How much is too much POV?

Last month I talked about my early investigations into a style ofdeeppovcover writing called “deep POV”. You can find the blog here. I concluded by saying that I would certainly give it a go, and so I will.

In response, I’ve been looking at a lot of detailed principles (as outlined in Marcy Kennedy’s excellent book: Deep POV in Fiction), and applying those to Mandestroy.  It’s fair to say that the results have led to numerous edits already (at least 15% of the book has changed!), and though some of it is deep POV specific, some of it is just good practise…

But I don’t want to talk about all this here – that’s for later blogs. Instead I want to go back to basics:

How many POVs should I have?

As a writer in epic fantasy, I have always had an inclination towards more point of view characters. But beyond that mantra, I have never really thought about it. Perhaps I should have…


What does Deep POV say?

Well, deep POV does not prescribe “rules”, but in her book, Marcy recommends no more than 3 POVs in a deep POV written novel. Thinking about it, this is probably because the reader is “up close and personal” with the characters, and so to be that closely associated with too many individuals is likely to be overwhelming. Makes sense really, and mirrors life where we only tend to have a handful of “really close” friends.

So, how do my two books thus far fare against this guideline? Let’s find out:

Mandestroy_Book_Medium

Mandestroy:

Only one POV – the main character, General Kantal (or Jossie in the earlier years).

Fear's-Union-Medium

Fear’s Union:

More. A lot more. I’ve just totted it up and I make it fifteen different POVs. Fifteen! Whoops.


Initial Thoughts

Okay, let’s think about this. For Mandestroy, a single POV is absolutely correct. It is Kantal’s story after all. Move on.

But for FU, what I have is much harder to justify. Fifteen? Are they all necessary? Probably not. Nice perhaps in places, but not necessary. But even when I pare it back, I’m still left with more than three. Is this a problem?

Actually, as someone who reads at a “macro” level (see previous blog for my definition), I actually don’t mind fifteen POVs. I like to be close to characters, but I also like to see multiple perspectives. It adds a depth to the telling.

But I have already mulled this over, and I have concluded that I should look at this from a writer’s perspective rather than a reader’s perspective, and hence I will discount my view for now. Move on.


The Statistics

That’s right – I can give you some statistics. And it is this following one which really drummed it home for me:

So Anejo gets less time in her ‘epic-scope’ novel than Kantal gets in his novella. That does not feel right to me. And what’s more, that’s only 25% of the novel. Hmm…

And it’s more stark for the other key characters too:

  • Kantal in FU: 7,000 (not surprising since he was not on my “hit-list” when I wrote FU)
  • Keles: 21,000
  • Xen: 22,000
  • Aran: 19,000

And in fact, just as relevant as the number of POVs is the pace of POV change. When writing FU, I decided that I wanted to switch POV each scene (with a chapter typically being carved into three scenes). So the longest stretch a single character has without moving to another head is about 3,000 words. Not a lot of time to ‘settle in’.

Now, the idea was to include pace and tension through this mechanism, and when I was reading it back over, it seemed to work for me. But then I’m biased, and I also associate with the characters because they are mine. How would an independent reader feel? Probably whip-lashed. I do believe that a well placed POV jump and jump-back could work well, but in hindsight, probably not for a whole novel. Whoops.


What are the genre conventions?

Right – epic fantasy. What’s the convention? Let’s be frank about this, the epic fantasy genre definitely breaks the three POV guideline (but also remember that three is a deep POV generated guideline, so not necessarily relevant). Obvious examples include:

  • George RR Martin: numerous POVs with more appearing every book (I haven’t gone back and counted…)
  • Robin Hobb’s Ship of Magic: from memory I can get to about 8 POVs. But then, this is a huge book, and each character is given a huge amount of airtime (with the possible exception of the sea-snake thing).
  • My most recent read which is Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks: again from memory, maybe three key POVs (Kylar, Durzo & Momma K), but with numerous other characters thrown in for effect (the Godking for example).

Now, I love all of these books, and they all make much broader ‘cast lists’ work, which is reassuring. But then, they aren’t jumping violently between heads throughout the novel, and they aren’t necessarily going deep POV – though I do recall a pretty close psychic distance in all these books. These books are also, let’s face it, grand classics, and the scope and scale of the stories are such that they can sustain so many POV characters. And they’re all excellent writers too!

