Friday, September 30, 2011

Multiple POV or not? Why does it matter?

I've written here before about using multiple points of view, and all the things it can be good for. I love using more than one point of view because I love the way it can drive the plot by exacerbating the sense of misunderstanding at the same time that it lets me have special confidentiality with my reader.

But it is not always the right thing to do.

In the story I'm working on right now, there used to be more than one point of view. Why? Several reasons:
  • I like doing it.
  • I like alien point of view! It's fun!
  • I like knowing how all my characters think, especially my aliens. It helps me characterize them more effectively.
  • It helps my readers identify with my major characters
Ok, great. So I was rather dismayed when my critique partners said the alien point of view wasn't working. It was difficult to read, that I already knew, but the worst part was that it was giving away too much to those who understood it, and leaving behind those who didn't.

Not a good sign.

It wasn't until I took it out that I realized there was yet another reason why I should never have had it in the story in the first place. This story is called "The Liars." The main alien character, Op, is a "Liar." So obviously one of the main questions of the story is whether Op is really a liar or not, and what that means.

Putting the point of view in her head seriously weakened the story, because it answered that very important question right up front, thus taking away one of the major story drivers.

The minute I took the point of view out, I knew it sounded better, but the further I went into the revision, the more sure I became that the story was stronger. Now my human protagonists can agonize about whether Op is trustworthy or not. Now they can pursue her, trying to determine whether she is being truthful. They can distrust her. She can switch between being perceived as protagonizing or antagonizing. That uncertainty is doing wonderful things for the entire story.

If you're considering writing with multiple points of view, think about it from more than one angle. Not just "what readers need to know" but also "what readers shouldn't know." Ask yourself, "Does including this point of view serve the themes of my story?" "Does adding this point of view drive the story and make it stronger, or divert and dilute the story and make it weaker?"

These aren't easy questions to answer, but they are certainly worth asking.