I’m not a fan of orthodoxy. There is, in the world of fiction-writing today, an orthodox opinion to the effect that point of view is Not Something To Be Meddled With. Again and again, in one how-to-write book after another, the writer is advised never to shift from one point of view (POV) to another, except when starting a new chapter or, at the very least, at a scene break that is indicated by an empty line space in the text.
There are reasons for this. It’s felt that the reader will be properly immersed in the fictional world only when he or she is able to ride along behind the eyes of a single character for an extended period. Jumping from one POV to another is felt to shatter the immersion, to distance the reader from the story.
This idea is not, I hasten to admit, entirely without merit. In my massive Leafstone saga (those four book covers up above! buy them! buy them! they’re great!) I have about 30 different point-of-view characters at one point or another in the story, but with only three carefully controlled exceptions I adhered to the orthodox practice.
My first novel, Walk the Moons Road, was published by Del Rey in 1985. It has been out of print for 30 years, and it has been at least that long since I read it. There are reasons why I’ve avoided renewing my acquaintance with it, some of which are more personal than literary. My stock line is, “It has both the virtues and the shortcomings of a first novel,” and that’s surely true.
For complex reasons that I’m not even going to try to explain, it occurred to me this week that maybe the time has come to revisit — and revise, and republish — Moons Road. After filling a few pages of notes with really cool new ideas for how to flesh out both the action and the science fiction world of the story, tonight I steeled myself and took one of my remaining paperbacks off the shelf.
In the first chapter (14 pages), there are seven different points of view. Zhenuvnili, Qob Qobba, Ranga Strell, Ehlanli, Captain Bolya, the harbor pilot. and at the very end a couple of nameless ruffians on the dock who have observed the arrival of the ship and are going to trot off to sell the information. Plus a couple of naked and rather clumsy authorial intrusions.
None of these POV shifts is set off with a line break or scene shift. They’re just bang, bang, bang, whose head are we in now?
What’s remarkable about this is not that I didn’t understand proper technique, though obviously I had no clue. No, what’s remarkable is that my editor at Del Rey didn’t care! In 1985, POV shifts seem not to have been an issue.
If I decide to revise the book (reply hazy; ask again later), I’m sure I’ll handle POV shifts a little more gracefully, a little more economically. Or I might decide to throw caution to the winds and try something completely different. Maybe Zhenuvnili’s part of the story should be told in the first person as journal entries, in spite of the fact that for most of the action she won’t have access to pen and paper. That would be peculiar, but probably no more distracting than seven POV shifts in 14 pages.
While writing this book, I had thumbtacked to the wall above my writing table a 3×5 card that said, “1: Tell a good story. 2: Put the reader in the scene.” That’s all it said.
Those are, I still feel, the only two points of orthodoxy that are worth enshrining. Everything else is up for grabs.