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Would it be more interesting reading a book that switches between 3 character's points of view chapter to chapter or, staying in the main character's mind the whole time. All of the point of views would be in first person but, I don't know if it would be more intriguing reading many. I want my novel to be grasping, not confusing.

  • The current Amazon Bestseller in Fiction, The Girl on the Train, does precisely that. It's written in first-person present tense, from the POVs of three different female characters. And yes, it's intriguing. I've been going to bed at 2:00 a.m. for three nights straight because of the damn book. – Alexandro Chen Mar 17 '15 at 11:11
  • And there's Barbara Kingsolver's bestseller The Poisonwood Bible. – JLG Mar 21 '15 at 22:07
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My opinion on this is that every reader enjoys a narrative told from a single character's point of view, but there are many readers who find viewpoint switches irritating.

Usually a reader will identify with the protagonist of a first person narrative, and at every viewpoint switch the reader will have to make an effort to let their interest in the current chapter's protagonist go and interest themselves in a new character. I for one find that this diminishes my reading pleasure and often read all chapters of one character before I read those of the others.

Every multy viewpoint narrative will always lose you some readers, while no one will not read a book because it is told from a single point of view.

The only exception to this is a love story told from both lover's view. This works because the focus of each protagonist is on the other, so they are always both present and in focus for the reader, too.

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Three first-person POVs might be too much. It's already a little difficult to switch gears when going from one narrator to another; going entirely from one interior perspective to another, and then another, would probably be overwhelming. I wouldn't mind multiple POV characters if the book was in third person, because you're already at a certain remove from the action, so the "camera" is just being shifted to focus on a different actor.

But ultimately it's dependent on the book — it's always possible that you could make it work.

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As Lauren Ipsum points out, whether it is necessary to employ different POVs depends on the story you want to tell.

Personally, I try to keep my stories as simple as possible. This includes limitting the number of narrators to the smallest possible amount that is still able to carry the story. The reasons are manifold:

  • A clear structure allows the reader to follow you easily. This will help people to pick up your book and stay on track.
  • Equally, telling a story of just one character is easier than juggling three or even more. There is authors who excell at this, Hans Fallada for example was a master of telling multiple stories at once. I, on the other hand, fail when faced with a story that demands more than one narrator, because:
  • If a characters acts as a narrator, he should contribute something substantial to the story. Plus, he must be a convincing character. Developping convincing characters, however, is time-consuming. Finally fitting these characters into a coherent story, for me, is close to impossible, because there will always be contradictions and passages during which one character does all the narrating and the other is basically silent. This is my problem: If I read a story told by multiple narrators, what I essentially expect is multiple novels that are elegantly braided together to make up one story. This, in my experience, is a tedious amount of work that will generate a lot of frustration and structuring problems.

However: Even limitting your number of narrators to the bare minimum does of course not imply that the other characters have to stay silent. There is a vast amount of "tricks" that allow you to tell their stories as well, if you wish, even without granting them "screen time". I explored these tricks years ago when I wrote a novella about a teenage boy who shot his best friend. I was very interested in how his relatives dealt with the situation, but couldn't bear to give each of them a narrator, because that would have bloated the text unnecessarily and obscured the story I was mainly interested in, i.e. the story of the boy himself. What I did is I actively looked for ways to incorporate the feelings and anxieties of the boy's relatives in the story. I found ordinary diologue to be immensely useful - not only between my narrator and the character in question, but between other characters as well, eavesdropping be praised! -, but obviously more subtle possibilities exist, too. Unearthing these possibilities takes time and intuition. But it improves your manuscript, since you actively think about what you want to tell and why it is important (or is it?).

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