There are also many other examples in the genre of single point of view stories, an excellent one being The Thief who Pulled on Trouble’s Braid, which I read earlier in the year.

So all in all, this is inconclusive.


What is the scope of Fear’s Union?

I like to think it’s a pretty broad beast. Continental war is quite broad to start with, and though we are focused on Ahan, there are a number of nations involved (Ahan; Mandaria; Samal; Delfinia; Mikaeta; “Dusk”). The depth of ‘problem’ in FU may be a bit shallower, but there is meant to be the hint of depth there that dangles for the later books. All in all, a pretty big scope (at least in my head).

The story threads also come from a number of directions – from our young Mandahoi acolytes; from Delfinia and their interactions with the treasonous Nadari family; and from the powers in Ahan and Mandaria.

So purely from a story telling perspective, I think I need to look at the upper end of the limit. Otherwise there will just be too many gaps for readers to follow! But can I work with three?


Which character has the biggest plot-line?

This has always been Anejo’s story. In my head, it’s been about the three acolytes (Xen, Anejo & Aran), but certainly in this first book, it’s Anejo’s game. She’s the one who pushes against her boundaries and ends up biting off more than she can chew. But she also gains what she craves. It is just a bit of a shock that it tastes very different to what she expected.

Aran has a certain trauma in his trajectory, but when I think about it, it is only one of descent. And he cannot be considered a ‘plot-mover’ – he is a follower by nature! Xen’s story is also certainly less lumpy at this point; even if she is tussling a bit with both Anejo and Keles.

And in fact, it’s actually also Kantal’s story – he loses a lot when the assault on Ahan fails. And now that I’ve written his story in Mandestroy, I kind of want to stay close to him. And that feels right.

Indeed, even Keles (more so than Xen) actually puts a lot on the line here. He is loyal to Ahan and to Ahan’s rulers, but he finds himself eloping with a ‘rogue’ because he can see something that the others can’t. And along with Anejo, he is the ultimate game changer.


Does every viewpoint character influence the plot?

Definitely not. I’m going to list the POVs now (gulp) and drop in my thoughts:

  • Anejo: very much so. She pushes against her perceived shackles and ends up making the move that shifts the pivot.
  • Kantal: again, actually yes. The major antagonist excepting the Enabler.
  • Keles: yes, definitely. A key figure at outset, he ‘goes rogue’, but ultimately returns to save Ahan.
  • Xen: mmm, not really – apart from her emotional tussle.
  • Aran: certainly has his moments, but not a major plot driver. In fact, he follows more than he drives!
  • Felip: certainly a major figure, but it’s really Anejo we want to be focused on.
  • Kato: I threw in one scene of Kato to indicate to the reader what’s going on in that disturbed head of his. He has a subtle hand in the plot, but I wouldn’t want him as a main POV. His very nature is meant to bring some tension.
  • Rianja: yes, a driver of the plot, but we actually only have one scene in there for effect.
  • Lord Nadari: no, single scene for effect.
  • Jinque: not a plot driver. There are two scenes for effect.
  • Alena: no – just because no-one else was around.
  • Blasette: no – just because no-one else was around.
  • The Commander: yes, but this was thrown in purely for effect.
  • Cris & his brother: definitely not.

Wow – when you look at it like that, it becomes quite clear, doesn’t it? So I’ve definitely thrown a number of characters into the mix purely for the ‘effect’ and ‘interest’ of seeing their view. These should be easy to weed out.

But I am still left with the top six characters who each have a sizeable chunk of time devoted to them. From the look of this, it feels like Felip and Xen can be pushed into the background (it is Anejo and Keles we want to focus on), and it also looks like Aran can sit in the sidelines for now.


But what does that leave me with?

  • PROTAGONIST: Anejo
  • ANTAGONIST: General Kantal
  • SECONDARY: Keles (some good friction with Anejo for various reasons)

That seems to smell quite good to me – and it marries up with advice that Marcy hands out in her book about who to have as POV characters (excepting love interest). Nice. But it does leave an awful lot of re-writing to do. Not so nice.


Wasn’t this a trilogy?

Yes. And these characters would not be my three main POVs throughout the series. Anejo will be there throughout, but then who said I needed to maintain the other POVs throughout?

And in fact, that might offer some nice opportunities to tell the ‘non-POV’ character’s stories alongside the main novel – as bonus type material. All in all, this actually feels quite exciting.

And a lot of hard work. But then, writing was always hard work. But fun too!

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