I’ve been thinking about this question a lot. Is there a limit to how many main characters should be in a book or series? Is it three? Six? Fifteen?
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m currently writing a Fantasy novel and it’s a huge mess. One of the main reasons why it’s going so messily is because I recently went from writing one character’s 1st person POV in present tense to 3 characters’ 1st person POV in past tense, and I do not recommend torturing yourself like this.
However… I’m beginning to wonder if three main characters (and three main character POVs) is too much for this WIP, or for any book. And that’s what brings us to today’s discussion!
I would also like to apologize in advance if this post is too long and confusing! 😅 I just have so many thoughts!
I’m the kind of reader who loves books written in 1st person POV. I believe this is a great way to get to know the main character, and because I love characters more than plot, I’m totally okay with reading lots of books in this format.
However, while most books told in 1st person include only one Point of View, some books include two POVs, or even three.
Just for reference, POV = Point of View and MC = Main Character.
Books can have many characters, but only one main perspective.
Or POV, if you will.
Sometimes I’ll look at the reviews for a book, and one person will say, “I love all of the characters so much! they are my children”, while someone else will say, “There were just too many characters”. But why is this?
I think it depends on the story itself, and the way the book is set up. For example, it’s no secret that there are many characters in the Harry Potter series. Of course, they’re not all main characters, but they’re still supposed to be characters which the readers remember.
The main character of the HP series is, quite obviously, Harry Potter. Almost every chapter in the series is told from his perspective, just not in first person. Throughout the series, readers can see the characters’ backgrounds developing in a satisfying way. But if you were to read the first book on its own, and judge the characters by their introductions alone… would you still love them and consider well-developed good characters?
Oftentimes, we tend to say the first installment of a book or movie series is simply okay because it’s the introduction of everything to come. To me, this is just another way of saying, “I know this book wasn’t very good, but don’t worry, it’ll get better!”
But what if there isn’t another installment? What if Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was the only book in the HP universe? Would it still work for us, character-wise?
However, there are some standalone novels which develop characters nicely, just in the time-frame of one book. This is great and all, and I applaud the authors who are able to do so, but unfortunately for me… I often feel like this is rare, and the characters in YA standalones are usually underdeveloped. One of the reasons why I loves book series so much is because I get to see the characters go through so many events, and see the characters grow through their decisions and obstacles. While this is something that can happen in standalones, it happens more in series.
If we’re meant to care for more than one character, in a series or a standalone, it really depends on how the author portrays these characters.
(So it’s up to the auhtor to not disappoint me! *slams fist on table*)
Some books have only one Point of View.
I’m sure we can all agree that this is a fact.
There are a lot of YA (and non-YA) novels out there with only one POV, and it’s almost always from the main character. I like this method because it’s easier to connect with the MC, since their thoughts are all right there in the narration. You can see what they’re thinking and wanting, and if they’re a properly fleshed out character, the POV will allow for you to get a great sense of who they are and their purpose in the story.
Are you the kind of person who prefers only one POV? Why, or why not?
Can a book have too many character POVs?
The answer? Yes, I personally think some books can have too many POVs.
“But what’s the limit, Xandra?” you ask me, crossing your arms. “This is why I came to this post.”
“I don’t know, friend. I think it depends on preference!”
I don’t think there can ever truly be a hard-and-cold limit to how many main characters is too many, but perhaps the number should be somewhere between 3 and 6. Again, I think this all depends on preference. While the author of a book may enjoy novels with five POVs, I, as the reader, may not.
let’s have an example
Now that I think about it, I haven’t actually read many books with more than two POVs, although I think this is because I just don’t want to! But one of the books I kind of had to read with multiple POVs was The Lost Hero, and all of the other books in the Heroes of Olympus series.
The Lost Hero was particularly hard for me because, while it was a book taking place in the beloved Riordan universe of Greek/Roman gods, it was the first Riordan book I had ever read without Percy Jackson as a character. Already going into it, I didn’t like the characters very much. Jason, Piper, and Leo were hard to get used to, but I did end up liking the story eventually. I never really enjoyed reading Piper’s POV chapters, so I was only having fun for about one third of the time. (Or one fourth, if we have to talk about the confusing first few chapters.)
Over the course of the series, each book had alternating POV chapters. In the last book, The Blood of Olympus, there were five different POVs! Five of them! If I hadn’t already been introduced to those five characters, I probably would have gotten a migraine and quit the series right there.
By the end of the series, there were nine main characters total. Nine characters who were important enough to have gotten a POV during one or more of the books. While I generally liked these characters, I felt like some of them were being left out at times. Sometimes I would scream, “But what about Frank?? What happened to Hazel??” whenever Frank or Hazel were neglected for the entirety of a book or two.
The problem with too many main characters is that the author cannot possibly give each of them the attention they deserve, but as a series, this problem was occasionally avoided by giving 3-5 characters a POV role.
okay, two more examples
Disproportioned POV Chapters
Wonder by R.J. Palacio was interesting because the main character, Auggie Pullman, has more chapter POVs than anyone else, but there are six main character POVs in total. The POV switches worked well enough, in my opinion, because some of these characters had something very important to say, even if they only had one or two chapters to themselves.
This book included many characters, but they were not equally spread out, and none of them got as many chapters as the main characters. So my question to you is this: How do you feel about disproportioned POV chapters in a book? Is it okay when one character gets more “face time” than the others?
Equally-distributed POV Chapters
I couldn’t find a book with more than three POVs (I mean I know they’re out there, I just haven’t personally read them), but the Legend series has two.
This book was mainly about the character of Day, but June, the other MC, also told the told in about the same amount of chapters as Day. This worked nicely for me, because I could depend on the length of the chapters. My question: Do you prefer equally-distributed POV chapters? Why, or why not?
Why multiple POVs might not work.
I personally prefer books with two POVs, because we can read into the minds of the two main characters. Sometimes two main characters are better than one, and they’re both great characters. The only downside to this is if one of the characters is great, and the other is just okay.
And that’s why I don’t like risking myself to read books with more than three POVs. I know that I will fall in love with at least one of the characters, but what about the other ones? What if they’re just mediocre?
Of course, sometimes the multiple POVs can be a blessing, and you’ll fall in love with all of the six main characters. That sounds perfect to me, but only if the author is smart enough to make this happen!
Overall, some stories are meant to have multiple POVs, and some just aren’t. It depends on what happens in the story, and once you read it, you can usually tell if the multiple POVs were necessary or not.
Are there any specific reasons why you wouldn’t want for a story to have multiple POVs?
What about main characters, without personal POVs?
Wow, what a great question! *sarcasm* This is actually what I’ve been trying to get to all along, but I got distracted and forgot.
My opinion still stands: regardless of whether or not they have POVs, the limit of main characters should be between 3 and 6. I think this amount is very common, and most books seem to have about 3 or 4 main characters anyway.
But still, it depends on the story itself and if it needs that many characters. The characters all have to mean something, in the end – they can’t just sit around and expect to be loved!
Hey, are my… are my discussions too long? Don’t be afraid to tell me if they are. I’m just wondering. Please have a nice day. 💫
What do you think? Have you ever read a book with too many main characters? Have you ever disliked one of the MCs, but loved another?Can you answer any of my questions? Because I sure can’t.
Chat with me about it!
P.S.: My school year has just started, and I’m already stressed! From now until December, I might only be posting 4 times a month! We’ll see how it goes.
Happy reading, everyone! 🙂