How Many Viewpoints are Acceptable?

Whist the homefront is relatively unchanged, no worse or better, I do feel easier within myself and find my focus is once again turning towards my writing projects. For one reason or another, I’ve had a couple of weeks break from writing and now I feel it’s time to get back into it.

Due to “life” I’m not sure if working on “Mirror Image” is a good idea. It’s a dark story based on real life events and emotions and I don’t think I would be able to handle the topic at the moment. Having said that, new ideas for improving the story have been flooding in. Ideas that cannot be ignored. I guess planning the rewrite won’t be as bad as actually doing the rewrite, so I’m going with the flow for the time being.

Putting the story aside, I want to talk about how the manuscript is arranged. There are three major points to consider here:

1. The current version of the story is written from six points of view.
2. Chapters are arranged on a daily basis – this means that some chapters are quite long and others are very short.
3. The scenes within the chapters are short – swapping between point of view characters often – allowing the reader to progress through the day with all the characters.

First off, I asked myself why do I have six points of view. Can they be justified? My reply is yes they can. Three points of view are told from within the problem and three are told from outsiders looking in. It is essential to the theme to get both points of view told as that is the only way to get “the message” across; and, as most readers will relate to the outsiders points of view better than the insiders points of view, it was important to me to show those people “the other side”.

But do I really need three points of view on each side? My original intent was to show that the topic is complex and no two people react the same way – and that is the case to both the insiders and outsiders. So while the readers are looking through the eyes of the three insiders and experiencing the topic first hand (but in three different ways), they are also experiencing the outsiders reaction to what is happening (also in three different ways). With all this information offered to them in one story, I am hoping the reader will approach real life situations in a different, more informed way. And, as the writer of this story, it was important to me to get this information across to the reader because I felt it is the only way to get the whole message across.

Let’s leave that point for a moment and move on to the next one – chapter arrangement. When I wrote the first draft, there was only two chapters. The first chapter ended at the climax (consisting of approximately 450 pages) and the second chapter tied everything together (about 20 pages). I knew this wouldn’t really be acceptable to readers, but at the same time I felt the short scenes compensated for that. However, I thought better of leaving the manuscript as it was and set about finding a way of breaking the content into chapters. It was extremely hard to do until a regular reader of this website made a couple of suggestions. Hence, the daily basis chapters, which I feel work well…and in some ways could give the reader a feeling of a countdown, which would increase the tension.

Now for the third point – the scenes. For me, swapping points of view in short scenes and doing this often was perfect for keeping the reader interested and keeping the suspense at a premium. My readers of the early drafts have not complained about the short scenes or the constant swapping of point of views. There was no confusion reported either. As the writer, I felt it was an ideal way to keep the fluff out too. I realise that some readers would find this annoying though, but…being aware that I can’t please everyone, I’ll do what I think is right for the story.

That’s where the manuscript is at. Now, I must move forward. My readers didn’t complain about the format, but they did complain about other stuff which means I already know that I have to do a rewrite. Having given myself some distance from the project, I can see that what has been said is right and I’m fine with the thought of a rewrite. But I’m straying off topic.

Let’s go back to the number of points of view. Six is a lot. I thought they were necessary to get the message across, but now I’m having second thoughts. This morning, whilst thinking about the rewrite plan, I found my thoughts pondering the point of view situation again. Six points of view means six story lines. Is that two much? I think it is and it might even distract from the overall story and message, which is something I definitely don’t want.

Then I had to scold myself because I realised that I am resisting deleting some of the points of view characters because I’m attached to their storylines and the way I’ve written them. As a writer, that is a bad thing (very, very bad) and I should know better than to let this happen. Holding onto something, anything, for that reason could inevitably ruin the manuscript as a whole and I’d be a fool if I didn’t realise this. I’m lots of things, but I’m not a fool.

With this in mind, I must look at the manuscript through different eyes. What is the best thing to do? Am I bogging it down with too much happening at once? My readers tell me it’s so dark it’s depressing and I know that if I leave it this way then the message will be lost. I’m also aware that the manuscript, as it is now, was written totally for me. I needed to explore my own emotions, fears and feelings, and having done that I now need to adjust their levels to help the story flow and to help the message get through to the public. I can’t stress how important this is to me.

Now I’m thinking of dropping back to two points of view – one from the insiders viewpoint and one for the outsider. If I do it right, I’ll still be able to include the other people’s reactions, but it will be totally from a third person view point instead of first hand. My only concern with this is that the impact won’t be as strong; therefore, not allowing the reader to grasp the full message I’m trying to put across. I will not be happy with a half message. The whole reason for the story is to leave the reader knowing the facts.

I have to figure out what I’m going to do before I start planning the rewrite, because it will make a lot of difference to the characters and the plot. Only now do I realise that I’m no closer to making a decision. *sigh*

4 thoughts on “How Many Viewpoints are Acceptable?”

  1. It sounds pretty impressive that you’re able to switch POVs in the same chapter and not confuse people. You’ve done well there.

    The POV situation sounds tough. I’d tend to go for the First Person option, but you’d have to accept you’d have a biased narrator. Which I quite like, but it sounds like it might remove the message unless your character comes to understand the other person’s POV.
    .-= Benjamin Solah´s last blog ..Writing Update: First Draft Finished =-.

  2. Hey Karen,

    I really sounds like you put a lot of thought into the number of POVs. I do think that six is a little much, if it means quick scene changes, it will might get int he way of connecting to characters. however you did say the book was over 450 pages which is very long sot here might be room for them all. I haven’t read the story but my suggestion is to cut some POVs and shorten the work. If you are feeling that 2 won’t get your point across then maybe you need a couple more, or maybe you just need two main POV and a couple or minor ones sprinkled in to make your point. Good luck with what you choose.

    I can understand the whole what can I face writing problem, I’ve been fighting that myself. At this point I’m just working on a couple of smaller personal pieces, until things settle down.
    .-= Terry´s last blog ..Next Episode =-.

  3. Actually, I’ve totally confused myself with this. It’s giving me a headache now because I can’t make a decision. Two doesn’t seem enough, six feels to many…so maybe I should think about four. But who? I don’t know and I keep changing my mind.

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