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How many narratives is too many? (2 Viewers)

ErikFite

Member
Part One of the book is finished and I never had more than two POV narratives running simultaneously, more or less flipping back and forth depending on whose narrative it was or where they were physically, in relation to the central events. Part Two starts eight years after the conclusion of Part One and I find myself, for a couple reasons, running three narratives at once. Most of this is due to several of the younger characters introduced in Part One having now matured with their lives diverging. They are now separated by hundreds or thousands of kilometers with no knowledge of or communication about each others activities. But what they are doing, in the now, is too important to some of what I have outlined in Part Three, where some of them are actually reunited, to not include and flesh out. It's not feeling too cluttered yet, but I've got one more character to introduce (a villain with POV scenes) and that's going to split it to four points of view, all going on simultaneously and at times, impacting or directing what goes on in another.

Is that going to be too much for the average reader to juggle? Or do I feel like might because it's just such a pain in the ass to write it like that.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
It can work. Just take care to sufficiently develop and differentiate the voices / personalities, and try not to jump from POV to POV too often, unless that is to be your ~thing~
 

robertn51

Friends of WF
And welcome to WF!

How many narratives it two many?
It is too many when the reader gets confused with the competing perspectives or story lines. Too many is when there's no clear protagonist and their path to a goal.

So the answer is conditional upon the writing and the reason the author decided to have multiple POV and maybe even multiple protagonists/goals.

When I first considered the question I wanted to ask you "What multiple-POV books have you read? Did the 'multiple-I' perspective ever seem confusing to you? What did the author do to help prevent that?"

Abed in the sunrise dark with my phone, I couldn't get into a conversation about this.

But then I wondered, have I ever read a multiple-POV book?

At first I drew a blank. Which was actually a good thing: The authors had made it conflict free. I'd never noticed.

Some tea and curiosity later brought an obvious list to mind
  • Cloud Atlas (Mitchell)
  • The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Diaz)
  • All The Light We Cannot See (Doerr)
  • A Visit From The Goon Squad (Egan)
  • Gone Girl (Flynn)
  • The Girl On The Train (Hawkins)
  • Legend (Lu)
(Surely there's more I've read, but memory brought those to mind)

And in none of those did I get confused.

"Cloud Atlas" has six points of view, but also six distinct stories with six distinct resolutions around a thematic core we can argue until either the sun goes out or we are recycled. But that's "Cloud Atlas," in sort of a room of its own.

One thing that helped in all of these (save "Atlas") was even though there were multiple points of view, there was a definite protagonist's point of view towards a resolution, so I had "someone" to hang the story's progress on.

Is that going to be too much for the average reader to juggle?
Not if you signal well. Like others have noted. Chapter titles, distinct voices.

four points of view, all going on simultaneously and at times, impacting or directing what goes on in another.
This could get hairy and roll-eyes fussy, though. You might want to pull out and narrate this bit 3rd person. You'd choose this so the reader can see the entire action at once, without shredding the narrative by repeating, or worse, interruptive dovetailing a bad repetitive run of "after that...", what each POV experiences. (Also, depending upon how you've managed/signalled the POV changes up to this point having multiple POV in one scene without the POV-signalling might be really confusing. Might.)

Or do I feel like might because it's just such a pain in the ass to write it like that.
If it's what you need for the reader experience the story the way you want, pain in the ass or not, it might be necessary. But the pull-out to 3rd person narrator -- which was done in several of the books I noted (except "Atlas" again) -- can soothe the pain.

Good writing.

[2021-09-07 0825]
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
Another book recommendation for multiple POVs

The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

The author does a fantastic job of giving the reader the viewpoint of sisters and their mother, moving from viewpoint to viewpoint in a very smooth manner.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin with nine POVs is one to look at. Most reviews and discussions I've read or heard indicate that the multiple POV is handled well.

But I don't see a problem with what you want to do. Personally, I like a variety of POVs. I wrote my novel with three POVs separating each by chapters, but in one chapter I had to rotate them all twice. It just worked best that way.
 

Sinister

Senior Member
If you are nearing Mary Shelley's Frankenstein levels...then too much. I will eventually, after the third or fourth attempt at establishing a narrative, call your book out on it. Otherwise, just using common sense. If you don't know if you can handle the levels of narrative, then maybe you have too much.

-Sin
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
I think it helps if the name of the character appears in the title of the chapter so you know right away which character you’re hearing from.
Or the name of the character shows up within the first few sentences.

Sometimes an omni-POV can seem to be a jumble - I don't like that POV, and have set novels aside with it even though the premise of the story was interesting and it had good characters. The darned things gave me whiplash with all the head-hopping.

If you're gonna have a batch of POV characters, do it carefully with clean separation and you should be ok.
 

Phil Istine

WF Veterans
As a reader, I do sometimes struggle when there is too much in the way of non-linear narrative and the story moves around. However, that may be more about the way I read than about the writing. I feel it's important to remember that many readers will be reading a story over multiple sessions. This can serve to break the chain of following the story. If the writer is jumping around with the narration as well, that can exacerbate the problem. One partial solution might be to make it very clear where narration breaks occur to encourage a reader to sign off at that point.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
As a reader, I do sometimes struggle when there is too much in the way of non-linear narrative and the story moves around. However, that may be more about the way I read than about the writing. I feel it's important to remember that many readers will be reading a story over multiple sessions. This can serve to break the chain of following the story. If the writer is jumping around with the narration as well, that can exacerbate the problem. One partial solution might be to make it very clear where narration breaks occur to encourage a reader to sign off at that point.
Good point.
Every night I read for a couple hours before going to sleep, and am currently reading a novel with about eight POV characters. Their names are given at the start of the chapter, yet I often think... wait, the name is kinda familiar but who is this person? It often takes me a few paragraphs to figure it out who they are and how they relate to the story. IMO some of the minor POV characters could be eliminated, and just discussed or their actions referred to by a character that's prevalent.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
Good point.
Every night I read for a couple hours before going to sleep, and am currently reading a novel with about eight POV characters. Their names are given at the start of the chapter, yet I often think... wait, the name is kinda familiar but who is this person? It often takes me a few paragraphs to figure it out who they are and how they relate to the story. IMO some of the minor POV characters could be eliminated, and just discussed or their actions referred to by a character that's prevalent.
It sounds like they didn’t introduce each character well. Also, was it in 1st person? Because when it’s 3rd person limited view then you usually see their name written often through the text.

I think I saw someone several months ago on WFs say that if they changed POV then the writing had to be in chronological order. She/he had found that their readers couldn’t tolerate flashbacks and timing changes if they were switching POV. I think I agree with this.

Flaulker’s As I Lay Dying is the trickiest book I’ve read with the multiple POVs but the timeline is linear and I think that makes it work.
 
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