Jun 4 2012 2:00pm

Too Many POVs: Viewpoint Whiplash

Dark Lover by J.R. WardClimbing into a character’s mind is a big perk to being an avid reader, part of the escape we so often get as readers of romance and genre fiction.

Often in romance we get to flit from the hero’s to heroine’s point of view, and it’s nice. It’s engaging to understand where the hero is coming from when he’s being a complete dick to the heroine. We like knowing what she’s hiding when she refuses to see the obvious adoration the guy has for her.

But—oh, c’mon you knew it was coming—the more points of view in a novel, the more we can get pulled out of the story itself. Punting the reader between five or six characters can lead to distraction, whiplash and unending cliffhangers.

The more subplots and secondary character accounts added into a novel, the more frustrated I get. The prime example here is the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R. Ward. I love these books. Seriously. The men. The women. Even the goofy spellings. But upon a re-read, nearly every person I know skims or skips the ancillary points of view.

Anytime Ward kicks us over to the Lessening Society’s safe house and the power struggles with the Omega, I’m out. I’m more likely to skim with Lash involved, but still, I’d rather spend my time reading about the main hero and heroine of the novel.

Plus, the books are extraordinarily long. If we’re doing a re-read, I’m cutting out the unnecessary parts and getting to the falling-in-love part. Hey, I’m a romance reader. No shame here.

It’s not that those sections are poorly written or the characterizations are lacking. It’s just that it’s a distraction from the core of the story. While I understand the Lessers influence the Black Dagger Brotherhood world, I just don’t care about their inner workings. I spend those sections thinking: Why aren’t we with Zsadist/Rehvenge/Vishous/Wrath/etc.?

It’s not always immediately clear how the varDearly Departed by Lia Habelied plots in multiple POV novels connect. When a book pulls me in too many direction I just want to swat down those POV that feel extraneous. It can be enough to make me quit reading.

The rich world building in Lia Habel’s Dearly, Departed was the kind of writing that sings to me. The world is both lush and dark, the premise (good zombies?) fresh and the romance potential was high. Still, after six tries, I was only able to make it through half of the more than 400 pages. The story shifts between characters who, at least at the time, aren’t interacting.

Each time it shifted away from the heroine or her possible love interest, I groaned. The other scenes were well-written, but just as I would get invested in the main characters, I’d be ripped away from them. To deal with other characters. That didn’t matter near as much.

The constant whiplash made it impossible for me to connect with any character on the deep level I need to be pulled through a novel.

That said, I’ve been known to make exceptions to my distaste for four or more POV in a novel. Namely, the House of Comarré series by Kristen Painter.

Painter does the shift to the subplots and the secondary characters like the others, but it’s always clear how they interact. More importantly, she carefully uses the secondary ones as a way to create mid-book cliffhangers. Basically, she sticks them in just the right places that you’ll be unable to put the book down for a dinner break. Sneaky lady.

What about you? If you love multiple POV novels, give me some recommendations in the comments. Convince me to brave them! (Or, you know, lament with me and boost my ego by saying “Chelsea, you are totally correct here!” Either way.)

While Chelsea Mueller runs Vampire Book Club, she won’t turn down a sexy werewolf, demon or faerie. (Her husband often reminds her that she’s taken.) Bother her on Twitter - @ChelseaVBC — she likes it.

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1. CreativeDeeds
I think we've had this discussion before, at least where the BDB books are concerned. I am one of those that is guilty of skimming the Lesser POV when I reread these books. I've even skimmed over some of the back story the second *cough* or third *cough* time around. I can't say that I don't enjoy them the first time though. And like you, where Lash is involved, I don't skim nearly as much.
Regardless, I tend to like books with varying POVs. I can't remember being too distracted by the switch in Dearly, Departed either. But then again, I loved that book - I think I would have forgiven it just about anything.
Sometimes when POVs change it gives you a needed break from the intensity of the main characters. In the LOTU books a POV change more often than not gives a comedic break.
You are right though. Sometimes it can be distracting. I'm a very patient reader though and usually brave it regardless. ;)
2. ChelseaMueller
@CreativeDeeds - I completely understand about Dearly, Departed. I wanted to love that book. And I loved the world, the writing, the potential, but continued to get pulled out of the flow. I'm sure I'll eventually give it another go, because the premise is just too good.
Kiersten Hallie Krum
3. Kiersten
I've long since left BDB and Kenyon's Dark Hunters before that b/c I could not keep up with who was who doing whom and what. Kresley Cole is coming perilously close to my exhaustion line too. Part of that is the POV problem mentioned here. Part is a world grown too big for its britches, or at least, my mind.

