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Fantasy Faction => Fantasy Book & Author Discussion => Topic started by: ScarletBea on June 08, 2015, 05:49:18 PM

Title: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: ScarletBea on June 08, 2015, 05:49:18 PM
I was trying to find a place for this, but then had to create a new thread.
This has been bugging me for a few days, after I finished reading The Quick, by Lauren Owen, but only now I was able to pinpoint it and make some sense.

I'm going to ignore the story itself, the subject, and focus on the 'style', and what annoyed me.

You get the first 100 pages or so in a very specific style, a basic 3rd person limited written as a normal story, a set of characters, story development, etc.
Then suddenly you move into a diary. Notebook entries written by someone completely new, that we haven't met before. And then every few pages you get changes: there's normal story, there's this diary, there's flashbacks, there's action, there's introspective thoughts... and you only get back to the continuation of that first part almost towards the end.

I'm not against multiple POVs in a book, I quite like it - I even didn't mind the cast of hundreds that some people complain about Miles Cameron's The red knight. But this book didn't seem to have a coherent thread through them all, especially because they were all written in these different styles.
It almost felt as if she was trying to show how versatile she is, and how she can do all these different styles.

I enjoyed the book, don't get me wrong. But by being here in the forum I've been learning a lot about writing too, indirectly reading your posts, and your stories, and now I notice all these things and they definitely get to me.

At the end I read her bio and how she studied Creative Writing, and I said 'ta da!' Not that people who do write badly, but they almost always seem to feel the need to show off everything they've learned...

What do you think about using multiple writing styles in a single book? Do you have a limit of changes, either in style or character POV before it gets too much?
Title: Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: JMack on June 08, 2015, 06:03:27 PM
Well, William Faulkner wrote one of the great novels of the 20th century, The Sound and the Fury, with some drastic shifts in POV and narrative approach. But he's... Faulkner.

No, I generally dislike shifts in voice & tone. I had a hard enough time with Dreamer's Pool, when we go from the emotional minds of Blackthorn and Grim to the pedantic mind of the prince.  He was a bit of a bore for me, and I had to spend so much time with him! And the shift felt odd after we'd been with B&G for a few chapters by then.

In terms of the book (which I haven;t read), I'd say don't wait 100 pages to ring in your changes. If you're going to do it, establish that early so the reader isn't jolted. (Though I suppose if there was a really good reason for it... say, a diary is discovered 100 pages in, and now becomes an alternating voice in the story.)
Title: Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: YordanZh on June 08, 2015, 06:11:23 PM
A "Dislike" from me as well (having studied CW too :P ). Yes, sometimes it can work but it's very rare and very hard to do and it has to serve the story. If it doesn't, then yes - it's just showing off.
If it's something minor like - the first 45% of the book are in regular 3rd person, then 5% in the form of a diary, then the other 50% in regular 3rd person again and - once more - if it serves the story - sure, no problem. Otherwise - just no.
Title: Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: Raptori on June 08, 2015, 06:24:10 PM
I agree with @Jmack (http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/index.php?action=profile;u=37094), it's something that really needs to be done pretty early. However, I've actually read a book recently that experimented with that kind of thing a lot, and worked brilliantly for me - The Grace of Kings - so I'm not actively against it if it's done well. It plays with all sorts of different things, most often people telling stories within stories (like The Name of the Wind), but including an epistolary chapter consisting of a series of letters between two of the protagonists. It gave the book a more detached, epic kind of tone than what most novels these days aim for. Dreamer's Pool was fine for me as well, but not as good or varied as GoK.
Title: Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: ScarletBea on June 08, 2015, 06:31:11 PM
Well, I actually agree with all you've posted, and I also enjoy (a few) different tones/styles in books - but basically, as you said, it needs to be done well.
This time, it didn't feel like that, it felt disjointed.

Sorry Yordan, I didn't mean to be dismissive of CW courses :-[
Title: Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: YordanZh on June 08, 2015, 07:02:04 PM
Sorry Yordan, I didn't mean to be dismissive of CW courses :-[

A, pff, I completely agree with you - I studied there, I personally saw the arrogance springing from most of the "writers". ;)
Title: Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: Lady Ty on June 09, 2015, 01:42:11 AM
Some writing and perhaps particular genres can use different POV's and go back and forth a little in time and work well. One of the best and earliest detective stories The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins achieved this brilliantly with each section of the book being written in first person narrative by one of seven different people, who interacted with one another at different times.

There are many modern crime/mysteries that use the first person voice or diary of the killer or victim interspersed with the general omniscient narrative, in this instance, I'm thinking of The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill. It is  excellent, creepy and very disturbing because it spells out exactly how the killer manipulates and exploits the victims.  I actually dislike books that place you in a murderer's mind, and won't read them, but that book had me hooked and it was clever.

