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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

by Michelle Gagnon

Today I'd like to discuss multiple points of view, or what I like to call too much of a good thing. I'm currently working on a Young Adult novel with six characters. Initially, my goal was to give each character a voice in the story. I wanted to try and jump around between them, maintaining a close third person throughout (which tends to be my default setting for novels).

But it's just not working. Fifty pages in, it's a big mess. The problem is that when you see a situation from too many perspectives, it tends to get muddied, and not in a good way. The voices lack clarity, and the story becomes convoluted.

It's funny, because I've done something similar before and never had this problem. But what I realized was that in other books, some characters enjoyed the vast majority of scenes, while the reader only saw through the eyes of others for a few critical pages.

With my latest book, that approach hasn't been working. I've been forced to acknowledge that I need to narrow the field, staying inside the heads of a handful of my cast of characters. The rest can be seen through their eyes, but leaping into their minds is too jarring.

Most Young Adult novels are written in first person. That always helps the reader connect with the hero or heroine immediately on a base level. A first person POV wouldn't work with my particular story, but I can see the appeal. It would be far easier to stick view everything through one character's eyes. The alternative can be far more complicated and challenging.

Adding to the issue is the fact that this is intended to be a shorter book than some of my others, weighing in at a mere 50,000 words-which doesn't provide much room for character development in the first place. Harder still if I'm bouncing around every few pages between my motley crew.

My last book was comparatively easy, with only two characters to play off of. I'm feeling like I set myself up for a fall with this one, but at this point I'm far enough along in the story that I'm loath to start cutting people out of the novel.

So when it comes to telling this particular story (and really, any story), here's what I've arrived at:

  • Keep it simple. If you have a large cast, select the three or four main players and stick with them.
  • Your weakness could be a strength. The characters whose heads you don't peek inside could be hiding something specific that will affect the outcome of the story. Staying out of their POV can add to the mystery.
  • My editor suggested trying an omniscient narrator, but I tend to find that off-putting. I might play around with telling the story in alternating third and first POVs, however, to see if that helps resolve the problem.
I'm open to any and all other suggestions, though.


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