The #1 Factor to Consider When Choosing POV Characters

How do you go about choosing your POV characters? This is one of the most important decisions you can make in planning your book. The characters who narrate will largely control the flow, tone, and focus of your story. Change the POV characters, and you’ll likely change the entire story.

And yet this is a decision writers often devote very little thought to. We just do whatever initially feels right. Usually, we’ll give the POVs to the main character, the antagonist, and maybe a few minors who are present in important scenes in which our story’s big shots are not.

As far as it goes, this isn’t a bad way to choose POVs. A lot of books follow this formula, and it works well in carrying readers to the places the author wants them to go. But aside from the fact that too many POVs can lead to a haphazard “loose” feel, it overlooks one of the most powerful facets of the POV. And that is the POV’s ability to control the story.

Choosing your POV characters shouldn’t be just about giving readers eyes through which to see anything and everything that happens in the plot. Rather, choosing these POVs should also be about structuring the story itself.

William Faulkner’s The Town gives us an excellent example. His book offers three widely varied points of view: a young boy, an idiosyncratic entrepreneur, and an educated lawyer. As much as his story is about these characters—and as much as their POVs tell us about them—a careful reading shows Faulkner chose these POVs not because of the characters themselves, but because of the juxtaposed views they presented of the story.

When choosing your POV characters, consider how each POV will add to the tone of the story as a whole. Don’t choose a POV just because it can show readers things other POVs can’t. Choose it because this character’s voice and viewpoint will bring a unique and important thematic layer to the story.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! How do you go about choosing your POV characters? Tell me in the comments!

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. For the most part I write from one POV, although at times I have done more. I generally just get this “gut” feeling about who should be the POV character for that scene.
    Thnx for another great article. 😀

  2. Gut feelings should never be ignored. Couple them with a purposeful understanding of the craft – and you’re pretty darn near unstoppable!

  3. Oh boy, this is something I’ve been agonizing over for a while. I’ve got two main POV’s I want to use, two important protagonists, either would work, but each one’s flavor would turn out really different. I’ll probably end up favoring one in particular at first, I’m not sure but I think it will increase the drama/mystery/sense of being grounded by a relatable character… If I favor the other for the first bit, I fear the whole thing may become anticlimactic.

    Structure! Aaah!!

  4. Sometimes it’s helpful to write a short scene from each person’s POV, so you can a taste of each character’s narrative before making your decision.

  5. Cheryl just sort of insisted on a POV. If I didn’t give her one, she said she’d run me over with her Mercedes.

  6. That kind of duress is hard to ignore!

  7. My main character noticed a situation no one was willing to talking about, but persisted in making it known even if they wouldn’t listen.

  8. My main character recently surprised me actually in a short story I had been writing – and she surprised me with one single statement, “My grip on reality has been sort of shakey lately.” Immediately I was captivated – and even though I was writing the story (we all know the power of the character), it seemed driven by the character herself. I plan on finishing up the story – and rewriting it to play up that loose grip on reality!

  9. @Lee: Sort of an Erin Brockovich type character?

    @Nicole: Whenever we find a character with a voice that strong, we can only thank heaven for the blessing.

  10. I choose my POV — which is omniscient — because of story requirements. So only one POV.

  11. Omniscient POVs are tricky and unconventional, but, when done well, they can be very effective.

  12. What do you say about a prologue from a POV that is not a main story POV? (In fact I may never revisit his POV.)

  13. Prologues that create a distance between the reader and the main part of the story – and particularly the protagonist – are tricky and generally to be avoided, in my opinion. You never want to make a reader start your story twice, which is what this kind of prologue inevitably does.

  14. I’m doing something I’ve never done in 36 novels…I’m writing first person. Well, at least for one character, the protagonist, an eight year old boy. When the scene doesn’t include him, I write in third person, but with the same southern feel as with him. It’s a type of southern noir mystery like To Kill a Mockingbird or Reavis Wortham’s, ‘The Rock Hole’…
    When I change POV, it’s at a full section break with a sub-heading or at the change of chapters. My beta readers, which include two best selling authors and a retired English Lit. professor have all concurred that the transitions have been very smooth…On chapter eight…so far, so good. The English professor has already said this could be my opus…and one of the best selling authors has said it’s my best work, ever…That scares the hell out of me.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s fun! I’ve played with first-person a couple times and just never found it a comfortable fit. Maybe someday for the right story.

  15. Gunnar Mason says

    My POVs are three people: two who’ve experienced a tragic lifestyle, with opposing views, and one who will enter it. The first two both share a defiant attitude towards this lifestyle for their different reasons. The third is also defiant, but in such a way as to see that the lifestyle is a “benefit” to him in revenge against the world he was in. Yet they all support the protagonist that I won’t give a POV in the first book.

Leave a Reply

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