Hands up everyone who immediately recognized the source of my title quote? Okay, that was an easy one.
In a post a couple weeks ago, I referenced the special difficulty of writing a book in a single point of view (POV), and suggested I might expand on that theme in a later post. So here I am. Single and multiple POV’s have different challenges for the writer, and different rewards as well. One of my overriding notions as a writer is that every important element in the book should be a deliberate choice, and POV is one of the areas where many writers fail to make that choice.
You start out writing from the POV of an important character in the first scene, probably the protagonist. In a chapter or so, you realize you want to include some other information that the protag doesn’t know, so you grab someone else’s POV and use that. Then you think maybe you’ll build tension if you show some stuff from the villain, so you go over there. . . and that’s the people who aren’t head-hopping (when you jump between different POV’s from sentence to sentence). There are some famous and wealthy head-hoppers out there–but for most writers, it’s just bad news. I would argue it’s a bad idea even for the famous and wealthy folks, but I doubt they care what I think.
Single POV has the supreme benefit of enmeshing the reader very closely with a single character. It creates a strongly intimate effect because you experience what that character does as he or she does it. There’s no sense of divided focus. The reader might be curious what another character is experiencing, but never gets to find out directly, so there’s no divided focus.
As the Game of Thrones readers out there can attest, the reader can quickly grow attached to anyone who has a POV presence in a book (hero, villain, servant, whoever). They get mad when you take away that POV, either permanently, or simply by not visiting the character for a while. That can be a useful way to build suspense, but it can also feel like a tease–the author made the reader care about someone, only to toss that person off a cliff or into the next volume. Not so with the single POV.
But it’s tempting to violate that single POV, when you want the reader to know something the character doesn’t, or when you want to create the tension of having the reader aware of things that the character isn’t. This often manifests in lines like: Joe turned away from the window before he saw the evil red eyes peering in. Well, if Joe (the POV character) didn’t see them, who did? It’s possible to manage that kind of floating camera approach to narration, but it chips away at the intimacy that the single POV excels at.
This is one of the cool things about writing historical fiction. If you can reference the history, you can create tension about what the reader knows because the character hasn’t gotten there/then yet. “Sunset lingered over Pearl Harbor, on December 6, 1941, and Joe looked forward to the next morning. . .”