I really had a problem with POV shifts in the early Brockmann Seal books. I wanted the romance, not a secondary WW II story. It wasn't till my second or third re-read that I stopped skipping some of those; now that I knew how the H/H wound up, I could pause for the interrupting sub plot distraction.
4. Lisa R.
I TO-Otally skip over the lesser parts. Guilty as charged.
Lege Artis
5. LegeArtis
Well, boosting your ego is coming from me. I'm not fond of multiple POVs in novels. It tends to get confusing. Especially, if you jump from one pov to another in one chapter. I love how Ilona Andrews handled it with Kate Daniels series and Curran's POV- story should be told with Kate's voice and I don't want that to be changed ever, but I do enjoy glimpses o Beast Lord's mind seperate from primary novels in series.
BDB series for me became some sort of long soap opera... You can say that book is about one brother, but really it's about all of them. To-be-continued type of story...
Jordan R
6. jrojrojro
I skim/skip the extraenous POVs in the BDB books the FIRST time I read them! I just don't care, they're always creepy (I know that's on purpose), and I've never felt that I don't understand a plot turn because of skipping over them. But in general, I do agree with you. I'll have to check out the series you mentioned in which it worked. I haven't found one that I love yet!
8. Mrs. Petrie
I thought I was the only one who skipped over the Lessening Society stuff! Love the Brothers!
9. pamelia
I'm of the opinion that multiple POVs can work and work very well. George Martin's Song of Ice and Fire books have hundreds of POVs and not once have I stopped and said, "wait, who is this now and why should I give a darn?" This is because he imbues his characters with, well, character. You read the book and you want to know more.
One of my favorite books "Melusine" by Sarah Monette has 2 first person POV narratives and she has the voices so well done that you always know which character you are reading.
These examples though are not romances and I think when I read a romance novel I prefer a more narrow experience. Sometimes when authors stray too far from the main 2 characters it pulls focus away from what I want to know and from the intimacy that a good romance provides.
As far as BDB and the Lesser parts, they were kind of torturous for me mainly because they really weren't all that interesting and the Lesser characters tended to be ridiculously one-note villains who didn't interest me at all. I don't mind revisiting the other characters from prior books at all though. That's fun!
10. CreativeDeeds
LOL! I think there are more people who SKIP the Lesser POV in a reread than read them. ;) At least we now know that we are all in good company ;)
11. EmilyFerguson
I also agree that it depends on the writing. Many of Nalini Singh's novels have several POVs but the romance always ends up seeming pretty well developed and reading about the other characters generally helps move the plot forward (and those chapters are always pretty short).
The BDB series definitely didn't seem as cluttered with POVs in books 1-4. During those books I could easily skim the lesser parts because I knew I wouldn't also have 4 additional chapters after that about side characters. Now there are so many characters the romance sometimes comes off as a very distant 3rd plot. It has really frustrated me, but of course I continue to read. :-)
April Cabrera
12. Squeaks1977
OMG I soooo agree!!! I love Ward's books but I notice my second time around reading them I admit I just skip right over the lesser scenes and on to the brothers. If it's first time reading I've also noticed I tend to read those lesser scenes faster just to get to the brothers. LOL I completely understand but I will forever buy her books anyways! :-) Thanks for the share!
13. Maya C.
There were POV's in BDB that were really intesresting - like Blay and Qhuinn. But the Lesser's really got on my nerves.
While reading the post the one series that came to my mind were the House of Comarre, not because I liked it but because I didn't. It really drove me crazy to the point of not reading it anymore even though I'm still curious about the series. I specially did not like the bad guys POVs.
14. ChelseaMueller
So we all agree that while we skip the Lesser parts on re-reads, we're all entirely addicted to the BDB books, yes? ;)

