[Book Talk] How Multiple POVs are ruining your story (And how lazy of an author it makes you)

YA novels are composed by many different aspects and formulas that make them the genre that they are, young protagonists, complex (and often pointless) love subplots or triangles, dystopian type societies… And one component that I very often see and very much throughoutfully despise: First person switching Point of Views.

If you didn’t skip your middle school literature classes, you surely are aware of what a narrator is: The voice who tells the story and the determinant of the point of view. If the narrator is a full participant in the story’s action, the narrative is said to be in the first person. A story told by a narrator who is not a character in the story is a third-person narrative.

But narrators do so much more than just telling your story, as the type of narrator you use can do so much more for you. YA novels tend to focus on the likability of their main characters (often turning their protagonists into Mary Sues, sigh) while doing the least amount of work possible and thus it has become a very common occurrence for these types of authors to choose first person narratives because of several advantages they always wish to exploit:
The spoon feeding of your main/secondary character’s ambitions, thoughts and motivations through letting them explore their thoughts.

The cheap shot at immersion with your readers by allowing them a generic character. Because of how hard it is for main characters to describe themselves without sounding like they’re roleplaying on Omegle (F, 20, brown hair and green eyes) most authors avoid giving characters a clear description of themselves and more of a blank slate personality that’s described through other characters (“But MC! You love going to the movies with us ! Are you really going to pass on hanging out to help rescue animals instead?”)

An overplayed phenomenon in romance oriented YA is this precise blank slate main character who attracts the handsome, new bad boy in school and he finds himself unnaturally drawn to her. This is nothing but lazy play for uncaring readers— Your reader projects onto the main character and swoons as her love interest is here to sweep her off her feet and thus become too busy fangirling over how sexy the love interest is and how much you root for him. (Bonus points if you thought of any novel that wasn’t Twilight, because I could easy list a few many, many more)

It’s cheap, its lazy and its such an over used YA trope.


The bias of first person narrators, as the stories are filtered through their brains and emotions. Thus, making it easier to be able to quickly flag characters as “Good guys” and “Bad guys” without having to spend any time developing them as to us to figure it out by ourselves.

The unbelievable ease by which first person narrators are able to dump exposition on you without having to resort to the intelligent pacing and logical cohesion of explaining the world as events unfold and make it properly that third person forces you to do.

If the novel is thoughtful or intelligent enough to include some good mysteries or complicated plot twists, a character’s musings are a simply way to spell out what’s going on and move on without allowing the reader to discover it for themselves.

Now at this point, I have only spent some time describing why I think a first person narrator is lazy— Not even mentioning the more obvious disadvantages like self-indulgent novels can become within the narrator’s emotions by overreaction and making everything about themselves, the limiting POV by not being able to create action where the character isn’t present, making perspective and perception on the bigger picture almost impossible, the lack of focus and inability to work on secondary subplots as you’re only focused on one story thread, the unreliability of the narrator because of the bias of its brain (which in cases this can be worked wonderfully into a novel, but this is what I call a literary device for non-lazy authors) and the extra time needed to be spent figuring out the narrators voice without being out of character: Alas, a “creative” mind like Tahereh Mafi’s Juliette using heavily complex and scientific terms in her descriptions. Then again, just like Mafi, many YA authors don’t care for this later point and tend to ignore it all together.

But notice how I mention the “limits” of what a first person narration can do to your novel, and backtrack on the immediate thought that’s plaguing your head: “But Hime ! That has a very easy solution !” And it does ! It’s precisely the object of this essay this fine morning: Multiple Person POVs.

If you haven’t clued in into what they are just yet, allow me to explain. Multiple Person first person POVs is a phenomenon that occurs when you narrate a tale in first person, and then switch up the character narrating most commonly when entering a different chapter i.e. Maria narrating chapter one, and Pancho chapter two and Pedrito chapter three and switch back, back and forth. Surely, this phenomenon solves many of my aforementioned problems like: The limiting view of only one person’s bias now extended to multiple, the new found ability to throw some focus and spotlight into other character arcs and subplots and the convenience to narrate situations that are going on outside the main character’s perspective.

