Saturday, August 21, 2010

On Points of View

I’ve been thinking on points of view in fiction lately. Not the standard 1st vs. 3rd person POV debate, but the even older ‘brand spanking view on the world’, where one clueless individual, usually the protagonist, gets clued in on the magical wonderment he/she’s been missing out. 

I’m pretty much writing a novel with that sort of POV; the POV of the unbiased, of the first impressions. It’s one of the mechanisms to acclimatize readers, which irks me. It’s so popular that stories using it seem clichéd, but at the same how else do you rely the background and the world building, minus the info-dumps. The clueless runt, in need of constant pointers, is such a convenient decision. It simply works. 

Harry Potter was clueless. Sorry for the seemingly outdated example. To give more examples, I would list The Vampire’s Apprentice series, House of Night series [okay, maybe too many vampires], Tolkien [because of Frodo], 28 Days Later [not a book, but it’s that or more vamps on the list], Servant of a Dark God [yes, fantasy] and well Eragon. You get the idea. The point is, I bet you have been wondering, that stories where a novice evolves into savior/champion/ survivor are easy on the reader, because the reader gets to experience everything with the said character and learn along the way. Each situation brings something new to the table and the reader has time to assimilate, before moving on something else. 

This is not the same, when the reader meets a protagonist that is in the know with everything in the world and about the plot. At best, it can lead to boring inner-monologues, where heroes infodump what they know too well to need internalization. UF here is the biggest offender. It seems like a tough-hick thing. I have read plenty of those, but the one name worth mentioning is Rachel Vincent, who handles this with grace. At worst, there is mass confusion in the cases, where world building is killer-complex. Here I can list Blake Charlton, who has developed the most complex magic system and tells his story through the eyes of a scholar [geeky person in the know]. I loved the novel, but sometimes I was ‘huh’, ‘say what’, ‘not getting it’. 

Having written a novel with a character, who is in the know, I see where the difficulties lie, because a writer has to justify why a character is thinking things. I used a cheap trick, making my heroine do a ritual, wherein she repeats the info she needs to gain inner peace. Cheap, but the reason exists and she can freely feed the readers whatever information is required. 

But it is way easier to have some noob learn the ropes along with the reader. I have heard that some readers prefer fantasy, because of the sense of wonder and discovery of the magic that’s been invisible before. Even so, making it fresh seems a challenge to me. Understanding this new environment requires more often than not a mentor and that alone is tricky to make work. So yeah, the POV of the first impressions won’t be getting out of fashion. 

BUT I want to hear your opinions. Are you sick of it or do you worship it? 


Charles Gramlich said...

Harry Potter is an outdated example? Dude, I must be WAY behind the times.

T.S. Bazelli said...

Personally I prefer the latter. I don't like starting with someone inexperienced and new to a world. I find it tiresome to think of how they would react to new things, or dealing with the shock of the revelation.

That being said, I've got both kinds of characters as main characters in my current WIP. One who is new to the world. One who's survived it.

Stephen Watkins said...

In answer to the state question: neither. Both can be done with aplomb, and both can be bombed. To me, the key is how interesting the character in question is. A boring person who reacts to his/her new environment as merely a camera, a lense, or a fly-on-the-wall will make for boring fiction. As Bazelli suggests, making a good character's reactions realistic and believable is hard work.

Likewise, a well-experienced, competent character can be boring if nothing presents an interesting challenge to that character.

Demon Hunter said...

I like anything that is done well. :-D And you're right, it's hard to keep it fresh.

The POV you speak and like seems to exist heavily in urban fantasy. Have you read lots of it? It may help you with research for your own story. Most of the MC's already know what supernatural elements exist and are usually a part of it.

Harry Markov said...

@ Charles: Overused at least...

@ TS: I side with you, because my introduction to genre was with this POV and I am a bit sick of it.

@ Stephen: Even so, people tend to sway one way or another, maybe not by much, but they do. However, I do agree that done well, it doesn't matter.

@ Tyhitia: I read UF/PNR heavily and this seems to be standard and it's almost exclusive to that genre. When I think of that POV and I have these genres in my head.