@Pamelina and @EmilyFerguson - You're right. It absolutely comes down to the writing and how the POV shifts are handled, how the stories intertwine.
Nicole Neal
15. icecharm
Thank you for making me feel as "normal" as I get. I thought I was the only one who was bored with the Lesser parts of the BDB books! I felt that they were sorta... unnecessary. Yeah, we have to have a bad guy/group, but did we really need to know so much about them?
16. tlmfarmgirl
I like reading the Lesser parts - kinda wish they were more developed. But I've always liked the 'bad guys' in books (not that I want them to win, or anything). I like the 'good guys' too of course....
17. Ollieblu
I'm reading my first Shiloh Walker book If You Hear Her, and boy, there are a lot of POV's!!! I wanna skim, but I'm afraid I'll miss something. Don't get me wrong, I'm thorounghly enjoying the story, but it is a lot to keep up with.
18. Christin
I actually like multiple POVs - as long as I can always tell who the narrator is. I like the fact that we aren't limited to one person's feelings/observations/etc. The multiple POVs never bothered me in BDB (though I too skip over the lesser parts on rereads), and so far they haven't bothered me in LOTU either. I'm trying hard to think of a book where changing POVs bothered me, but I'm coming up blank. Guess I'm just one of the weird ones :)
Allison Brennan
19. Allison_Brennan
I must confess -- I love multiple POVs. It comes, I think, from my love of Stephen King who has used multiple POVs brilliantly. And then, sometimes, he write a book in one or two POVs and it's just as amazing.

My books all have multiple POVs. Always the hero and heroine and almost always the villain. Always several secondary characters and sometimes a victim or two. Most of my books have at least 5 POVs. Some of my books have had 10 or more ... though the overwhelming majority of all my books are the hero, heroine and villain.

I understand why some people don't enjoy too many POVs. I like to think I transitition well, but that's one reason I trust my editor to help me smooth over rough transitions. Some people also don't like prologues, but I love them. :)
20. SassyT
I read every word during the first 5 books of the BDB (loved books 1-3, 4-5 didn't love as much). However, I must say I find myself wanting to skip stuff in the latter books of the series (I don't skip but I have skimmed because I don't want to miss something's not usually the Lessers' parts I want to skim either). I think J.R. Ward (as someone else mentioned) sacrificed the story of the H/H in order to add in 15 different (okay, it's not that many but it feels that way) other POVs. I don't have a problem with multiple POVs as long as you realize that the main purpose of the book is to get the Hero and Heroine from point A (no love) to point B (lots of love). It seems some authors have forgetten that in the headlong rush to bring in more and more extraneous characters so they can have their own books later. Just tell me the story I paid for with this book. If you tell me a good story in this book, I'll be happy to pay for the next book that comes out and then you can focus on characters C and D. I didn't mind the Lessers' parts (especially when it was essential like in Bella and Zsadist's story).
maria babani
21. Chica8
I loved Dark Lover and, consequently, BDB 2 - 4. I stopped purchasing the rest of the series because it drew away more and more from the main characters. I can deal with some minor lesser parts because it is the conflict. The series became more and more about the other brothers in an attempt to set up the coming books. It's not worth it. Too bad.
Cheryl King
22. fotofix
I'm actually into the multiple POV. I want to know what EVERYONE'S thinking and doing-I'm nosy like that! LOL Unless it's really, really been recommended or is just one of my most favorite authors, I don't even read books written in 1st POV. As far as the JR and Kenyon and Cole books, I think those multiple POV's are what makes a successful long-running series and I gobble up every word! I haven't gotten tired of any of them yet...
23. ChelseaMueller
I want to know what EVERYONE'S thinking and doing-I'm nosy like that!
Now that's a reasoning I can back!
24. Laurie Evans
It depends. Sometimes it's really distracting, sometimes I like it. Most of the time, I just want to get back to the hero or herione's POV.
25. parawriter
If you like simple love stories based around 2 characters with little deviation from their story, skim through a book or read a review before purchasing it. Some of us are the type who enjoy a lot of story with our romance. A plethora of characters, an unending plot full of little plots continued into more and more books, and an insight into all of the players very souls. Wind all of this around and through the hero and heroine's story, and we cannot put the book down!
26. ChelseaMueller
@parawriter -- That's not the case at all. I like a love story where the characters have so much depth that it hurts to be away from them. It's not about simple stories -- a complex plot is almost always favorable -- but about connecting deeply with characters.
27. AllieKat
I'm actually guilty of skipping over the main story completely in the later Black Dagger Brotherhood books to revisit my favorite characters. Jane and Vishious in Lover Unleashed is the main sideplot that comes to mind. However, I have issues with Sherrilyn Kenyon's multiple POV's because of the choices she makes in following books. She tantalized me in No Mercy with Eton and his unrequited love for Sam, but then she dropped him for Sundown, a character that hasn't been relavent since earlier on in the series. I like when multiple POV's make me anticipate the next book in the series.
28. Rose In RoseBear
I don't mind multiple POVs ... especially if it gets me into someone else's head, and what's in there is interesting.

