11 Oct 2006

Point of view


I don’t want to start griping here about everything I read, but some writers annoy me because I know they’re better than what I’m reading.

Many writers don’t really understand point of view. I’m sure I will gripe about that some time. But one thing all decent writers understand is the need to decide on a mode of writing going into the book. Maybe you’ll pick a single point of view, which means nothing happens that is out of your main character’s perception. Maybe that’s too limiting, and you’ll go for multiple points of view. You need to know before you start, because if you write ten chapters in one point of view, then leap into another character’s head, your readers will be wondering why.

Maybe you’ll decide that you’re going to write in the first person. It can be very immediate, and very involving. Zelazny mastered the power of the first person novel. It makes for a great identification of the reader with the protagonist. It’s even more limiting than single point of view – nothing can happen at all that’s out of the protagonist’s awareness (although well-written single point of view should also be that way), and the reader has a sense that there has to be a “me” telling the story from the end, which is something of a spoiler, especially in a thriller. So it is easy to make the story predictable.

One of my pet peeves is the writer who writes in the first person, but introduces material from outside, in chapters or scenes which don’t involve the narrator. Patricia Cornwell did some of that, and it was an annoyance – until her books got too irritating for me to try to read them, so it’s no longer an issue for me. Stuart Pawson does it, and his writing is otherwise excellent.

Basically, if you can’t tell the story in the perspective you’ve chosen, you’ve picked the wrong perspective (or failed at creating the story), and mixing styles only proves that to your reader. If you’re writing a first person book, let the reader discover the facts as your protagonist does, not be privy to secret knowledge. If the material absolutely can’t be skipped, you need a multiple person point of view, and all in third person.

I like reading Michael Connelly. His thrillers are dark and moody. His protagonists are heavily flawed, at odds with the world around them. As he’s gotten more success, though, his writing has become a little more egocentric. Instead of keeping his series protagonists unique, he’s got them inhabiting the same world, meeting and playing off each other. And back into and out of the real world – where Clint Eastwood played agent Terry McCaleb in Blood Work, now Connelly has dragged the movie and Eastwood back into the book, with Eastwood attending McCaleb’s funeral… even pointing out canonical errors in the movie. It takes a lot of nerve to do all that, and it’s too jarring to ring true. But that isn’t my biggest problem.

Michael Connelly writes Harry Bosch books in the first person – and does a good job of it. He writes most of his other thrillers in multiple person point of view. When he decides to involve Bosch in another series, he really has two choices that would work: show the FBI (or whomever) from Bosch’s internal perspective, or add Bosch as one (third person) point of view to the other setting. Well, he does neither: Bosch’s contributions are still first person, and the rest is not, and it just doesn’t work. We’re trying to be Heironymous Bosch, but we know what he doesn’t know. We know everything that’s going on off-camera. Even from the mind of the villain wondering what Bosch is up to.

So, that’s The Narrows. I can’t say I’d recommend it. The Poet deserved a better sequel, and Connelly deserves a better (or more aggressive) editor.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 11th, 2006 at 9:17 pm and is filed under Writing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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