In an earlier posting I wrote a bit about the importance of the choice of viewpoint when writing a novel. I thought I would add to it here because a couple of thoughts on the subject came to me recently.
The two most common viewpoints, and in a way the ‘standard’ way of writing a novel are third or first person from the protagonist’s POV. But there are interesting alternatives. I’m currently reading the draft of a novel by my friend and fellow blogger Chloe (http://madebythepotter.blogspot.co.uk/). This is written using multiple POVS, giving the perspectives of several characters often on the same events. I’m not very far into it yet but I’m finding it very intriguing. You are presented with a scene through one character’s eyes and think you ‘know’ what happened – but then you see it again from a different POV and learn new things. The same thing applies to how the different characters view each other. This is not an easy thing to achieve and as someone who tends to think in straight lines I must admit I would find it daunting to attempt that approach!
I have also been reminded of one of my favourite novels of all time: The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald. Gatsby is a very wealthy man but there is a lot of mystery about him: are the stories he tells about his background really true? How did he get to be so rich? Was/is he even involved in some shady activities? Fitzgerald cleverly chose to write the novel not from his perspective – which would have made it hard if not impossible to keep him as enigmatic as he wanted – nor even from the POV of Daisy, the old flame who is now married woman yet who he is trying to win back. Instead, the author invented a third character, Nick, who is in many ways a bit of a nobody drawn into their lives. He doesn’t know any more than we do about Gatsby – he just keeps hearing rumours. This is a stroke of genius as far as I’m concerned, enhancing the air of mystery surrounding Gatsby in a way that other approaches couldn’t. And I love the way Nick is drawn into the theatre of the Gatsby/Daisy business so much that to end one particular chapter (if I’ve remembered it right) Nick suddenly reflects that it’s his birthday and he’d completely forgotten. None of the other characters are particularly interested in this fact, which subtly highlights how self-absorbed they all are.
For most novels the standard POV is going to be the best. I wouldn’t recommend trying to be ‘different’ just to show how clever you are, because it will almost certainly show. But if the occasion calls for it, why not push the boundaries – it could take your novel to another level. Sometimes the rules don’t matter – if it works, it’s right!