That being said ... @Chelsea and everyone else who skips the Lesser stuff --- yeah, me too!

I'm in such bad shape I'm contemplating buying them all in Kindle format so I can set up bookmarks to skip the parts I don't like.

Yeah ... I've got it bad ...
29. ChelseaMueller
@Rose - Are there any multi-POV (as in 4+) that you'd recommend?
30. Rose In RoseBear
I just fininshed a re-read of The China Bride by Mary Jo Putney, in which Jin/Mei-Lian/Troth and Kyle's story flips back and forth between two time periods, one spent in China/Macao and the other in England/Scotland. The two time periods are interleaved in the book, with a chapter or three set in the past in China/Macao, and a chapter or three set in the present of England/Scotland. While in China, sometimes the heroine is a Chinese male, sometimes a Chinese female, until she comes to England/Scotland and settles down to being a Chinese/Scottish biracial female. (Did I really just type that?) The hero remains one person, although he's dead sometimes, and sometimes he's not ...

Interesting characters, but too dang much flipping about.

Lover Avenged, the first BDB book I read (also the first paranormal romance I ever read), flips from Rehv to Ehlena to Xhex to Lash to small but vital scenes featuring John and Wrath. I initially read this book in chunks from back to front, and I was hooked (pun not quite intended) well before I got to the beginning and reread it from front to back. For some reason, skipping over the Lesser stuff doesn't bother me, and the many POVs, especially in the later novels, strike me as being a part of living in what John Matthew calls the "perma-peanut gallery" of the mansion.

We learn from the category romance novels that stories should be tight and focused. But when you have 10+-book series, when each book in that series is 400+ pages, you're gonna have character overpopulation, plot creep ,and story spread, all of which contribute to the dreaded multiple POV. I think it can be done well --- just depends on the author and the book.
31. Leelia Mendoza
But I don't believe this is true. I think that's some old publishing rule that seems to think that the avergae american still has a 9th grade education, so they have to keep us at that level. Today's reraders are smart intelligent people, who can actually follow multipul pov just fine. I hate it when I see this, because amazing authors out there who do it well get a bad wrap.

I'm reading this author now who has more than one pov going on and I love it. Her name is Alexandria Infante`, and her book came out last year; Teaching between Midnight and Dawn (Arieanna's Legend), and I totally loooove the characters. I also like the fact that she's a latina author, cuz we don't see many of us in this field.

My dorm mate gave me her book, cuz she got it like from someone else, (they were sorta just passing it around lol to read to pass the time waiting for finals) anyway, amazenly I loved the book! I did some research on her, and was surprised that someone had mention in a review that she was a terrible writer because of the multipul pov's. I told my roomies, and we were all shocked, because we'd each read the book and it was amazing.

We went to her site, and each book in the series ( she only has one published, but you can read sample chapters on the site) was darker, more sensual and better than the last lol ( but they still had more than just the norm 2 pov's).

Her characters have depth, ( and I like that I get to know what the best friend ulfric feels when he sees the hot cousin) you feel them, and even though its a paranormal you can totally feel the love between the two main characters.
She also has a chapter of Teach Me the Night in the back of this book, so you kinda know just a lil bit of what's gonna happen in book two that i think is awesome.

So I think for some authors, it works out well; and to say that just because someone does this that they're a bad writer isn't fair at all.

32. ChelseaMueller
@Leelia - The point of this post certainly wasn't to say multiple viewpoint novels are bad. As I mention in the post, I think Kristen Painter does it very well. (And I'm a big BDB fangirl.)

I just think multiple POV romance novels require a careful balance. When the point of your book is to move toward a HEA for two characters, it takes careful crafting to make shifting away from those two worth it -- and make it enhance the point of the book (romance books here, again, it's different for every genre), of bringing together a hero and heroine.

