K M Fawcett asked:
I’d love some insight on writing a series of books. Especially POVs in them. I’m on Book 3 now of my sci-fi/ fantasy romance and this is the 3rd couple I’m writing. However, couples from the first 2 books are intertwined in the story as some are related to each other. I want to give them some POV scenes too but not sure if that takes away from the main romance. I’m not sure how to handle writing it. Would that other couple have to be a sub plot that runs through the story? Do I only keep it in this hero/heroine’s POV? I guess the question is how best to handle multiple POVs in a series. Also perhaps how much back story is appropriate to include so that new readers can follow along and old readers don’t get bored. Thanks!
POV is like salt; it’s crucial but should be used sparingly. I did a book with seven POVs once and it’s still the coldest book I’ve ever written for one obvious reason: the more POV characters you have, the less time you spend in the protagonist’s head. The less time you spend in the protagonist’s head, the less time you have to attach to him or her, the less involved you are in his or her story, and the more distance you’ve created between the reader and him or her.
So when deciding how many POVs you want in a story, my rule of thumb is “as few as possible as needed to tell the story.” One POV is great. If you’re writing a romance, convention says you should have two, the heroine and hero (which is not always the same as protagonist and antagonist). Sometimes giving the antagonist a POV is good idea; it’s what saved The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes (Xan was added in very late rewrites) and I think Bill’s POV was crucial in Crazy for You. Other times, it’s a disaster; most mysteries would be ruined with an antagonist POV.
Once you get past main character POVs, you need to ask yourself exactly what the story is getting with extra POVs. I maintain that Rachel’s POV was important in Welcome to Temptation, but there are readers who would happily have done without her view of the story to get more Sophie and Phin. Lately, I’m happy with the just hero/heroine (not protagonist/antagonist) POVs; more than that seems to defuse the story too much even though the limited POV narrows my options for world-building. However, I’ve also got a work-around because the book I’m most interested in right now is an episodic novel, a series of short stories, each complete on its own, that combine to make a novel, and I have a dozen POVs in that collection that build that world, while each story has no more than three POVs to bring the reader closer.
So here’s my multiple POV advice:
1. Your best choice is one POV for intimacy and reader involvement.
2. If you’re writing a romance, the convention is for both heroine and hero POV (not always protagonist and antagonist), and you probably need a good reason not to use both. (I’ve done just the heroine’s POV and liked it, but it does make the romance a little lopsided.)
3. If you’re more concerned with building a world than with tight reader identification and emotional involvement in the plot, bringing in a subplot protagonist POV provides another view of the world you’re building while reinforcing the main plot. The more subplots you add with POV protagonists, the clearer the world you’re building grows, and the colder your story gets. So if you’re writing epic fantasy fiction, bring on the POVs. If you’re writing romance, not so much.
4. If you’re writing a multi-story series (short stories, novellas, novels, whatever), treat each story as its own unit of narrative, and stick to one, two, or three POVs for each story, letting the separate stories taken together do the world-building and use each individual story to create reader identification and emotional involvement.
As to how much back story you include about previous books, my advice is none. Treat each novel as a stand-alone and handle the back story the way you’d handle the back story in a stand-alone; that is, provide whatever information the reader needs to understand THIS story in the now of the story, and leave the rest out as unnecessary to the understanding of the story the reader has now. It goes back to Strunk and White’s idea that a book should have no unnecessary information in it in the same way that a machine should have no unnecessary parts or a drawing no unnecessary lines, “necessary” in this case meaning “necessary to this story alone” rather than “necessary to the series.” If your reader likes this story, she’ll go glom the rest; if she doesn’t like this story, adding in stuff that doesn’t move the narrative is not going to make her look for more stories like that. Plus you have the same real estate problem with back story that you have with extra POV: the more pages you spend explaining what happened before the story started, the fewer pages you have to tell the actual story.
Standard Disclaimer: There are many roads to Oz. While this is my opinion on this writing topic, it is by no means a rule, a requirement, or The Only Way To Do This. Your story is your story, and you can write it any way you please.