Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now (#17) -- Opposing POVs

How do you feel about using two opposing points of view in one story? -- Anonymous 

Short answer: It can be done, but it's tricky to get right, and really easy to screw up. 

Full answer: I wouldn't recommend it for short fiction for two key reasons. 

1. It can be seen as a "stunt" and can turn off publishers. 

2. Unless you are a master of giving your characters distinct but natural voices, you run the risk of confusing your readers. 

If you're still determined to use it (and I'm guilty of using it myself), I'd recommend using the 3rd person limited POV for it and not two opposing 1st person accounts (I've done this before, but only for a story that is more "literary" than genre, and even then, it was a difficult thing to capture the right feel).

Nowadays, using various 3rd person limited narrators is actually pretty common in novels and novellas, particularly in popular fiction, where scene jumps are as common as they are in blockbuster films. What I don't recommend (although, once again, I'm guilty of this, but learn from my pain) is to combine a 3rd person limited narrative with a 1st person narrative for any story -- long or short -- unless you welcome having to defend your choices and have the backbone to face the criticism about it (and the writing chops to make such a nearly impossible to write pairing work).

In my story "Death with a Glint of Bronze" in Dreams of Steam II: Brass and Bolts, I did just that, using the 1st person sections to convey an almost Poe-esque insane sense of reason from the killer's perspective, then shifted to a tradition 3rd person limited for the actually mystery investigation narratives. Did it work? I hope so. Was is a bit of a "stunt" to show off my cleverness for the camera with a wink and a nod, so to speak? Yes, I freely admit it, but it could very easily have come back to hit me in the face (or bite me in on the quite opposite end), as the saying goes.

One caution though... be sure you choose the best characters whose POVs will play off each other well. Don't just choose any character because he or she happens to be in a scene.