Some authors can do this very well, but I think it's a difficult thing.
33. filkferengi
For multiple pov done well, you should definitely check out _A Civil Campaign_ by Lois McMaster Bujold.
34. rdsangel127117
Multiple POV's can be interesting, but I think too many bog down the main story. In the beginning of the BDB I had no problem reading about the Lessors, but in these later books Ward has added so many other characters that the main story usually gets shoved chapters behind. You read chapter after chapter before you get back to the main characters, which the story is about. By that time, I have to flip back to the last chapter I read on them to remember where their story left off. That's very frustrating. I must agree with a lot of other posts on here. When I re-read any of the BDB books (or any others for that matter), I skip over what doesn't deal with the H/h and go straight to their story. The way I see it, I've read that before and I don't have to read it again unless I want to. I know what the other POV's are about and their involvement in the story. I'd ditch some of the series I read, if I wasn't so nosy and curious as to the outcome of them, because some of them are cluttered to the max with varying POV's. Alas, I'm hopeless!
savannah wheat
35. zephyra
I love multiple POVs when reading because I like to know what the other charaters are doing. I might be alone, but some less important characters are my favorite characters. The Mortal Instrument Series by Cassandra Clare has multiple POVs, but is amazing.
LaTisha Walker
36. tibbee11
@fotofix - I totally agree with you! I want to know what everyone is thinking, not just one character. I want to know if there is some miscommunications going on, and you just can't tell sometimes with only one character's thoughts revealed. I also don't read first-person POV books for just that reason.

One series I had made an exception for was MaryJanice Davidson's Queen Besty series. But I haven't read the last three books in the series, because I'm tired of being in Betsy's head! It would be okay if she paid attention to what is going on around her, but she misses very important conversations and happenings because she's to busy going off on stupid thought tangents! Plus, I really want to know what's going on upstairs with Sinclair!
37. Neecee
I totally agree about BDB having waaaaaaayyyyyy too many POVs and side stories in the books. That is one thing that really turned me off the series in the last few installments. It just seems that all the books are now more focused on the plot arc than the romance of the main characters. I read for the relationships when I read romance, otherwise I would be reading regular fiction instead. Sometimes there are so many side stories that we really lose the main couples, and I really dislike those books. Even if the secondary story lines are about characters I like, eventually most of them will have their own books so there is no need for so much page space with them prior to their stories. The sad thing is that when their stories do come, they get shortchanged as well. So we never really get a truly satisfying book in BDB anymore.

It's a shame really, because it used to be one of the best paranormal romance series out there. I mean the first five books I found truly outstanding. Then came Lover Enshrined and everything started to go down hill. When I read them now, I feel like I am constantly lost in Star Wars II - Empire Strikes Back. In other words, the books are leading up to something but have not true beginning or end. There is only so much leading up to something I can take without some kind of closure for someone, particularly the main couples who are just not getting the exposure or development of their relationships they deserve.

I know many people may disagree with me, but I can't help it. BDB is just not an automatic buy for me anymore as it used to be. When I first started reading the series, I never thought that would happen.
38. Yarasz
I love the series especially the multiple POVs and the sub plots. I don't skip over the lesser sections in fact I'm more inclined to skip over some of the endless sex scenes (not that I don't love them but hey sometimes there's only so much glistening core I need to know about).

For me however I don't read either SK or Ward for the romance alone. I read them because they're well crafted and damn fine stories. I love the developing intricacies and depth of the worlds that these writers create. I love the mystery, suspense & creepiness; basically Ilove a bloody good story and am bored out of my mind by straight romance, that's why I choose to read these books. Nora Roberts (JD Robb) is another of these. For me the greater the depth the fictional world I immerse myself in the more satisfaction and pleasure I get from it.

Plus as someone else posted I'm a nosey bugger lol. So a big thanks to all the writters I've mentioned plus all the others who've kept me company over the years. Big thumbs up
39. Metessa
"Too Many POVs: Viewpoint Whiplash"

I completely agree, after doing a few drive bus in bdb community groups I was being to wonder if it was me. I hate skipping over because I don't want to miss some important info but dang I think I actually started to growl when the lesser parts came up. The worse was in the lover mine "Elisha rathboone" all that pointless nonsense just pissed me off! Waste of my time and her pages. I love the bdb world but I seem to spend a lot of time being fussy at ward. I think my stories to flow and when Im retreading a wait-what paragraph cause I was too wrapped up and missed the scene change - I don't like it, especially when it's an I-don't-give-a-crap subplot!
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