I almost always prefer books told from a single point of view. As my Goodreads review history will reveal, I consider point-of-view shifts one of the biggest points of failure in most books I read. Multiple points of view bring additional challenges for both writer and reader. I always question whether the costs outweigh the benefits.
Sometimes they do. I’ve written a multi-POV novel myself. One of my all-time favorite books has three point-of-view characters.
If you’re considering writing a story with multiple point-of-view characters, consider the costs: each point-of-view shift will require your readers to reorient themselves. It may take them out of the scene. Each of these protagonists or narrators will have less real estate on the page because they need to share it with the others. What you gain in breadth you may sacrifice in emotional depth. Your story may gain something from more POVs, but it will lose something too.
Uncertain about your multi-POV story? As long as the following are true, you’re probably fine.
Your story can’t be told through a single limited POV
Some stories don’t work through a single point of view. Changing the number of point of view characters will fundamentally alter any story. Only you can decide if this is for the best in your case.
Imagine your story from a single character’s perspective. Does this damage or eliminate integral plot or character arcs? Does the story become about something else entirely? Then you may need those additional POVs.
Each POV character has a unique and compelling arc
Each point of view adds a protagonist to your story. Don’t use multiple POVs to expose a secondary character’s perspective. Readers don’t need to know the precise context and motivation for every significant character action in your book. For readers to engage deeply with a POV character, that character must have their own narrative arc within the story.
Your antagonist POV character experiences some kind of redemption
Readers don’t need to sympathize or connect with an antagonist, nor do they need to know exactly why they are the way they are (see above). Antagonists can be plenty complex and interesting without having their own voice in the story. They aren’t a go-to choice for a POV character.
However, you can support an antagonist’s redemption by giving them a voice. An antagonist POV character should come out of your book a (slightly) better person. This process may only be visible in places where you let them tell the story.
POV characters’ relative airtime is intentional and supports your story
It’s okay for one character to get more time on the page than others, but this can’t be accidental. You may choose to alternate fairly between POVs, giving each character a roughly equal share of the word count, or you may not. Each story will be different. However, choose intentionally how much time readers will spend with each character and have a reason to back up that choice.
POV switches are clear and not too frequent
Every time you switch POVs, you require some mental overhead of your readers as they settle back into the scene. Minimize this effort and distraction to help keep your readers engaged in the story. Avoid “head-hopping,” or switching POVs rapidly and without structure. Give readers time to adjust to each POV and make it clear whose perspective we’re in. Use chapter or section titles to indicate a POV change. If you’re switching within a chapter, use a visual separator to give readers an obvious cue. The last thing you want is for someone to stop reading so they can figure out who’s talking.
Multiple POVs help, rather than hurt, your story’s pace
POV switches have a big effect on your story’s pace. They can speed the pace by leaving readers hanging after a switch. Readers will feel compelled to keep reading to find out what happens when they return to that character.
However, beware of repetition. Rehashing the same scene from multiple perspectives slows the pace. Even if readers are learning new information from each POV, the story isn’t moving forward. If that new information isn’t compelling enough, you’ll lose readers’ interest.