Multiple POV Characters

It seems to me that the vast majority of material I’ve come across on the craft of fiction has assumed that your novel has a single POV character. And yet, many if not most of the novels I’ve read have multiple POV characters. I haven’t gotten far enough in “Plotting and Planning Your Novel” course to see whether this is addressed in the course, but so far it seems to follow the trend of assuming a single protagonist.

I realize that “single protagonist” is not synonymous with “single POV character,” but I am curious as to what anyone here (is anyone here?) thinks about using multiple POV characters and how to handle them. Does the reader need to connect with all of them to the same degree - and facilitated by the same writing principles - as with the “main” character?

I am curious because I am developing my first novel, and I have five POV characters in mind, one of which is the proximate villain, but only two of which have significant character arcs (one being the protagonist).


Good question, Monomori
I lool forward to seeing the answer

I have a few bits in multiple POV. I did it with some cross-genre stuff and I wasn’t overly concerned with arcs and other nuances often found in novels people like to read. In other words, I didn’t care if the reader was connecting to one or the others, I knew they would imprint on a character or two if the plot was interesting enough and they stayed with the story. It was tedious in the sense that I was constantly re-writing scenes because the “next” scene might contradict the previous. What my beta group said was predictable. Refocusing the POV character and keeping it so for the next 2000+ words, making sure the reader knew the shift had occurred proved tricky. I did not want to spell it out by using names/places/dates as ques, so all the characters had to be super-differentiated. Almost all these readers said it took until chapter 6/7 to “get it”. This was after they found the pattern: P > A1 > P > A2 > P > A1 . . . etc.

Interesting, @daniel_0227. I would not have expected it to be difficult to track change of viewpoint character, as long as POV changes on chapter boundaries. You’d have to be careful to include the character’s name in the first paragraph, if not the first sentence; but if you’re writing in third person, that doesn’t seem like it should be a big challenge. At least, the only times I can recall getting confused in books that I’ve read is when character viewpoint changes mid-scene, or when the omniscient viewpoint is used.

What I’m mainly worried about is how to maintain momentum for each viewpoint character, and how to find the right balance among viewpoints. But perhaps there is more that I should be worrying about.

Some of my favorite authors write with multiple POVs. Examples are Anne McCaffrey, David Weber, and Mercedes Lackey. The authors are not as current but have multiple primary characters. I liken this to the RPG games where you control multiple people heading toward a final conclusion. The general thing writers talk about for Multiple POVs is don’t head-hop. They mean don’t move from character to character within a chapter and between different paragraphs. But there are some famous and great examples where this was done, and I like them. My first thought was Steven Kings “The Stand” and his horror book “IT” I know I’ve read some stuff from him, articles on his take on multiple POVs. In general, I think he pretty much sums it up as he likes to write the important stuff and figure out who says it later.

I write science fiction fantasy - Space Opera - and I have multiple POVs. Think of books like “The Help” or “Hidden Figures” with multiple POVs of the same times or place, or activities. My novels have one main character in each chapter and I weave them together as they are all important to the plot and the conclusion. Everything is seen or done through that POV within the chapter. But I have multiple characters that function as primary chars in my books. My worlds are not created small enough for one POV and I’m happy to say my characters love that.

What POV is Game of Thrones written in? Third-person limited omniscient.
The point of view is third person limited omniscient, alternates between eight different perspective characters.

I say PINTEREST "multiple POV writing. You’ll have 1000 articles smack you in the face.

Here are a few.

Thanks, @jlnickymaster. I found the Wendy Heard article particularly helpful, and am taking her advice to heart to give every POV character some sort of arc. This shouldn’t be too difficult, but I’m going to have to think about it.

Apparently, I’ve been reading not-so-current authors recently. I’ve read both Anne McCaffrey and David Weber in the last year, and (on my recommendation) my twelve-year-old daughter just finished Dragonsong and Dragonsinger.

Random Recommendation: There’s another series I read that was fantastico as well. Dragons of Autumn Twilight: Dragonlance: Chronicles, Book 1 is the first book of the series. I think there are four books. It’s a quest series, with so much fun, and with multiple characters, multiple POVS, and multiple adventures. The authors Magaret Weis and Tracy Hickman teamed up to write this four-book series of Dragonlance Chronicles and followed by the Dragonlance Legend series. I recommend both if you love quest books. I vote for both series at the highest read-worthy level. Here’s the wiki on it

I tried to manually do an arc tracking board once, but it was a ton of work. I listed my three main POVs and did the 3 act structure template Beginning all the way to the Denouement. I could see where they overlapped, but I sometimes don’t write linearly. And the manual board map was messed up very quickly. That was long before I bought a lifetime subscription to PLOTTR. That software saves my bacon. I can track characters, plots, and even series, like JKRowling did over her seven books. And I have opportunities to move them around and play with the suspense and adventures.

