Tuesday, April 3, 2012

My Take on Multiple POV

By Chester Campbell

My first published mystery series featured retired Air Force OSI Agent Greg McKenzie. I began writing Greg's story in first person from his point of view. I've stuck with that technique for five books now, and it seems to be working. Greg and his wife Jill are well loved by their fans. But when I decided to start a new series about another Nashville PI with a different sort of background, I chose to write in third person for a little variety.

Third person gives more freedom to explore the inner workings of characters other than the main protagonist. Actually, the first two McKenzie books had third person prologues, but those served to introduce the background for the plots. In the Sid Chance novels, a majority of the story is told from Sid's POV, but several chapters or parts of chapters come from the POV of Jaz LeMieux, his part-time associate, a wealthy ex-cop and successful businesswoman. There are also a few scenes from the viewpoint of the bad guys.

I've recently been working on revisions of the first three manuscripts I wrote back in the early nineties. They comprise a trilogy of post Cold War espionage tales. The main protagonist is Burke Hill, a disgraced former FBI agent who is summoned out of a monastic life as a nature photographer in the Great Smoky Mountains by a CIA agent friend from years before. At the time I was an avid Cold War spy story reader just winding up a career that involved non-fiction writing for newspapers, magazines, and other venues.

Those early books involved multiple points of view on a grand scale. I wasn't aware of any taboos regarding point of view, so I gave each character free reign to tell his part of the story. That's one of the primary changes I've encountered in revising the manuscripts. I try to stick to one POV per scene. On a few occasions I found it necessary to break a scene to allow a character her necessary moment in the sun.

Using multiple points of view gives a greater opportunity to mine tbe depths of character where many people are involved. In Beware the Jabberwock, the first book in the trilogy, a diverse group of characters is involved in carrying out a plot against a pair of world leaders. Looking at the situation from different viewpoints provides a greater understanding of the motivations involved. As long as it's clear whose head we are in, and the shifts aren't ping-pong style, I find it makes for a more interesting story.

On a few occasions, I find it helpful to cheat a bit. Such as a brief mention of something someone sees who isn't the POV character. If such things are done subtly, it won't be noticed and it can avoid the need for additional explanation. To me, rigid rules regarding point of view or any other facet of fiction writing are merely invitations to find ways of getting around them. A good story can be told with many different techniques. It's up to us to find the best way of doing it.

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