Cup of Dcaf: Juggling Viewpoint Characters

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As I undertake my Wheel of Time Reread, the topic of viewpoint characters has been on my mind. In The Eye of the World, there are only a few POV characters: Rand has by far most of the book, with a few chapters from Perrin and a few from Nynaeve. It’s a rather startling contrast to…well, to the whole rest of the series, which sees an astounding 2700+ named characters, with hundreds of them getting viewpoints at one place or another.

And that brings me to my own experiences with the phenomenon. Across three novels now, I have had widely differing approaches to POV, through no conscious design of my own. In my first book, an epic fantasy called Lands of the Sword, I jumped straight into the deep end and drowned myself with seven major POV characters. With Dreamscape, I had one major viewpoint and two other one-off scenes from other POVs.

And, of course, All Flames Cast. As a relatively inexperienced writer, I find the three-POV balance in All Flames Cast the easiest to manage. Having a hundred different POVs in a book is great for some of those huge epic fantasy series, like WoT and Malazan and Stormlight Archive—but it takes a true master to juggle all of those and present a cohesive narrative, with even pacing and interesting characters across the board. For similar reasons, though it may seem counter-intuitive, I struggled a lot with having just the one POV in Dreamscape. I felt that the pacing flagged way too much in the middle of the book, and at points it was downright boring. As one amusing character in Harry Turtledove’s Darkness series is wont to say: “variety is the spice of life.”

That’s not to say that books can’t be good with only one viewpoint, of course. But it is much more difficult to manage the elements of a story without that flexibility. For new writers, it might be wiser to write with a couple of viewpoints, but not too many—unless you’re writing in first-person, which opens up an entirely different bag of worms, and one that I am particularly unsuited for discussing, since I almost never write from that perspective.

What have your experiences been with managing multiple viewpoints across books or series? What has worked best for you?

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