Saturday, August 28, 2010

My WIP has multiple personality disorder

I recently attempted to read a novel that presented a story from several different points of view. One chapter would show the action through the eyes of a banker trying to protect a young man. In the next, it would switch to describing the activities of the authorities trying to find the young man. Occasionally we learned of things that could only be known by the young man himself. I never finished the book. This does not happen to me very often. I found it just too difficult to keep track of who was doing what. This book was making me work way too hard.

Interestingly enough, in my WIP I am having a difficulty which would be overcome by telling the story from different points of view. The human characters in the Caribbean Adventure Series include a main character and his two side kicks. One of the sidekicks is a bossy girl who keeps butting in to tell the story from her point of view. After my experience with the novel mentioned above and having read the posts on Point of View by Shauna Roberts, I am determined to stave off my character's efforts to be in charge. I am the boss, after all ... aren't I?

I recognize that in the novel I recently tried to read, one of the problems is that the characters and their foreign names were too similar and so it was difficult for me to distinguish one from the others. I have read other books that have switched points of view from chapter to chapter successfully, although it still made me a bit uncomfortable. This discomfort is even more marked if I connect with one "narrator" more than the other.

Am I just too feeble minded to read books above a certain level of complexity? How do you feel about novels that purposely move between two or (heaven forbid) more points of views?

-- By Carol Mitchell
(Currently home in Ghana, but experiencing minor technical difficulties)


Phyllis Bourne said...

I'm reading a book with four point of views - all in first person, and it's fabulous!

As long as the characters have distinct voices, it can work.

I also think it's okay to let a character boss you in the first draft. You unearth some gold. And you can always crack the whip and rein her in later.

Charles Gramlich said...

I tend not to be that patient with fiction that is overly tough to read. There are a couple of reasons. 1). I read a lot of very difficult nonfiction for my work and I don't want to work that hard for my fiction when I'm relaxing. 2). frankly, fiction doesn't 'have' to be that hard. Take the book "requiem for a dream." If the writer had worked a little hard instead of showing out, the book would have been much more approachable.

Liane Spicer said...

I just read Charlie St. Cloud which switches back and forth between the POVs of the two main characters, and I enjoyed it. As with many other aspects of fiction, it all depends on the skill of the author. I've read other multiple POV novels that were a PITA to get through.

And yes, literary exhibitionism that makes the story difficult to read just annoys me. Story first, as so many have said.

Carol, can you e-mail me? Whenever I send out a group message using the contact info we have on file for you the message bounces back.

Jewel Amethyst said...

That reminds me of the movie "Traffic". It won, or was nominated for several Academy Awards, but that movie had so many points of view that I couldn't follow it.

At the same time I read James Patterson's Alex Cross series (yes every one of them) and he switches from one point of view to another. Sometimes he even switches from 3rd person to 1st person. But he makes it work. His books are enjoyable and I gobble them up.

It just depends on how it is written.

Carol Mitchell said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. I am finally back online! I think it is a little different for children's books. They are even less patient than adults.

Liane, I will send the message. Let me know if you get it and also let me know what message you are getting.

KeVin K. said...

Ghana? A place I intend to visit before dying. Been there before, but didn't get a chance to see it. My parents met there and lived and worked there for many years (he as an engineer, she as a writer/editor for Voice of America). They loved the place dearly -- though the Gold Coast of the early 50s they experienced was far different from the modern nation of today. I would have been born there if the State Department hadn't wanted to keep the source of small Americans secret and rotated my mother back home when she told them she was pregnant.

Allen Drury's A God Against the Gods is a good example of multiple first-person storytelling. It's the story of Akhenaten's divine rebellion with each chapter narrated by a different witness. Brin's Kiln People also does some interesting things with points of view. I generally enjoy a well-crafted story that explores narrative options (though I do not like present tense and novel-length second-person doesn't work for me). What I hate is slippery point of view -- jumping from head to head within a scene punctuated by jagged moments of omniscience. Way too much of that out there. One of my favorite bits of offbeat storytelling is the short story "Whatever you do, don't read this story" which is built around a narrative POV I can't explain without ruining it. If you come across it, read it.

There is nothing feeble minded about preferring one form of storytelling over another. I've been told I have no soul because I find opera annoying. And books I love leave my wife cold (and she's the brains of the team).

While I generally oppose the "let the characters tell the story their way" school of writing -- it never hurts to experiment with new and different ways of writing. Especially those that take you outside your comfort zone.

Carol Mitchell said...

Thanks, Kevin. If you get to Ghana in the next two years or so, be sure to let me know your plans!