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Reginald Gordon
February 17th, 2006, 06:17 PM
I thought of this a couple weeks ago, and I don't recall ever seeing this done in TV, film or paper before. However, I haven't seen every single movie, TV show or book that's out there, so if this has been done, I apologize.

I considered a while ago, after I had done a bit of work on The Traveler (something about writing gets my brain going on other ideas, almost to the point of stopping/halting what I'm in the middle of... can be frustrating), doing a horror story with the entire story being written, chapter by chapter, from a different perspective. Say there's twelve kids (and by kids, I mean older teens or young adults) and they get involved in some nasty thing and somebody plans to kill them for it. You take it from the perspective of one of the kids, then another in the next chapter, and another, and so on until the end. It could apply to just more than horror stories, of course, but just a thought.

Anyone ever tried this type of writing before, and, if so, how well has it worked out for you? What have you thought about other works done in this style?

Personally, I think I'd like to try it, but I can't think of anything I'd like to write that would involve it. Would be fun, though, I imagine.

February 17th, 2006, 09:37 PM
There was a series I read that had an alternating viewpoint in the First Person, where it went back and forth between these two main characters. Made for some interesting reading, getting into both men's heads.

Reginald Gordon
February 17th, 2006, 10:05 PM
That's pretty interesting, but what I'm talking about is going from one perspective to the next and never going back to one done perviously, like Kid A to Kid B to Kid C to Kid D and so on and so forth. Mostly because the original idea involved the person who's perspective it was during a chapter to die at the end of the chapter. But I don't know if I have the capacity to write horror myself, and my wife hates the genre, so I wouldn't subject her to reading it (she would probably read it knowing it was my work, so I couldn't bring myself to do it).

February 18th, 2006, 07:51 AM
I haven't seen it done, either, so far.

Although, if you handle plot/characters very loosely, that's basically the approach of themed short story collections, such as James Joyce's Dubliners.

What it also reminds me off, is "episodic" movies: Robert Altman, "Short Cuts" (which is based on a novel, I think); or Tarantino's "Pult Fiction". (But, here, the characters are re-visited.)

On the top of my head, I can't think of a coherent story being told that way. It would certainly be interesting to read.

I've had a similar idea, once. Considering that SFF-stories often involve world building, I thought what if I would tell most of the story from a perspective that is chosen by setting-considerations, rather than plot-considerations. For example, if the scene involves the protagonist and antagonist meeting in a bar, then that scene could be related by a bar-maid, by a drunk, etc. That would involve lots of walk-on characters, who - through what they tell - relate the story, and - through how they tell it - also relate the setting. So most scenes would be written from the perspective of a character who's utterly unimportant to the plot. That would give the story a certain "indeterminacy" (since you have no coherent view of developments), but it would also give a sense of "breadth" (as you get to know, for example, what kind of discussions the story triggers in the media, etc.).

There would, probably, be the PoVs of the main characters, too, as sometimes I might want to relate scenes where they're alone. But, whenever possible, an "irrelevant" PoV would be preferred.

I've had several false starts with a fantasy novel I intended to write; one false start was with this method (it failed because I found the "personal backstories" were an integral part of the story, but relating them would counter the concept.)

February 19th, 2006, 12:47 PM
It's not particularly different from standard third person limited format or rotating first person (multiple first person narrators,) except that you have the twist of not returning to any point of view for the whole story -- one shot and they're gone. You aren't going to see it in movies and t.v. because most of the time, they don't use pov in the technical sense. "Lost" is sort of close, but they of course go back to the flashbacks of various characers.

I would not be surprised to see it in a written novel, though I can't think of an example off hand. But the idea of telling a story from many different perspectives is not new. But it would be an interesting idea, and since horror fiction does rely partly on twists, it might get a lot of interest in horror.

But it also sounds like you aren't that interested in doing a horror story. So you might want to consider whether you wanted to do the format as more dark fantasy, mystery or some other type of fiction in which you have more interest.

