Thursday, April 19, 2012

POV--How many are too many?

There is a conversation going on over at ACFW about how many points of view to use in a novel. It's generally a point of preference to me--no hard and fast rules. I personally like a story with several points of view. I'm currently working on a book written in first person, which means there is only one point of view throughout the story. So my tastes are eclectic, probably like yours. Multiple points of view work well in a plot-driven book. Keeps the action hopping. Doesn't work as well in a coming-of-age or literary story. I've noticed writers of Christian fiction tend to shy away from multiple points of view. Guess it is what readers like so we must deliver.

Whether you're a fan or not, I believe there can always be too much of a good thing. I'm currently reading a book with about 200 points of view.

Okay, maybe not 200, but more than I can count. I know because I tried. The book is entitled TO DARKNESS AND TO DEATH by Julia Spencer-Fleming. It's a Clare Fergusson/Russ Alstyne Mystery, according to the cover. You couldn't prove it by me though since these two characters are so seldom in the story I keep forgetting who they are.

There is a missing woman--a must in any good mystery--a conspiracy (though I haven't quite figured out what yet) intrigue, forbidden love, and small town scandal. The usual stuff that draws me to a story. The only problem is each chapter jumps into the heads of about 5 major players. I'm usually a few paragraphs in before I remember who it is and what his story is.

The biggest problem with so many characters is I can't decide who to root for. Maybe that's what the author was going for. This way I experience every character's motivation. Every action has a logical reason in the head of the perpetrator, though most of the reasons are dumb and not very well thought out. It's almost like reading 200 short stories that interconnect.

Regardless, it's driving me nuts. I don't know why I keep reading except I want to figure out what the author was thinking when she chose to spend so much time on so many not very interesting characters.

I have two questions for you. Make that three. #1 How many POV's do you prefer in a book? #2 Have you ever read a book that you didn't really enjoy all the way to the end and what possessed you to do so?


imladrisnine said...

I read 'The Alchemist' by Paulo Cohelo and it wasn't that I hated it by any means, I just wasn't really sure what it was trying to say... and keep in mind I read fantasy, so I normally get most of that stuff. Interesting things were still happening in the story though and I wanted to see the character reach his goal so I stuck with it.

Jan Cline said...

I personally like to read more than 2 points of view and that's the way I write. But I keep hearing that one or two is the limit.
I never read a book all the way to the end if I'm not drawn in. I don't have the time or patience to stick with it. But at the same time, I know to be a good writer I will have to learn the art of writing books the reader can't put down!

Sharon said...

I like it when there are two POVs...especially if I'm reading romantic fiction; I like to know what the main characters are thinking. Any more and I get a little bit confused.

And yes, I've stuck with books that didn't really interest me. I love reading so I'll usually read anything, even if I need to put it down and go back to it later.

If I don't manage to read a book to the end, it must be really REALLY bad.

Connie Almony said...

1) I prefer between 2 and 4. If it's first person and I like that character, one is fine. Once you get past 4, it gets muddled to me. Too much to keep track of. Though I have read series where, because I'd come to know the characters through the other books, going past the four worked.
2)I have read books I don't like for EXACTLY the same reason you do. Trying to figure out what in the world the author was thinking when she wrote it. I got stuck in a really stupid (beer-drinking, no less)movie once for the same reason. Like rubber-necking at a car wreck.

Teresa Slack said...

Love these comments. I can handle several characters if the story is interesting & each one has a reason for being there. At this point with the book I mentioned, I just have to see how it ends. If I find out on the last page it's part of a trilogy I might just get a rifle, climb a clock tower, and hurt some people.

Molly Noble Bull said...

I once read all the books written by a certain very famous author. I loved her writing (still do) but her books contained too many characters and too many points of view. On the blank pages at the back of the book, I sometimes wrote down brief info on each character so when that character came on stage again, I would know who that character was. My list was something like this.
Jane: the school teacher who hates Tom.
Tom: the cop and Jane's ex husband.
Polly: the silly neighbor who keep tabs on everybody else.
When my list reached twenty characters, I stopped adding to the list. I also stopped reading the book, and I've never read another book by that author.
And that is all I have to say about that.

Dawn Turner said...

So far, I haven't run into the issue of the number of POV characters having any effect on how much I enjoy a book. Whether 1, 2 or several POVs, I enjoy books that are well-written.

The one book I actually forced myself to finish even though I really didn't want to only had 2 different POVs. It was emotionally sterile and I kept hoping it would get better.

That said, I've read books with only 1 POV that were horrid, just as often as I've read books with 2 or more that I couldn't even bring myself actually read very far into them in the hopes they'd get better.

As long as the POV character in ay given scene is clear, an author can pretty much include as many as they feel necessary to tell the story.

Teresa Slack said...

Well said, Dawn. I usually like a big cast, as long as each character needs to be there & the story makes me care about them.