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Author Topic: Using different POVs/styles in one book  (Read 6176 times)

Offline ScarletBea

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Using different POVs/styles in one book
« 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?
« Last Edit: June 08, 2015, 05:52:49 PM by ScarletBea »
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Offline JMack

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Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
« Reply #1 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.)
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Offline YordanZh

Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
« Reply #2 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.

Offline Raptori

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Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
« Reply #3 on: June 08, 2015, 06:24:10 PM »
I agree with @Jmack, 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.
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Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
« Reply #4 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 :-[
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Offline YordanZh

Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
« Reply #5 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". ;)
« Last Edit: June 09, 2015, 05:42:45 AM by YordanZh »

Offline Lady Ty

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Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
« Reply #6 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 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
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Offline Roxxsmom

Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
« Reply #7 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.

Offline Elfy

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Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
« Reply #8 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.
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Offline DrNefario

Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
« Reply #9 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.

Offline asabo

Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
« Reply #10 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.
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Offline Mark Lawrence

Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
« Reply #11 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.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2015, 10:40:48 AM by Mark Lawrence »

Offline cupiscent

Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
« Reply #12 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.

Offline Mark Lawrence

Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
« Reply #13 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.

Offline Roxxsmom

Re: Using different POVs/styles in one book
« Reply #14 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.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2015, 10:03:35 PM by Roxxsmom »