Points of View and Historical Fiction

How many points of view does one need in a novel?

I love the fiction of Lois McMaster Bujold. With few exceptions, she only presents one viewpoint character per novel. In her recent books dealing with couples she presents the POVs of both the man and woman, and in "A Civil Campaign" she stretched to include five different points of view. But all of Bujold's work with which I am familiar is speculative fiction (e.g., science fiction, fantasy).

So we come back to my current works in progress. Now that I've written my first draft of "Daughter of Heaven," I know the world and history of my main character, Elvira Cowles. She was one of Joseph Smith's wives. I have spent the past year researching the world and history of her husband, Jonathan Holmes. But I initially shied away from actually using Jonathan as a POV character because I didn't trust myself to achieve tension/suspense when looking into the minds of people who end up as husband and wife.

Then I thought about adding John Bennett as a POV character. This past week I finished reading "The Saintly Scoundrel," a recent biography of Bennett. Given the detailed model I have developed of the workings of 1840s Nauvoo (and the eternal marriage saga generally starting in 1832), I was fascinated. Prior to reading the biography, I wanted to have Bennett react with sorrow to news of Joseph Smith's death. I am pleased that the facts of Bennett's life make that plausible, perhaps even probable. And now that I know more about Bennett, certain other factoids really start to pop. Excellent.

Now to see if I can actually fit these three POVs into a workable novel-length treatment....

1 comment:

Kosmo said...

I think you can easily get away with three points of view in a novel. Any more than that, and you might be pushing it a bit.

My favorite structure is to show the protag's pov, plus the antag's pov, with also just a little smidge of the pov of somebody who dies, leaving you with just the two pov's for the end-- with the climax, of course, shown through the eyes of the protag.