This has been a busy holiday reading season. Christmas week I read Karen Harrington’s Janeology, a novel that blends suspense, legal thriller, and family drama into a compelling investigation of how the past influences the present. Today, I started Joe O’Connell’s Evacuation Plan, a novel about hospice care.
Both these novels share something in common with the novel I finished reading last week — William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying — multiple points of view.
All three of these novels give each of their main characters a voice without breaking up the main narrative line. They are complex narratives, without being complicated.
Point of view has been an obsession of late, largely because I’m revising my novel, which shifts point of view. In some of the chapters, I made the beginner’s mistake of shifting point of view in the middle of the narrative without breaking the shift into either a new paragraph, chapter or segment within a chapter.
Writer Josip Novakovich in Fiction Writer’s Workshop reminds me of why it’s good to avoid abrupt shifts in point of view: “. . . [T]his switch jars us . . . . Conventionally, when you switch from the thoughts of one person to the thoughts of another, you’d start a new paragraph or more often, new chapter. Otherwise, your narrative will be jumpy.”
Of course, some writers — Virginia Woolf in To the Lighthouse, for instance — can shift point of view with such finesse, you hardly notice it.
I’m not at Virginia Woolf’s skill level, yet. But, I tend to like giving voice to the main players in my fiction, especially when they are key to the narrative line.
I also like reading fiction with multiple points of view. There’s something satisfying seeing how different characters interpret the same event.
Editor’s Note: This post has been written as part of Sunday Salon.