Thursday, January 11, 2007

A little Note About Structure

Rachel Vincent says: Hmmm. Out of all the books I've written (not that many--I'm working on #6 right now), I can only think of one single chapter that contained more than one scene. In fact, most of my scenes span more than one chapter.

It never fails to amaze me how differently different writers write. And structure, apparently. ;-)

Well, this is a good opportunity to talk about structure, because Rachel raises a good point about how it relates to POV.

When I started writing, I would do a lot in first person POV (Point Of View.) When using that POV it wasn't uncommon for a chapter to be a scene. It would be natural, at least I think so, for each chapter to structured as a scene, as the scenes are all told from the same POV. And it's a good way to say "this chapter will accomplish X, next chapter will accomplish Y." It's an easy structure for declaring purpose. (Essentially, scenes are mini-chapters if you want to think in that mindset.)

Each scene has a purpose, just like each line of dialogue has a purpose and each word of description has a purpose. (If the scene doesn't have a purpose, either find one or get rid of the scene.) Ergo, each POV switch has a purpose. To show a reaction, to illuminate a plot point, to share information that the other characters and/or reader wouldn't have access to if it wasn't shown from that POV.

If you're doing first person POV, then the amount of scenes you write are probably going to be less than if you have multiple POV. That's not to say there aren't novels that contain multiple first person views or a mix of third and first. See Peter S Beagle's The Innkeeper's Song for multiple first, and any of Charles deLint's Newford Novels for multiple first and multiple third mixed.

After all, scene and POV are linked. You shouldn't switch POV mid-scene, at least I was taught that's not good writing. It should be explained that "switch mid-scene" refers to the chunk of writing, not the events that occur within the writing. It's fine to end a scene mid-event, switch POV, and start another scene that picks up from where the previous left off. It's a great technique for showing how your characters view things differently or sharing information with the reader they wouldn't receive.

So the POV basics:

1) Chose the POV that best allows you to write the story, because first person POV will create a different story from third person limited, which creates a different story from multiple third or multiple first.

2) POV is linked to scene, ergo don't switch mid-scene. End the scene and begin another with the new POV.

3) Don't introduce a character as a POV character and kill them by the end of the scene. It's not enough time to make the reader care about the character, and it doesn't show us what a nasty person your antagonist is. Write the scene from your antagonist's POV, show them killing someone, and we'll get the hint right away. (The exception in this case may be horror writing, which has its own set of "rules.")

4) Multiple POV will increase your number of scenes, especially if you want to write well-developed characters. More characters increases your character relations, which complicates your plot. Keep that in mind when choosing who will be your POVs.

1 comment:

Katy said...

My thoughts on the matter:

I was about to disagree on the 'killing off POV character' thing until I saw you bring up horror. It can be a very effective device when used correctly, and also establish a very cold tone if it happens repeatedly, leaving the reader torn on weather to get attached to characters who come later...

On genre and POV though, I think it's worth mentioning there are some kinds of stories that work best with certain POVs. It's not just because it gives space for really personalised wisecracking descriptions and a lot of crime fiction is written in first person, and that the majority of the rest in limited third. Using it can be really effective in keeping your reader as in the dark as the protagonist. But then, it also comes with very heavy restraints on what you can show. I know you've basically said that, but there's also a tone thing as well as the simple structure and grammar going on. First and Limited Third can often bring senses of paranoia and mystery in stronger ways than wider perspectives, and first in particular carries a set of conventions with it (Such as, that someone is either saying this or writing it down, and most crucially, that the narrator survived the story to tell the tale. When this gets subverted, it can either be very shocking and effective, or utterly infuriating.)

On switching POV midscene, I've read stuff that does it but... well I'm thinking of things like Illuminatus! here and as interesting as that book is it's not something I'd ever recommend people to write like. Mid scene is bad enough, but those guys do it mid SENTENCE. :)

But yeah, you say a lot of interesting, sense making things here. :)