When we begin a story we don’t have to have to have all the perspectives plotted out, we don’t even have to know who all the perspective characters are, we can work this out as we go. However, when we’re editing we do have to work out which way all these perspectives need to go based on what characters know and what we want readers to know and we have to decide how many we need.
There aren’t fixed rules on the number of perspectives we can have but it is important to remember that the more we have the more characters there are to remember and sometimes the wider break there is between people’s favourite characters. At the other end of the spectrum is the story with a lot of characters that changes perspective very quickly which can easily become confusing because of the shifting and/or the narrative can become fractured because there’s not time for the reader to settle into to a character and setting. Once again I would say it’s not impossible to make these things work but it is important to remember the potential pitfalls to better avoid them.
One of the obvious pitfalls can be having a character’s perspective appear once. This can be a useful tool, I used it myself in Victorian Mistress, whether or not I was successful is up to you. Sometimes another perspective is needed to complete a story or show something we wouldn’t otherwise see but we have to be careful how we do this. The single perspective is often used at the beginning or end of books, as I’ve done in the past I’ll refer to crime fiction as a good example where we often see something relating to the crime, such as the crime itself, and that perspective doesn’t appear again. The problems arise when a perspective is conspicuously thrown in to pad a story or it doesn’t add to the story, by which mean it reveals nothing new or pertinent such as something about the character or events.
The time when a single chapter in one perspective is more jarring is if it appears in the middle of a story that has been largely told from the of one character perspective. Once again this can work if it adds something to the story, for example we may have a story that has other stories within the narrative such as American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Here the chapters are about one character, or a group, that doesn’t necessarily appear in the main story but all somehow relate to the story, such as how the characters from the main story arrived where they are. Once again these perspectives add information to the story, though not some obviously they become conspicuous as purely moments to shoehorn in plot, it’s a bit more like a short story within a story.
A way this might not work is if the perspective took us off on a narrative tangent that didn’t relate to the story as a whole, or they revealed something that had already been revealed by a main character and is therefore not something we couldn’t learn without them. People might say there are ways round that, and perhaps there are, such as showing a different take on something. However this is once again showing us something new. There are many instances in stories where key information is revealed from another character’s perspective on a situation. An example would be in crime films and television where we are shown events from a suspect’s view as they’re being interrogated and this teaches us something else about the situation. Once again we find ourselves back at single perspectives needing to enhance the story, not simply pad it.
My overall theory is that each narrator needs to earn their place in our stories by making our story clearer rather than adding confusion.