Thursday, 20 August 2009

Points of view

So I'm well into the throes of the new SF novel and, as alluded to previously, there are a lot of characters in it. The whole thing is written in third person from the various points of view of this multitude of characters, and I've employed the technique of having the narration reflecting the character it's dealing with at any particular time. I'm just beginning to wonder how sensible this is. With some of the characters it's almost indiscernible, given their similar backgrounds and motivations, but with others it's very pronounced. For instance, at the most obvious level, you've got American characters where the narration will refer to their pants, whereas if they were British I'd use the term trousers, or jeans or whatever.

Any opinions on this approach? Using such a diverse group of narrative voices is part of the joy of more non-traditionally-structured (like David Mitchell's Ghostwritten), but can anyone point out this type of approach in a novel with a 'normal' multi-character structure?

3 comments:

Tim Stretton said...

Kate Mosse does it--admittedly with only two viewpoints--in Sepulchre (and indeed one of the characters is American and makes exactly the language choices you describe). It can work very well although there is a fine line between pulling it off and self-parody...

David Isaak said...

I think this is common in principle. It all depends on far you take it.

When I do this, I let it depend on psychic distance. The distant, expository portions of the text are usually written in the voice of the novel, but the closer I get to the workings of the character's mind, the more the prose reflects the locutions of the POV character.

If there is no voice of the novel but only the voices of POV characters, then you might have written a multi-first-person novel pretending to be a third-person novel. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Neil said...

So that's what psychic distance means. I might have known you'd have a technical term for me.

You're right, David, there is a narrative voice, but I'm doing a lot more exposition than is usual for me, and I'm more comfortable with this in the tone of voice of the character. Probably why I'm noticing it more.