Samantha Ling (lingtm) wrote,
Samantha Ling

He had feelings, but who is he?

I have a bunch of books that are half read that I will most likely donate in the next Christmas run. Some of them I've even managed to read half the novel, but I wasn't enough to read the rest. If I wasn't interested in what happens to the characters by the time half their story is over, I'm definitely not going to plow through to the end. Unfortunately, that's more books than I care to count. I should really give a book only about fifty pages. But you know, some of them were either acclaimed or by my favorite authors, so I hate to give up before I even gave them a chance.

One of the things that's frustrated me concerns multi-character novels. Let's say we're reading a novel that has Kirk and Picard. They're both men and they're on a space ship. One chapter begins with "He sat in the captain's chair wondering if his ship would make it home." Then three paragraphs later of describing the ship, we discover that it's Kirk. The next chapter begins, "He wasn't sure if the shields would hold for another hit," then a page later, we discover it's Picard. And the novel follows this pattern in which I don't know who's point of view I'm reading and so I'm left feeling in limbo, not sure who to attribute these thoughts to until the author's already described the beginning of the scene. I get thrown out by that sort of storytelling. I can't associate any peril to any person until I know who it is. And when I do finally discover who it is, I have to then bring all the things I'd read and associate that to the character. If the scenes began with a name, I could immediately associate the scene with what's happening. "Picard wasn't sure the shields would hold for another hit." You know what ship, you know the crew, you know the captain. You know who's in peril.

I've read a lot of mystery books that use this style, but it's usually associated with someone the author didn't want you to know. It's usually associated with the unnamed bad guy. We know there is one and that he's planning on kidnapping a victim. We know that someone is going to get hurt. But we can't know the identity of that guy because we're trying to figure that out. But at the same time, we aren't caring about him, we're caring about his victims, who he's chosen next, will our hero or heroine be able to save the next victim before our bad guy gets them. We don't really have any feelings for the bad guy, but we know who he is because his chapters are the only one's that start this way. The characters that we're supposed to care about, their scenes start with their names in the first sentence so we know who they are. The bad guy is never named until the end, but we know right away when his chapters begin.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't write this way. I'm the last person to tell you how to write. But I will tell you this. Leaving me to guess who's POV a scene is in three paragraphs in will make me put that book down pretty damned fast.

Tags: books, writing

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