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Pondering narrative structure

[NOTE: I'm still aiming for blogging semi-faithfully. I think the key is using this space to ponder & be random--which is what I first used it for. Any & all are free to comment, ignore, etc. I read all comments.]

Every so often, I see remarks about books (including my own) on the difference point of view and "head hoppping."  Head hopping could be multiple point-of-view (my preferred way to write), but more often it means an unspecified narrator who has the ability to be omniscient (know all characters thought & feelings at once). I think there are benefits to both--and to various other types of narrative structure. Right now, I only enjoy writing one way: 3rd person, past tense, with multiple limited point of view narrators. Most days if you ask why I write, my answer boils down to point of view. What I like about stories is that hazy space between voices, the sense that truth in stories is completely impossible because all stories are told via subjective stance.

Why I write so many povs . . . I write because who tells matters, because who doesn't tell matters, because several tellings change everything. I don't know if absolute truths exist. In the real world, we have the illusions of truth. "What happened?" is a question that can only be answered from the voice we possess. Our voice is filtered through our beliefs, our experiences, and the physical space where we exist. It's filtered through memories . . . which are further filtered by emotions . . . and by any number of factors.

When I write a book, I choose several characters with disparate experiences, conflicting motives, and the story is left to unfold through those narrating characters. If the chapter is in Kaleb's point of voice, the emotions are filtered through his world-lenses. HIS opinion of the other characters is what conveys.

His chapters are in his head. Other chapters are in other characters' pov. Multiple pov is the narrative structure that makes sense to me (& yes, in my personal belief structure I'm pretty wide-open as a result of this).

One thing that I sometime do is rewrite scenes in several characters' pov. Over on my website, I have posted a excerpt from Radiant Shadows that is originally in Ani's pov (ie in the book it's in hers), but I rewrote in Irial's pov. It was helpful to me to see what the same exact events and words mean when in different skin. 

The difficult part is that in doing this it's always pretty clear that there are very few villains. In most cases, if we understand the villain's pov, we might realize that they're not as bad as we think.  This is why I never wrote Beira or Bananach's pov in the WL novels. It's why when we see Keenan through Leslie's eyes he's a lot less good than when we see him through his pov OR through Donia's eyes.  It's why Seth looks so perfect in Book 1, but by Book 3, we know he's NOT. In that first book, we saw him through others' gazes--a girl who loved him, a faery who admired him, and a faery king who saw him as a threat.  

I'm not interested in "head hopping" in the sense of an omniscient narrator, but I'm rarely content with the idea of only one narrator. Maybe a story will present itself one day that requires omniscient or even first person, but for now I'm happy writing multi-pov 3rd but reading the other types of books .  



( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 9th, 2012 12:48 am (UTC)
I only enjoy writing (and to an extent reading) third person past tense. I can occasionally read first person, and even present tense, but the story has to be really good for me to be able to enjoy it. Third/past to me is the most logical way of telling a story. We are seeing it unfold several moments after. Real people don't talk in present tense ("I walk to the store". No. "I walked to the store") except in certain situations. My favorite thing with writing and reading is to see how interactions between people cause things to happen. If I switch between who is my third person focus, I try not to do it within scenes, because that doesn't flow nicely, at least for me. If we are seeing how Person A is reacting to Person B's past, I don't want to know what B is thinking. I want to see it all from A. B can reflect on it later, but not at the time. Not knowing every character's motives all the time helps keep the mystery in a story. /giantcommentofdoom
Mar. 9th, 2012 01:00 am (UTC)
*nods* I almost always keep a chapter in only one pov. It's cleaner, BUT I do like to pick up some pivotal scenes in a second chapter in a diff pov. I love seeing the conflict btw how two people view the same event.

PS "giantcommentofdoom" made me smile so widely! All I can think of is Invader Zim and the "jolly boots of doom."
Mar. 9th, 2012 02:11 am (UTC)
One of the best examples I've ever read of an omniscient POV is Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow. One of the worst, most grating examples was Frank Herbert's Dune.
Mar. 9th, 2012 02:30 am (UTC)
As a reader, I love it when I get parts of the puzzle from various POV characters--where maybe *I* know what really happened, but maybe none of the characters fully do. It's a clever bit of writing, and something I don't think I could ever pull off. But it feels like a bit of magic to read.

Omniscient, on the other hand, mostly doesn't do it for me. I'm not a fan of headhopping.
Mar. 9th, 2012 06:11 am (UTC)
Thanks for posting this. I usually write in first person, single POV, but I have a story in mind that will have three MCs, and I've been trying to decide between an omniscient narrator and multiple limited POV. You have swayed me to multi-POV. I'm now excited to start digging into those specific characters' different viewpoints of the story.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )