POV and Trope Reflections

Today my house smells delicious. Bryon and I spent this morning spiffing rooms, cutting back on the Christmas decorations, and prepping for big cooking. I began cooking a ham at 1, and I’ll add a turkey breast to that at 2. As the day progresses, there will be a corn casserole and some fresh rolls also in the oven. I’ve got a key lime pie in the fridge, and Bryon will whip up some more rommegrot when it gets closer to time for guests to arrive.

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I apologize for being critical. No names are mentioned of books or authors, because these are largely issues of taste. However, I find myself wondering about the old convention of point of view.

Within the last couple of months, I’ve read a couple of popular books that are doing things with POV changes that I would have expected an editor to fix. In the instance of the first book, there were so many POVs, the books was choppy, and I couldn’t bring myself to finish it. That, and, honest to God, there was a POV shift within one paragraph.

The second book is one that I’m reading for our SF book group. I’ve just started it, and there were three POV shifts within one chapter, back and forth, without any signaling at all. Doug Lain, a fellow writer, suggests that it might be in part because books are being written for non-readers, and this might be an emulation of television. I have always viewed telly with the idea that POV shifts are signaled, but perhaps I watch telly as a reader, rather than a non-reader, so I don’t know if my perceptions can be accurate.

At any rate, I wonder about this. Have any of the rest of you noticed a change in how POV is written? Most books I read still signal POV change, and try to rein character POV in. In my own writing, POV is a problem, and I’ve become very conscious of reining it in and thinking about it. These books were so commercially popular that I was surprised that these authors were doing things I was being encouraged not to do. Based on a quick glance through Goodreads, a few of their readers minded, but the majority did not. Clearly, it’s not them. It’s me.

And while I’m at it, I’ve found this out: Maybe I am just not a very good reader of paranormal romance, urban fantasy. So much of it seems the same to me, which obviously makes me not the target audience for these books. There are, mind you, notable exceptions (thank you, Ilona and Jeaniene!), as well as many books I have not yet read.

My problem lies in part with the supernatural mish-mash that these books have become. A society must have every kind of supernatural creature now, as one is not enough. I’m not certain where that assumption comes from or why. Maybe today’s writers have too much White Wolf in their background? Or that lots of people are doing it in their books, so now it’s a convention.

And then there’s my steampunk problem. The problem lies in having read so many independent, unattractive spinsters who marry difficult men in about every genre that I’m not sure that idea can be fresh to me any more. Perhaps my problem is that Elizabeth Peters was there first, and she is an impossible standard by which I evaluate other authors, including Elizabeth Peters’ later works.

Frustration abounds in my reading life. Can you tell?

To end, then, on a positive note. I really enjoy an author who gives me something different. Thank you, Cherie Priest. I don’t like zombies and still don’t, but thank you for giving me an independent woman who doesn’t go through the spinster trope, as well as a portrayal of non-stereotypical China men in Bone-shaker. And only ONE kind of supernatural critter at a time.

Oh yeah, and while I’m at it, I’ll thank Jay Lake for Librarian Childress. Who doesn’t define her life by her spinsterhood.

Yes, you can let lose with the guns of anachronism if you want to. I know marriage was how many women defined themselves. It’s just nice to see something different. Even if the stubborn spinster was full of true, rather than spirited regret, well, that would be something…

Catherine

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

4 thoughts on “POV and Trope Reflections”

  1. If you look back through literature’s history, many fiction authors used multiple POVs and constant POV switches in a single scene. It was a commonly used writing trope, though there were authors that actually did stick to one POV.

    Only been since the 2oth century have editors, publishers, and writers streamlined novels, chapters, or scenes to single character POVs. The problem is that those who try to use multi-POV scenes don’t understand how to use it properly. It has to be a omniscient, and distant, narrative. Try to pull this with tightly focused POVs, and you’re likely to alienate your reader base. I also agree with the need to signal the change when you do it.

  2. Conventions are the name of the game. Writing within our time’s conventions helps us get published, except in the most extreme of cases.

    Thanks for the historical perspective.

    Catherine

  3. Two points. One to POV. I think that it is a recurring problem, and one that is endemic in romance. In a lot of ways, switching POV is an easy way to maintain tension–when the person first sees their potential beloved, and they feel the other one hates them, and then we switch POV, and the other person has the same feelings, we very easily have set up the dramatic tension of the novel–they love each other but don’t know it! Again, it is an easy way to solve writerly problems. That said, I hesitate to simply say switching POV is verboten. I am sure, like all writing rules, that there are times when a true artist could do some astounding things with it. Still, 99.9% of the time or more we aren’t looking at POV switches with some artistic goal

    Second is more personal: I found Boneshaker borderline unreadable. Perhaps it is because I am not really a genre reader and am relatively new to fantasy or steampunk, but I found the entire book an exercise in taking a lot of trendy ideas (Zombies! Steampunk!) and doing pretty much nothing with them. The antagonist has to be one of the lamest villains in history, and the protagonist is a sad excuse for feaux feminine strength by mistaking a sour disposition with internal power. She’s cranky and unlikable for reasons that are anticlimactic and uncompelling at the end. Her relationship with her son is contrived. I guess it’s clear that I thought Boneshaker really bad. I think the biggest flaw is the weak portrayal of the protagonists character. Beyond mysterious hints with the idea of an “a ha!” ending,

    I think the book would have been dramatically better if we had more in scene background on how she got to be the way she is. The straight expository re-telling just doesn’t work. As it is we are left with this unlikable woman who has some strange reactions to a history she won’t talk about, and we don’t understand.

    I liked the airship pilots, though. 🙂

  4. I don’t know if I agree with you about Priest’s heroine, but I certainly see where the book could support your ideas about here (my lit teacher backgrounds means I’m okay with lots of different interpretations of a character.)

    The woman I really loved in the book was the one-armed saloon woman. And the airship pilots are okay.

    Catherine

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