I was reading a lovely post on Points of View by my friend Nat Russo and it occurred to me how easy it is to tear apart a book – and writing in general – in our effort to improve our craft. Since deciding to become an author, I’ve studied countless books, posts and articles on writing. Most focus on a single aspect at a time. For example, I benefited a lot from Rayne Hall’s Word-loss Diet and the rest of her great Writer’s Craft series.
However, while studying as hard as I could, I also struggled to find my voice – or, rather, not to lose it. You see, I feel that we are all born with it, but school, university, courses, books etc. drown it out. Some of these influences resonate with us, enriching our voice, and these are the ones we should embrace. However, others feed our fears instead, thus muting our voice, turning our writing into well-polished boredom. Learning to recognize which is which is a daunting, lifetime effort.
We are taught that successful books are true ones, then are taught how to mimic someone else’s writing. “Don’t use adverbs, don’t use passive voice, don’t start a sentence with the -ing form…” How is that supposed to work? Learning a technique is great; learning a structure can be very useful; learning how to set up a scene can be marvelous. Unless in the process we end up destroying our voice, turning into a mere copycat. It takes great care – and a masterful teacher – to combine the two successfully. We are taught various different techniques, and are asked to practice them, when in fact we often already know what and how we want to write.
Some editors are like that, too (and traditional publishers are the epitome of that). They will forbid you from using passive voice, even when your voice tells you that’s the perfect sentence for you. Or adverbs – what’s with their hatred of them? Sometimes I feel like I’m asked to write with one hand tied behind my back. I love the English language, which is why I write in it. If I have to cut off half of it and throw it away, how can my writing be complete?
That’s why I approach courses with great care (and, indeed, have been kicked out of one). I like to hear the teacher’s point of view, but not necessarily implement it. Sadly, most courses actually grade students, which means we regress to our conditioned response of striving to please the teacher, when in fact we should be trying to feed our soul, freeing it from all foreign influences that do not align with who we are.
One of the reasons I love Indie authors so much is that they’re closer to their inner voice, unfiltered and amateurish as their writing may often be. I prefer an original, awkwardly-written book to a perfectly well-polished cliche. But maybe that’s just me.
To return to Nat’s post, it made me reflect on my own writing. I use an unusual variation of the third Person in Pearseus. Every chapter is from the point of view (PoV) of a different character. So, one starts from the point of view of Lucas, then moves on to Croix, then back to Lucas etc. In each chapter, we only share that character’s experience, but – and here is the trick – I never change PoV without changing the chapter, too. Having a plethora of characters, I find this technique makes it easier on the reader.
Some readers have found it confusing, and that’s OK. I respect that. But I won’t change it. I prefer to focus on those who love my writing, judging by their feedback. Interestingly enough, an unexpected side-effect is that most chapters end up being pretty short. This gives the book a staccato rhythm I find appealing, and allows me to build up tension nicely.
So, by listening to my voice in choosing my PoV, I ended up influencing my pacing, thus proving that a book should not be broken down to individual parts (pacing, writing etc) like prying an insect apart, but is best conceived as a multi-faceted unit.
Hopefully, one written in as close to one’s voice as possible.
I write the way I talk. It’s not always a good thing, but it’s the best that I can do. I have no knowledge of grammar and punctuation, having been taught a method at school which is greatly at variance with how it’s done now. So I do my best to punctuate it so it reads the way I’m saying it in my head.
I love that! People who write as they talk, I mean. It’s my favorite kind of writing – so fresh and spontaneous! The irony is, it takes a lot of work to make it thus!
For romance writers like me, POV options are somewhat limited, therefore, simpler. It’s either a first-person POV of the heroine throughout the book (usually in YA and NA novels), a first-person POV alternating between the hero and the heroine (that’s a bit tricky), or a third person POV of both the hero and the heroine, which is the most popular option—change of POV only when a chapter or scene changes. However, some indie authors opt for the Omniscient, which at first felt strange to me, but if it’s done well, it works out well.
As far as your writing is concerned, I feel that the multi-POV separated by chapters is the best way to go. It’s never tiring, it keeps the pace brisk, and since you delve into philosophical issues, it’s the only way to round these up and explore them from different angles.
Great post as usual!
I wonder what would happen if a romance broke the genre conventions, say by writing in multi-POV. Would the resulting book be successful, a breath of fresh air, or would it alienate its target group?
