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When rotating POV between multiple characters, how long should a segment in one POV be?

I'm writing ensemble 3rd person and tend to like to let the story dictate its own pace. However, I'm concerned that as the chapters are relatively short, the POV changes — usually 3 POVs per chapter — are very frequent, and the segments may be jarringly short.

  • What is POV? I presume it's not "point of view" because I can't see how it makes sense but I can't seem to find anything better. – Maurycy May 17 '16 at 14:48
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    It is. As in if you switch points of view in a chapter how long should each segment be. – L macdouglas May 17 '16 at 14:55
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    @Maurycy It should probably read "how long should a section from a specific POV be." Does that make more sense? – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum May 17 '16 at 15:22
  • @LaurenIpsum Now I get it, thank you! – Maurycy May 17 '16 at 15:24
  • Ah my mad writing skills in action. Sorry for the confusion. – L macdouglas May 17 '16 at 16:25
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I don't see the length of each segment done in a particular character's point of view as the issue. I've seen excellent stories split into many short glimpses of the world through multiple characters' eyes, and I've seen stories equally excellent split into just two halves consisting of Character A's view of the story followed by a contrasting second half from the POV of Character B.

What can be a problem with short sections in different POVs is failure to make the identity of each new POV character clear at the start of each section.

If you go for short sections, I recommend starting each section with either of

  • a single-word announcement of the name of the character we are following, or

  • stating the viewpoint character's name in the very first sentence.

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There's no one right answer. You have to write your story and let other people read it, and ask your readers if it feels too jarring. Maybe one POV per chapter is correct, or maybe your story requires a frequent POV shift. But there's no generic template or requirement.

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As others have already said, there's no right or wrong answer.

Personally, however, I feel that having more than one POV per chapter (with relatively short chapters) is too much chopping and changing, and can quickly become either confusing or distracting (either way, it means that I'll quickly become disinclined to continue reading).

I would like to ask why you need multiple POV's within the one chapter? Are the POV characters together within the scene? Can the presence, and actions, of other characters be noted by a single POV Character?

Multiple POV's work quite well, especially with epic-scaled stories. Robert Jordan and George RR Martin both do(/did) the one POV per Chapter style quite well, it kept the story moving and is fairly easy to follow. They also move around the timeline with the POV's, and allow you to identify when something is happening, and this is what I think makes it successful.

Steven Erikson also writes a multiple POV style quite well - again often referencing the same event in multiple sources to allow you to slot it into a timeline without it being force-fed to you (often across multiple books as his world is massive).

Brandon Sanderson does a multiple chapter POV style (with the Stormlight Archives in particular) that works well, and progresses the story along nicely but isn't, in my opinion, quite in the same realm as Erikson, Jordan and Martin - those three have epic worlds, with epic characters that just have so much depth to them.

All of these series though have one thing in common - it's clearly stated whose POV it is, either at the start of the chapter or the start of the part. There is a distinct break between chapters/POV's/Parts and it is made clear through the use of a title (and also the voice of the character) whose POV you are in, and this is what I think is needed. It's a solid, visual clue for the reader to get them in the right frame of mind for the next character and allow themselves to stay immersed in the story.

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I’m working on a novel with multiple POVs, and my rule is one POV per section, where “section” means a part of a chapter that describes one scene, event, conversation, or such. Typographically, sections are separated by a blank line (or * * * at a page break), and the first line isn’t indented. I adopted this style from the books on my shelves; it seems fairly common.

I generally try to make it clear to the reader fairly early whose POV it is, by internal monologue or something else only that character could know, but there’s at least one short section where it’s not at all clear whose POV it is, and it doesn’t really matter.

As for length, a section is as long as it needs to be to achieve its purpose. One might run ten pages, another half a page. It depends on how the section fits into the overall work and what its purpose is: to advance the plot, to develop one or more characters, to set up a situation that will be resolved later, to resolve a situation set up earlier, to drop a hint about something.

I just write and read, rewrite and reread. If a transition or juxtaposition seems awkward, I fiddle with it until it's better. There are very few fixed rules in the writing game.

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