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A Post About Point of View

Today's post, "Point of View:  Single vs. Multiple," can be found at http://magicalwords.net.  Please visit the site and, of course, enjoy the post.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 5th, 2009 02:28 pm (UTC)
That's interesting, and I agree with many points, but I'm gobsmacked at the notion that omni can't get into thoughts. It can--and it has. For so long omni was the expected narrative voice, though the narrator could be hiding behind the action (Jane Austen) or intruding onstage to talk to the reader directly (Thackeray) but it always got right inside the heads of the characters.

Some modern examples of omni where we are right inside the heads is the work of Patrick O'Brian, and Donald Westlake also.
Jan. 5th, 2009 04:19 pm (UTC)
You're right, Sherwood. I shouldn't have been so quick to dismiss omni. What I should have said is that I find as a reader that I can't grow as comfortable with a lead character when POV shifts from character to character offering insight into everyone's thoughts and emotions. That, it seems to me, is what happens when omni is used carelessly, as it often is when the writer is not as skilled as the fine authors you mentioned. In the hands of a master, omni can be quite wonderful; I just prefer a narrative that has one character POV at a time, be it in the context of multi-POV books or a single POV. I should have phrased it better than I did.

Thanks for the comment.
Jan. 5th, 2009 04:27 pm (UTC)
You've got an interesting question there.

Worth throwing out there . . . if I can recover a modicum of brains (hit by the nasty flu hard this a.m.)
Jan. 9th, 2009 06:50 am (UTC)
Those issues come up in roleplaying games—which I classify as participatory fiction, related to standard composed fiction somewhat as an after hours jam session is related to the composition of a symphony. Of course, each of the players identifies with a specific character, and follows the story mainly from their viewpoint; that's part of the whole concept of "player character." But at the same time, I include tracks where only one character is present, and the other players get to witness their actions and their dialogue with secondary characters; I encourage players to reveal their character's personal viewpoints and beliefs through action and speech; and from time to time we have paused to discuss exactly what a character would be feeling and thinking under certain circumstances, and how they might express it. All of this seems to reflect an analog of omniscient narrator. And, in fact, there are other gamers who very strongly prefer to see things only through one character's eyes, and to spend the entire session "immersed" in that point of view, and object to being jarred out of it in any way. And I've gradually realized that my campaigns would be a difficult environment for them. . . .
Jan. 9th, 2009 01:43 pm (UTC)
Hmmm this does really seem to map over reading experience, doesn't it?
Jan. 9th, 2009 04:05 pm (UTC)
Jan. 9th, 2009 03:54 pm (UTC)
A very interesting perspective. Thanks for sharing. I like the idea of RPGs participatory fiction, and hadn't stopped to think that there could be different narrative approaches to character at the gaming level. Very cool. Thanks.
Jan. 9th, 2009 07:04 pm (UTC)
You're welcome. I actually have an essay on it, "Participatory Fiction," at www.troynovant.com, if you have any wish to see more. . . .
Jan. 5th, 2009 10:48 pm (UTC)
A lot of old-fashioned kids books are written in what I'd call omni light. Narnia, for example, offers both examples of the hidden and the intrusive narrator. I don't know whether a lot of modern middle-grade books are still written this way or not, but I would doubt it.
Jan. 5th, 2009 07:34 pm (UTC)
When you mention mystery as enhanced by a personal POV, I'm reminded of how well Gene Wolfe uses the single POV to develop the sense of awe and adventure out of his mysterious tales. I'm thinking of the Torturer and Calde series in particular which use a very hard single POV to great effect. I think it's worth the effort, and that interests me in your current project. But it also clued me in to another aspect in that the first of those tales is in the first person single POV, while the second is in the third person single POV.

I'm glad you brought up the whole POV question since it's been on my mind this past couple of days in a big way. I'm doing revisions on the current WIP. It's the first time I've used multiple POV in a story. Omniscient narrative was a consideration because the interactions between the main characters is often very confrontational, and the omniscient viewpoint would have made the story easier to tell. But this wouldn't work because I want to have two elements that would be impossible from that voice:

Firstly, I want to develop the a human realness to the characters by seeing the world through their limited view and knowledge. This takes some of the artificiality out of the strict hero-vs-villain confrontation, since all but the most shallow villains have no purer motives for their actions. In order to write this way, I am finding it useful to be able to to show the motivation and thoughts of one character at one point, then have another character's speculations regarding the first character help the narrative and plot tension along. Adding an omniscient voice would add a referee that I'd rather be the reader, not the writer.

Secondly, the element of what is not known is very important to advance the story. I want to show how political intrigue and ethnic conflict have a large element of ignorance, misunderstanding, and prejudice in them, and that these elements are important components in why the characters decide to act in the way they do. An omniscient narrator can describe ignorance of facts or prejudicial thoughts, but they are much better filled out from the position of the actor, in their own voice, and give the reader more freedom to identify elements from their own life.

It's been somewhat of a challenge. I find that it is made easier by adding a break between two lines of narration before taking up the next person's POV, even in the same chapter (like an ellipsis mark or three asterisks to let the reader know you are shifting POV).

But what I discovered in revision is that in a couple of places, the multiple POV became a "soft" multiple POV, where the thoughts and feelings of two characters were being described because they were in the same space and interacting with each other. I'm immediately wanting to "harden" that up to one of the two, but the softness of the POV actually carried the story more elegantly. Unfortunately, it gave the reader insight into the motivations of a character that I would like now to keep mysterious, so it must go back to single POV for that section.

On the other hand, I'm finding it impossible to tell the story in a strictly hard POV, so the POV is described in the third person, not the first. This is because the other challenge I'm facing is filling in the necessary historical background. I find it necessary to slip into a slightly distant voice in order to describe "the way things are", but I try to confine it to the limits of the memory or the thoughts/considerations of the character who is the focus of the current POV. I suspect it would seem artificial to do so if the "I" that kept shifting from one narrator to the next. It would read more like a courtroom transcript than a book.
Jan. 6th, 2009 01:30 am (UTC)
You raise lots of interesting points, Sizz. Clearly you've given these issues a good deal of thought. On the issue of "hardened" POV (as you put it) I feel very strongly that once I've established a POV for my narrative voice in a specific scene or chapter or section, it shouldn't soften at all. The narrative should never go anywhere that the character can't know. This doesn't mean that the POV character can't observe things to give hints to what others are thinking or feeling, but he/she can't know it for certain. That's my approach. But there are other opinions on this, and I'd refer you to a discussion of these matters at Sherwood Smith's blog today -- http://sartorias.livejournal.com.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )


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