Monday, July 27, 2009


Vicki here on Monday. Speaking of characters, as we have been, leads fairly naturally to Point of View. When I was in Los Angeles in 2007, I was at a talk by Robert Ellis (City of Fire). Ellis said that the single person POV was outdated.

After that I began noticing how the narration was handled while I read.

I don’t know if it’s just me, or the books I read, but I have noticed that mystery novels are increasingly full of different peoples' POV. I have just finished Careless in Red by Elizabeth George. There were probably 20, perhaps even more, different points of view. The main character, Inspector Lynley, had the point of view in perhaps 10% of the whole book. It worked very well – all those characters all had backgrounds and conflicts and character arcs. Of course the book was several hundred pages long, which may be why it worked so well.

The next book I read was Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir. Everyone and their dog had a turn at being the narrator. Even the cleaning woman, and the landlady, got to express themselves as they found clues to the murder. Did it work? Not so well, I thought, perhaps because in a short book there were too many narrators and there wasn’t time to develop them all fully.

The single person POV book seems to be becoming the exception rather than the rule. Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley is an excellent book in which one character only acts as narrator.

I have written both, and I think that it’s harder to write a whole book with just one persons’ POV. Like acting in a play perhaps, it’s hard to be on stage the whole time.

I can’t say which approach I prefer. And as always, the first rule of creating writing applies here – do whatever works for you.

Do you have a preference in narration styles in your writing and reading?


LABANAN said...
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LABANAN said...

Point of View - jeesh! Who gets to be boss? Whose view rules? I'm reading an old P.D.James right now and the pov changes so quickly I have to check it all the time to see who the heck is weighing in now. Then I might dip into someone like Sue Grafton - one pov all the way through. I like them both though for a quick and dirty read Grafton's style is easier. But not better. Elizabeth George handles pov beautifully as stated and she gives herself room to do it. By the way - her book on writing (the name of which escapes me) is fantastic. She is a generous woman!
In the book I'm working on now I have two povs and I had to print off the manuscript and divide it into the two narratives just to make sure they're doing their own independent thing. I think I like writing in more than one but not too many. If I need more views and the richer picture that develops I can put in more dialogue. I think the hard part for me is making sure the povs are distinct - not just with dialogue but with everything - what they notice and how they notice things, how they think about what is happening - both externally and internally. But hey that is also the fun. What if you only had one point of view character and part way in you found you didn't like him or her? Yikes. Like finding out your husband of six years is well...boring.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

As a reader, I don't like being in too many people's heads. I think that feeling has influenced my writing, too. Usually the reader knows what's going on in the sleuth's mind, and rarely in anyone else's. But in a mystery....that can be a good thing. We don't really need the reader to know what the suspect is thinking.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Jared said...

I am definitely (at least currently) in the single-voice camp. It's reflected in both my writing and my reading of late (Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson, Lawrence Block, Megan Abbott, Sean Chercover, Marcus Sakey, Charles Benoit). I think that from a mystery point of view, there's nothing better than finding out information along with the main character. This, of course, doesn't count people working as a team. But when you start seeing things from the criminal's point of view, we're including thriller elements, and obscuring the lines a little bit.

That being said, I'm reading the first book in the multi-pov series "A Song of Ice and Fire," which is going to pilot for HBO. And I can certainly see how the multiple character arcs work in relation to a serialized TV show.