Thoughtful Thursday: How Many POVs Is Too Many?

It is time for Thoughtful Thursday and the bookish questions that pop up while I am reading. Please share your thoughts on the bookish question of the week. I am curious to hear what you have to say! There are no wrong answers. Alright, on to the question!

How do you feel about having multiple points of view (POVs) in a book? Do you expect the number of POVs to remain the same across a series?

I read A Feast for Crows a few weeks ago, and this book got me thinking about POVs. A Feast for Crows has 13 POV characters. About half of these characters have multiple chapters, and half have only one or two chapters. I found myself being annoyed that I had to keep track of so many POV characters and that some of these POV characters are only around for one or two chapters. I found myself rolling my eyes when the next chapter would indicate that I was face-to-face with yet another new character who was only going to be around for a few pages. I was planning on complaining about some books having too many POV characters; however, after some contemplation, I realized that it wasn't the number of POV characters that bothered me but how the POV characters worked in this series had changed. In the first three books, there was typically one POV character who only had a chapter but this was usually the first chapter in the book. I considered these one-off characters to be a prologue to the book. I realized that this change in how POV characters worked in this series was frustrating me, not the number of POV characters.

I have noticed that this happens in other series that I have read too. For example, in The Expanse series by James SA Corey, the first book has two POV characters (and a prologue POV character) and the second book has four or so POV characters. Although the reason for the increase in POV characters was understandable, I had gotten used to the two POV system in the first book. I have noticed that trilogies and short series will also increase the number of POV characters in the final book. Even if the author had a good reason for it, it always feels a bit shocking, at least to me.

I guess it comes down to the fact that I emotionally commit to my POV characters. Having new POV characters sprung on me who either (1) don't matter or (2) were not introduced earlier as potential POV characters is uncomfortable. For example, in the Song of Ice and Fire books by GRR Martin, POV characters die. The reason that their deaths affect readers so much is because readers emotionally commit to these people. Having Martin suddenly introduce a bunch of POV characters that only have a few chapters makes me instinctively decide not to care about these characters and not let myself be open to these characters. Maybe if Martin had always had this POV style, it wouldn't be bothering me as much.

What do you think? Do you have a limit of how many POV characters you can tolerate in a book? Do you have expectations on how POV characters work across a series?

18 comments:

Pabkins said...
December 5, 2013 at 12:43 AM

Typically Epic fantasy is known for having a lot of POVs. Its a lot to take in and is one of the reasons I tend to only read it occasionally. As for Song of Ice and Fire - I stopped at book three. I plan to finish someday but not until he's done with the series. Yes, I completely agree with you - the constant shift makes me care less about the characters and I start to get impatient for the POV to switch back to someone I do care about.

Angelique Engelbrecht said...
December 5, 2013 at 3:22 AM

I can't really do more than 3 at a time. It gets confusing and too much. Hope you don't mind - I joined in this week and linked back to you.
My Thoughtful Thursday

Chene Sterckx said...
December 5, 2013 at 4:52 AM

I agree on 2 points you made,
1: Too many POV's become overwhelming
2: its the way the POV's run throughout the story.
I recently read the Sea Monster Memoirs and what I really liked about the layout of the book and POV's (There were 3) is that every time the POV changed, there was a icon and a name indicating who's POV it was.
Great post this week Pamela :)

Chanzie @ Mean Who You Are.

Chantelle said...
December 5, 2013 at 5:34 AM

I 100% agree with you! I definitely found I had trouble reading GRR Martin's novels because there were so many POVs, and I'm a very character driven reader in that I get emotional invested and usually pick sides/favourites, so to have so many POVs of characters of whom I wasn't so interested in detracted from my enjoyment of the books because I just wanted to get back to my favourites.

Lexxie Lin said...
December 5, 2013 at 9:40 PM

I think different POV characters can be awesome, but it really depends on how it's done, and how easy it is to get 'who' it is we are following. If changing POVs is done well, there can be very many different, because it helps us understand the characters better. However, if it's difficult to understand which POV we are getting, I will just be frustrated.

Great theme today :) thanks for sharing, Pamela.

Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

kimbacaffeinate said...
December 5, 2013 at 10:23 PM

For me it depends on the genre and how the author handles it whether or not I will enjoy it. I love getting into the characters minds so I like them. If I am reading high fantasy, I know I am going to meet a slew of them. When reading a thriller I might get one or two main and then the killer's pov..which call me creepy I love. If the author is in control and makes the change without confusing me, then bring them. So really my answer hinges on the author's ability to flesh out those characters, make the transition clear and give them each a unique voice. Fantastic post!

Greg said...
December 6, 2013 at 1:14 PM

I think Martin has too many POV's going. They have really exploded with books 4 and 5. The narrative seemed tighter in the first three, now we have a bunch of other people, the story has really grown and he's showing us stuff happening elsewhere and its great at times, but the story has gotten so big it is hard to feel for all the POV's.

Also the balance- to only get a chapter or two for certain POV's kinda irritated me as well. One chapter for Jaime in Dance with Dragons, for example, but a bunch of stuff about Dorne. A few chapters for Arya, but not like the earlier books. That's just the nature of this series at this point I guess.

I agree with Lexxi and Kimba, if its done right multiple POV's can be OK, and I generally think Martin does it well- its just that the story has gotten so big its hard for a reader to get into every single one of them.

Jessica @ Books: A true story said...
December 6, 2013 at 4:13 PM

I don’t mind POV even if there are a lot of them. What I really hate is when the characters sound exactly the same and I can’t tell them apart. If you’re going to do multiple POV do it right! I agree that if there are going to be a lot of POV characters, it needs to start out that way. Love this discussion post.

Erin @ Paperback Stash said...
December 9, 2013 at 10:44 PM

I dislike too many POVs too. My favorite is still first person. But, with fantasy types, that's uncommon and it's mainly several third person POVs.

Pamela D said...
December 10, 2013 at 10:56 PM

I have some friends who only read the POVs that they care about in ASOIAF and skim the rest.

Is funny you mention that epic fantasy usually has lots of POV, because I have read a lot of fantasy over the years, and it didn't have too many POVs. Of course, I probably haven't read too many fantasy series that could truly be called "epic."

Pamela D said...
December 10, 2013 at 11:07 PM

After 3 POVs, I get a bit overwhelmed too. I saw that you talked about it on your blog. That is totally fine. I need to see, if there is a free linky option so other people can do the same.

Pamela D said...
December 10, 2013 at 11:08 PM

When I read books with changing POVs, I LOVE it when a character's name is listed at the top of the page. I need that to anchor myself. I hate having to figure out who is talking for the first few sentences.

Pamela D said...
December 10, 2013 at 11:14 PM

I watched the first season of Game of Thrones and then I read the first book. Having faces to go with the names and knowing what was going to happen in the book really helped me. If I didn't have that, I would have probably needed to take notes.

When I read these books, I am usually just waiting to get back to my favorites. I just keep seeing how many characters I need to get through until I get to Sansa or Arya.

Pamela D said...
December 10, 2013 at 11:15 PM

Thank you for sharing too! I love hearing what people think about this subject!

I do think different POVs can be really great and enrich the story. It is just unfortunate when it isn't done too well.

Pamela D said...
December 10, 2013 at 11:17 PM

I love thrillers in which I get both the good guy and the bad guy's POVs. It really adds to the story. You make a good point about unique voice. I have read a few books with multiple POVs that all sounded the same. Sometimes I wish authors would just write with one POV, because they cannot seem to write from two distinct POVs in one book.

Pamela D said...
December 10, 2013 at 11:20 PM

I agree that A Feast for Crows (haven't gotten to A Dance with Dragons yet) was not as tight as the first three books and that was partly due to having too many POVs going on. I don't think we really needed to see what was happening everywhere.

I also agree that Martin does a good job with writing his POV characters. They feel distinct from one another. He just has too many POVs now!

Pamela D said...
December 10, 2013 at 11:21 PM

I completely agree with you! I read a book that had a different character for each chapter. I was okay with the multiple POVs, because that is what made the book special. Unfortunately, all the POVs sounded the same! They were not unique.

Pamela D said...
December 10, 2013 at 11:23 PM

I seem to prefer third person, but I think it is because I grew up reading a lot of fantasy and I got used to it. I do like first person books though. I think it is because I am never sure if they are telling me the truth or not! I love the unreliable narrator! ;)

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