To Tell a Tale

I’ve done quite a bit of reading over the past few weeks. One of the books I read had an interesting dynamic with the Point of View (POV) in each chapter. (This isn’t a discussion on using the first, second or third person, but rather multiple POVS regardles of voice.) It gave me a moment to pause and think over how POV can be used to effect the reader’s role in how a story unfolds. It can be quite successful, but it can also add hinderances to the overall story.

(Now, I won’t be discussing George R. R. Martin here. He, in my opinion, is the undoubted master at weaving POV chapters. If you’ve read any of the Song of Fire and Ice, you will have noticed that every chapter is told from a different POV, and it slowly weaves a fantastic tale of the land of Westeros.)

The first thing that stood out to me after I finished one of the books was that the two main characters had developed in a clear way that I understood both. This was because the author alternated POVs for each character, giving us the insight into both minds as the events unfold. There is an intimacy that is enabled by this stylistic choice; however, it is that same level of intimacy that hindered the story for me as well.

Toward the end of the book, there is a critical scene that plays out and one character is unsure of the motives of the other. The chapter should be frought with terror. Yet, I found myself not feeling the level of terror that should be conveyed because I knew the other character so well from all the other chapters. It’s partly a great testament to the author’s writing that I never doubted the other character despite it not being from their POV. It’s part of the double-edged sword of writing multiple POVs in a story. An author can quickly lose the mystery and intrigue of not knowing what is going on inside the mind’s of the other people in the scene.

Another way the POVs can negatively affect the story is that there can be too much repetition in showing the same scene from the two characters. As a reader, you’ve already read that dialogue once, and seen most of the action. Getting the insight into each character’s mind isn’t always necessary. It can make the story become sluggish and stall at times because there isn’t enough new information to really jump off the page. However, there are times that a critical scene playing out from the varying POVs can really help the reader a larger picture. As a writer, you have to decide what is the best course of action for your own story. Again, it’s that double-edged sword.

Finally, the biggest thing if you use multiple POVs is that you clearly identify the changing of POVs. In a third person story, it should be glaring obvious when the narration changes from Jill to Jack, but if you write in the first person, to give the reader a chance to identify more directly with the character, there has to be a clear indication. If I were to read a chapter in the first person,and the main character is clearly identified and is developing a clear voice, and I move to a second chapter which continues using the first person with no indicator of a switch of who is telling the story, it becomes confusing. After all, Jill and Jack would have two distinct voices, but in the first person, it can be harder to immediately identify the difference especially if it’s when you are first meeting these two characters. It could easily be solved by dictating the character name under the chapter number, or simply devising a legend for symbols corresponding to each character. As a reader, you don’t want to be halfway through a chapter thinking it’s one character, only to learn that you had it all wrong, especially at the start of a story. Confused readers may decide to put down the book and not return, so we want them to feel that they aren’t missing a step.

I’ve written stories from single POVs to multiple POVs. Every story is different, and sometimes you don’t know what character needs to step forward to guide the narrative at every turn until you try it from a different POV. At least, that has been my experience.

Those are just a few thoughts to keep in mind when writing regarding POVs. Not everyone may agree with my opinions, but hey, we don’t all have to agree on everything. Questions? Thoughts? Comments? Please leave them below. (Also as part of my New Years resolution to keep at this better, I shall be discussing in my next post about some thoughts that have struck me as I have read The Dresden Files for the first time.)