If you are doing this, let me tell you one hard truth: Your novel most likely reads like fanfiction.

Those who have spent their years in Wattpad surely understand what I’m saying. There isn’t anything more distracting than beginning a novel and first thing reading the character’s name on top of your page. It is very, very off putting.

It’s lazy, and when not developed properly, really brings out the amateur in a writer. You might think that many readers of YA don’t mind this, and that is the cold hard truth, but there are many other writers and readers out here that still value writing as an art form and not as a self indulgent check-list of how to get a best seller. Put effort into what you do. 

Dual POVs are the most common occurrence of this phenomenon, and usually indicate a clear romance between both parties. This is by far the easiest and the laziest because it avoids having to go through the trouble of really giving each of your main characters a voice: One is a boy, and one is a girl. They do boy girl things until they encounter each other and then think about each other when they are apart. Fun.

Problem arises when the same lazy author I’m describing attempts to add a third or more POVs into the story and everything goes down into a shit show. If you’re not taking the time to give your character voices, then you will most likely turn your lazy cop out into an unpleasant read. Characters will become nothing but names blending into each other you will force your readers to have to constantly remember to tell them apart (A big problem I encountered with The Thousandth Floor but still gets half a pass because the story sort of premised revolving around these five characters- It was just done very, very incorrectly).

Narratives who do this tend to become very convoluted between every minor character and major character that they book switches to. Authors tend to forget the main point they were trying to make and get derailed between the myriads of new character thoughts, and motivations, and glances into their brains that are simply not needed in the story. You’re spending less and less time with the main characters that the reader came in for in the first place. In fact, the biggest pitfall that authors using this system fall with is very simple:

The simple possibility of ending up with readers liking one POV dramatically more than they like the other. Imbalance occurs between POV characters who are given equal amounts of time on the page and the experience becomes tedious and unpleasant.

Most authors who do this switch and jump between characters only to make sure they cover every piece of action away from the main character and I am tired to say this, but it is simply a cheap cop out that doesn’t push the writer to find a creative way to present all the information it wishes to convey through their book.

So enough complaining, what would you do?

Third person is my go to answer.
It doesn’t mean my personal stories are all written in third person, but allow me to explain why I would always recommend going for this style.

It forces you to be creative.

Not only that, but you can very well achieve the same advantages from a first person perspective with a third person perspective, along with several other advantages.

Most writers choose to include elements of first-person points of view by mentioning character thoughts and feelings without using ‘he thought’ or ‘she felt’ next to italicized text. This allows for more intimacy whilst maintaining different perspectives and helps break down the distance between the narrator and the characters. In fact, through the third person can still think, feel and experience, but so can other characters.

I believe writing is all about the subtleties, about showing and not telling and third person can work wonders for multiple POVs without even feeling like a multiple POV. Here’s some examples on novels who did it right and novels who did it wrong and why

Novels who did it right:

The Raven King Cover review

The Raven Cycle Series by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Cycle series tells the story of 5 boys looking for sleeping King in the magical, rural Henrietta. Each chapter opens on a third person limited view focused on a different character. Each book discretely changes main character focus by giving one of the 5 characters more screentime than the others. This is barely noticeable, making it a very subtle and pleasant change. Nevertheless of a great plot, the story is also very character heavy and fully immersive. I perfectly know each and every one of these complex and intricate characters, I’m familiar with their voices and characters and switching their focus to each other was pleasant and almost unnoticeable ! … All achieved through the third person.

Carry-On-Cover

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On is a multiple first person POV novel that just did it right. The novel doesn’t take itself too seriously in its plot and its mostly character driven. This story in fact depends on it constantly switching out narrators for us to really understand what was going on in characters heads as that was the important part of the novel, not what was going on outside of them and in the plot. As the plot was their feelings, their emotions, their thoughts… A really amazing read that almost didn’t bother me with the constant narrator switch (as I really couldn’t bring myself to care for the bits with the Mage, Nico or Ebb, all minor characters that resulted distracting to me).

