Points of View; How Many is Too Many?

Sad to say, but it took a very boring day and a very determined mother to convince me, reading could be enjoyable. That was about thirty-five years and a couple hundred books ago. Now, thanks to her and a wonderful English teacher who encouraged me to write creatively; I’m passionately writing as often as life permits. But when my television and movie childhood clashes with my author adulthood, one glaring difference between the two story telling mediums got me flustered; points of view.

In a movie, the camera shadows any number of characters and audiences witness parts of the plot hidden from the main character as a matter of course. Some scenes contain characters with no names and little insight into their motivations or thoughts.

In a book, points of view not only shadow characters, but also give glimpses into their minds and a greater sense of what makes them who they are. An emphasis these days in writing lies in the ‘showing versus telling’ style. Though this sounds akin to movies, a distinct difference remains. When I write a scene and describe Adam’s nostrils flaring, his face flushing, and his lips tightening across bared teeth; I’m directing your attention to a handful of details. I suppose a close-up seeks the same purpose, but it’s clumsier in movies to zoom in on each character throughout a heated dialogue.

So like so many other things in life, I didn’t read the instructions until I nearly had my first finished product. Books on writing, most notably ‘The Marshall Plan’ by Evan Marshall details a formula for optimum numbers of POV’s in a given work. My first reaction? Indignant anger.

How the hell am I going to tell a story with a cast so big without defying this formula? What do they know about what’s too many?

Unlike movies and television books seem to derive clarity for the reader by limiting the number of heads he takes residence in throughout any given work. If the point of view changes often enough and through too many characters, the boundaries blur and the point each character makes gets easily lost. Bad news for reader and writer alike.

A tall glass of Ovaltine later, I reviewed my work and did what any writer does when confronted with a glaring mistake; rewrote significant portions of my manuscript. But I didn’t totally cave, I compromised. After examining all the scenes and who interacted in each; I shaved down the number of POV’s by shifting the POV’s in many scenes to a character who’s head we’ve already been in. So the scene happened the same way but was witnessed with sleight differences. The flavor of the scenes occasionally changed enough to force me to review retaining them or reimagining them.

I’m happy with the results and although I’m still not within Marshall’s guidelines; at least my book’s not the carousel of characters it used to be. My inspirations for ‘Adventures’ include Dune by Frank Herbert, The Stand by Stephen King, and The Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov.  Compared to their work, my point of view count seems right on track.


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