What is this, anyway?

27 Feb

Something strange is happening in the world of writing fiction. I have to admit I don’t get it.

Some of you may know I’m also a book reviewer, so I frequently end up with books that I might not ordinarily choose for myself to read. I mean, I do get to choose them, it’s just that a particular book might never have appeared in my reach prior to the book review list that is issued twice a month. It does make for eclectic reading. For instance the last batch of four I received included one reissued private investigator type book (A Matt Helm story, if anyone cares,); a non-fiction book about Jane Austen; a contemporary romance novel and a novel about Southern womanhood.

I started reading one of these shortly after the package arrived, and on page two came a strange occurrence. The book started in first person, which is fine with me. I happen to like first person. But then, in the middle of a paragraph (I mean, the paragraph began in first person) the point of view shifted to omniscient! Whoa! And then it shifted back again. I think the narrator is actually the main female character, but if she wasn’t there, how could she know her best friend called the narrator’s husband because she was in trouble? Sorry about those ambiguous pronouns, but I’m trying not to name names in this instance.

This is the fourth book I’ve read in the last 8 months (three of them commercially published) in which the point of view shifted around. The first one, (part of a series by a very well-respected mystery writer) has always been in first person. But now the main character is aging and has employed a wise-cracking youngster who needed his own point of view. So, after much cogitation, the author decided to alternate viewpoints AND chapters. It’s not strictly one-for-one, but each chapter is identified as being one or the other of the two men. This makes it very easy to keep track of, and the voices are entirely different. I thought it a masterful job.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I read one that again had specific chapters all in the voice of choice, depending on who was doing the reporting. It worked, and wasn’t overly distracting.

Over the weekend I proof-read a book prior to submission, in which again, the viewpoints changed between first person and omniscient, but were pretty orderly by chapters. No mixing in between.

So while very strange indeed, this particular tactic isn’t exactly new to me. But this latest one really threw me! Changing in the middle of a paragraph? That’s beyond the usual ‘head-hopping’ in my opinion. Of course, I’ve only made it to page 4 at this point, so I don’t know if this will continue or not. But is this a new trend or what? Do readers find it difficult to follow? I’d certainly like to know your opinion!  Please feel free to comment below?  Thanks!


2 Responses to “What is this, anyway?”

  1. Ty Drago February 27, 2013 at 12:47 am #

    Ooo! I know what book you proofread over the weekend!!! 🙂 Actually, tho, I’ve seen this myself lately. There’s seems to be a more … casual … approach to POV being taken by modern authors in certain genres, such and romance and mystery. Thrillers and literary, on the other hand, are remaining more traditional. Go figure.

  2. Glosgirl February 27, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    As a long-established author of fiction I started out (way back!) with always one pov – the heroine’s – third person, end. It was fine, almost everyone wrote that way. Not so many first person, but they were there, of course. Then, as fashions changed, an editor told me that modern attitudes meant I needed to let the reader in on what other characters, specifically the hero, She said readers wanted to know everything he was thinking too. Well, to me, that took away from his ‘mystery’. All his feelings alternating with the heroine’s? Where is the unknown and the tension in that? But I complied, and juggled the story, trying to include this new aspect. It stopped the flow, that’s for sure, and certainly did not add anything that was better, in fact I thought it was far worse. Then, fairly recently, a different editor said there was too much ‘head-hopping’ and could I change it. Sooo…here I am, back to the style I started out with, and MUCH happier.

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