Wimsey cogito

Today's fic wittering

Let's talk about point of view today. I don't rise to the level of Jamesean obsession with it, but I do think that managing it is a basic craft issue.

I just wrote something, realized that hey, Giles can't know that, and had to rewrite to make the same point more obliquely. Because I am writing something that has established itself as pretty solidly in his point of view. I haven't pulled out to be omniscient at all, or dipped into Ethan's viewpoint at all. I haven't so much as done a "Giles failed to see the giant spider crawling up the wall" sort of thing. If Giles fails to see it, I cannot mention it. This late in the story is not the time to start breaking that implicit contract with my readers. If I had done something like that early on, while I was setting up the rules for the contract, I could do it now.

I think it's possible that the rules are in place by the end of the first page. You almost have to do everything you're going to do in the first paragraph or two.

I am not a fan of head-hopping, that is, point of view changing from paragraph to paragraph. Point of view shifts can only happen on section boundaries. And almost certainly shouldn't happen in short stories at all. I'm not even sure a novella is long enough to sustain two different points of view. Probably it depends on the novella.

I recently re-read "The Dead" to pay attention to what Joyce was doing with point of view. He doesn't follow my rules at all. It's more of a cinematic thing, where the camera moves smoothly through the house, handed from person to person, and eventually settles on Gabriel's shoulder. (Though of course Joyce wouldn't have had this metaphor for it.) But he doesn't volley it around, either: no ping-ponging.

Reader expectation and fictional convention also factor in. As a modern reader, I expect stricter control over viewpoint characters. I think of headhopping as a sign of ... well, a new writer.

Other opinions?

ETA: I think I'm being way unclear here. I do not object to shifting the point of view or having multiple viewpoint characters or anything like that! I think the important thing, to me, is that implicit contract with the reader I mention, about how you're going to do it. And yes, I confess, ping-ponging POV every paragraph or so does bug me. I will have to get more long-winded in a comment, or something. Or just go away and shut up. Sigh.
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Hmmm. I'm not sure I "head-hop" but I certainly explore what various characters are thinking. I tend to write instinctively and not examine too closely the mechanics. Not sure if that's good or not!

I've found a style and method that works for me - but you've certainly got me thinking. I'll look back at the Vulcan's Bane series, which is the most recent effort on my part, and see if I do headhop to extremes!
Smooth motion works-- shifting to another character at a natural break point.

I was kinda curious if the hopping bothered other people as much as it bothers me. It might just be me being cranky.
I like smooth. I don't like disjointed. I hope all mine are smooth anyway.

I don't think I've ever really noticed that kind of thing - I tend to be put off by bad spelling and bad grammar much more. Characterisation and plot are important to me as well - if that sucks then I'll give up reading.
The odd typo doesn't bug me, but grammatical errors and spelling errors in the first paragraphs get the big gong. Oy.

I have to have a sense of something going on in the story: that the author has a cool thing they're trying to tell me about, or has some neat approach to the characters. The "find out what happens next" tension can overcome a whole bunch of things I'd like to think of as writing sins. (Which means, perhaps, that they're not truly sins.)
Oohh interesting.

Maybe then if a writer can keep your attention on the story itself, so much so, that you don't notice the "sins"...then they've succeeded in crafting a "good" fic?
Yeah, that's the opinion I'm coming around to. If I'm reading avidly... when what the heck else is it but a winner?
I always feel like I'm coming into enemy territory when I visit your LJ....

But anyway, I'm much more receptive to multiple POVs than you are. In fact, it takes a strong writer's voice not to bore me with a single POV in anything longer than a novella, and I like shifts even in a short story. However, that's more my own taste for 'loose baggy monsters' like Dickens (or Zadie Smith's first novel White Teeth), or skilled omniscient/shifting POVs like some of Sayers' novels, or Austen's. (Lois McMaster Bujold can get away with solo POV a lot of the time, but even with her, I start figuratively looking at my watch -- when am I going to hear from someone else?)

Headhopping -- that's a term from literary fiction. I know in some genres (romance, for one) the writers do know there are other possibilities, but headhopping is not universally reviled there as it is in other genres. Different reader expectations, I suppose.


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Novels are long enough for all kinds of things to happen, and I would agree that more than one viewpoint character makes for more variety. Particularly in longer novels. But even there I think the rules get established early: you have to set up that contract with the reader as soon as possible. Probably by moving to a new viewpoint character at the first section/chapter break.

E.g., Murder Must Advertise which, if I remember correctly, opens & closes with advertising slogans, establishing that it's going to use the omniscient now & then. "Advertise, or go under." Gaudy Night stays close to Harriet, though I think it breaks away to Wimsey once or twice. (GN is not one I re-read often, though I re-read it more than Five Red Herrings, so my memory may be faulty. And why the heck is my copy of MMA not on the shelf with the other Sayers?)

None of this is anywhere remotely near head-hopping of course, which I cannot ever remember seeing in published fiction. I'm sure an example exists somewhere. I mostly read SF & fantasy, with a sideline in mysteries. Haven't ever dipped into the world of romance.
Example of head-hopping: Nora Roberts, who began as a category romance writer and expanded into bestseller mainstream/romance writing, still headhops from time to time. I stopped reading her stuff a while back, but she handled the shifts smoothly, as I recall.

Gaudy Night is in some ways sui generis for Sayers, because it is Harriet's novel. Have His Carcase, on the other hand, has Harriet POV, Peter POV, dips (if I recall) into several other POVs, and includes a theatrical dialogue. ;-)

But as what you like and prescribe as The Way is not to my taste, all is good in this wide, wide world, and I won't venture in again. :-)
I think I'm coming off as more prescriptive than I mean to be. I have a thing I do, and I'm not entirely sure it's the right thing.

Because I am procrastinating with extreme prejudice, I scanned over Sayer's masterpiece, The Nine Tailors, to see what she did with point of view. Because I did it quickly, I might have screwed up or missed something.

Section I has two chapters (called "courses"). The first chapter has three segments. The first two are firmly and clearly in Wimsey's point of view. The third segment opens with an omniscient-ish digression on change-ringing and the English approach to musical bells vs a Belgian's. The second chapter also has three sections, very unevenly divided. First is a quarter of a page; second is two pages. The third opens with a flight of omniscience about the bells, then settles into Wimsey again. Longest segment yet, and it carries the burden of setting up the history of the village and the theft before the War.

Section II, first chapter. Opens with a wide-angled view of the weather and the incoming spring, narrows to Mrs Venables. Hilary Thorpe is introduced, then the POV is transitioned over to her in our first mid-segment shift, thusly:
"Doctors oughtn't to go away," said Mrs. Venables, rather uncharitably. The Rector never took holidays at the greater festivals, and scarcely ever at any other time, and she could not quite see that there was any neccessity for the rest of the world to do so.

Hilary Thorpe laughed rather ruefully.
Then we follow Hilary down the church and up the ladder. We stay with Hilary for the remainder of this segment, and through the next short one. This one ends with a bit of omniscience: the specialist visits and speaks to Dr. Baines & to Hilary with different sides of his mouth. Then a segment with Mr. Venables.

Okay, that's probably enough to satisfy my curiosity.

None of this is fanficcy head-hopping, but it definitely moves more than I'd move it. And it's a little hover-y the whole time-- Sayers is one step removed from her characters in a way I'm generally not.