Novels who did it wrong:

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Pure by Julianna Baggott

Is also an ever jumping first person multiple POV novel that constantly distracts itself by distancing itself from the main two characters and showing distracting, minor characters POV.

It also suffers from another of the aforementioned problems where for a good 100 pages of the book, one of the main characters is completely insufferable and his chapters result bland and heavier to get through.

 

 

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The Thousandth Floor by Katherine McGee

Because this book is all about a web of character driven drama, the first person multiple pov approach to it should be making sense. But it is the lazy and effortless way its written that makes this bad, for the characters lack voices of their own or any sort of distinguishing features other than their names. It makes the reading tedious and just hard and complicated to keep up with who is who. It’s like having homework on a Friday.

 

 

Carve The Mark Cover Header Review

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

The book is completely incoherent— It is a duality that begins as a third person POV when following Akos, but turns into a into a first person POV when following Cyra, the second main character. It is distracting, frustrating and beats any sort of advantage from using third person or first person as a narrator.

Akos is a blank slate and to make it even worse, his story is told through third person as if we weren’t emotionally disconnected enough as it is because the author refused to convey his feelings and character through action.

So ! What do you think?

Are there any other books you’d consider did the third-multiple person POV right? Or more rants about who did it wrong and resulted distracting? I’d love to get more thoughts and examples !

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43 thoughts on “[Book Talk] How Multiple POVs are ruining your story (And how lazy of an author it makes you)

  1. Matt's Movies says:

    Great piece here! Weirdly, considering my blog, I have been writing a novel for some time and been thinking about character POVs a lot. Third person has always been the way I have approached it and my narrative has always been focused on two main characters. Do you think a double first person perspective has any merit? Too many characters spoil a plot line I think, but perhaps fewer would keep things constricted enough?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hime says:

      You mean like a duality written in first person? Personally, I’d much rather read a duality in first person than 3 people or more characters, because its easier to do it correctly. If you can manage to get me to love both your main characters as for me to enjoy spending time on both their heads, I think it has a lot of merit ! Even a multiple POV novel I think can be great as long as its used creatively and intelligently… And not a poor excuse to be lazy, feel me? It’s all about how you work it ! Thank you so much!

      Like

      • Hime says:

        I was actually just mentioning earlier. See, my go-to is definitely third person limited when it comes to writing. But narrators often help to given your novel personality. For example, if you’re trying to write a serious novel that takes itself objectively, then third person should be your formal go to. It’s serious, formal and to me, it establishes a more mature turn.

        In change, for example, I recently wrote a short story whereas the main character was vulgar, sarcastic and purely black humored. I went with a first person narrative for it because the entire short story is supposed to have the exact same tone as my main character. So I would recommend that you take a step back, and take your novel on a date! Figure out its personality and what you want with it, that should leave it very clear as to where to go with it and what narrator to use.

        I am a strict believer than writing is an intelligent art form ! I am very much against first person (multiple) povs in YA because its always done so lazily, and in order to make writing as easy and less thought provoking as possible. But as long as you learn to use your narrators creatively, you can certainly sell me and others on anything ! Give it some thought !

        Like

  2. indigojomuses says:

    Great post! Other third person limited narratives that work really well are Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci books and Sarah Rees Brennan’s The Demon’s Lexicon. Both use third person limited in such a way that you feel like you are getting a somewhat objective picture (because third person), only to pull the rug from your feet later in the novel when the main character has a viewpoint-changing moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hime says:

      Thank you so much! And YES ! I’ll make sure to give those two series a read because I really am craving some intelligent reads that now how to use multi third person limited… It really is all about the subtleties and using the povs intelligently, isn’t it?

      Like

  3. alikerofthings says:

    I don’t mind switching between two narratives, anything more would throw me off. Recently I have read two novels which switch between the past and the present regularly and even that took me few extra seconds to realise where I am.

    That being said, I think first and third both have their merits. I have written in both first and third and found that some stories need to be told in a certain way. I have enjoyed first person novels just as much as third and would not picture them swapped around.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hime says:

      I definitely enjoy first person narration as well ! For some reason, I’ve just come to notice that most YA novels who do this make me feel like a child….? It’s weird ! And certainly not all do, and in a lot of cases the first person narrative helps a lot. It’s just when it travels to switching first person narratives that I really start boiling up.

