Saturday, 14 March 2009

In which writers debate writing over brunch in March (part 1)

At our writers brunch today, we talked about a range of interesting writerly topics, including point of view (and how to select it), gender differences and how this might alter perspectives, the importance of 'savagely interesting' characters, the merits of prologues and the merits of subtlety. Hmm lots to discuss!

Point of view (POV)

Point of view is something I never thought I had trouble with, until last year one of our number stated that clearly I was writing omniscient after reading my first chapter. At the time I tried to hide my horror. Me writing omniscient? Good god, slit my wrists now. (For the non-writerly readers of this blog, omniscient is when the story is narrated from a distance, as though by an observer of events.) I have always believed I was writing intense third person (from within the head of a particular character), and to be told I was writing omniscient cut to the quick, because it meant I clearly had not mastered something I always thought I had.

Anyway, after discussing today (and confessing my horror) I believe now that the fault is probably only in the early chapters, where I was trying to fill in character backstory. As K quite rightly pointed out, one doesn't often sit around thinking about one's past in coherent fashion, which is what I had my main character doing in order to fill in details about her past. It's therefore more a lack of judgement, than POV error. Something I will review next editing pass. But, at the end of the day, maybe it doesn't matter if the first few chapters slip from time to time; I'm pretty certain that the rest of the novel doesn't have this issue.

The reason POV came up is because our newest member inquired as to how we selected POV. In my case, it was quite pre-meditated: I wanted to tell a story from the perspective of no more than two characters, and this set my limits. Others have multiple points of view, because it suits the story better. I think we mostly agreed that the POVs selected should feel natural, and shouldn't be enforced by authorial limits, but I confess I haven't approached my novel this way. This is where my engineering side comes out. I'm obsessed with balance, and the only way I think you can achieve this with character POVs is if you plan them before hand and keep tabs on how frequently you use them or switch. I have been known to do word counts for each character and plot them in excel to see what the balance is. I don't believe all characters should necessarily be equal, but I like the distribution to be constant across all POV characters across an entire novel.

to be continued . . .

1 comment:

  1. Waiting for part 2. :)

    I don't think there's anything wrong with a book that starts off somewhat distant in order to set the scene. In fact, the best piece of advice my mother ever gave me was make sure you've read chapter 1, 2 and 3 before you decide whether you're into the book or not.

    In fact sometimes that's easier to follow than a book that dives straight into the action.

    But, maybe my view is of no help, as I definitely do not represent the average population.