Choosing a Point-of-View Character

Not every novel is told from a single point of view. In mysteries or thrillers, it’s common for readers to see both sides of a tale with the protagonist and antagonist. Romances are often told from both the male and female leads. More epic tales–such as fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction– might use several characters to show various parts of the story.

No matter which point of view you choose, you want the right characters to be telling the story.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Point-of-View Character

Is more than one point-of-view character needed?

Giving a character a point of view is asking readers to invest time in her, so this character should be worthy of that. Seeing the story from her perspective should bring something valuable to the novel. If the only reason a character is a point-of-view character is because parts of the book can’t be told any other way, or because the protagonist wouldn’t be able to be there, that’s a red flag that the character is only there to dump information.

What do multiple points of view allow you to accomplish?

Look at the specific benefits each possible character brings to the story. How might seeing this other perspective enhance the plot? Deepen the theme? Illustrate some aspect of the world? Look beyond simple plot mechanics and consider what else this character might do to bring out the best in this story.

If you don’t see that character’s point of view, what is lost?

Sometimes it’s easier to identify what points of view are needed by what disappears if the story isn’t told from that perspective. Eliminating a point of view could also show where you’re giving away too much information and hurting your tension or lowering the suspense.

Does every potential point-of-view character have her own plot or story goal?

If there are too many plots unfolding at once, the novel can feel disjointed and have too many things going on. Each plotline should connect to the core conflict in some way and work with the other plots and subplots to tell a complete story. Too many plots can be a red flag for a book that feels shallow, because there’s no time to go into any character’s story in depth.

How do the points of view work together to tell a larger story?

Think about how these different perspectives work to advance the overall story. Does every character have moments that raise the stakes? Do they tie together on a thematic level? Do they create conflict for the other points of view? If the characters have little to do with each other, odds are they’re going to feel like separate stories.

The point-of-view character in the person the reader sees the novel through. Give them the best reasons you can for being there. A solid POV, no matter what type, gives you the freedom to let that character shine. Not only will that flesh out the character, but the world around them as well.

3 Responses to Choosing a Point-of-View Character

  1. Katie Sep 24 2014 at 10:06 am #

    I’ve just been debating this topic with myself over one of my plots! Not sure if adding a second viewpoint character will give away too much too early and lessen the tension. I’m going to have to think it over. 🙂 Thanks for the awesome post!

  2. Patrick Stahl Sep 27 2014 at 9:58 am #

    I love multiple POV stories. If done right, they can be perhaps more powerful than a one-POV story can possibly attain. Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen (MG/YA Romance) and Elantris by Brandon Sanderson (Epic Fantasy) are two of my favorites.

  3. Hamed حامد Sep 27 2014 at 3:17 pm #

    Right now I’m reading “Beautiful Ruins” which -up until chapter 5- has 5 kinds of POVs and your post has made me think if they are –as you pointed-work to advance the overall story and I think they do. It gives me so much joy to find out why I enjoy a book. Why this book I’m reading is a “good” piece of literature. And I have you to thank to.
    In any case, could you please give me an example of how POVs can “tie together on a thematic level”?
    Thank you.
    Note to self: go find out about POVs in “The Sound and the Fury”

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