Monday, September 28, 2015

Guest Post & #Giveaway - The Bloodforged by Erin Lindsey! (US/CA)

Multiple Points-of-View: Epic or epic fail?

One of the traditional hallmarks of epic fantasy is a large cast of characters, many of whom end up as “point-of-view characters” in their own right – meaning that parts of the story are told from their unique perspectives. As a series goes on, additional characters are folded into the mix, sometimes to the extent that it becomes difficult to form any real attachment to them as individuals, or even to keep track of who’s doing what. No surprise, then, that “too many POV characters” is one of the most consistent complaints about epic fantasy.

But multiple POVs can also be a real strength. Done well, it gives the narrative a sense of scale. And like throwing on a pair of 3D glasses at the movies, each new lens adds depth and texture, making the world leap out at us in glorious relief.

In other words, like just about anything else, multiple POVs can be done well or poorly, and the success of this particular technique can make or break a story. So what’s the key to doing it well?

It’s a question I had to tackle head-on when I sat down to write The Bloodforged. I was sending my characters off in three different directions, which meant three separate stories told from four different points of view. Ugh. I knew I was setting myself up for a challenge. So I tried to think about my experience as a reader: Which books with multiple POVs worked really well for me, which ones failed to impress, and why? What did the most successful examples have in common?

Here’s what I came up with.

1. Minimalism. Wait, what? Wouldn’t that argue for only one POV? Well, no – not necessarily. Imagine A Song of Ice and Fire from only Jon Snow’s POV. Interesting, maybe, but also quite limited in its perspective; readers would learn next to nothing about the Game of Thrones afoot in the wider world of Westeros, including how it impacts on the supernatural struggle unfolding beyond the Wall. On the flip side, if we followed only Tyrion, we’d have very little inkling of the DOOM bearing down on the Seven Kingdoms. So – both of these characters seem to be essential to do the story justice. But what about Victarion Greyjoy? Areo Hotah? Any of the Martells? Sure, they add new information, but is it genuinely important stuff that we couldn’t learn from an existing character? Personally, I’m doubtful. My favourite books only introduced a new POV when it really counted, when that perspective added more than just a splash of colour.

2. Each POV has its own discrete story arc. That includes a beginning, middle, and end – complete with dramatic climax. Minor cameos aside, each POV character has his/her own journey, one that’s engaging in its own right. POV shifts often hit “pause” on one story to take up another; that can be disruptive and annoying if the story you’ve paused is much more interesting than the one you’re cutting to. In many cases, I’ve found myself skipping entire chapters because I just don’t care enough about Character X and cannot wait to get back to Character Y. That’s a lot less likely to happen if Characters X and Y both have interesting stories with their own momentum. (Worth noting here that this doesn’t necessarily mean each character lives through a different plot, just that they respond to, and are shaped by, those events differently.)

3. Distinctive character voices. One of the goals of having multiple POVs is to add depth through different perspectives, but that doesn’t work so well if all the characters think, feel, and sound the same. This is especially true when we’re seeing the same events through more than one character’s eyes. Cutting between them starts to feel mechanical and unnecessary, and instead of adding depth, the characters seem flat. Different POVs should feel different; we shouldn’t need to be told that we’re in Tyrion’s head, because his head shouldn’t read like anyone else’s. That way, when we swap to someone else’s head, it’s a refreshing change of pace.

4. One POV adds suspense to another. This is one of the coolest things you can do with multiple POVs. It can be a real nail-biter if you know more than the characters about what’s going on, or if you hit pause on one story at a suspenseful moment to take up another. This one is used with caution – I’ve been driven absolutely bonkers by unnecessary cliffhangers that cause me to skip the intervening chapters – but done right, it drives the momentum forward. For example, in Return of the Jedi, the Battle of Endor is all the more exciting because we know that Lando can’t blow up the Death Star unless Han and company disable the shield. At the same time, Luke’s POV reveals that the whole thing is a trap cunningly laid by Emperor Palpatine. Cutting back and forth between these POVs ramps up the tension.

Once I’d identified these commonalities between my favourite POV jugglers, I felt a lot more comfortable that I could weave together the separate plotlines of The Bloodforged in ways that improved the story instead of confusing it.

I’m sure I missed more than a few, though. So how about it: What are your favourite stories featuring multiple POVs, and why did they work? Inquiring authors want to know!


Erin Lindsey is on an epic quest to write the perfect vacation novel for fantasy lovers. THE BLOODFORGED, Book 2 of the Bloodbound trilogy, releases on September 29. She also writes fantasy mystery as E.L. Tettensor. You can find Erin on her website:, or on Twitter @etettensor.



The epic saga that started in The Bloodbound continues…

As war between Alden and Oridia intensifies, King Erik must defend his kingdom from treachery and enemies on all sides—but the greatest danger lurks closer to home…

When the war began, Lady Alix Black played a minor role, scouting at the edge of the kings retinue in relative anonymity. Though shes once again facing an attacking Oridian force determined to destroy all she holds dear, she is now bodyguard to the king and wife to the prince. Still, she is unprepared for what the revival of the war will mean. Erik is willing to take drastic measures to defend his domain, even if it means sending Prince Liam into a deadly web of intrigue and traveling into the perilous wild lands of Harram himself. Only the biggest threat to the kingdom might be one that neither Alix nor Erik could have imagined, or prepared for…



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Talk Supe said...

One of my quirk as a reader is I love and expect multiple POV in epic fantasy for the exact same reason that you illustrated on yourGOT example. I can't tolerate it on contemporary reads though especially on romances. Too many talking heads distracts from forming an attachment to the couple and their love story.

Alyn said...

I enjoy multiple POV in epic fantasy. I love GoT, but I agree that the books would be fine without some character's POV. I also like multiple POV in historical fictions. I noticed that if a book gets popular enough, the author can rewrite the book from a different POV and people will still go crazy over it.

Erin said...

I can see why that might be. Love it or hate it, people tend to have strong feelings about POVs.

Melissa (My words and pages) said...

Oh this series sounds so good. I need to go purchase the first book.

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