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I am a novice working on a historical novel with four viewpoint characters. Three of them will be involved in subplots connected to the main plot, and each character will have a character arc and will undergo change. The fourth will be the title character and "main" protagonist and and will be given correspondingly more space.

I am undecided about giving a fifth secondary character POV status, namely the grandfather of the protagonist who will appear in only one or two chapters. This character has deep convictions and his life experiences have great meaning to the overall theme and so I would like to give him his own viewpoint, but I already have four POVs!

My question is: How can I give a sense of this character's lifetime of suffering and disappointment without giving him his own POV? Is there some kind of technique? Is it possible to write something like the following about him?

*John was aware of what imprisonment can do to a man. He had felt the agony himself and had seen its effects on others. The experience had changed him. He was no longer the bright young lad his father had once admired; the favored son who would conquer the world. The world had conquered him. *(Not actual text)**

In other words, I am concerned about the diluted effect of having too many POVs for a 300-page book but I would still like to make this particular character's story important and meaningful. Is it possible to do that effectively through have description rather than quoting the character's own thoughts and feelings?

  • Actually, I didn't make myself clear enough. I meant to ask if my description of John (in the fourth paragraph) is permissible if he is NOT a POV character. In other words, I write "John was aware ..." and "He had felt the agony ..." Would this come under 'description' or am I violating some "rule" by getting into John's head in this manner? – Suttroper Feb 16 '16 at 21:15
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If George R.R. Martin can have something like 47 POV characters per book, including one who is only in the prologue and then gets killed by a crow dropping a statue of a lion eating a dragon on his head, you can have a POV character for only two scenes. Go for it.

  • This is a fair point, but I'm not sure many other authors would be able to pull off that kind of trick. Maybe if the writer kept it to a minimum. – 0A0 Feb 22 '16 at 15:17
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So far as I can see, the extract you quote is having John as a viewpoint character, albeit only briefly. It is not currently hugely in fashion for writers to briefly dip into another character's head when apart from that the book has a format in which POV characters all have a significant fraction of the text to themselves. So, yes, in a sense you are violating a rule - but whether you care is up to you. You could regularize it by making a feature of having brief episodes at the beginning of chapters in which the viewpoint of people other than the main viewpoint characters is touched upon. If you do this, don't always kill them within a few pages, that's a cliché.

But that is not the strategy I would recommend. How can you give a sense of this character's lifetime of suffering and disappointment without giving him his own POV? Answer: by dialogue. He is the protagonist's grandfather so there is no difficulty in arranging circumstances such that the protagonist and he will converse. Whether the conversation that reveals how the grandfather has suffered will be one of many as part of a loving relationship or the sudden breaking of a long and bitter silence depends on your conception of the characters of grandfather and grandson.

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It's usually better to plant yourself and describe the character through the eyes of the viewpoint character. It doesn't usually require too much of a change.

Carla looked at John's gaunt face, his haunted eyes. This was what imprisonment did to a man. It was a face that had felt agony and seen its effects on others. Prison had changed John. He was no longer the bright young lad his father had once admired; the favored son who would conquer the world. Now the world had conquered him.

I assume that the viewpoint character knows all this. If not, comment on what is visible, and reveal the rest later, in dialogue maybe.

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I think it's perfectly fine to have a character's POV even if it's just in one or two chapters. The novel Cinder by Marissa Meyer (extraordinarily well written) has the MC for the first half (or so) of the book, then jumps to her doctor's POV for just one chapter to explain some of the technical stuff that is wrong with MC (she is a cyborg). He is a semi-important character and only the one chapter is in his POV.

The author also does different POVs throughout the rest of the series. The first book is mainly in one POV (with a handful of other POV chapters). The second book is mainly TWO POVs (the MC from the first book and the other main girl that was introduced in the second book). The third book has three main POVs, the fourth book has 4. There are also other POVs besides the 4 main characters (their love interests for example).

Hope that was clear. Short answer: yes, I think it's okay to have as many POVs as you want as long as each storyline is easily distinguishable and there is a purpose for each one.

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