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I'm currently writing a sci-fi novel, where we've got some huge, solar system-spanning stuff going on, with huge stakes. I've got four POVs that are directly involved with this, whose decisions matter and are directly influenced by what happens.

Then I've got this guy on the side doing his own thing, and his decisions don't matter that much. His stakes are limited to the livelihood of himself and his child. I fear that I may bore the reader with this POV, as his decisions don't matter that much in relation to the bigger picture. However, there's been times when distant and inconsequential POVs have been written well. So, my question is this:

What to avoid when writing distant and inconsequential POVs?

EDIT:

A pretty important element I forgot to mention originally, which was made clear to me in the comments to Amadeus' answer:

A part of why this character is here, is to show a different perspective of the changing world. We've got the characters' that are actually changing the world, and then we've got the little guy that experiences that change from the ground. Of course, there's more to his story than that. It is not a constant display of the "ground view of the changing world", but also a journey of his, for the sake of telling his story.

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  • Is just this character inconsequential, or whatever he is witnessing is also inconsequential? Normally, authors bring in "inconsequential POVs" to show the reader what any of the "major POVs" can not witness.
    – Alexander
    Dec 13, 2021 at 18:49

5 Answers 5

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Emotional Connection:

My normal advice for someone with a minor character POV would be to not create too much emotional connection to the character, since they are usually there just to fill in a couple of critical elements (like the political officer at the beginning of On Basilisk Station). You get the perspective of a bad guy, or momentarily see the horror inflicted on the civilians. It's not my favorite thing, but occasionally it's needed.

There is also a strong line of advice that says "Get rid of anything not central to your story." Simplifying the story and eliminating a distracting subplot will keep the story clean and smoothly flowing. It's an option.

But in reading your description of this character, I'd have to say the opposite is true.

This character isn't there to influence events, or be a pivot for the plot. They exist solely to add soul. You are humanizing the dramatic events because sometimes epic events are lost in the consuming importance of them to the people who are doing the big things. Think WW2. A general of either side is influencing the events, and we have a natural bias based on history. But humanize the events by making part of it about a single soldier, or a sole civilian (of either side) just trying to make it through, and a reader can connect with them.

Dwight D Eisenhower is my grandfather's second cousin, so I kind of connect with him. My uncle's name was Dwight, and Eisenhower babysat for my grandpa. I've seen his presidential library (Abilene KS), and even toured the command train he used in the war (Green Bay, WI). I suspect that I could personify him pretty well. But do your readers really viscerally connect with him, even when you make him a personal character?

So my advice is this: Either play up all the humanizing traits of this "lesser" character, or else ruthlessly annihilate them from your story and keep the plot clean. I personally like the idea of adding a real character to your character, since people like people they understand. This character's stakes are likely to be as important to a reader as whether or not the Alliance conquers the system or the Pact worlds find a way to foil their plans.

But you can personify the other characters, making one an alcoholic, or having them hiding and enemy prisoner they're related to, or WHATEVER. They could project a heroic façade while secretly being terrified they're a sham, or wondering if they're fighting for the wrong cause. You can always take all the parts out of the novel relating to this one character and make a short story or novella out of it (especially if your novel is published). Who knows? Maybe you DON'T get the novel published, but can get the short story out there. Then your novel has a published work it's "based" on. I've heard of crazier things happening in publishing.

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  • "Dwight D Eisenhauer is my grandfather's second cousin" - but the WW2 general's name was Eisenhower. Even I know that, and I'm English. Dec 12, 2021 at 12:09
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    @Michael Harvey That IS a weird auto-correct, I'll admit. THX
    – DWKraus
    Dec 12, 2021 at 13:50
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I don't understand why this guy is in the story, if he does not affect the plot.

The reader will be disappointed in following Fred if there is no payoff at the end that finally connects Fred to the whole story.

Even if Fred's POV is compelling, meaning you get readers interested in his life's problems, his challenges, his losses, his sacrifices -- if he never connects to the rest of the story, Fred does not belong.

Even if Fred does belong, at the very end, it can seem like a deus ex machina -- "Oh, this Fred guy was here all along just to provide the key to getting our heroes out of a jam they couldn't solve themselves."

If that is the only reason Fred exists, you don't have a good plot.

There is nothing wrong with introducing characters one by one and having them become part of a crew. But IMO, the crew can't get a last minute member that saves the day, they need to be together before the first major crew victory or failure.

I would not write a permanently distant and inconsequential POV, that feels too much like filler, or comic relief, and contrived.

