It’s been a while since my last blog post and there are a number of reasons for this. Some are personal: Christmas is a stupidly busy time in this household as we all have winter birthdays, plus the baby has had repeated doses of this year’s cold and is busy growing teeth to boot. Meanwhile the other little monkey is a torrent of ‘I’m nearly ready for school now I’m 4’ energy. But there are other reasons too. I have been struggling with my own writing projects – I’ll expand on this in a separate post – and, crucially, the last few books I have read I haven’t wanted to review. In this post I’m going to explore this latter point a little as I would rather discuss why I didn’t love the books than post unfavourable reviews of them.
Let me begin by saying that each was written by a well-known writer and has received excellent reviews on Amazon so what I am about to say obviously does not bother everybody to the same degree. I would even admit that I enjoyed them on some level. I have to say, though, that I didn’t think that they were particularly well written or edited although they were uniformly well-presented in terms of cover design, endorsements and marketing. Each, however, suffered in my eyes from similar faults in that they were often long-winded and, importantly, the point(s) of view from which they were written were inconsistent.
Now, as a new writer, I am constantly receiving and reading advice to control your point of view (ie do not ‘head-hop’). I am told that each scene should be written from the perspective of one particular character and that the reader should be drawn in to sympathising/relating/at least understanding that character and allowed within his/her head. This engages the reader and makes her care. Too much bouncing around risks loss of tension and can be confusing. As the ‘reader’ in question, I did indeed find it frustrating and confusing and would have loved to have been taken through the story predominantly from the point of view of the main protagonist and one or two key characters. I am not adverse to books written from multiple points of view, in fact I enjoy them, as long as I am always clear whose point of view I am following. I do not want to start a scene with one person and proceed to be told what every character in the scene thinks. It’s too much zipping about.
Obviously there is the omniscient point of view which means that the reader is indeed told everything about everybody. It has been used successfully in many novels, particularly older ones, and I realise that at least one of the writers in question had deliberately taken the decision to use that viewpoint. I am not sure about the other, though. It was so all over the place it came across as bad writing rather than deliberate technique. Also, the novels in question were murder mysteries which raises an important point – if we can see into every character’s head how can it be a mystery? In the cases in question the author withheld any information which would lead us to discover who the culprit is (obviously essential in a typical whodunnit) yet tells us how they think and feel about other things. I found the inconsistency distracting.
Also two of the books meandered significantly. I don’t mind the odd digression but am put off by paragraphs of irrelevant information. For me, it breaks pace and tension.
These experiences as a reader have left me wondering: how is it that new writers are told to control point of view and to edit, edit, edit until it is lean and mean yet the last books I have read adopted neither of these core principles? I know that rules are made to be broken and all that but it just didn’t work for me. It’s a shame as I would much rather post glowing reviews than a piece like this. I will finish by noting that each of the books is published by a well-known publisher and began life in expensive hard-back edition. I’m just glad I did not pay full jacket price.
What do you think? Is this a growing trend – a move away from strict point of view rules? Does head-hopping in a novel distract you from the story or add to it? Or perhaps I am over thinking it and they were just poorly written books by authors who had a running start commercially and were not trying to break into the market from scratch?
I love most types of fiction - crime, mystery, fantasy. Oh, and historical fiction of course and middle-grade books and, well, you get the picture.
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