      I’ve certainly written in both as well ! And I’ve found that each has had to do with the tone I’m trying to give to the novel…? I’m always simply a firm believer than writing should be intelligent ! As long as you’re using your narrators intelligently and not as an easy way out, you’ve already acquired me as a reader.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Lee says:

    I wouldn’t say she did it WRONG exactly, but in the Throne of Glass novels… I understand why we had to switch around because the characters were so spread out, but I found myself most of the time just waiting for the one POV I actually WANTED to read and annoyed by the rest… But I don’t know that this is a failing of the narration or a failing of my own as a reader.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hime says:

      I can relate to that, though I’ll be honest- I wasn’t AS bothered because Maas actually did it in the third person, just gives your entire novel a proffesional look. But I do agree ! While I do get that some action stays away from Aelin, doesn’t mean I always want to know what Chaol or Dorian and the new lover are up to. I feel like having multiple POVs and still sound professional forces you to balance POV time and thus take us away from the characters we REALLY care about you know…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lee says:

        Yes, yes!! You said it much more clearly than me thank you! Honestly I was fine with Aelin and Manon, but I could not care less what the whiny boys are thinking at any given moment!

        And I agree about third person. I can barely read a first person narration with only one POV, once it goes into multiple I start getting a headache. (I feel like first person narration can only be used well in very very specific instances.)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hime says:

        MAN ! I am like /that/ person who honestly did not like Manon- I’m about to start Empire of Storms but I get so frustrated when I have to hear about the witch coven and just how deadly beautiful Manon is (I got enough beauty with all of Aelin’s descriptions….)

        I was actually just mentioning I firmly believe that it probably very much depends on the tone you’re trying to set for your novel ! When narrators are used as a means of exploiting and bringing out your books personality, instead of a cheap cop out to do the least work possible, my heart is sold and totally in it ! I just feel multiple first person POVs go against the intelligence in YA novels I always try to preach for… Like imagine how creative you’d need to get to describe whats going on outside the main character’s eyes while not switching povs huh?

        Have you ever read the Beautiful Creatures series?

        Like

      • Lee says:

        Oh, man, I honestly hate all the descriptions of beauty in ToG series… Like once it’s acceptable, but after a while I’m like “ok fine whatever she’s PRETTY can something HAPPEN NOW” so when it came to that for Manon I just tuned it out (having learned my lesson with Aelin) and focused on all the killing and stuff. Made her much more enjoyable.

        No I haven’t read Beautiful Creatures, but I’ve heard of it once or twice. I saw the movie (retained NOTHING of the plot) and just didn’t enjoy that experience so I never bothered to even try the book. Should I have given it a chance?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hime says:

        I could deal with it with Aelin in like book one and two but after that I agree I 100% tuned out. They might just be bothering me because I have such a hard time standing Manon as it is, don’t need to hear about how pretty the bitch is. And the worst part is the same thing happens in ACOTAR !

        Well the movie is fucking terrible let me tell you that, I saw it and I was baffled because my reaction was simply: “I can’t believe they literally got a checklist of everything teenagers like and literally checked if off and tied the loose strings with /plot/.” BUT ANYWAY ! I read them because I found them in my library, it was a few years ago so I don’t trust 14 year old Hime’s tastes anymore but I recall liking it a lot.

        The reason why I bring it up its because its written in the first person too, right? But there were several scenes were they casted on a cat/person to be able to see through their eyes. So the MC would get flashes of what was going on elsewhere out of nowhere and without knowing who it came from. I found it like such a great and clever loophole about describing action away from the main character AND without having to sit through annoying and frustrating filter.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lee says:

        Dude I feel like Maas goes way overboard describing how pretty her characters are. Like it’s YA fiction, I KNOW you’ve made your characters pretty, please stop telling me every 10 minutes!

