Monday, 7 November 2011

Multiple PoVs: Annoying or Illuminating?

Finishing Dearly, Departed and reading some reviews has got me thinking about multiple PoVs. I've always liked them. Some books I've loved over the past 2 years (Shiver, Across the Universe, Sisters Red) switched the point of view back and forth between 2 characters and I find it adds depth, particularly with a romance, to know what both characters are thinking and feeling and not to have to depend on one person's view. The author has to keep the story moving, so we're not reading the same event twice all the time, but other than that, I think it works.

Things get trickier when the PoVs spread to 3 or more. On the one hand, it is nice to get to know so many characters, especially as there are some who you suspect have much more going on underneath than they let show. With Mockinjay, I would've paid Suzanne Collins all I earn if she would have let us see what Gale was thinking or given us a way to check in with Cinna.

However, I've heard some claim that multiple PoVs like this are lazy; that they are employed when an author can't think of an original way to get across important information. If your villain has a nefarious plot you want the reader to know about, but there's no good reason for him to tell anyone about it, just give him his own PoV chapter and voila! The reader can learn his private thoughts. I've also heard the opinion that constantly rotating the PoVs slows the plot down, as the reader has to leave characters at key moments, move through several other characters, then try and recall where the original characters were.

I understand why an author would find multiple PoVs necessary if he/she is telling a huge, epic story. A Game of Thrones takes place with the characters at several locations and spans many years. George R. R. Martin has built an intricate world which he wants his readers to know every part of, and what better way, than by giving us first-person accounts of what this world is like from many characters; who are different ages, from different families and hold different positions in society?

However, with so many characters and plot threads, the odds are you won't enjoy every one equally. Reading A Game of Thrones, I tended to be more excited when I saw the next chapter was a Daenerys or Sansa PoV, than when it was Jon's or Bram's. A similar thing happened with Dearly, Departed. Other than the main story of Nora and Bram, I was much more interested in Pamela's adventures than I was in those of Victor or Wolfe. 

I think, like so many things, it all comes down to how skilful the author is at handling it. If every PoV is written well, gives the characters each their own distinctive voice, moves the story forward and gives the reader important insights, then I'm all for having many. However, the more there are, the harder it is to maintain this standard and perhaps, this is an area where numbers should be kept down.

What do you think?


  1. I have to agree that I do like multiple PoV's when the author is skilful enough to pull it off. I find that I enjoy a book better when there's only 2 or 3 different PoV's, or else I find the same thing as you - that I will find one or two characters a little boring or lacking, and look forward to the characters that I find more stimulating.

    I also like how the different PoV's come together to give you a complete picture. When done properly, all the pieces fit together like a puzzle and it's not until you read the last chapter (put in the last piece, per se) that you're able to clearly see the entire picture. I find it makes the story a lot less predictable and leaves more room for suspense - just when something is about to be revealed, the PoV shifts and you've got to wait a few chapters before finding out what's going to happen.

    Radiant Shadows

  2. I enjoy multiple POVs when it's done well, but if I had to choose, I'll always go for the single POV. I think I'm just a lazy reader who doesn't like to have to have to jump from one thought process to another. I understand why it would be required in epic fantasies, although I've read a few where it hasn't been done and it's still a great book. I think the key is for the multiple POVs to add something to the story instead of rehashing a plot point or simple giving the bad guy a voice to explain his reasoning.

  3. I have mixed emotions about multiple POV's. In Ellen Hopkins books, it can work. A few of her stories are following three or five people facing a similar situation. They might cross paths at some point, but it's not all one story.

    In Virals by Kathy Reichs, there were chapters thrown in between the first person POV of Tory Brennan of a THIRD person POV of the bad guys. It was to explain some things, but I found it kind of frustrating. Maybe it's because I like the thrill of not knowing certain things, letting the main character come across the answer on their own. Why give away the mystery of the book when you can keep it going until you near the end?

    As far as other books with alternating first person POV's, those I can take or leave. I've enjoyed a few, and not enjoyed a few. It depends on how well the author handles them. For the most part though, I'm partial to single POV's because I like to experience their journey without knowing what the other person is thinking.

  4. Well, considering my book is written with 3 pov's I have to say I like them, ha. But it's in poems, so maybe multiple povs tend to work better in that format...?

  5. I'm not a big fan of multiple points of views that have more than two. Only because it can get a little confusing. The only time I can think of that I really did like that was in Wolves of Mercy Falls. I loved Isabel and Cole's POV and felt it added to the story. But I love two points of views! I always get excited when a book I read has it!

    Liza @ Book Crook Liza

  6. Great topic! I definitely prefer fewer POV's in a story, 2-3 max. My other annoyance is when one POV is first-person and the other is third person, or some other similar combination. That drives me CRAZY because the switch from one to the other pulls me out of the story.

  7. Kelly - That's a great point about seeing all the pieces of a story come together. I do like it when you're not sure how 2 PoVs are connected and then it's revealed and it's AMAZING.

    Lan - I understand that viewpoint. Sometimes I'd rather spend the page time getting to understand 1 character really well, than several only a little.

    Jessica - There is greater mystery with a single PoV, isn't there? Multiple PoVs can be frustrated because you always know more than any individual character.

    Sonia - You know, I still haven't read a verse novel! I really want to, though. It'll be one of my reading resolutions for next year.

    Book Crook Liza - 2 PoVs work best for me, too. Although because I love The Wolves of Mercy Falls and Across the Universe so much, my expectations for that kind of book is definitely high!

    BJ - Oh yes, you've just reminded me of that! Switching from first person to third person confused the heck out of me in Angel/Angel Burn. I don't really understand why that is done, actually. Somebody needs to explain to me the benefits.


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