Multi POV Help

ColGray

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Aug 9, 2023
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411
Hey All,

I'm struggling a bit with my current WIP due to the POV ping-pong. I typically write in close third person limited multi-POV with 4 or 5 main POV's and 1 or 2 minor POV's (i.e. a single chapter, maybe 2). I've also written single POV in 1st and 3rd person--but multi-POV is my default.

Fully accepting this is a self-inflicted limitation, I don't like when books introduce a red-shirt POV to skirt problems, reveals or to overtly divulge something the characters wouldn't know--so any POV introduced should be a runner and not a one and done.

My current WIP is 2 POV. It's fantasy, targeting 100k words. My issue is the limitation is forcing me to reveal things too quickly or to play games with not revealing something the character would reflect on in close third. I've got options for a third POV to help, but just looking for a sounding board and some reactions.
  1. Introducing the third POV about 35k words into the story.
    1. Character C has been previously met and introduced and will stick around, plot-wise, but swapping from going back and forth between Char A, Char B, for 15 chapters to then introducing a third POV seems... odd?
      1. Adding a few, short, early chapters from this character's POV would be very doable and may help with world building. It would also help alleviate the A-B-A-B cadence
      2. Alternately, Char C becomes a POV when they're relevant is good, too? The POV is in service of the story, not the other way around.
  2. Introduce a third and fourth POV but create POV tiers
    1. Tier 1 POV's are Char A and Char B and they get ~70% of the total word count
    2. Tier 2 POV's are Char C and Char D and they split the remaining 30%
    3. Could do this earlier or later
    4. Could add more than C and D
    5. Adding the POV's would add depth and complexity to the world, but these characters just couldn't be as fleshed out and fully formed as Tier 1 POV's, I think they might feel like trope-heavy side kicks and I'm not sure they'd have enough development to fully pay off the reader's time investment
  3. Don't slow the pace or slow play reveals.
    1. Decline additional POV's and drive the story, focusing on consequence not buildup ==> reveal ==> payoff.
How have other people tackled this? What have you read that used similar tactics where you liked/didn't like it?

Thanks and sorry for the long post.
 
You might be overthinking this. If a reader is into the story they will happily accept even red-shirt POV characters. This:

Character C has been previously met and introduced and will stick around, plot-wise, but swapping from going back and forth between Char A, Char B, for 15 chapters to then introducing a third POV seems... odd?
won't faze most readers at all. This is when the POV characters in my first published novel were introduced:

A: ch1
B: ch7
C: ch10
D&E: ch20
F: ch30 (of 36)

But it seems to have worked. Apart from B (and A, obvs), all were known to the reader before becoming POVs, which reduced the jarring, but there was no other scheme to it. They all came in when they had work to do.

If you're determined to stick with something more orderly and that's messing with your reveals, you might have to change the plot.
 
Oh, i'm not opposed to other POV's -- mainly. Just seeing how much harder querying on a multi-POV book is, I was trying to limit it to make my life easier.

But yes, this makes sense. Thanks!
 
I read this on a day I introduced a new POV character (who has not appeared until now) at 38,000 words!

I agree with @HareBrain that you might be overthinking it. If you generally use multiple POVs - as do I - I expect it felt 'right' to introduce the character at that point and maybe just go with those instincts.

As to querying, I don't mention anything about POV numbers and it's never come up as an issue.
 
Just seeing how much harder querying on a multi-POV book is, I was trying to limit it to make my life easier.
Just write the story in the best way you know how, in the manner that the plot and characters seem to require, and leave worrying about the query letter for when you actually have a finished manuscript. Planning ahead is all very well, but sometimes you have to leave some room for serendipity to happen. The problems you anticipate now may work themselves organically during the actual writing. They may even turn out to not be problems at all, and actually strengthen the story. The only way to find out is by writing it out.

And as Steve says, sometimes you just have to go with your instincts.
 
The thing about POV is that you want to pick the POV that will best convey that part of the story.
For every scene you should be thinking about who is the best POV to convey and carry that part of the story.
There might be some cases where it works to have more than one POV carry a scene--you just need to be attentive to how much head-hopping you are doing and if it would work just as well to stay in one head as it would to hop around.

There might be cases where it works well to head-hop between two characters in a scene[Intense moments of interaction such as seen in some romance novels yet not limited to that genre].

As with all things, there is a balance that you need to strive for and of course you need to write as well as you can.
 
They may even turn out to not be problems at all, and actually strengthen the story. The only way to find out is by writing it out.
Instinctually and process-wise, yes -- I prefer multi POV and I find the story as I'm writing. I think i write better, stronger more interesting stories that way. I know I finish more stories when I write that way.

But also balancing it out with writing for an audience and knowing i intend to query with it, I'm working to make both a great story, and a story with a solid tagline.
 
If a reader is into the story they will happily accept even red-shirt POV characters.
This is very true. Rereading Harry Potter to my child and we both enjoy it, but I'm thinking, all this stuff doesn't really make sense (How likely is the ministry of magic to allow a third year to use time travel. If the ministry has time travel surely they will use it against Voldemort. Heck, Voldemort should be using it) But in the end, the story is well written and interesting and the characters are interesting so we let it pass.
 
