Points of view and “Immunity Index” – almost too many?

Often novels have one or two point-of-view characters. Point of view (POV) refers to the way a story is told: the perspective of the character or narrator telling the story. Often this is the main character, like Murderbot in the Murderbot Diaries; sometimes it’s the sidekick or observer, like Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes stories. Sometimes stories alternate between the hero and villain to heighten the tension. Sometimes a narrator outside of the story is the POV.

How many POVs is the right number?

As with almost everything in life, it depends. Ideally, a novel has the right number of POVs to tell the story well. That is, the number should be an artistic choice. However, I can tell you from having five POVs in my novel Immunity Index, there are practical choices to consider, too. Five was just a whole lot of work. I had to create spreadsheets of plot events occurring day by day, sometimes hour by hour, to interlace the five different storylines, and rewrite again and again to make the timelines seamless. Fewer POVs is easier from a tactical consideration.

There’s another problem. The reader has to know at all times which POV is being used. I did something pretty blatant to avoid confusion, and it seems to have worked because no one has complained about it being insultingly obvious. Four of the POVs are third person (she/her/hers) and only one is first person (I/me/mine). For each of the third-person scenes, I began with the name of the POV. For the first-person scenes, I began with the word “I” until I felt that the reader had become accustomed to the rhythm.

Is this the only possible solution? No, not at all. Writing involves art, judgement, and craft. Imagination is the only limit to solutions.

Another writing challenge is how to introduce each character. Here are the opening paragraphs for each POV in Immunity Index. You can decide for yourself how successfully each introduction draws the reader in.

***

Avril heard chanting ahead, coming from around the corner. “All equal—equal all!” Voices chorused to a drumbeat and echoed off the skyscrapers in downtown Chicago. She hesitated, turned, and began walking the other way. Chanting meant a protest, and she couldn’t risk it, even though she knew exactly what they meant. For a moment—just a moment—she considered joining them.…

Berenike was about to break the law. She passed a man sitting on the downtown sidewalk who was obviously homeless, maybe even a noncitizen. As she did, she caught his eye—just briefly. That would be enough to tip him off. No one looked at the scruffy people sitting on the curb, their faces lined by living outdoors, with a worn, stuffed backpack that probably contained everything they owned.…

Irene stood and watched the woolly mammoth shuffle aimlessly. His yard-long shaggy hair gleamed rust brown in the afternoon light. For all his huge magnificence, Nimkii looked desolate, pitiful, even out of place, although ten thousand years ago his kind had dominated North America’s grasslands. He stopped dead in his bare pen and rocked back and forth, a sign of forlorn boredom if not an aching mental health crisis.…

I, Peng, designer of life and master of its language, began my day tasked with the unsealing of a package of dead chickens. Three chickens, to be precise, sent express from a farm in Iowa to the lab in Chicago where I labored. My life had come to that, and I hoped it would not grow worse. I still had much to lose. Every day I looked death in the eye and quaked.…

Lillian watched Berenike over breakfast. It was like a movie where there was a person who was young in one part of the movie and older in another part. They never appeared in the same scene, though, in a movie. Or maybe it was like a movie with clones, but usually they were both the exact same person, and they were both evil. This was real life, and it was different. For one thing, they weren’t evil. She was pretty sure about that.…

***

You can watch me read the fuller opening scene for Irene at a Strong Women – Strange Worlds quickread held online and recorded earlier this year.

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