Points of View

In my current book project, I have a bit of a quandary. Although the same concern occurred in my earlier books, it didn’t seem to bother me much in those. Let me explain my dilemma.  In all my novels, I have an ensemble cast. There is not always an obvious protagonist. Instead, there are several important figures. Is that for the best, each person having his or her own story lines, and each with their own thoughts, feelings, and motives.  I like that format. It results in multiple plots and sub-plots, as well as assorted points of view for the reader to wrestle with.

But that brings me to my concern. Do most readers prefer a story told from one perspective, with one main character, through whose eyes the tale unfolds?  I think a lot of readers do find one narrator easier. And I admit, when I read, I find the single voice, usually first person, comforting. It’s just simpler, and it can be more engrossing, because I can more readily identify with the character and experience their struggles and actions fully. In such novels, the reader lives inside the mind of just one person, and after all, that is the way we live, of course, so why not experience life in a book in the same way?

Naturally, stories need more than one character, and these other figures can be people our hero encounters and reacts to in the course of his days. But part of what makes life and books interesting to me is what goes on inside other people’s heads. I like to write about what each is thinking. I think that is more interesting and more rewarding psychologically.  And I believe that kind of intimacy deepens the sub-plots, and enhances reader engagement. All those other characters are experiencing their own trajectories, their own story lines, and those stories need to be told. Being privy to others’ thoughts is fun and intriguing for the reader. Those thoughts just better be interesting or the reader will close the book.

All of the above is probably a long rationalization for writing the way I want to write, with multiple characters, multiple points of view and multiple plots. I suspect that’s why my books (so far) are over 400 pages long.

3 thoughts on “Points of View”

  1. If there is one character whose voice we hear, with one point of view, our sympathies go to that character…..with two different characters, sympathies would be confusing….I think of “Pride and Prejudice,” with one point of view, despite the variety of characters….i

  2. Hi Paul–interesting question. I think both the “single” (main) voice and the “multiple people” approach are both very effective, and the choice represents what you’re trying to accomplish and communicate. There’s no right or wrong answer. Contrast, e.g. a Shakespeare play vs a one man (or one woman) performance–if done well, both are entertaining. That said, there seems to be a trend in many television series these days towards multiple character dramas and comedies, with the “cluster of varying interactions” part of the apparent appeal (I’m thinking for example of series like “Big Little Lies”, or “Blood Line” or “Succession”, etc. I think you should experiment with both, without prejudice

    1. Thanks, Brook. I am drifting toward the single narrator approach, even, dare I say, possibly writing in the first person. I wrote a short story recently from a single point of view (though still third person) and readers found it engaging. I’ve realized that the single perspective has a kind of power that is difficult to duplicate when I jump from one character’s thoughts to another’s. But as you say, this latter approach is increasingly used in popular media, and I suspect I have been influenced by that. I do agree with you that both approaches have merit, so I will continue to experiment and hopefully grow as a writer. I need to finish my current novel project (“Empty Luck”) which is again multi-perspective, but then I would like to try something from a single perspective, maybe even first person. Thanks again for your comments. Very helpful as always.

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