Writing Wednesday: POV


So, I’ve been reading a book by a NY Times bestselling author, in a genre I normally enjoy.

The main story is solid. That’s not the problem.

The problem is with all the other stories.

In this case, when I’m discussing point of view (POV), I’m not talking about head hopping, which is a completely different problem (and one this author doesn’t really have). In this case, I’m talking about having too many point of view characters.

I’ll tell you, you give me more than three POV characters, and I stop giving a shit about any of them.

I’m about two-thirds of the way through this book, and honestly, I feel like I should have put it down about one hundred pages ago. I know of too many people who, in my same position, would have done that and then written an absolutely scathing review about it.

See, every chapter should drive the story forward. If you have too many characters, each with their own stories, you run the risk of losing sight of the story you sold on the back jacket. And that, my friend, is cheating your reader out of the story she bought.

In the case of the book I’m reading, sometimes the secondary POV characters are contributing to the main story–which is something I detest, by the way. If one of the main characters doesn’t know this information, then I shouldn’t either. Either have someone tell them (from the MC’s point of view), or the information really isn’t that important. Not only that, but I despise it when an author has the villain’s POV in the story, especially in fantasy/sci-fi, because it smacks of author hubris. “Look at how clever I am! Look at my world building! You wouldn’t know this if I didn’t totally spell it out for you!”

Let me figure it out with your characters. I don’t need to know everything if they don’t. And if they don’t ever figure it out, then I didn’t ever need to know it.

But in this story, more often than not, they’ve got their own story lines. I’ve read books like this before, and I’ve never been so bothered by it as I am in this case. I mean, I’ve never particularly liked it, but I’ve read it and not hated it. This time, though, I find myself dreading chapter and scene breaks, because I never know whose POV I’ll be in next. Will it be the hero? The heroine? One of the hero’s brothers? The heroine’s brother? Or, even, the heroine’s brother’s friend’s love interest? (I’m not even exaggerating on that front)

It’s getting to the point of being obnoxious.

Okay, it is obnoxious.

To me, having so many Point of View characters says a couple of things:

1) The author thinks: “I love these characters and I must write about them!”

2) The author doesn’t have enough plot or conflict in the main story to carry an entire book.

3) The author really didn’t know where her story was going.

4) The author lost control of her story.

5) The author didn’t care enough about her story or her readers to fix it.

These are not things you want your reader thinking, in general.

So, here’s my advice: keep your point of view characters between one and three. Really, no more than three. And if you’re writing a book that you would consider a romance, that you’re planning on selling as a romance, don’t have more than three POVs. I might even caution against that, because generally, a romance is between two people. Nothing that happens in the story should be from someone else’s point of view, because in a romance with two people, what does a third person’s POV do to drive the story forward?

Just wondering.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a review to write.

PS As an aside, I finished this book today. The secondary stories weren’t even wrapped up. With so much energy spent on telling these secondary stories, to not wrap them up in this book is a cheat.

Boo.

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7 thoughts on “Writing Wednesday: POV”

  1. I’ve got mixed feelings on this topic. I think some people. like Nora Roberts, who head hops in most scenes to reveal more about the main characters, does it so well, so seamlessly, I enjoy the insights. I find her style very literary, so I rather adore it. I guess readers do too since she’s published over 150 books.

    But I’m reading a book right now where I’m wondering why the writer made the first chapter from the bad guy’s POV and none since–I’m nearly done with the book. I feel like you say–she lost the threads and control. I’m in it til the end though because i like the main character’s daughter enough to want to see what happens to her. But even writing that i realize I’m caring more for the secondary than the main–or maybe there are two mains. This is a big name, best selling writer, too.

    Meggan, could it be POV only matters to new writers and advanced readers?

    Hell if I know… :).

    Thanks for making me think, I think. 😉

    1. You might have a point there, Ann.

      Nora Roberts head hops, but she does do it well. I’ve read a couple of her books, and I enjoyed them, but I did notice the head hopping. Funny thing: after I read her book, I found myself head hopping like crazy and had to go back and do major revisions. Ah…the power of influence.

      Head hopping bugs me in general–not the minor POV errors, which I can over look. If I can’t tell whose perspective I’m in, or I’m dreading chapter breaks because I don’t know who I’m going to get, then I think we have a problem.

      Of course, this is me. I just have a problem with multiple POV characters. I don’t think a 350 page book needs six POV characters–not when the story is billed as a romance. Paranormal or not. But again, that could just be me.

      Thanks for stopping by, Ann.

      1. You know, we all have different tastes. That’s why there are food courts at malls. Ba-dump-bump…(Bad joke I know you can appreciate!) 🙂

        Really, though, the analogy fits.

        I agree, romance should be primarily two POVs. It’s clean and tight that way.

      1. I can do it–but no one will publish it. 🙂 I guess I’m no Nora Roberts. There’s only one.

        Danielle Steele does it, too.

        Once you’re NYC multi-pubbed,all the rules must fly away.

        If only….

      2. I agree. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read a big name author and thought, “My editor would KILL me if I did that!”

        Or even, someone who’s a little fish in the Big Six pond. I don’t know if it’s because small and medium sized houses hire editors who have something to prove, or that they’re really more strict, but seems to me you can break rules in Big Six that you can’t break anywhere else.

        Some people head hop and it’s done so well it’s not jarring. I have a friend who wrote omniscient really well. Amazingly well. Me…not so much. (I’m no Nora Roberts, either!) Then there are some people who head hop, it is jarring, but they’re Big Six pubbed, so who cares?

        Some people don’t mind the head hopping; but if it’s not done exceedingly well, I get annoyed really quickly. And it’s not just sour grapes because I’m not allowed to write it. I think limited third lends more mystery to the characters. The characters unfold naturally. Takes a bit of doing to get used to writing it, but once you do, it’s hard to write any other way.

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