        That DOES sound interesting! I love when an author comes up with clever ways of staying within the confines of their narrative structure without straight-up info dumping on the reader.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hime says:

        I really, really like Maas’ novels. Never been a fan of fantasy and she certainly bought me long ago. But she goes with so many predictable YA tropes and just sometimes /easy/ and safe routes yknow? It’s like I love her but things are complicated…. (Is dating as hard as liking authors?)

        Me too ! The books are way more creative and original than what the movie makes out the series to be, so I would recommend it? I repeat my earlier disclaimer though, don’t know how safe it is to trust me early teenage tastes… Man… So much rereading to do.

        Like

      • Lee says:

        Yes, yes that’s me exactly. I like her, but things are complicated. (And god I hope I have better taste in books than I did in dates….)

        I’m going to add the first book to my TBR and check it out from the library then. Wish me luck!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hime says:

        HAH ! Can’t relate, but if you your partners the way you analyse books, trust me ! You’ll find the right one in no time 💪

        May the odds ever be in your favor, sailor ❤

        Like

  5. Mr. Sax says:

    “If you are doing this, let me tell you one hard truth: Your novel most likely reads like fanfiction.”
    Especially when they change POVs mid-scene for one page (or sentence), solely to have another character pointlessly interrupt the action with their thoughts, before cutting back and continuing said action. Every time I see that happen, I swear it takes ten years off my life. Lots of catharsis in this post 😛

    My suggestion for Multiple 1st POVs Done Right would be “Bruiser” by Neal Shusterman which, while not his best book, at least shows him putting more effort into differentiating the POV characters than most other YA novels (one character narrates entirely in poetry, for instance). I haven’t re-read it lately, so maybe my opinion would change, but I was consistently thinking of it while reading your post. “The Alex Crow” by Andrew Smith is another book that blends 1st and 3rd person together, and I think part of why that didn’t bother me as much as it would in other books is solely because of how weird the book is overall.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hime says:

      Both added to my TBR ! But man, definitely a lot of ranting I had to take off my chest… I feel like my pores have been opened, skin cleansed and ten years of my life returned to me with the amount of people who seem to understand what I’m saying. Glad to meet someone who’s as frustrated with this phenomenon as me.

      And don’t worry ! I certainly feel to a spiritual level the doubting of just how good judges of books and character we were back in the day… Some books better left not re-read. But I will certainly look into both of yours !

      See I find it that narrators are a great part about giving your novel a personality (Said it so much at this point I might end up doing an entire blog post about it at this point….) So as long as you’re using your narrators intelligently to fit a theme, then be my guest you know? On the other hand, I love myself some weird books…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mr. Sax says:

        I know that feeling too – I love ranting about books, but it feels like I can never rant enough. One of these days I’m just going to turn into a pillar of salt 😛 If you like weird books, you might also want to look into China Miéville, if you haven’t already. I’ve only read one of his books and it didn’t involve any crazy POV shifts like “The Alex Crow,” but it was certainly an oddball.

        (Also just wanted to drop a warning that “The Alex Crow” has a fairly graphic rape scene late in the book – I dunno how much that would bother you, but I’d feel bad if I failed to mention it.)

        Liked by 1 person

  6. katharinasineadsbookblog says:

    I personally tend to write in the first person, from two POVs and I’m happy doing that it’s fun for me, though I am planning a novel that will be written from the third person. May I just point out though- tell me if I read the part of the essay wrong- that just because a writer writes from the POV from only one person, people aren’t going to assume it’s a fan-fiction, unless specified below the title of the story.

    Like

    • Hime says:

      Oh no, love, definitely got that wrong ahah.
      I’m not saying that a first person narrator makes or breaks what a fanfiction is. I was simply criticizing switching first person narrator POVs, and how because of the loose way they tend to be portrayed in YA literature at this point they tend to read like fan fiction, not tend be fan fiction.

      I am a firm believer that if your type narrator adds personality to your story, you should definitely go for it ! Specially if you’re comfortable ! My problem, and the main point of this anaylisis is how YA authors tend to use multiple first person povs as a mean to do less work when it comes to their novel, instead of using narrators to give it more flavor and thus making it look unprofessional (hence my comparison to fan-fiction).