One book that might be helpful to you is Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians." I'm not sure the actual story was titled that when it first came out -- you'd have to look it up. It's been a very long time since I read it, and it wasn't the pov structure you are proposing, but the set up of the story -- victims being picked off one by one -- might give you some ideas. Another possibly helpful novel is Chuck Palahniuk's latest novel "Haunted." It's a surreal, violent, gross, weird novel about a group of aspiring writers in an old movie theater, and it's constructed of different stories the writers tell/write, with prologues and bits about the characters. It does loop-de-loops with pov and structure, and has a thematic debt to Ten Little Indians. It might come close to what you're talking about without being the same structure you're proposing. Definitely don't let your wife read it, though. :)

February 19th, 2006, 12:50 PM
Actually James Herbert uses a version of this, the only character POV he returns to in some of his work is the main/main ones. Other characters are given their moment in the sun then vanish from the book.

February 19th, 2006, 01:13 PM
The only trouble I see with doing something like this is by the end of the book you haven't gotten to know any one character in depth enough to really give a hoot if one died or if the all died. If you don't engage your reader with characters they've grown to know and love, you don't get the pain and heartbreak when you kill said character off. If you're writing and you want to kill a character and the reader knows after the first couple of chapters that you're going to kill that person off by the end of the chapter, you have lost the reader's involvement with that character.

I think that's why you don't see this done very often.

People, myself included, want to make an investment into a book with time and if I can't latch onto any one character and hang onto that person through the novel, I'll put it down, not come back to it, and very likely never read anything by that author again.

It is, however, a good idea to have a revolving series of viewpoints. Head jumping in the middle of a chapter is bad as, IMO, you derail the reader from one head into another. For this reason I find certain authors difficult to read. If you stick with a character and develop that character and engage the reader to care about that character, you get a much more emotional response when you get to the end than if you just start whacking people off.

My latest book, V&A Shipping which I just finished and am about to start the edit on the first draft, I have five different POVs and I change POVs from chapter to chapter. Each character grows and develops as the story moves along and regardless if I'm in a villain's head or a hero's head, you still get an understanding of what makes that specific character tick. This makes the death of certain characters more poignant as you don't really know what's going to happen to whom when you get toward the end of the book. I've gotten you to know, understand, and care about each character and their given situation and goals, so even when the villain fails and dies, you feel bad that he died yet at the same time are happy he's dead and the heroes succeed.

The best thing to do is pick one or two viewpoints and develop those characters through out your book. Depending on the size of the novel you're writing will dictate the number of viewpoints you'll want to attempt. Obviously the longer the work, the more viewpoints you'll want in that book. And if you're shooting for YA fiction, you'll want one POV much like the ever popular Harry Potter books.

February 19th, 2006, 01:24 PM
Personally, I think I'd like to try it, but I can't think of anything I'd like to write that would involve it. Would be fun, though, I imagine.

You could always try it in our collaborative stories section, if we could agree on a story to tell from several different perspectives I'm sure we could get a group together and have a go. For the sake of experimentation if nothing else :) I'd be willing.

Teresa Edgerton
February 19th, 2006, 01:28 PM
It's a technique used pretty often in generational family sagas. The best known example that I think applies would be The Thorn Birds -- except that I read that a long time ago and I'm not absolutely sure that the author never returns to a viewpoint. But the viewpoint switch doesn't happen chapter by chapter in any of these books, just section by section.

Susan Howatch wrote several books in that way (with an additional interesting feature that all the characters turn out to be English kings and queens in Victorian disguise).

And Phillipa Carr wrote a whole long series of books that make use of the technique -- successive viewpoints in some of the books individually, and each succeeding book takes up the same family history from the viewpoint(s) of a younger generation.


There are probably more recent examples, but since I haven't read any "women's fiction" lately I can't provide them.

The fun of these books is, of course, that the reader's perception of the characters and events alters radically as the viewpoints change.

February 19th, 2006, 02:02 PM
i think this could be very successful in a couple of situations:

1. revisiting the same events through a couple different characters
2. handing off the story from one character to the next...this is what you see in movies like this from time to time. The key point is the character being handed off to has to, at that moment, become the most important character in your story.

I think this sort of thing lends itself to mysteries and perhaps world building where the reader is learning about something pretty alien so the setting as it unfolds can hold the readers attention rather than attachment to setting.

Another way i've seen this done, though i can't remember where, is where a bodiless entity moves from character to character. How the entity decides whom to jump to, and when, and what its purpose is slowly unfolds. The tricky part is that you are writing from the perspective of the hosts, not of the entity. Though the hosts find themselves going places / doing things, etc. that might seem (To them) to be a bit out of character.