Saturday, August 25, 2007

Point of View

I've been thinking a lot about point of view the last few days as I struggled to finish the mystery novel I was reading. Part of the problem, besides the historical inaccuracies and the generally uninteresting mystery, was the point of view shifts that the author employed.

Most mystery novels are written in the point of view of whoever is investigating the mystery, whether from third person point of view or third person point of view. Occasionally, in novel, you might have sections narrated in third person from the point of view of the killer. Carole Nelson Douglas used this to effect in one of her Irene Adler mysteries. Part of the reason most mystery novelists stick to one point of view is that the reader knows just as much as the protagonist does about whodunnit. Clues are revealed to the reader as they are revealed to the detective.

Well, in this novel, the point of view jumped from the first person point of view of a young doctor interested in psychoanalysis (did I mention that Freud, Jung, and Abraham Brill were characters in the novel?), to the point of view of a whole host of other characters including a young police detective, a young victim of the killer (who turned out not to be a killer), Freud, Jung, another doctor who was minor in the story, the coroner, the Mayor of New York, the mother of the victim, and the wife of another character.

That would have been enough but at one point the author switched from giving us the Stanton Younger's thoughts in the first person to telling a scene from the third person point of view, but it was still Stanton Younger who's thought's we were privy too.

After awhile all the point of view shifts from first to third to all these different characters was driving me nuts. Personally I would have preferred it, if the author had stuck to either the first person point of view or third person. As it was, the mystery portion of the novel at certain times took a back seat to the struggle over whether or not psychoanalysis would ever get a foothold in this country, which was interesting but it kept stopping the story cold.

Since I've been writing my romance novella, I've very conscious of whose head I need to be in for a scene. One rule of thumb that I've always adhered to is who has the most at stake in the scene, hero or heroine? And written my scene accordingly.

Of course there are some writers who can head hop in the middle of a scene. Nora Roberts is quite brilliant at this, but not every writer is capable of pulling it off. That's why it's great to just do a scene from one character's point of view. And then if necessary, start the next scene, with the other character's reactions to what happened in that scene.

I think it takes a lot of experience to jump back and forth between first and third person in a novel, and this writer just didn't have the skill to pull it off.

EKM

2 comments:

cdouglas said...

"Most mystery novels are written in the point of view of whoever is investigating the mystery, whether from first person point of view or third person point of view. Occasionally, in novels, you might have sections narrated in third person from the point of view of the killer."

Usually the suspnse novel uses the killer's POV more often than mysteries. That's because traditional first person POV is limiting. Which is why I expanded my later Irene Adler novels to multiple points of view, sometimes with "diaries" or writings to maintain the historical feel.

"Carole Nelson Douglas used this to effect in one of her Irene Adler mysteries. Part of the reason most mystery novelists stick to one point of view is that the reader knows just as much as the protagonist does about whodunnit. Clues are revealed to the reader as they are revealed to the detective."

In my Midnight Louie feline sleuth mysteries I combine the classic detective novel first person POV (in this case first-person-feline PI) with third person POVS from four major human characters. And since this is a long-runing series, even some secondary characters are getting brief POV sections now.

Using multiple points of view can be tricky, yet rewarding. Mary Higgins Clark made her career on very short sections with dozens of POV characters, many of them incidental, but all adding up to a more complete picture of the plot and its tensions.

P.S. A member of Sisters in Crime writing organization tipped me off to the Google alerts feature that looks up key words all over the Internet, which is how I found Elizabeth's blog. Fun! Good luck with your writing, Elizabeth. I'm a Scorpio too!

Carole Nelson Douglas

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Thanks Carole. I love your Irene Adler books. I keep hoping some intelligent producer will option them for the BBC!