Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Using Points of View with Restraint

As a reader, I have found that just as too many cooks spoil a broth, too many Point of View characters ruin a story.

Blame my revulsion on over-populated works of fantasy & sci-fi. The flat one-dimensional Point of View characters blurred together. I call them the "Never Ending Story with the Cast of Thousands." I'm talking about five or more volumes with dozens of characters and mind-boggling page counts.

I read one or two books, hoping the writers would either develop or drop some characters. Each book had a couple new, poorly developed, characters to track. I needed a database to keep track of them.

Frankly, it wasn't worth the effort.

One of the joys of reading is finding a character with whom one can relate. That's how I got hooked on 'Harry Potter', even though it is fantasy and YA, the story moved along with a limited number of engaging characters. I could deal with a few PoV shifts to other characters (Snape's subplot rocked!) – but I cared about happened to Harry.

My point is this: yes, it is more difficult to tell the story from a single PoV than it is to hop from head to head. As a result, the book is choppy, even disjointed. Worse yet, a PoV switch can destroy suspense instead of building it. Why expose the plot when you can have the reader biting their nails as they turn pages?

I'm going to plug "Writing the Breakout Novel" by Donald Maas, because he makes a lot of sense. Breakout novels have well-developed characters who have inner conflicts. Sometimes they're forced to do things they would never, ever do, in order to survive.

Breakout novels are carefully populated, each PoV character has their own subplot and story arc. Extra characters are combined creating plot twists. Think about it – take two random characters – combine them in your head. What will this 'combination' character do? How will they react to the conflict of the two roles? If this is not a PoV character, how surprised will the reader be when they discover the second role?

The first draft of "Lunch" had fifteen characters. The final version has nine. The number of 'roles' remain the same. I also cut two Points of View, and most of the third. If I keep in mind that mystery is what the readers doesn't know – then it becomes less tempting to 'tell all' in a story.

I have half a dozen unfinished books on my hard drive. I gave up on most of them because of a lack of plot structure, however most of them included shameless bouts of head-hopping. When I read the best of them, I notice how shallow the main characters are. They are blithely unaware of what's going on around them. Why? I wrote the scene hopping from head to head instead of requiring the MC to evaluate her surroundings or the people in her 'life.'

What a cosmic 'oops' that turned out to be.

1 comment:

Ms Kitty said...

This is a rework of a rant I wrote a long time ago. I have decided that rants don't work - even if they make me feel better - they don't get my point across like a carefully worded essay on the subject.