The REAL Reason to Limit POV Characters

I love to hang out on forums that cater to writers. Doing so, I run across certain questions that come up over and over, and I hear certain ideas over and over. One statement I hear frequently comes up during questions about multiple point of view (POV) characters.

“I have to have multiple pov characters, so my reader will know that character’s background and feelings and motivations.”

I respectfully disagree with that statement.

Don’t cheat your reader

Consider this example: You’re writing a Romance. Carol is dressed for the prom, waiting eagerly for her boyfriend to arrive. Bob is on his way but stops to help someone with a flat tire — a pregnant woman in labor! He saves the day. Bob is late; Carol is livid. She won’t listen to his excuse and breaks up with him.

If you’ve shown us both sides, you KNOW why Bob was late. You KNOW it was a good reason. You KNOW Carol is in the wrong. You’re just reading along to get to the place where Carol finds out the truth. Awww. That’s nice.

But what if you didn’t know Bob’s side? You’re immersed in Carol’s story. You feel her excitement, then her hurt. You’re with her as she makes up possible reasons. You’re angry when she’s angry. Bob’s an ass! We don’t need him. He ruined PROM. Then later, when she finds out the truth, you’re shocked! Guilt! Sadness! But then they make up, and you feel the love and joy.

As a writer, you do a HUGE disservice to your reader when you tell them everything you know. 

Conflict is critical

Consider this. In real life you have just one point of view: your own. You are never in anyone else’s head, and yet I bet you do pretty well figuring out other people’s backstories, motivations, and feelings.

You don’t NEED to know what everybody thinks, what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it most of the time. When you do need to know, you find out by asking, by watching, by listening, by making assumptions and drawing conclusions based on the info you have.

In real life, sometimes you don’t know something, and it causes you stress. Sometimes you draw a conclusion and it’s wrong — and you make a mistake or feelings get hurt. Sometimes people lie.

In real life those things suck, but in fiction? That’s called CONFLICT, and it’s GOLD.

If you tell the reader everything you know, you kill the conflict and suspense.

One POV is hard

Writing strictly from one pov is difficult, but it’s often the best choice. Writing from one point of view doesn’t mean you can’t reveal backstory, motivation, and feelings of other characters. It means you reveal them differently. 

Sometimes it means you drop hints using body language and off-hand remarks from other characters, and you trust your audience to put it together.

Other times it means you don’t reveal those things until the pov character figures it out — and that’s OKAY. Again, that’s when we get the most emotional bang for the buck.

telling all you know

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