Mary Metcalfe, the author of Winds of Change (my review can be found here) tells us a little about the thought processes she went through writing this really good book!! All I know is IT WORKED!!
How Many Points of View is Too Many?
By Mary Metcalfe
I was emailing with a writer who is struggling with her manuscript this morning and the issue of Point of View (POV) came up. She’s working on her first novel and plans to stay in the heroine’s point of view throughout. That made me think, if there needs to be some level of conflict in a breakout novel, how can you achieve and maintain conflict if you stay in a single POV? People resolve conflicts both internally and externally. We have a conversation or argument with ourselves and work our way through the conflict, even as it is playing out with the other character(s). But, if you only have one POV, how will you know how the other central character(s) are working through their conflicts?
In my debut novel, Winds of Change, I did something no newbie author should probably attempt: I had four adult characters who each had their POV. They were a generation apart in age and aspirations; a younger couple and an older couple. Of course, they weren’t couples when the story began.
As I wrote Winds of Change, it became essential for the characters to show their inner dialogue as a way to explore their thinking and motivations. Thanks to my critique partner, what I was careful to do was bring out only one character’s POV in any scene. Another scene could then feature another POV. As I was polishing the novel, I also had to think about whether the right character’s POV had center stage.
For example, at one point, the young widow Lana brings Mark Powell and his dad home for a backyard barbeque with her son Danny. Neither of the men have current experience with how to cook a steak medium rare. The scene is in Lana’s POV: “Lana was pretty sure she’d detected some hesitation over the steak cooking business. Say about four minutes per side for steaks this thick I think. What would you say?” That scene would have become confusing and jumbled had the POV of either of the men been explored. Also, her thinking and comments underscore Lana’s independence, competence and sensitivity to the feelings of others.
In another chapter and scene, however, the only way to explore Ben Powell’s decision to retire from front-line journalism is to explore the way his feelings about his work and lifestyle have changed. Some of that is accomplished through dialogue with other characters, but to be truly believable, it requires personal introspection by the character himself: “Now, deadlines were in his past. He felt at sea for the first time in decades, he realized.” This is an intimate glimpse into his feelings that, in my view, couldn’t be fully felt through external dialogue. Only from Ben’s internal narrative could the reader fully experience the emotional power of the scene.
What I was trying to achieve by having four viewpoints in Winds of Change was to tell the stories of four strong characters and have readers grow to know them well and to care about them and their lives. It seems to be working. One reviewer wrote: “Fantastic, full rich characters who aren’t perfect.” Another wrote: “It was the kind of book I wanted to just keep reading and reading. I was sad when it ended but I loved the ending!" Clarion Review called it “A sparkling debut… readers will love being swept along by Winds of Change.
But to answer the question in the title? I’ve read that four points of view is about the limit. Some authors have used more but then the story itself is likely to be of epic proportions in order to have time to pull everyone together and find a coherent ending.
About the Author
Mary Metcalfe lives in the foothills of the Laurentians in Quebec, Canada with her husband, three demanding cats and a large Canadian Eskimo Dog rescue. Mary has been a professional writer all her working life but only started writing fiction a few years ago. Now, she refuses to write anything else!
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