Obviously, since I am a contributor to this blog, I tend to lean toward writing Epic Fantasy. The manuscript I am currently working on is the first in what might turn out to be a six book series (or more if the plots don’t stop rolling out of my head). One trend for epic fantasy tends to be that we have a lot of characters, especially when it comes to series. My story is centered around five main characters, but there are plenty of other characters that play important roles as well. Writing with this many characters hasn’t really been an issue for me. No, what I am talking about when I say the Epic Issue of Too Many Characters or POVs is more on the marketing side of writing.
When I ventured into the serious side of writing last year after having completed the first drafts of books one and two of my series, I was startled by the amount of advice people give you without first reading your book. People guffawed when they found that my main characters totaled to five and that there were plenty of other POVs from which my story is told (eleven to be exact). I was told to narrow it down to three MCs and definitely tell the story solely from their POVs instead of the other characters. My query letter mentioned the five girls by name and I was advised to cut it down to one or two, even though they all have vital roles in the introductory book. When I did this, I found that people who read the query and the first five chapters were confused that the MC mentioned in the query didn’t show back up again until chapter five.
So what did I do? I started cutting characters’ POVs. That eliminated entire story lines that were being set up for the books to come. What does that mean? It compromised my story, which to me is a big no-no. You should never NEVER compromise your story to the point that you can hardly recognize it anymore just for the sake of selling a book (in my humble opinion).
So this leads me to the big dilemma that a lot of epic fantasy writers face: How many characters are too many? At what point should we draw the line while trying to follow the unspoken rules of the literary marketing world?
My answer: If done right, there is no such thing as too many characters or too many characters’ POVs in a book, especially epic fantasy.
Obviously, when dealing with POV, you should keep to third person limited. First person when dealing with a lot of characters can be really confusing for a reader. I’m not opposed to two POVs with first person, but anymore and I feel a bit discombobulated as a reader. Why go third person limited instead of third person omniscient? Because omniscient, from what I have learned firsthand, usually involves what agents and editors refer to as “head jumping”, which means you are skipping around from different characters heads in different paragraphs. So learn from my mistake since I wrote both books in omniscient and have had to do A LOT of editing to correct this: Stick to limited.
I’d like to leave you with some examples of epic fantasy books that have more than one characters’ POV and do just fine. You might recognize these from the best sellers’ list, which to me is proof that if you do it right, having multiple characters and multiple story arcs can still make for compelling and not confusing stories.~~Mara Valderran