Monday, 22 June 2015

Changing Point of View and What it's Meant to Achieve


This post has been inspired by the recent release of Grey, the latest blatant money-spinner, sorry, novel, from E.L. James.

The novel tells the story of the original Fifty Shades of Grey, but this time from Christian’s point of view, not Ana’s. My first question when I heard this was why is Stephanie Meyer not suing? She did exactly the same with Twilight, from Edward Cullen’s point of view. That novel was stolen and leaked online, so Meyer didn’t publish it after all. Wouldn’t you know that just days before Grey was released, that too was ‘stolen’.

I’ve had fun reading some of the reviews of Grey on Amazon and elsewhere. It’s definitely a Marmite type of book that people either love or hate. There’s very little middle ground. I’m not going to rubbish the book here (much…). I’m only going to talk about it from a craft point of view.

One of the biggest criticisms is that the book is basically a cut and paste job of the first  novel in the series. Actually basically is the wrong word. The word being used is literally. Some sections are definitely cut and pasted. When the reviewers criticise this, fans jump in and say ‘Well what did you expect? It’s the same story but from his point of view.’

What most readers expect when the point of view changes is new insight into what’s going on in a character’s mind. Yes, the basic details may be the same, but there should be something different to learn. Now I haven’t read Grey, so I’m only going on what I’ve read about it and various sections posted on Twitter etc. But it seems that, aside from the fact that he seems to have a fixation with his penis (which seems to be a character all on its own), he’s thinking exactly what women fear a man is thinking when he looks at her. That all he’s interested in is getting her clothes off and shagging her over his desk in a no-strings sexual encounter.

If a female character believes that the male is thinking she’s a klutz, and then the point of view changes to show that he is thinking she’s a klutz, then nothing new is happening in that story. If, however, she thinks she’s a klutz, but the scene from his point of view shows that he thinks she’s adorable, then you have new insight. It shows the reader that she is misreading the signals and also that he is not nearly as judgemental as she believes him to be.  It can really help to soften up an alpha male to show that he’s actually quite amused (in an affectionate way) by the klutzy heroine’s shenanigans.

When there’s an accident or crime, the police often have to deal with witnesses who see things in very different ways, from the appearance of the perpetrator to the car they drove to what exactly happened. Occasionally they’ll see the same things, but it will be coloured by their own experience and vantage point (and there’s a good film of that name which uses that trope).

In many ways, changing point of view in a novel should have that same effect as witnesses telling the police what they saw. Each character should bring their own slant to the scene, even if it’s exactly the same scene. Their opinion will be coloured by their own life experience and any prejudices they might have against the heroine/hero/victim.

A good way to make sure that you don’t cover exactly the same ground when switching point of view is to have the new section start off from where the last section finished. So for example, if your heroine has just flounced out of the room believing that the hero has wronged her in some way, start the hero’s point of view from when she’s slammed the door behind her. Then you can begin afresh with his reaction to the scene. Is he hurt? Confused? Steaming mad? As long as it tells your reader something different to what the heroine was thinking, you’re on the right track.

I recently advised someone that every scene and/or chapter should move the story on. That goes for changing point of view too. If every section, regardless of point of view, tells your reader the same thing, then your story is going nowhere.