By Alex Raley
Very early in my writing fiction, POV jumped up to challenge me. There was a constant battle between us. There was a story to be told. Who cared from what head it came? Finally, truth began to rule: the reader gets thoroughly confused when many voices try to tell the story. If not a tower, a book of Babel contorts the story. The reader is left to sort out the confusion or to take to the shelves for another book if he doesn’t have an e-book reader. All this can leave the writer a Prisoner of Viewpoint, while being prodded by colleagues to control the POV. Do we give up or find a solution?
Dwight Swain suggests that the purpose of viewpoint is to get the reader into the skin of the character. The reader then sees and feels everything as the character does. This lets the reader become attached to the character. The bond that is established, whether of admiration or revulsion, drives the reader to stay with the story. Many writers are successful in telling the story only through one person’s eyes. This doesn’t mean that there are no other characters in the story, but they exist only as the main character sees, hears and reacts to them. Any interpretation of what is seen and heard from the other characters is in the imagination of the main character and the reader.
For many writers, secondary characters are as important as the main character. That presents a host of possibilities and pitfalls. I began a novel that is still in progress because I realized that the story would make no sense at all unless the reader knew the inner thoughts of several characters. After trying many approaches, I settled on giving each important character a complete chapter, actually several chapters for the two most important characters. One of the problems with this approach is to have a smooth transition from one chapter to another. This became my nemesis. I tried writing transitions which simply added unneeded words. The next try was to pick chapter titles that would indicate the point of view. Some novelists have done this quite well. I zeroed out.
Then I read Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, a 2010 New York Bestseller and Edgar Award Nominee. Franklin has two main characters. Each character has his chapter at the appropriate times. The chapters are simply numbered. Readers know in whose skin they are by the way Franklin jumps immediately into the chapter with the character in action. What does this say to me? Get in there and make each chapter do its part to tell the story and make each chapter interesting by itself,