Today I wanted to talk about viewpoint.
Yes, I can imagine you all back-flipping with excitement now, can almost hear the hisses of “Yes! Finally, she gets to viewpoint…” The joy is palpable. But I have some questions for you about it, and if you can bring yourself to read through this, I’d really like to know what you think.
I’ve been considering VP as I get deeper into The Steel Walk. I’m at about 16,000 words now, so perhaps you might say that I really should have thought about it before now, but bear with me. I have three main characters; Eri, Saul and Joseth. All three of them are deeply involved with the story and change throughout the course of the book; they go on “personal journeys”, if you want to put it like that, which I wouldn’t. Eri is the obvious(ish) heroine of the book, and Chapter 1 opens with a fight she is involved in, told from her point of view. Saul is at the emotional heart of the story, a boy going through a sort of “coming of age”, complicated by an evil family and a populace that wants him dead. He already has a number of chapters told from his point of view.
My problem is with Joseth. Technically speaking, Joseth doesn’t arrive in the story until the middle act opens and he meets up with Eri and Saul. I like Joseth, and I know him fairly well, although I won’t know him properly until I start writing him, which leads to the temptation of introducing him in the first part of the book; I’d quite like to know what he is up to before he meets the other characters, and I want to see things from his point of view.
My questions are; how many main characters is too many? Once Joseth comes into contact with Eri and Saul, will his viewpoint be redundant? After all, they will be travelling around together for the most part, getting into scraps together and having blazing arguments- how many VPs do I need of the same events?
Do you prefer books that see things from the perspective of one character, or do you find multiple protagonists challenging? I’ve been reading bits and pieces of Anne Mini's excellent Author!Author blog, which gives fabulous advice for those writers who handle a big cast of characters in their books (really, go read it. I’ve learnt some hugely useful stuff there) and it has made me look closely at VP and how I use it.
I know that in the end the likelihood is that I’ll have to figure this one out for myself, but I’m genuinely curious to know how people feel about this, or if they even think about it at all. My reading habits suggest I’m happy with any number of character VPs; two of my favourite authors, Michael Marshall Smith and John Connolly both write largely from a First Person perspective, which nails your viewpoint down to one immediately. I also enjoyed Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself which has, I think, three major viewpoints and a large cast of supporting characters. That’s not even to mention George R.R Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, that has… cripes, I’ve no idea how many main characters (they’re also some of the greatest books ever written, if you ask me).
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