Reading Journal: Characters & Viewpoint Part 2

The other day I posted my reading journal for Orson Scott Card's Characters & Viewpoint book and spent a lot of time focused on the character piece of the puzzle. Today I want to reflect on the third half of the book which is devoted to POV and Tense, (among other things).

Card identifies this last section of the book as "Performing Characters" and he starts off with very basic and often technical descriptions of what POV and tense are. Given the number of people who get confused on this subject, perhaps that is a good thing. Though I did not find those 8 pages very informative and let's face it, talking POV is not the most exciting thing one could be doing with their time.

Despite the fact that I think the subject a little dull, I was excited to dive into the book given the challenge I have undertaken with my newest WIP Salem's Triad.  In this novel I have three POV characters. I am writing in third person limited for a large majority of the book. However there are also excerpts throughout the book that offer a third person omniscient POV.  I call these interludes (taken from the music industry) because they offer quick snippets from minor/secondary characters that help to broaden the reader's perspective about what is taking place.

Originally these scenes were written in third person limited but I am starting to realize, after spending some time with Mr Card and all his wisdom, that it might make the transition easier if I adjust the POV from third limited to third omniscient.  This will allow me to signal to the reader that they are getting a glimpse of a scene taking place that does not involve one of our main characters (in case the chapter header INTERLUDE doesn't do the trick).

Another thing that I picked up from reading this book was the idea of effectively setting up the audience for a POV change. Card mentions that you can reduce confusion for your reader by introducing the second POV character in a scene with the current POV character.  This is common in romance novels, where you alternate between the hero and the heroine's POV and are often introduced to the hero through an encounter that the heroine has.  

In reading this I discovered my earlier draft does not connect the three characters until well into the first act, and certainly not in the first 30 pages.  Given this is now a YA and I have some new creative liberties to play with I decided to rewrite the prologue to include a critical scene (one that some may argue is the inciting incident for our protagonist)  where all three girls are together but not friends.  The fun thing about this is that the reader is not dependent upon one narrator's attitude or opinion of another character. Writing in limited third person allows me to express how my girl Gracie feels about herself and what her soon to be friends think of her. I'll give you a hint, they always have differing opinions!

One thing that caught me completely off guard was Card's thoughts on third person limited as a choice for narrating your story. I could chalk it up to the time period in which this novel was written (copyright 1988) but I don't actually think the industry has changed that much in the last twenty some years. I'll share a quote and let you make your own judgement.
"If you are uncertain of your ability as a writer, while you're quite confident of the strength of your story, the limited third-person narration invites a clean, unobtrusive writing style--a plain tail plainly told. You can still write beautifully using the limited third person, but your writing is more likely to be ignored--thus covering a multitude of sins." (Card)
I had to read this quote a few times and let it really sink in before I could even acknowledge my thoughts on it. I was surprised for a number of reasons. First, since I began actively pursuing writing around 2004 I have always been told by editors that you have to write in third person, that first person is for novice amateur writers and you will stick out like a sore thumb. That of course implies that writing first person is the easier choice. It certainly comes more naturally for a lot of new writers. I know that I use it a lot when I am having trouble getting into the character's head.  But that seems to contradict with Card's statement that third person limited is the easiest of the POVs to use. He also implies that it covers up most faults because your reader won't notice the writing as they are too absorbed by the character.

I am slighlty less concerned with what this says about me as a writer, and more concerned about what it says for me as a reader. If a majority of readers prefer third person limited does that imply that we are not mature enough as a readership to appreciate the other POVs? Is the ultimate goal to tell a great story or to tell a story that people will read and are they mutually exclusive? And what does this mean for genre fiction vs literary, for I most often see first and third limited as the preferred POV of choice?

In reading this quote I felt that Card was implying that writers who choose this POV are either too lazy to take on the challenge of writing in another POV or not talented enough to do so.  But should/would you purposefully write in another POV even if it means the work is less received by your target audience?

I'm not sure I know the answer to this and perhaps I am reading more into the line than was intended, but it does make me wonder.  As I continue to write more and more stories and novels I find myself grappling with the question of POV in a more deliberate manner and ultimately choosing the POV that is the best fit for the story and what I hope to accomplish. Maybe I'll score a few bonus points for using multiple POVs despite the fact that I am writing in third person limited.

Works Cited: Card, Orson Scott. Characters & Viewpoint. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest, 1988. Print.