Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Boiling POVs

The book I'm reading is an enthralling story.

There is one thing I wish I would've figured out sooner, though. And that one thing points out a reading flaw I have.

If you've followed this blog at all, you know I read prologues, epilogues, acknowledgements, even the page that has the ISBN number on it.

I know, from memories lodged in my brain, that I have in fact read the little beginnings of chapters that show different locales, or character names to indicate POV. (I also remember that chapter titles can bug me if there isn't an immediate or strong tie-in, but that's another topic.)

What I wasn't following very well with The Seige by Stephen White was the little chapter beginnings that said Friday morning, Saturday mid-afternoon, Saturday late afternoon. Until they started bouncing around a bit, I just assumed we were going in chronological order. Imagine my consternation until I figured it out. A bolder, in-your-face font might have gotten my attention. Maybe. Just something to think about should I use this technique down the road.

But that's not the main thing to learn from this book.

Have you read it?

The main thing—the most striking thing—is White's use of first-person, third-person past and third-person present. And a couple of quick POV shifts for a sentence or two mid-scene. And most of it works. Even though I'm aware of it happening. Normally, I would be kicking up with a bit of a tantrum. A Cranky-Writer-Rule-Speak pout. But in general, White pulls it off. (Except maybe not the very short omniscient bits. Sheesh.)

The reason I think that it works (aside from his skill) is that he assigns first-person to the primary character. First-person present also belongs just to one character. Everyone else is third-person past. The reader gets used to the "tone" at the beginning of each chapter.

I've decided its effectiveness lies in the fact that it's like a boiling pot of water. All of that heat and action and bubbling.

If you want to get a look at how this author is doing this, get hold of this book. Plus, it's an incredibly interesting story. I'd love to see more of Sam Purdy.

You know what I'm reading.

It's all better with friends.


  1. I started reading Stephen White long ago--he has a background in clinical psych, which is where I started, and his stories really spoke to me. Have to look for this one...

    I'd be interested to see this technique in a WIP, interesting to see before it's in print, whether it works best or another way would.

  2. I'm only about 2/3 way through the book, and have tried to figure out why he chose to do this. Was it a challenge made by his editor? Curiosity?

    And a great question, Jenny. Is this how he first wrote it, or did he go back and bump things around?

    It does seem to intensify the story. The parts that don't work for me are the omniscient and some of the POV shifts that happen for a sentence or two in the middle of a scene.

  3. Like you, I get cranky when POV slides. And then I think, "Get over yourself!" because probably most readers don't notice viewpoint until it slides off teh page. And yet...and yet. I think IF readers notice the POV sliding then it's pulling them out of the narrative...ergo (she said pedantically) not good for the writers among your readers. What bothers me is when It makes me lose track of whose thoughts I'm reading.

  4. Hallie, you said it! I get so caught up in dissecting what a writer is doing (or not doing) that I'm taken out of the story.

    I've heard, and I think there is some validity to it, that often when a reader (who isn't a writer and isn't as aware of craft) doesn't like a book but can't tell you why, it's an issue with POV.

    I just finished this one, and of course read all of the acknowledgements at the end. Looks to me like he had some editorial encouragement to handle things just the way he handled them.