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Almanzapedia says:

    I think Chocolat by Joanne Harris did a great job with first person POV that has two separate narrators. One narrator writes in almost completely perfect poetic prose, and the other is more soul-ravaged and a bit depressed, which colors the characters wonderfully.

    As for my writing, I usually stick to third person but lately I’ve been writing with first person POV, and I actively paint a sense of who the character is as a person with his thoughts and fears and desires and idiosyncrasies, things that are usually absent from YA novels that have unfortunately been watered down with series like The Mortal Instruments and Twilight. Making a character an actual person isn’t a priority anymore and that’s kinda depressing.

    Great post though! I feel like I’ve learned a bit so thanks for that!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hime says:

      Added to my TBR ! I’m so weak for good prose and getting a taste for different voices in dualities, so definitely in my list now !

      Yeah, the sad truth is that the YA genre has taken a lot of our beautiful writing methods and turned it into a race of who can make the most money, while making the least amount of work possible. Like I’ve mentioned before, your narrator should be your character’s entire personality ! It’s entirely part of the creative process ! As long as you use first person narrators to give more color to your novel, instead of because you’re trying to skip some steps, you’ll have a great piece of work between your hands !

      And aaaaaah, man are you nice ! It makes me very glad to hear that my post is at least the least bit educational, and not just ranting. Thank you so very much !

      Like

  8. Sharron says:

    POV is a problem and you are right it is a lazy or sometimes incompetent writer that falls into the pit of poor POV. I struggle with this myself and have learned some harsh lessons. Writing in third person forces me to be careful not to put thoughts or feelings in characters’ heads that are not the POV character. How can he or she know what’s going on in someone else’s head unless they demonstrate or tell it! I did write from two POVs in my last novel, and hopefully I did not stray too far into the abyss. By the way, thanks for the like on my last post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hime says:

      POV certainly is a novel problem that is very ignored in my opinion ! It’s a real struggle, and I’m by no means super great at what I preach either, but I think it’s pretty important to talk about it? Spread opinions and all. Writing in third person is most certainly a real challenge and forces you to be creative and think outside of the box. Not to mention a lot many more things to keep track of !

      The abyss can be good or bad depending on who you ask ! In the end, I always say narrators give your novel personality, so as long as your narrator is there to make your novel creative, and not to make you lazier as an author, then you’re doing things right ! You’re more than welcome ! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Crimson says:

    Oh boy! So true. I used to hate first person narratives initially because I found it limiting. It was like someone thrust a telescope in front of you and refused to focus it anywhere else than the initial place. But now having read a lot of YA, I guess I have gotten used to it. Really enjoyed this post though. It was a very interesting take on the current trend in YA and other novels too I bet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hime says:

      AH ! I just can’t express how much that means to me ! I feel like this is a subject that’s just not very talked about in general? And it’s sad because the lazy cop outs our authors are taking are slowly ruining the genre? I love my swoon-worthy love stories as much as the next person, I simply just want creativity coming with them? It certainly was a very fun post to write !

      Like

  10. Bailey says:

    I couldn’t agree more! It always puts me off to a book when I see a point of view change every chapter, but another author I think pulled this off well is Rick Riordan in the Heroes of Olympus series!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. therailbaron says:

    My first novel is 1st person POV. I like your points, and wonder how mine stands up to your critique. I agree with many assessments. For Chamber, before I went off on a slew of sequels in 3rd person, I wanted to show ‘how to become a hero’. Not in a hero’s journey, school taught method (I loathe), hut natural, stumbling, confused, opinionated, hard way. So I felt one view worked, in book one, to jumpstart it. I’d love your thoughts. Free. No loss on your part, gain on both of ours (I hope):
    https://www.instafreebie.com/free/ropDh

    Liked by 1 person

  12. JReynolds says:

    Wow incredibly interesting thoughts here. Definitely causing me pause in some of my currently reading pile. I also love that you provide a list of a few novels that “do it right,” I will have to check out a few in the future!

    Liked by 1 person

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