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I am writing a YA fantasy. There are three main characters, but the plot was entirely designed around Character #1 and his journey. Character #2 and Character #3 are with him for most of said plot. The problem arose when I began delving deeper into the second and third characters. I began to find both of their worldviews, personalities, and backstories just as interesting as the main character's. Character #2 might even have a more interesting arc than Character #1. (I should clarify that I don't want to take away Character #1's perspective either; he's interesting too, but he isn't giving me issues.)

I realized very quickly that I wasn't going to be able to showcase nearly as much of these interesting characters if I didn't write from their perspectives (This also has the added benefit of showing what information each of the character's have and what they believe, two things with a great deal of discrepancy between characters).

Some solutions I've come up with (and the questions to go with them):

I could just give in and do a three-way split between all of their perspectives. The main issue here is that Character's #2 and #3 might be far less interesting since the plot was designed for Character #1. Anybody have any experience with last minute POV additions? What are some pitfalls to look out for? Is there any way to do this and still make it feel like Character #1 is the main character?

I could attempt to have Character #1 discover their interesting backstories and try to portray their arcs from his perspective, but I'm not even sure how to do that. What are some strategies for getting my side characters to give up their backstories to my main character?

The one I'm leaning most toward is a sort of compromise: I could write primarily from the perspective of Character #1 while just occasionally throwing in chapters from the perspectives of his two companions. I don't know what the cons are to this, but I've never seen anyone do it, so I assume there are some. Will this cause any issues? Why isn't this often done?

Any additional solutions or answers to those questions would be appreciated.

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  • Posting this as a comment instead of an answer because it's a frame challenge for a question that doesn't require one, but: if characters #2 and #3 are so interesting and #2's arc is cooler than the main character's, is it possible that the story wants them to be upgraded to co-main characters? Would the story work better if they were actively driving more of the plot? – Tau Sep 27 '20 at 17:51
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    @Tau I have considered it. One of the biggest issues there is that I already have the sequel planned out as well, and Character #2 and #3 aren't even in it. I feel like it might be jarring to just drop off of the other two characters in the sequel. Ultimately, though, I think I just don't like the feel of the version where all three are main characters. – BumpoBiddleton Sep 27 '20 at 17:57
  • that makes perfect sense! I just wanted to check that you'd considered the option, but it sounds like you have very valid reasons not to go with it and the answer to my questions is "no". :) – Tau Sep 27 '20 at 17:59
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I think the main thing to be careful about when using different POVs is that while you can absolutely explore the arcs of your other characters - and in fact, that's a great thing to do to flesh out minor characters and make the world feel alive - you shouldn't take the spotlight off your main character for too long. Your reader will probably love your side characters and won't mind a chapter or two from their perspective, but your main character is your most interesting and developed character, and so, in most novels, the majority of chapters should be from their perspective.

That being said, there are of course novels that are exceptions to this idea. The Game of Thrones novels famously switch POV each chapter, jumping wildly between heroes and villains and members of different families, and often have the perspectives of very minor side characters, such as peasants and smallfolk, instead of our major nobility characters. A Feast for Crows opens on the perspective of Alleras, "The Sphinx," a minor character who is basically never seen again in the series in a major way.

So I think the main things to consider when thinking about writing a POV chapter from a different character are:

  • Is this character's perspective interesting and easy to differentiate? Perhaps they have a different thinking and speaking style than the main character that comes across in how you write their POV, or perhaps they are a different person internally than they are externally - both of these are excellent things to explore in a POV chapter. How will their outlook differ from the main character's outlook in a unique way? Do they have secret motivations, quirks and intentions that the reader doesn't know about yet and will be interesting to reveal now?
  • Does it improve the story to know what this character is thinking right now, or is this just filler? If it would enrich the narrative to hear this character's point of view instead of the main character's, it's a good addition. If it's taking time away from the main character, or just there for comic relief or info-dumping, don't include it.
  • Why is it important to switch POV, specifically? What are you trying to convey? What will the reader learn? Are they going to gain insight into your main character or a major factor of the plot? Will this character and others be developed in a way that's interesting? What themes or secrets will the reader get from this POV that they weren't getting before?

As an example from my own work, a chapter of my detective novel switches perspective from the detective to his best friend, to give an outsider's perspective on what my detective looks like and indirectly reveal how strange the detective is to other people - something he doesn't realize himself. In his mind and POV, he comes across very suave and calm and collected, but from the friend's point of view, it's revealed that he comes across very stoic, blunt and odd, a contrast between how he thinks of himself and how other characters see him that the rest of the book plays with. I found this a good reason to switch POV for a chapter to give the reader that insight.

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  • So would you say it'd be best to go through writing from the main character's perspective first, then go back through adding in the other POV's only where they would add to the story? Or would that only ensure that the additional POV's are unnecessary? – BumpoBiddleton Sep 27 '20 at 16:05
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    @BumpoBiddleton I think that if you read through your story outline and it flows perfectly with just the main character's POV and doesn't seem to need anything else, then leave it be and don't add any other POVs - it just bloats the story if you don't need them there. But if you read through it and feel there is another perspective worth having or the reader isn't being told the whole story, add more POVs and see if it reads better with them included. – Sciborg Sep 27 '20 at 16:11
  • Alright, thanks for the help. I'm going to leave the question open in case anyone else has another perspective or more advice, but I've upvoted your answer. – BumpoBiddleton Sep 27 '20 at 16:27
  • @BumpoBiddleton Thank you for the kind upvote, and I hope you are offered more advice on the subject. This is a great question :) – Sciborg Sep 27 '20 at 16:28

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