I read the Dragonlance Chronicles in college, when they came out (and still have the books in a box somewhere), and I remember them as being reasonably good but not particularly memorable. I tend not to pick up much epic fantasy, since so much of it is overly imitative of Tolkien. (And of course LOTR has multiple viewpoint characters.)

I can’t tell how user-friendly Plottr is from the web site, but it looks interesting enough that I purchased a year’s “subscription.” (I tried Novel Factory and gave up on it almost immediately, due to its extremely frustrating user interface.) Thanks for mentioning it, @jlnickymaster.

I have enough of a plot worked out that my plot could be considered essentially “complete,” but I am missing many scenes. I imagine that writing the scenes I do have could give me insights into the missing pieces I need to fill in. And with multiple viewpoints I figure that shuffling scenes around is all the more important or useful, in order to achieve balance.

I have The Novel Factory too, and found it interesting and helpful if you want things broken down. It has a ton of help files. But I stopped using it and did not renew. But PLOTTR is not a novel writing tool but a godsend to plotting. It imports into Scrivener and other applications beautifully. The 2 things I can tell you about PLOTTR is 1) They are constantly fixing/improving things to make your plotting exactly how you might want it. They take polls to get feedback and have an ongoing list of items in the pipeline or possible plans. I hope whoever is coding is getting paid enough for her skill level. 2) Their training tutorials are short and sweet, and specific. Almost always videos. I like that. I’ve been an owner of the license for a couple of years now, and I do not regret it.

I’m thinking of creating an e-course to use the tool in advanced techniques. So next year, I’m looking into that.

You can jump into PLOTTR to set up the primary characters on individual arc lines and see how that plays out. You’ll quickly see where you need to overlap or add, it’s easy to start with. The more advanced things are utilizing the book series or tags effectively and engineering your plot like a pro. There are video tutorials on some of that, though.

Thanks, @jlnickymaster. I’m looking forward to playing with Plottr.

I thought The Novel Factory reading material was quite good, as far as I went through it. (My trial subscription via Infostack terminated prematurely, and at that point I didn’t care enough to try to get the problem addressed.) However, I can get that kind of content from a book for a one-time payment, and the software itself was almost unusable.

One of the best examples I have learned is Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Poisonwood Bible. 5 POVs move the story along, and it’s a fantastic read. Here’s a link to just one article:

Thanks, @Cartha! I’ve just purchased the Kindle edition of the book and I am looking forward to seeing what I can learn from it.

I write multiple POV novels. I have written one in first person, but I like multiple POVs because I write thrillers and suspense. If you can find the book the Marshall Plan, it was the one resource that helped me clarify how to write multiple POVs and still maintain the protagonist’s integrity. Marshall was a NY agent who broke down what made some books bestsellers and others not. His theory was that multiple POVs created more conflict and tension in the story, mainly sharing parts of the world the protagonist cannot know but allowing the reader in on the “secrets” so it enhances the problems and expectations for when the protagonist is going to find out. The reader sees the problems and traps the protagonist is falling into, etc. I also enjoyed reading multiple POV books, so reading such books I think helps understand how to write them and gives an “instinctual” context for doing so. The book also broke down what potential character ensemble might be beneficial, such as the protagonist’s confidant or romantic interest, villain, etc. Then outlined the number of scenes in the book each POV should have. I found it very enlightening and helpful.


Thanks for your recommendation, @Lindak. It turns out that “The Marshall Plan” is available on Kindle Unlimited! (But, on your recommendation, I bought it.)

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I hope you find it as useful and beneficial as I did. It’s my most-used book on writing.

Thanks for the resource

Funny thing about POV. My Fantasy reading life began with Dragonlance. It was the first fantasy novel I ever read and have never looked back. What is interesting - I find - about Dragonlance is that it is written in 3rd person Omniscient. I recently re-read the book w/ my sons and found I didn’t enjoy it as much as I remembered. I think it is because most of the Fantasy novels I’ve read since are 3rd person limited w/ multiple POVs. Wheel of Time seres is a great example. Another example is Six of Crows. There is a team and the chapters will jump to different POVs with the character’s name listed at the top of the chapter which tells you right away who’s perspective we’re in.