In romance, if a person has a POV, she must also have a love interest, so the only way for a multi-POV romance book to work is for it to present more than one love stories—not unprecedented but in danger of spreading itself too thin. Unless all characters are involved in the same love story in which case the book will have its own niche market with very dedicated readers, so no alienation there… 😉
I had to smile at the way you put it: “In romance, if a person has a POV, she must also have a love interest.”
I’m sure you’re right, but that’s what I’ve been writing (indirectly) about: who makes up these rules? Why *must* a person with a POV also have a love interest? What happens if we decide to ignore some of these rules; do we end up making fools of ourselves, or do we enrich our respective genres?
I’m intrigued by the possibilities, although I’m still too new at this to risk breaking the rules. Maybe in a couple of lifetimes, I will try it, though. 🙂
Reblogged this on New Author -Carole Parkes and commented:
What do other writers think about this article?
I have also used the same writing method as you in my first novel. Each chapter is written in the third person and is the PoV of one of the principle characters. The first 5 chapters are the heroine’s PoV so the reader is well into the story before I bring in a sub plot in the PoV of another character (heroine’s best friend). The sub plot covers a short chapter 6 and then it’s back to the heroine for chapters 7 to 12. Chapter 13 to 19 are in the PoV’s of three principal characters, already introduced in previous chapters. Chapters 20 to 26 are the heroines’s PoV again. This method just seemed to be the natural way of writing the story, and the story was written long before I’d heard of all the rules and regulations we are supposed to follow. It worked well for this story and so far, no-one has criticised this style.
That’s a great way of doing it. Some have suggested I take more time to introduce new characters, by having the same POV for a few chapters at a time. I prefer the brisker pace of changing them on each chapter, but I can see the appeal. So, it seems that you’re doing it better than me! 🙂
Not necessarily; I guess it all depends on the story.
Fair enough. Even for the same story, what works for one writer may not for another.
That is so true.
I often combine the two of you in my mind by accident, since I met you at about the same time: Nat Rossis. LOL
Lol – that’s a great compliment for me (I love Nat’s writing), but unfair to Nat! 😀
As Nicholas is far better looking than I am, that is quite a compliment! 🙂
You smooth talker, you! 🙂
I am Switzerland for this argument!
You mean we should have you judge a contest? :b
only if you want a tie every time!
If you are going to have multiple POVs, then I think the way you’re doing it is quite effective: switching between chapter breaks. I always find it really jarring when a POV switches with no real break, but such writing does seem pretty common, particularly with the amateur writing I’ve read. I’ve seen the switch happen with no break at all, inside a single paragraph! Gives this totally disjointed feel, and makes me wonder if these writers are even paying attention to what they’re doing.
Definitely don’t let the readers who are confused by it discourage you. If you follow your voice and write honestly—writing without trying to appeal to what is expected or what is popular—then it’s simply a matter of the right readers finding you, not you adjusting how you write to appeal to the wrong readers.
I love that thought, thanks for the great comment!
I’ve seen submission guidelines that read “New authors may only use one POV; we may consider a second from authors we’ve worked with before.” How can anyone ever innovate if we’re all stuck following the same rules over and over again? Granted, some of those rules exist for good reasons. But others, I think, come from a fear of taking risks. Twenty years ago, no one would have dreamed of making television shows about drug manufacturers and serial killers – but look at how viewers respond to those subjects now. No, I think it’s up to the individual author to decide what’s acceptable in pushing the boundaries of writing and creativity, and, for better or worse, that means not silencing the inner voice.
Well said – I couldn’t have put it better myself! It all boils down to a fear of trying out anything new. I’m sometimes reminded of the snobbish way the establishment greeted Impressionism in France.
I’ve always had a very casual writer’s voice. When I try to flourish my language with superfluous wording, it becomes that cliché you mentioned. It doesn’t feel quite real. I’m with you. The natural, simplified voice is a better way of telling stories than the beautifully worded clichés more often than not.
Hi Emily, many thanks for joining me here, and for your astute comment.
Like you, I have a casual approach to writing. I once compared it to painting like an Impressionist, rather than an Old Master, preferring to sketch out and imply, rather than go into detailed descriptions. Not that there’s anything wrong with the latter (my friends Frostie and CJ Heath are great at it); it’s just not my style.
As a result, whenever I’ve tried my hand at lyrical descriptions, they invariably come across as forced and stilted. Lesson learned! 🙂
Nothing’s more fun to read than some good casual prose. The more sarcasm and dry humor, the better. Personal preference, anyways 🙂
After my years in Edinburgh, I’ve come to love that. The drier, the better!