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    I think the whole point is that it's not Fred who influences the remainder of the plot, but the remainder of the plot that influences Fred. The other characters make big decisions, yes, but all those decisions are only part of an abstract game until we see the real-world consequences on Fred's life.
    – Stef
    Dec 13, 2021 at 18:12
  • @Stef Possibly, but I did not get that from the OP description, at all. Just that Fred is an inconsequential POV whose decisions do not matter. Your idea is a decent idea; but I think it can be done without following Fred throughout the book.
    – Amadeus
    Dec 13, 2021 at 19:29
  • @Stef is correct on that I do want to show the consequences of the big players' decisions on the little guy, but I did not make this clear in my question. I have edited my question to show this now.
    – A. Kvåle
    Dec 14, 2021 at 8:32
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Have you considered splitting this off into a separate story? It could perhaps be written as a short story, or perhaps another novel. In my opinion, that would be the best option if there is minimal connection between this story and the main one.

The video game Grand Theft Auto IV did something like this: there is the main game, then two smaller expansions, The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony, each starring a different character. All three stories are completely separate (in terms of plot; they do share the setting) except for a couple of scenes where the plots intersect. Each story stands on its own and doesn't require playing the others to understand the plot, though seeing the same scenes from another character's perspective still gives the player a fuller understanding of what was going on.

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I would be wary of including a wholly unconnected character arc in your novel if they have no effect on the main story. If I was to start reading about this other character, and eventually find out that his story arc had nothing to do with the main plot and characters, I would be left wondering why it was in the novel and why I’m reading it. It would confuse readers for it to not be connected at all, except for the obvious “same universe” element. I suppose I would be expecting a connection and it would never happen.

If the novel was being written and sold on the idea of this main story arc and group of characters, it seems out of place. That being said, there are novels written from multiple, largely unconnected points of view from the same universe, but they are written for that specific style (World War Z comes to mind).

Have you considered developing his story externally on the side? Stories from the same universe can be compelling for those who love to read into large scale set pieces and world building. Take Star Wars and its expanded universe as a great example of that.

As an anecdote, I started to write a little short on a character that only had a brief glance from my main story’s character, but the short story was separate and helped me build perspective for the writing of the main story. I then included this external character in a brief scene from the main character’s perspective. The external character became a “prop” in a single scene of the main story in other words.

I think it can be really helpful to write these characters, but they may not belong in the end product. Nevertheless, you can gain perspective on your main story by writing and exploring them.

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Put simply, you should make it seem like they don't matter at first. A brick in the wall, if you will. Then make them matter, they meet up with one of the four main people, probably accidentally. They find out information they never would have found out on their own, and become one of the main four.

Sort of like Luke's journey in A New Hope, he starts as a normal kid, before meeting R2 and Obi Wan, which leads to him becoming the main character of them all.

After the comments by OP, I'll add this: As for if they don't ever matter, they could have just been in a town bombed, I Survived-esque. Meaningless to the overall story, but still having an interesting viewpoint. (I guess that still doesn't count as distant, but it is much more of an irrelevance.) Try to give them a unique take on the action, and preferably not just a full bystander. Even if that take means minimal to the other character's storyline. Every story must have a problem.

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  • [1/2] Hey, welcome to the site :) Although your answer does pose a solution, it is a conditional solution. It requires me to involve this POV with the other POVs. Now, that may actually happen in my book (I haven't decided yet), but what if it won't? Your answer doesn't address that. Also, it could be argued that your answer doesn't answer my question at all. I pose a situation where one POV is, defined by the premise, inconsequential and distant. You describe a POV that is only temporarily inconsequential and distant, before eventually becoming a normal POV.
    – A. Kvåle
    Dec 12, 2021 at 2:11
  • [2/2] Whether that's "answering this question" or not is an unessential semantic question IMO. However, regardless of where one stands on that, it does lower your answers utility. It narrows it, via the conditional. And that conditional can be woefully incompatible with some people's stories. Also, your answer doesn't address any of the issues that may be faced with your solution, which there probably are. For example, if it takes a while for the POV to eventually become relevant to the bigger picture, how can one manage the potential for reader boredom up to that point?
    – A. Kvåle
    Dec 12, 2021 at 2:14
  • @A. Kvåle Yes, I'm sorry. I've just been trying to give advice. It's the only way I know of doing it, without confusing the reader as to why they are there. Sorry. As for if they don't ever matter, they could have just been in a town bombed, I Survived-esque. Meaningless to the overall story, but still having an interesting viewpoint. (I guess that still doesn't count as distant, but it is much more of an irrelevance.)
    – Murphy L.
    Dec 13, 2021 at 14:20

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