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My current project is historical fiction, fifteenth century. The conflict, if you will, principally involves three nations. There's a few others, but one has to stop somewhere in terms of the storytelling.

I've given each of the three nations a representative main character along with a sidekick.

I've considered some options in which one of the three, Character A, has a limited third-person POV. I like limited third in general because I'm into the whole psychology, motivation thing, and I can get into the character's thoughts, dreams, etc. However, with a sidekick, this can be accomplished with dialogue.

The other two characters, let's call them B and C, I'm presenting as more distant third-person omniscient. Still, these other two are equally as compelling at times, and Character C in particular is part of the epic battle scene (which I'm having a blast writing!). I would prefer not to write C in third-person omniscient now that I'm into it.

Plenty of fantasy novels promote a character during battle sequences in terms of POV with apparent ease only to have them drift back. I can do this, but it seems to me that talking about Homeland C with Character C is simply not as interesting without giving Character C an equal (third-person limited) POV.

As an aside, the reader will want A to save face, B to lose, and C to win. Unfortunately, this is not how history played out, so I'm being inventive while trying not to be misinformed.

My question is: Can anyone help me make sense of my POV mess? My real concerns are in the jumps from Homeland A to Homeland B to Homeland C and the POV when the trio comes together.

To give 3 third-person limited accounts seems too jerky, but I'm finding it to be the best way to get at the motives. I can appreciate the "easiest" thing to do is to write the whole thing as third-person omniscient and call it good.

(It is not typical for this site to give exact details, and I'm not sure if I want to, but I will if it will help solve my vexing problem!)

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    Hi Stu, I think it might be worth rewriting this question and especially the title to make it clear what you're asking and to make sure its on topic for this site. To me it isn't obvious why you arent just writing C in 3rd person limited. – mwo Jan 9 '16 at 14:30
  • It would create multiple characters with third-person limited accounts. But yes, that's what I'm currently doing (and losing sleep over). – Stu W Jan 9 '16 at 15:23
  • Okay, that's clearer and I've had a go at it. Sleep easy! – mwo Jan 9 '16 at 22:06
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If I have this right, then the crux of the problem is that you are uneasy about multiple 3rd person limited POVs in your epic story, and feel it may not be appropriate. Honestly though, I don't know why.

You can relax. In principle it's probably the right choice, and it's worked just fine for plenty of epic novels and sagas. Any jerkiness you perceive is probably just specific to the way you've written the chapters and can be smoothed out in a later draft. Your readers will have no problem being carried across to different lands to see other stories unfolding in parallel. Take a cue from movies: when we cut to a completely new place give us the wide shot, help us get our bearings, then zoom in, finding our new POV character, and ultimately zooming right into his/her head. Of course it's up to you to make sure each story is compelling, and each has its own flavours, sensations and struggles, so that the later jumps don't leave us disorientated.

If you're worried about it feeling like a textbook, again its probably not the POV issue which is to blame. If anything, a set of limited POVs ought to allow you to strip back the dry facts, and focus more on the experiences and feelings of a smaller set of figures, and let everyone else be painted with rough strokes. For example you might be drawn into describing a specific individual who completes a certain vital mission, just like a textbook would. But actually looking from the POV of character A we might never even need to know this guy's name, or what specifically he did. He might be just some braggard he meets in a tavern beforehand, later learns he's the guy supposed to be doing the Important Thing, then has to sweat for days hoping the loudmouth drunk can pull it off. In other words, you can use the supporting cast, not to tell their own stories, but to help tell the stories of characters A, B or C.

In an earlier version of the question I think you mentioned being concerned about what happens to the POV when they meet. Of course it would be easy to slip into omniscient, but I think it's best not to. Just give each POV their own chapter. This part is where things get interesting and fun. When your main characters are together some bombshells will drop. In every case you get to decide who we ride with right up to the big moment, and who we're with in the aftermath. For example if A is going to punch B on the nose. We can ride with B, and get hit with the eye-watering surprise, then switch to A to experience the satisfaction/regret. Or we can be with A as he debates whether to give in to his rage, then switch to B as he plots revenge. You can see it gives you interesting choices about tone, tension etc.

If you're worried that this may give equal weight to A, B and C, where your story is mainly about A, then again, this is more down to the specifics of the writing than anything else. You can limit the number of visits to B's and C's world to just those moments which illustrate major decisions which would affect A, whereas A's story could involve his personal history, his romantic affairs, his struggles with weight gain, and whatever else.

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I find your description a bit complicated as well, but am I right that your main fear is, the readers might find your Protagonist C very likeable but he will inevitably lose and you don't want to disappoint your readers?

To hurt your readers feelings isn't a bad thing per se. For example Game of Thrones. No reader wanted Ned Stark to die. George RR Martin let him die anyway and the readers still loved the series.

  • Excellent example. However, my main fear is that my story reads like a history textbook. My second fear is that there is a lack of cohesion because of too many important characters. – Stu W Jan 9 '16 at 15:25
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    Then I'd start writing with the three POV characters you have planned and if I stood in your shoes, I would involve alpha readers early on. Ask them - persons that have some distance to your story - if it gets to complicated. I they say so you could cut a POV character. I am personally like having more than one perspective to experience the history. And your three POVs might be exactly the right tool to prevent the 'textbook' feeling. You don't talk your readers through the history, they will experience history through the eyes, the hopes, the feelings, the highs and lows of your POVs. – Mela Eckenfels Jan 11 '16 at 0:46

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