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Friday, August 29, 2014
I recently reviewed a book by an indie author who was a
gifted natural story-teller. Her book centered upon a true, long-ago tragedy in a
small, tight-knit backwoods town. Unfortunately, I found
the story difficult to follow, because of frequent POV shifts, sometimes as
often as every few paragraphs.
There was usually a double drop between these
shifts, but she also had a habit of changing voice. Sometimes the new POV was
first person, sometimes third. Occasionally, I found myself stumbling from
first person to third person subjective, followed by bursts of the venerable 18th
Century third person omnipresent. Many of her narrators were unreliable,
and there were many, many characters, almost an entire town. Few were
well fleshed out. However, each one, Rashomon-like,
had a unique piece of information about the pivotal event.
As compelling as the story was, I’d have to say "thumbs down."
Her tale was interesting and important—and probably remains inflammatory, even years later. People probably still remember where they were
on the terrible day when a labor dispute went terribly wrong and police waded
into strikers and killed someone.
POV shifts are tricky business, even in the hands of more more skillful writers. If I’d been
her editor, I know our discussions would have been difficult, because she
clearly had problems making a choice about who the main characters were.
Although it might have created other difficulties in telling the story, the
loss of focus that resulted from all that switching around made my job as a
reader far more difficult than any author has a right to ask.
My diagnosis? The story hadn’t jelled when she
began to write. In her rush to get the inspiration down, to cover all the
bases, she created a huge maze of information and very nearly couldn’t unravel
it herself. A novel, (which is, after all, an artificial creation and not
reality) needs a core character(s) and a core point of view, a place for a reader to stand among
whatever whirligigs of narrative and event the author can contrive.
So, if you are thinking of finally writing “that book,”
definitely work out who/what/where/when before you get going. Laying the
groundwork, pouring the foundation, you might say, is the place where a writer
really ought to start.