Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Weighing in on POV

Vicki brings up a good point on point of view. Thinking back on it, things have been changing. It now seems almost de rigueur to have multiple POVs in crime novels. It’s somewhat worrisome, though, because I get the feeling that authors are doing this to be a la mode rather than using this device because their novel's construction demands it. Her second example sounds just like what I’m talking about. Obviously, this author couldn’t handle what she was trying to accomplish. I always feel that, if I have to be constantly flipping back in a book to find out what’s going on, the writer isn’t doing their job well.

Having struggled with POV to some extent, due to the fact that I seem to set myself complicated tasks in this department, I can sympathize. But I also wouldn’t try to do something that is just not working out. “Early readers”, the people one asks to look at a novel as it’s being worked on — something every writer should take advantage of — should certainly be able to point out where the shifting of POV is causing problems. Maybe in this case, the author didn’t use readers, but certainly the book’s editor should have seen it.

Like many things in writing, though, if you notice the particular device the writer is using, then it’s probably not being used well. I can’t put my finger on it at the moment, but I read a book a few years ago (one I didn’t finish, by the way) where the POV shifted between the three characters in a particular scene at least half a dozen times. It reminded me of being at a party where everyone is talking loudly. So much is going on, you are not able to follow any conversational thread. I put the book down shortly after. I also usually shut my eyes or get up for popcorn from the concession stand while watching movies that utilize those trendy, nausea-inducing camera effects.

Using too many POVs in a story also makes it difficult to really get to know the main characters — unless there are 20 of ’em. It may just be me, but one of the joys of reading is getting to know a few people really well, finding out what makes them tick. Mix it up too much and that can’t happen.

Lastly, doing anything because it’s “the thing to do” is something that always makes my antennae twitch and I immediately become leery. Maybe it’s just an overblown sense of contrariness, but I will immediately ask why is this so? If the answer is “everyone is doing it”, then I tend to disregard it. Just ask my agent.

Back in the days of E.M. Forrester, it was customary to have long descriptive passages, showing things in minute detail. I don’t think I ever read one of these novels without doing an awful lot of skimming. I also suspect that I wouldn’t have been published if I’d written at this time. Why? Because I don’t do long descriptive passages very well. I’m a dialogue type of guy. Don’t get me wrong. Forrester could write the hind leg off a mule. He was brilliant. Everyone says so. I just wouldn’t have been.

I suspect it’s the same way with multiple POV and moi. I just wouldn’t do it all that well — so why should I try?*


*This view is subject to change at any moment.


John Corrigan said...

There are a lot of great single-POV authors out there. Connelly's Bosch series. Robert B. Parker. And love the classics--Ross MacDonald, Chandler, Crumley. Am I old-fashioned?

Anonymous said...


Rick Blechta said...

John, I think that's what Anonymous is trying to tell you in his own, singular way.

Anyway, you're absolutely right. Connelly is one of the best of the current writers in our genre. But I also do get the feeling that single POV novels are now the exception rather than the rule, and I also feel that multiple POVs are being done more and more because it's "expected" and "trendy". As a raison d'etre, I don't think that's necessarily a good thing.