How Many Point of View Characters?
The final question in is how many point of view characters your novel should have.
Fewer is better.
If you are writing in first person, the ideal number of POV characters is one. If you are writing in third person, use deep perspective, and avoid author intrusions and head-hopping.
The number of POV characters will depend on genre and word count (which are also related). The purpose of point of view is to create intimacy with the characters, to make the reader care about what happens to the character. For this reason, authors tend to limit the number of viewpoint characters to between three and five in a standard-length novel (around 90,000 words). As guidelines, based on what I see as a reader:
- Category romance (e.g. Love Inspired, approximately 60,000 words) has two points of view: hero and heroine, with approximately a 40/60 split between the two;
- Contemporary or historical romance and women’s literature (90,000 words) has two or three points of view: hero, heroine and significant other character. This may be a best friend, or it may be the heroine of the planned sequel;
- Romantic suspense (90,000 words) has between two and four points of view: hero, heroine, significant other character and villain;
- Thriller (90,000 words) may have up to five characters hero, heroine (if there are romantic elements) and two or three seemingly-unrelated viewpoints, one or two of which will be the villains;
- Science Fiction or Fantasy (up to 120,000 words) will have up to five characters: hero, heroine, sidekick, mentor, villain
Each character is someone you want your reader to get to know, to understand. If you have too many viewpoint characters, you reduce the ability of your readers to truly know and understand your characters and their motivations: “The more characters you add to the mixture, the more difficult it will become to keep up with all of them and to keep them in the action” (Ronald Tobias).
But, I hear you say, George RR Martin has nine POV characters in A Game of Thrones, the first book in his A Song of Fire and Ice saga (with thirty-one POV characters and over 1,000 named characters in the five books published so far). However, Game of Thrones is 1,088 pages long, making it almost four times longer than most published novels.
You are not George RR Martin (well, maybe you are. If so, welcome, Mr Martin).
A Game of Thrones had the length to carry nine POV characters. A standard 90,000 word book does not. And George RR Martin had been published for twenty years before he even began Game of Thrones. A multi-published award-winning author can break the rules. An undiscovered unpublished author shouldn’t. And not everyone likes even a bestseller such as A Game of Thrones: I know more than one person who hasn’t been able to get through Martin’s books because there are so many points of view. It got confusing.
So, fewer is better. Read, work out the expectations of your genre, and go from there.
How many point of view characters to you use? Is this the best number for your genre and plot?