Single POV Versus Multiple POVs: Pros, cons, and my constant battle not to make snap judgements

There seems to be a lot more single POVs going around than when I was a kid nowadays, and a lot of people seem to prefer it. It has its advantages, and sometimes, it’s right for the story. You can’t beat the POV that’s right for the story. Still, I grew up reading a lot of multilpe POV fantasy stories. And when the single POV started cropping up in the books I was reading, I actually had to get used to it–it was weird to read things in first person, after I’d been reading exclusively third person books for so long.

Sometimes, the single POV really works.

The person that we’re following is interesting, in the middle of the action, and/or gets around to a lot of different places. Or maybe the journey of this one character is the entire point. Or if the story requires the limited knowledge that one person has in order to unveil in this amazing way. There are other examples,too–sometimes, it just feels absolutely right for the story.

But other times, it feels like being stuck in cage. I know there’s a lot out there to see, and I’m not being allowed.

Borrowed from

Some of my favorite single POV stories: Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey, Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Multiple POVs make the story about more than one individual–not that single POVs can’t, as the above examples illustrate. But with many viewpoints, the story doesn’t have the option of being about only one person. Ultimately, many people matter and their experiences, even with respect to the same event, differ.

There’s ways to get this wrong, too–each POV needs to be contributing something to the story, and needs to be distinguishable from another POV. Each POV must be told from the perspective of a fully realized character.

Still, there’s always been something magical about multiple POV stories, for me. It’s comforting to feel that the very format of the book is telling me that other people matter. That it’s not all about one person. But that’s just me, and it’s not like single POV books can’t create the same feeling, too–they just do it differently.

Borrowed from

Some of my favorite multiple POV stories: The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay, Acacia: The War with the Mein by David Anthony Durham, Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear

(Note: I am emotionally unready to add first/third person into the mix, especially with the complication that sometimes people write first person multiple POV books and third person single POV books. But I really want to point out that Blood and Iron is a multiple POV book written in both first and third person. At the same time. And this is completely justified in-story.)

If someone asked me which type of POV I prefer, my instinct would be to say multiple, maybe out of a sense of nostalgia. But when I envision some of my favorite single POV books, it’s hard to justify any feeling that multiple POVs are inherently better than this masterpiece in front of me.

So ultimately, I’m going to have to repeat my earlier statement: You can’t beat the POV that’s right for the story.

Anyone else? Do you prefer single or multiple POVs?

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2 Responses to Single POV Versus Multiple POVs: Pros, cons, and my constant battle not to make snap judgements

  1. Psycho Gecko says:

    Yeah, there are interesting problems with POV. For example, first person POV suffers from being limited to all the knowledge a regular person has, unless you’ve got some sort of ability that lets you increase your awareness of stuff.

    • Marie Erving says:

      Yeah, one of the iffy things with a first person POV is when it’s realistic for a person to get something wrong–then there’s the risk that people who know it will try to correct it and people who don’t know it will learn the wrong thing. So what does an author do, in the interests of realism versus accuracy? Have another character correct the main one? What if there isn’t another character there who can?

      It’s an interesting dilemma, especially since I think writers should at least try to be a little responsible with the information they spread, if they can.

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