The big disadvantage is if written without care or overdone it detracts from following the thread of the plot or from understanding the characters and becomes annoying. I'm not keen on too many flashbacks in time either so a book as you described @ScarletBea (http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/index.php?action=profile;u=32020) would probably have put me off pretty quickly and I would give up unless someone I trusted assured me it was worth reading further.

I used to make a point of finishing any book I began,even if not enjoying it, but I've given up on that - too many excellent books and too little time. :D
Title: Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: Roxxsmom on June 09, 2015, 01:53:56 AM
Elizabeth Moon did this with the novel Speed of Dark (it's SF, not fantasy). The protagonist is written in first-person, present tense, and other viewpoints are written in a fairly distant third person, past tense. It worked for this story.

Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennet's Havemercy series is in first person with multiple pov characters. Each one has a very distinctive narrative voice, and characters who were support characters (or even absent) in one book might become the protagonists in a subsequent one.
Title: Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: Elfy on June 09, 2015, 01:57:09 AM
Larry Correia did it very successfully in Monster Hunter: Alpha. Some of the book was in first person and some of it was in 3rd, it also followed an entirely different character from the first two books in the series. He did something similar with the last book Monster Hunter: Legion, but it wasn't quite as well done as in the 3rd book. Rachel Caine did it in some of her Morganville Vampires books, too, but she handled it a little clumsily I felt.
Title: Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: DrNefario on June 09, 2015, 01:20:27 PM
There's an ailment I call shortstoryitis (this is why I'm not in charge of names) where a book feels too broken up and can't gather or sustain any momentum, so reads more like a short story collection*. I imagine that switching viewpoints, styles and scenes too often is a good way of suffering from this. It's a tricky one, though. Sometimes switching viewpoint or scene adds to the drama rather than undercutting it.


*This is Chronic Shortstoryitis. Acute Shortstoryitis is when there's a twist ending that isn't earned by the rest of the book/series and undermines the whole thing.
Title: Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: asabo on June 09, 2015, 04:03:01 PM
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver was fabulous. Each chapter is written from the POV of a different family member, including a 6 year old girl (or there abouts) The change from view point is amazing - going from child to angsty teenager to enduring wife. It really makes the book.

On the other hand, I read a book that had letters every other chapter or so. It was a vampire book and I can't think of the name of it. First of all the entire letter chapter was in italics, which my eyes really hated. So that put me in a bad mood. I remember thinking the book read more like a travelogue than a horror story and that it felt like it had a lot of padding. The letters were important clues, but I wish it had been handled differently.
Title: Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: Mark Lawrence on June 09, 2015, 09:29:57 PM
There are endless games you can play with PoV. I guess the thing is to ensure that whatever you do earns its keep and doesn't become a game for its own sake. Transitions can be jarring, so only make them when doing so will improve the story.
Title: Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: cupiscent on June 10, 2015, 12:46:45 AM
As with almost everything in writing, I like POV shifts and play when it feels consistent or at least planned (I like to feel like the author is in charge and has everything in hand). But when, for instance, the entire book is in first-person except for one pivotal chapter towards the end that's in third-person from a different character... that just feels a little careless and lazy, as though the author couldn't think of any other way to convey that information through the framework they'd established for the story.
Title: Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: Mark Lawrence on June 10, 2015, 10:41:17 AM
As with almost everything in writing, I like POV shifts and play when it feels consistent or at least planned (I like to feel like the author is in charge and has everything in hand). But when, for instance, the entire book is in first-person except for one pivotal chapter towards the end that's in third-person from a different character... that just feels a little careless and lazy, as though the author couldn't think of any other way to convey that information through the framework they'd established for the story.

That does sound like a bad idea, yes.
Title: Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: Roxxsmom on June 10, 2015, 09:57:12 PM
As with almost everything in writing, I like POV shifts and play when it feels consistent or at least planned (I like to feel like the author is in charge and has everything in hand). But when, for instance, the entire book is in first-person except for one pivotal chapter towards the end that's in third-person from a different character... that just feels a little careless and lazy, as though the author couldn't think of any other way to convey that information through the framework they'd established for the story.

I'd agree here, but I can't think of a single example of any novel that did this. I'm sure one must exist somewhere, but that's hardly reason to emulate.

I've read novels that had epistolary interludes (in this case, stories told through correspondences) at the beginning of chapters, sort of a story within a story. Two examples where it worked for me were when Robin Hobb did it with her Liveship Traders books, and when Glenda Larke did it with her Isles of Glory Trilogy. The reason these examples worked well, imo, is that the interludes were short, they had an arc or their own, and they eventually meshed with the main story. I think if they'd been chapters in their own right, however, it would have been more jarring.
Title: Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: ClintACK on June 11, 2015, 12:05:27 AM
I was trying to find a place for this, but then had to create a new thread.
This has been bugging me for a few days, after I finished reading The Quick, by Lauren Owen, but only now I was able to pinpoint it and make some sense.