With apologies for language: LOL -- FFS i never even thought of that with the ministry of magic in HP! That ... ugh! That's honestly really annoying and upsetting because it's a massive, awful, incredibly stupid plot hole!

Also, my issue with redshirt POV characters is me--I'm the issue--not a potential reader. They annoy me. The TV shows Castle and House (which were basically the same show but one was a crime detective and the other a medical detective) used that a few times very early on and at first i thought, That is clever! And then they deeply annoyed me because I realized it wasn't clever; it was an easy way to make a monster of the week and to manipulate me into caring. You're not my supervisor!

Pulled out a full 1948 words today with a new POV character and it might be the single best intro chapter to a character I've written*. And I introduced her earlier than I initially planned because it let me plant 5 seeds earlier and with a cleanliness i was struggling to create.

*I will edit the daylights out of it in a couple days, but for now, super happy with it.
 
How likely is the ministry of magic to allow a third year to use time travel. If the ministry has time travel surely they will use it against Voldemort. Heck, Voldemort should be using it
The time-turner thing is a world-breaking gizmo, and Rowling clearly realised this because in a later book she basically said they'd all been destroyed off-screen. But the damage was done: once you see it, you can't un-see it.

Never introduce a many-use time travel device unless your whole story revolves around it.
 
1: I actually find it quite refreshing when an additional POV character is established later on. There are so many 2-character ping-pong novels out there nowadays, it's started to get annoying. 2. Second-tier POV characters with less page-time are also fine with me - it makes the story feel more expansive. ("Memory, Sorrow and Thorn" by Tad Williams is a masterclass in this.)
 
Just wanted to say, this thread has got me thinking about things!

The main use for "redshirt POV" seems to be to show a murder from the victim's point of view. I think it's a legitimate tactic, if used sparingly.

Thinking more about the Tad Williams example I mentioned: he really does have at least 3 tiers of POV character. The hero; several major recurring POVs (some more significant for what they witness than what they do) and a few extras to witness scenes that tiers 1 and 2 aren't present at. At the same time, there are several major characters whom he is careful NEVER to use as a POV. Mainly to preserve mystery.

A couple of those 2nd tier POVs are present in the series for an entire book before they first get used as a viewpoint. This works just fine. So, it's not the case that a POV character must have that status right from the outset.

Where he has a choice of viewpoints, Williams usually goes for higher up the POV tree, but this can occasionally be trumped by a lower-ranked character whose viewpoint would be more interesting in this particular scene. And he very occasionally zooms all the way out to classic Omniscient Narrator.
 
The Redshirt POV is very common in the thriller/mystery genre -- for exactly the reason you said -- and it's a fine use case but those chapters are typically very short and, given genre expectations, you know that Rando#1 is going to be dead ten words into it. There's also heavy use of tiered POV -- Agent Starling gets 80% of the POV, Hannibal 8%, Jack Crawford 5%, Bill 3% and a few others (Clarice's roommate, a guard, a victim) share the remaining 4%.

I have a deep love for books that show a relationship from 2 or move POV's and Silence of the Lambs shows 3 Clarice / Hannibal from 3 POV's.

Robert Crais loves to do chapters from the killer's POV -- and they tend to really, really work, but without giving away the identity. Thomas Harris, OTOH, does the killer POV chapters and outright tells you "This is the killer and they're hunting" and it works because they build tension--the focus is on finding and stopping the killer, not just finding them. Harris is a genius with that stuff.

Scalzi is kind of a repeat offender of the Redshirt POV (though, ironically, not with his book, Redshirts). He repeatedly uses it to show the inciting incident or to provide the reader with show don't tell information that the main POV(s) could not experience. Heck, the Interdependency trilogy begins with a throw away POV (I have a deep personal hatred of redshirt prologues).

I think it's his way to avoid a Mary Sue/Gary Stu? If he can show the inciting incident happening to someone else, then, the main POV can "solve" the issue, rather than reveal it, and he can focus and limit the character's skills.
 
The, Who's NOT a POV Character, is also a really fun area to explore.

There's such an expectation in SF/F that the male lead will be a POV character that subverting that expectation is immediately suspicious. The Blade Itself/Abercrombie did this exceptionally well with Bayez and hiding his deep pettiness/narcissisms/evil. and then hid that by making them a later introduction and burying them beneath multiple other "male hero leader" characters. If GRRM had Samwell recount the Jon Snow bits, or if Jim Holden weren't a POV character in the Expanse, it would make you think twice about those characters and who they really are vs who we're seeing on the pages.

In the MS I'm currently querying, I intentionally avoided making a POV of the male lead and beta feedback has consistently been that the character has an air of untrustworthiness -- which was the intent! Making them a POV character would dispel the untrustworthiness and replace it with outright good/bad/middle, which is fine but... why keep adding onions to the recipe when you can add a different spice?

Like mixed metaphors! :sneaky:
 
I had multiple POVs in my last book. Primarily, following the two main leads, but, occasionally, I'd interject another POV (well, technically two POVs) for just a scene or two. I didn't even identify who these new POV characters were at first to create tension, just left hints until it slowly unfolded (they were villain POVs, by the way, but I didn't want to give away who they were just yet just).
 

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