Do You Need That POV?

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I recently mentioned that POV issues are one of the most common critiques I have for manuscripts I edit. Of those, I'd say probably the most frequently POV issue I come across is unnecessary POVs.

I totally understand why this is a common problem. It can be hard, when you've decided to write a multi-POV story, to decide what POVs are needed to tell the story. After all, you're the author, you could write a story with five, eight, ten, fifteen POVs if you wanted to—but as is the case with many things, just because you can doesn't mean you should.

So how do you know how many POVs to use? And how to you decide what characters should get their own POV?

I always start with this rule of thumb: use as few POVs as you need to tell the story. This is a case where more is not the merrier. Why? Because switching POVs is jarring to readers, and the more times you do it with the more characters you use, the harder it is to get used to any one perspective. There are some readers out there who won't read multi-POV novels simply because they don't like head-hopping, so you really need to have a good reason for every POV that you use. As is the case with all things in writing, there should be a reason for everything.

But what counts as a good reason? Well...

It starts with really understanding your plot. What is the point of the story? What is the central goal and conflict? You'll want to make sure your POV characters are absolutely central to the story, in that you can't tell the story without their perspective. It means every POV character is directly tied to the central goal, so that their story is the story. What you don't need is to give supporting characters perspective chapters—every POV character should be tied enough into the plot that they'd count as a protagonist too. POV characters shouldn't just support the story, they should be the story.

So say you have a cast of characters and are still working on the plot, so you aren't sure who to make a perspective character. The way you choose is actually less complicated than you'd think: you always want to go with the character(s) who have the most at stake and would be most affected by the plot. And in the case of YA, these should all be teen characters.

Choosing perspectives for your story can be tricky at times, but I do think it gets easier with practice. Just make sure to consistently challenge yourself to only use as many POVs as you need to tell the story, and you'll be off to a great start.

Have you ever written a WIP with too many (or few!) POV characters? Or have you read any published books with that problem?

Twitter-sized bite: 
How many POVs should you use? What characters should get their own POV? @Ava_Jae talks choosing POVs. (Click to tweet)

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