I am out of town this weekend so this post will be short and sweet while I am off in California celebrating my cousin’s wedding!
In SAAF, I write in 1st person and switch back and forth between my two sisters, DawnFire and SkyFire (names subject to change). I used to include two other character POVs: The Mentor Archetype and Aris. My Mentor Archetype (which is what I call this character to avoid spoilers) is the mentor figure (duh) and provided an easy exposition and backstory vehicle as the one who knows the stuff that’s really, really important. Aris, on the other hand, has since been written out, which gave room for another character to have an expanded part and she’s much better. Aris was my “Explain it to the reader” guy. If I wanted to introduce a complicated concept, I’d follow-up with Aris working through it to understand. He was the outside guy, like the reader, but he was smart and useful right up until he wasn’t and now he doesn’t exist at all.
Why do I only write in 2 POV characters?
Personal choice. I want to make it clear that this is how I want to write my story.
I have chosen first person POV for my story, which means I am trying to create a connection between the POV character and the reader. My story is going to be the story of the POV characters (even if it could be written as someone else’s story, like from a sidekick’s perspective or something). For first person, giving more than two or three characters their own podium does a few things: dilutes the storytelling, and removes significance and meaning from the main character(s). You know, the person the story is actually about.
Second, it’s more of a challenge to limit POV characters to two. There are a LOT of events that my main characters aren’t or weren’t present for, events for which they never really get the details, and events that build layers for minor characters without the influence of the main characters.
If I can’t find a way to write these elements into my characters’ POV, they aren’t important enough to be in the story.
If I can’t find a way to write them into the story in an interesting manner, I’m not as good as I think I am.
Let’s get back to Mentor Archetype and Aris. Removing the Mentor Archetype (or MA) POV chapters means I have to work harder at dropping hints to the reader that things aren’t all as they seem. They’ll learn everything the MA knows anyway through my main characters and MA wasn’t providing anything I couldn’t write through Dawn or Sky’s eyes.
I wrote MA’s stuff out completely when I realized MA only had one chapter in the first act and one or two in the second act. Excluding him from storytelling actually forced me to do some really fun stuff with those scenes. I’d been relying on him as the only reliable narrator present for the scene but leaving him out meant I had to work with Dawn or Sky to tell the story. And, really, it turned into a better story for it, with more room to flesh out my main characters. This highlights my point that, if I can’t write the important information through the main characters, then maybe it isn’t all that important.
Aris was completely unnecessary. Once I realized he complicated the plot, he was gone. He helped me develop some of the world itself, especially the conflict/war part of it and he had a whole backstory. He ended up joining a host of characters that exist in the background and helped me flesh out the world and the people who matter to the story, but he ended up not making the cut. I like to think he never really wanted the spotlight, anyway.
I have yet to find many examples of fiction that uses more than three POV characters effectively. It almost always strikes me as lazy writing. Connecting the reader to so many characters in such a direct manner adds unnecessary layers to the story that could probably have been better introduced by your main characters. In addition, when I read books that utilize a whole crowd of POV characters, I’m not really sure who the story is about anymore. Unless you’re writing an epic saga like Star Wars, your story is probably really only about one or two people. Let them tell their story.