Monday, January 23, 2012

In rare form. (A word about POV)

One of the best parts about publishing independently is also one of its significant risks: I can write however the hell I want. That doesn't mean we indie authors don't take writing rules or reader comfort into consideration. We do. We have to if we want readers to enjoy our work (and if we don't want that, then why publish?). Thus, we weigh free expression and projected reader opinion carefully, and we each find balances based on our differing goals as authors. We enlist friends, beta readers, and paid editors to point out things that might make our 150,000-word babies sink in the public eye. But at the end of the day, there is no Random House editor saying "You have to change this [bizarre plot point / foul language / god-awful cheesy character name] or we cannot publish this." We as authors have the final say.

That being said, my word-child has stayed afloat for a year now with very little outcry about how I am ruining books as we know them. My mother wishes I'd wash my characters' mouths out with soap, and a few readers have suggested that Jordan is grumpy. Both are fair judgements. As a whole, those who've picked up Vessel have overwhelmingly liked it, but I have twice seen complaint over the fact that Jordan, the aforementioned curmudgeonly narrator, is not present in some parts of the book. What's up with that? it's been asked. Isn't that breaking the rules of first person point of view?

This really got me thinking about POV, and I am here now to address these concerns. Does Jordan's perspective break the rules? It does . . . and it doesn't.

For starters, I am a firm believer in this adage: if you first make the effort to learn the rules, then you can break them (using good judgement, modesty, and taste) and mostly get away with it. So imagine my dismay at discovering that Jordan's in-and-out POV is in fact an an accepted literary fictional narrative form. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the first person omniscient.

Our Lady of Wikipedia defines the first person omniscient as "a rare form of first person . . . in which the narrator is a character in the story, but also knows the thoughts and feelings of all the other characters. It can seem like third person omniscient at times."

Boo-yah.

Often, first person omniscients are either telling their tales with a looking-back attitude, or from the grave. Their scope of sight remains centered around characters or situations which the first person would have reasonable knowledge of. Fair enough. The most popular books that come to mind are Sebold's The Lovely Bones (ghosty murdered girl spying on her family) and Zusak's The Book Thief (Death as a character). I can think of two outstanding books that I read last year which employ the first person omniscient: Anita Daimant's The Red Tent, a sort of posthumous, First Testament family history by protagonist Dinah, who is reciting her parents' dialogue years before she is even conceived; and Wesley Stace's Misfortune in which gender-confused Rose describes in detail, among other things, the day her/his father scooped her/his infant self out of a trash pile.

But does Jordan pull it off? I like to believe so. I wasn't thinking about POV specifics when I wrote Advent. Jordan was precisely the voice I needed to carry Vessel forward, and boy was I happy when she showed up. When it came to logistics, I thought, "She is going to talk about things that she didn't witness first-hand, dammit, and somehow I'm going to make that flow naturally." For clarity, I even issued a slight disclaimer right in Chapter 1: "Telling it this way is easier. Writing it down, I mean. Everything I saw with my own eyes, and everything I was told about the rest--it takes a hell of a lot of time to get it all straight."

To be clear, Jordan is the storyteller with the benefit of hindsight; she is chronicling the Vessel's exploits, piecing together the parts she did not see based on what she's been told by her strange and wonderful man-friends. And where is she telling the story from? The next room? Is she old? Dead? Is she a god herself now, omnipotent and all-knowing? You'll just have to read on and see. These things, however, I can tell you up front: The cursing will continue (sorry, Mom!), and Jordan's morale will improve (somewhat). Gods love a curmudgeon.


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