Story Excerpts

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Of Plot, Theme & Mini-Book Reviews

I started Short-Straw Bride a little wary, having read quite a few forced wedding stories of late, but Witemeyer dressed up the cliched story-line with a "trap" theme that blew me away. The heroine is caught in a bear-trap at the beginning of the story, and after trying to warn the hero of trouble, she finds herself "trapped" in a forced wedding deal. Even the story's exciting climax was styled with a "trap". This was the first time I'd taken notice of a theme done well, and it has left its mark on me.

I've heard authors preach against more than two (maybe three) POVs (point-of-view characters), and until reading Wedded to War, I never paid the advice much heed. The story's historical detail is its charm; its hook, the character "Ruby". But rather than enrich my reading experience, the numerous POVs held me back from a connection with the two women who carried the story.

Reading these books back-to-back led me to ponder story theme, POV, and how they work together. Not that I'm anyone to listen to when it comes to the writing craft, but here's my takeaway:

A POV character should have a critical role in the main plot thread. When a story gives voice to characters who don't play a part in the overall story question, the plot blurs, the theme is lost, and the reader is distracted from the characters/developments that matter. Yes, I believe a secondary character's POV can work, when they are near the heart of the plot. When their perspective intensifies the main conflict. Save a novel. Cut out all those extra and distracting POVs, and give them their own books later.

More often than not, whittling down to one or two POVs will strengthen the story, and bring the plot into sharper focus.

A story's theme should be loud and clear. Look for ways to point at the theme--events in the story, analogies. Character arcs.

These books blessed me tremendously. They helped me answer some critical questions about my own WIP, and make some tough decisions that ultimately pulled me out of the rut I'd fallen into. I'm so glad I got a chance to read them both!

So what's your opinion on multiple POVs? Do you think that the hero's POV should always be included in a story, regardless of whether or not he plays an important role in the story?


Rissi said...

Unless he doesn't play an important role, yes, I like the heroes POV. Another things that is always refreshing is when the male voice is dominant since it's the female that's usually the focus - fiction is dominated by the female voice. As for multiple POV's... I don't know. In some cases it really BUGS me - for example if a plot synopsis implies the story is strictly about character A and B, then I don't like to be reading the book and discover that supporting characters have nearly the same page time. One of my WIP's is going to be three POV's but that's what the story is about or rather that's how the story is shaping up to be - really it's more about "young adults" than an epic romance or such so it "works." (If that makes ANY sense. ;D) Fun post, Gwendolyn and I'm glad you enjoyed your last two books. :)

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Oh, Rissi, that annoys me to--misleading synopses. If there are more POV characters than the hero/heroine that should be clear. :)

My time travel has three POVs. I haven't before thought of what works and what doesn't quite in these terms, but the secondary character is a huge part of the story question.

Have you read K.M. Weiland's "Dreamlander"? It gives the hero has a bigger role than the heroine.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Enjoyed this post! I typically use only 1-2 POVs, but I'm a first-person writer, so that makes sense for me. I know some people can handle more than one masterfully...I'm thinking right now of Wendy Paine Miller and Susie Finkbeiner--but in both those instances, I BELIEVE it was also first person for each character (and Wendy P. Miller had 3 MCs, each with a different section of the book). So I knew whose head I was in at all times (that is CRUCIAL! Otherwise, it's head-hopping and you feel lost and disconnected as a reader).

Now, Jordyn Redwood does a nice job w/more than one person THIRD POV and I know other authors do, as well.

I love your advice that the charas HAVE to have a main part in the plot. That totally makes sense. Who wants to spend hours with a character that's not even critical to the main character and doesn't have any real importance to the story? It seems a waste of writing time. Honing it down to the primary movers/shakers in the plot makes sense to me, as the reader has time to really get to know and CARE for those critical charas.

I'm sure there are some modern writers who handle multiple 3rd person POV well (omniscient--seeing into everyone's heads), but it seems like that's more of a technique used in the classics?

Thought provoking post today, Gwen!

Karin Beery said...

LOVE this! I usually have 2-4 POVs, but I have interweaving plots and I'm up front about it.

I don't mind multiple POVs as long as they're relevant and interesting. I recently read a book where the first chapter POV was the first chapter! Did not care for that at all - instead of enjoying the rest of the book, I ended up wondering who else would get knocked off.

Thanks for the perspective!

Jennifer Major said...

I write family sagas/hist/rom's, so multiple POV is expected. But I recently survived, barely, an extensive edit in which I was beaten with a craft book over the extraneous POV characters. Tightening the POV's up to the essentials wasn't hard, just sort of ...hard. Like, "shame on you" hard. ;)

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Thanks, Heather! I'll definitely look up Wendy Paine Miller and Susie Finkbeiner. I'm anxious to study authors who can handle multiple POV with skill. And I did download the free e-book version of Redwood's Poision. I'm anxious to read it! I've heard lots of good things about her novels. :-)

Omniscient is a style used more in the old days. WTW had a sort of omniscient feel (at least to me), because there were several POVs, and some of them were subplot characters that didn't tie into the main deal.

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Hi Karin! Ooh...interweaving plots. I LOVE those.

A POV character killed off in the first chapter? Yikes! Yeah, that's a way to kill a reader's trust. ;-) Bless you for stopping by, I appreciate your feedback!

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Oh, Jenn, there's no shame in revising our darlings to stay within the lines of the craft. (And then when you know them like the back of your hand, you can break them and get by with it. ;-)

I know how hard it is to cut a dear POV character. I did not want to give up Jice's POV. But I knew, that if I did, it would make the story stronger. And I comforted myself with the idea of giving him his own story. I need to start working on that. ;-)