I'm going to ignore the story itself, the subject, and focus on the 'style', and what annoyed me.

You get the first 100 pages or so in a very specific style, a basic 3rd person limited written as a normal story, a set of characters, story development, etc.
Then suddenly you move into a diary. Notebook entries written by someone completely new, that we haven't met before. And then every few pages you get changes: there's normal story, there's this diary, there's flashbacks, there's action, there's introspective thoughts... and you only get back to the continuation of that first part almost towards the end.

Aside from the lack of coherence, it seems like the problem would be getting 25k words into the story before the first PoV shift.  An earlier shift, even if the diary entry was total fluff, might make it feel a lot less out of left field.

The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time, book 1) goes about a hundred pages in 3rd-limited from one character's PoV before we start to get a chapter in someone else's head, and it feels jarring.  It rises naturally from the plot, as that's the point at which the band of characters is split up into multiple smaller groups geographically, but it still feels odd.  The whole rest of the series works in multiple PoVs, without any problem.  It's just jarring the first time because it comes so late.

In contrast, The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles, book 1) moves from 3rd-omniscient in the frame smoothly to 1st-person for most of the book with the main character telling his story to a traveling historian. The frame gets interspersed, but the change in PoV is seamless and natural.
Title: Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: Raptori on June 11, 2015, 01:09:38 AM
The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time, book 1) goes about a hundred pages in 3rd-limited from one character's PoV before we start to get a chapter in someone else's head, and it feels jarring.  It rises naturally from the plot, as that's the point at which the band of characters is split up into multiple smaller groups geographically, but it still feels odd.  The whole rest of the series works in multiple PoVs, without any problem.  It's just jarring the first time because it comes so late.
That wasn't actually particularly jarring for me actually, since the characters were all already familiar. If it had been a completely new character (or someone who had been minor up to that point) taking over then it would have been. Instead it just felt like a pretty natural progression, since the party had split.  :)
Title: Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: DrNefario on June 11, 2015, 11:54:02 AM
In contrast, The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles, book 1) moves from 3rd-omniscient in the frame smoothly to 1st-person for most of the book with the main character telling his story to a traveling historian. The frame gets interspersed, but the change in PoV is seamless and natural.
For some reason I really don't get on with the frame story in this series. I don't think it's to do with the change of POV, I think I just don't find the "present" very interesting. Although there is always more immediacy with first-person.
Title: Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: ClintACK on June 11, 2015, 12:15:50 PM
In contrast, The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles, book 1) moves from 3rd-omniscient in the frame smoothly to 1st-person for most of the book with the main character telling his story to a traveling historian. The frame gets interspersed, but the change in PoV is seamless and natural.
For some reason I really don't get on with the frame story in this series. I don't think it's to do with the change of POV, I think I just don't find the "present" very interesting. Although there is always more immediacy with first-person.

For me, the frame is more mystery clues and less good story.  It's the only part of the story where we have (maybe) an honest narrator.  The scene with the scrael lets us know he really is capable of heroism and monsters really exist, and the scenes with the bandits and skinwalkers show us he's not nearly as competent as in his stories -- but he expects himself to be, and so does Bast.  And Bast's presence tells us fae are real and he's involved with them.  And Chronicler demonstrates true naming exists.  That kind of thing.  Because there are almost certainly outright lies in the story he's telling -- and I keep trying to guess where they might be, and why.
Title: Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: Justan Henner on June 27, 2015, 11:11:25 PM
I use different styles, POV's, and even tenses in the same book pretty often. Not sure if it works, but I enjoy it.
Title: Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: Misty.Mikes on June 28, 2015, 05:49:55 PM
I have to agree with most of the people here.... POV shifts can work, but they need to be planned out, and in most cases, brought in from the very beginning.  Normally, sudden shifts of style late in the book annoy me, too.

But like just about everything else, if you can pull it off, it can work.  The example that comes to mind is The Help.  (Not fantasy, I know, but I couldn't think of an example in the fantasy genre). Most of the book is in first-person, jumping between three different narrators.  Then, there's a climactic scene at the end that suddenly shifts to third-person omniscient.  Yes, it's jarring.... But that's kind of what makes it work for me, because of the context.  You need the third-person POV for that scene to "work". 

It probably also helps that in the case of The Help, the technique is used very sparingly.  There's nothing else particularly unusual about the way the book is structured, and it's only a one-chapter diversion before returning to the original style that the author had established.  For me, it was effective.
Title: Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
Post by: ClintACK on September 03, 2015, 08:51:42 PM
The Martian used different PoV styles really effectively.

Most of the story is told in 1st-person log entries from an astronaut stranded on Mars.

In between, there are bits of "what's going on back home" as NASA and JPL personnel scramble to try to help him.  These are told in the standard 3rd-person perspective.