses.
    Do you think that this first chapter approach is wise?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Personally, I’m not a big fan of this approach, since I don’t believe the antagonist is the best hook. But this is a very common approach in some genres and isn’t in any way objectively “wrong.”

  19. What about micro POVs?

    John walked away, idly discarding the now useless toaster.
    Many years later, a child hiding from a sudden shower would get a completely wrong idea of Etruscan civilisation, when it found a toaster pierced by an antique sword in a newly excavated tomb in the necropolis.

    (Stupid example.) Of course the child has never been mentioned before and will never be mentioned again.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Done well, this would be considered part of an omniscient POV. If not, it’s head-hopping.

  20. I must say your post on POV was a God send. I am 75% into the first draft of my first novel and I’m extremely excited to implement your insightful recommendations. Thank you ever so much. Cheers.

  21. I am writing for fun when I have the chance and I’m currently working on a book. I’m stuck on wether I should use a narrative or first person POV though. Most books I read are usually told by a narrator so when I reread my story and see the ‘I’s’ I had put since I wrote it in first person, I think it’s wrong. But then I read a nickolas sparks book and he writes in a first person POV. So I guess I’m trying to find a person who could tell me wether it’s wrong or right to use a first POV or a narrative POV.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      First-person, tight third-person, and omniscient are all legit choices. The key is consistency, whatever you choose.

  22. Kevin Connelly says

    Great piece. Thanks for posting it. I realize it is several years old, but there is a spellin mistake: Start there. Then right another one. should be Start there. Then write another one.

  23. Jessica Salmonson says

    I’ve posted a few chapters (not all) on a new—well new to me—writing platform I found and twice now the comments are about the second pov being refered to as a stalker! I had them meet up during the first few chapters and tgain again a little later. Any, thoughts on how to make it organic when he goes out searching for her? Thanks for any help.

  24. Ken Reynolds says

    I have been using alternating viewpoints for my two main characters. 3rd person. Male and female. They have been alternating pretty strictly, but now I have a problem. My main female character is in hospital, unconscious. There is a secondary character, a nurse, who has been with her for some time, and attending to her after she’d been shot. My readers are on edge, not knowing whether she will survive. My question is, could I hop into this nurse’s POV, to describe the tense situation developing in the hospital? My heroine wouldn’t know about it as she’s unconscious, and my hero is not present. When my heroine wakes I would return to the heroine’s POV and not use hers again.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Can you? Yes. But I would recommend against it. POV choices frame and shape the story. Inconsistency, especially late in the story, can weaken the overall effect of the story, however subtly. That said, sometimes inserting a brief extra POV is the best choice overall. So you’ll just have to weigh it out.

  25. I’ve been sticking to the viewpoint of the protagonist. But now, my protagonist is going to be unconcious for about three chapters. There are three secondary characters, and I have many important things happening while she’s unconcious. Should I do a POV from each of the three characters while she’s unconcious?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The short answer is: you can do whatever you want. But personally I’m very cautious about “random” POVs used simply for convenience’s sake. My first instinct would be to find a way to explore what happens in this section *from* your protagonist’s POV. If that’s not possible, I’d at least see about introducing the necessary POVs earlier and making them integral throughout the story.

  26. Julie Wilkinson says

    I’m in the planning stage of my next story, and I’m not sure how many POVs I can or should have. It is based on a true story and the protagonist and antagonist were sisters. I want to tell the story from the POV Oof the antagonist because she was more fascinating. She was a very evil person in life, and her younger sister was kind and gentle. I’m thinking 2 POVs, since I feel they both have a perspective on what really happened over a span of 20+ years. What would you advise? Although I had a book published in 2019, I know I’m still very much a novice at writing. Any advice is greatly appreciated. Thank you! Julie

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Alternating POVs between characters is a solid approach if both POVs are equally important to the story.

  27. You have been such a help to me as I write. Right now, I turn to your advice nearly every week, either in book or blog. Thank you.

    I realize this is an old post, but I’ve been looking for information about viewpoint continuity and coming up dry. I’m writing in deep third, and am struggling with my character’s reactions. The relationship between reactions (internal vs external) and viewpoint has me flummoxed, and I haven’t found much information on it.

    For example, chills can run up her spine, her stomach can churn, and her skin can tingle…but can her eyes flare? Her brow furrow? Her lips curl? When do sensations and reactions become viewpoint errors? Do they?

    If you have time, I’d appreciate your insights. Thank you!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This is definitely a gray area, in my opinion. Certain die-hards will tell you narrating characters can’t comment on anything that relates to their facial appearance (or any other part they can’t see). Personally, I think this shouldn’t be a hard and fast rule. Certainly, I am aware of my own facial expressions (or at least what I think they are!). For me, the line needs to be laid down at the moment when it becomes jarring to readers. Sometimes that’s obvious to the writer; sometimes we need beta readers to help us see it.

      • Thanks! That flexibility is helpful, and the reminder about beta readers is good. I’m finding I get in my head about the silliest things.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.