Status: Drafting the fourth book in the PERILOUS series!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pondering POV Again

When I first joined my critique group at writing.com, I discovered my biggest mistake as a novice writer: Point of View. I had written both of my novels in omniscient POV. One critiquer asked me what POV I was writing in. And me, being the stuck up English major that I was, replied, "Omniscient." (Duh.) "It's where the narrator knows everything and can reveal thoughts for everyone."

It turned out that the critiquer knew what omniscient POV was. She just wanted to make sure that was actually what I was writing in before she informed me that that POV style is archaic and unwanted these days.

I had a hard time believing her at first. I could think of many books off hand that were written in the omniscient POV. But I quickly noticed a pattern: all of these books were at least 40 years old. And none of them were YA.

My next challenge was deciding in whose POV should the novel be. That meant I had to pick a main character. Or, at first, several main characters.

Then I realized that most readers/publishers frown on having more than four POVs in one novel.

Or so I thought. After all of these theories and realizations were carefully ingrained in my head, I then started reading YA novels that had up to 8 different PoVs. One novel started out in the POV of a character that was killed two pages later, never to be heard from again in the rest of the series. Another novel stayed between three different POVs, except for four pages in the middle of the book, where it jumped to another character's POV. The character stayed, but we never, ever got his POV again.

Now wait a minute. I thought that wasn't okay. I thought readers/publishers saw that as 'author manipulation' or what not.

I took a chapter out of Perilous because it was a different POV than the rest of the novel. For only one chapter.

Why can some authors do it and no one notices? Or do we notice and say nothing? I didn't think these authors handled it any better or differently than any other author I know. It was just a POV, juxtaposed against the flow of the novel. Honestly, I thought the novel would have been better without all ten POVs. And it's not because I couldn't keep track.

What do you prefer?


Aaron and Emily said...

I don't know if I think it about too much unless it doesn't work. One thing I thought was strange, was reading Twilight series, and having the entire series in ONE POV until the last book. Then all of a sudden it was in 2. That was weird to me because it had been in one for so long, then all of a sudden she switched it. So then I kept asking myself "well what is Bella thinking," having missed that point of view.

Alexander McCall Smith switches his POV a little in the first ladies detective agency, but Usually it's all in one main character's POV. He just occasionally used some other major characters POV's, which I think is fun to get inside their minds occasionally. I definently think it depends on the type of story, and what is happening. There's not as much action and lot more thought in his books, so it doesn't throw me off.

I'm reading Percy Jackson now, and I think if I all of sudden hear from some other POV, I would think he was "cheating" to get some part of the story in that he couldn't another way. It seems that since we're always in one POV, it ought to stay that way. Although, I guess he kind of gets other POV's in using Percy's strange "dreams," so I suppose that's another way to do it?

You don't have to post my ridiculously long comment from a non-writer!

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I think your comment was great, Em. And I was wanting to ask you. Would you be interested in making a book trailer for me? If so, email me and we'll chat.

Kate said...

I prefer 3 or less POV. I think more slows the story.

Jordan said...

I'm a POV stickler.

I think the "right" number of POV characters depends on the information those characters have, how involved they are in the story, if there's any other way to get the info in there, and how key they are to the story.

The MS I'm polishing up now has two POVs. I had planned to include the villain's POV, but I didn't want to reveal that he was the murderer, and I felt like being in his head without revealing that was cheating the reader. Plus, everything he saw/did could be revealed through scenes with other characters.

The last MS I wrote started out with three POVs: hero, heroine and one of the villains. But I needed some scenes from the hero's friend's POV and some from the other villain's POV, so it ended up with five. I'm not sure if it'll stay that way--a lot of the POV sections are quite short because there was just one little thing I needed to convey from them at that point, and I didn't want to neglect other characters for too long (a lot of juggling!).

My big pet peeve is another thing you mentioned: using a POV character for a couple scenes late in the book only. If I need a character's POV, I want to see that character's POV by the end of chapter 3. If they're not necessary or interesting or whatever as a POV character at the beginning, using them at the end feels a little too "convenient."

But sometimes it seems like the biggest thing that determines what you can and can't do in POV is how many books you've already sold ;) .

SB said...

I am not sure of my opinion here - but like the post and the fact that you are spending time thinking about it. I think your intent should motivate what pov(s) you decide to use.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

Kate--I think I can handle four or five comfortably. but that one book I read--sheesh! Everyone got a turn, and sometimes for only a chapter!

Jordan--yeah, that's pretty much exactly what I'm talking about. I really don't understand why a more published author can get away with it. Most readers who aren't writers really don't care. They don't even know what they're reading. So it's not like they're going to care if a first-time author has multiple POVs versus a many-times published author. I would daresay most readers don't have a clue how many times the author of the book their reading has been published! I had important information that i simply decided not to share because I couldn't figure out how to get it into the POVs I'd chosen.

SB--I think most people have no opinion on the matter. That's part of why I wonder why it's so important to a publisher.

Jay said...

Tamara - this was the big light-bulb moment for me too! When I joined WDC and the YA group, people focused on POV, and I had written everything in omniscient. Reviewers asked - "This is 3rd person omniscient. Do you know what that is? Is this what you intended? Because..."

Huge learning experience. And now I'm having a blast in first person.

Dominique said...

I don't know if I would describe omniscient as 'unwanted.' I know I've seen at least one book lately that was written in that style. I would like to think that any book, well-written, would not be rejected solely because of its POV. Though, I do think that POV is uncommon in YA, which might be an issue for readership.

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