August 13, 2011

Confused — T. L. Wiens

On a recent holiday, my husband picked up Last of the Breed by Louis L'amour. I started reading it and was soon wrapped up in the excitement of Joe Mack's desperate escape from Siberia as Russian officials searched for him.

Something else caught my attention: this book was published in 1986 and is still selling. How can it be? This book bounces point of view more than a tennis ball in a Wimbleton tournament. Every editor I talk to tells me books have to be in one point of view to be coherent to the reader. Publishers will scarcely consider a book written in a multple point of view.

But is this what the audience wants? I've asked myself that question a lot because my audience is saying "No." Even my critque group complained when my last manuscript remained in one POV.

Have the dictates of the publishing world hurt the quality of the books they produce? Could that be part of the problem with books sales? How do I as a writer make sure my audience is getting a read they'll never forgot if the rules stop that story from being published?


  1. I was surprised when you said publishers want a book written only from one POV, because I just read a Jodi Picoult book (modern best-seller) which was written in multiple POVs (as all her books are). I think one key is when you switch POV... Jodi switches POV with each chapter, and each chapter has the new POV character's name at the top so that you know which POV you are in now. If you switch POV in the middle of a paragraph, or even in the middle of a chapter with no clear break, then that gets confusing for the reader. There needs to be a clear break (chapter break, mid-chapter break) between POV switches.

    Yes, there are all the "rules" of the publishing houses - the way that publishers think things should be or what they think readers want. They are often right, because they try to stay on top of such things. But sometimes, a very well-written book that breaks all the rules gets published and surprises everyone by becoming a bestseller. We want writers to be new and original, and sometimes that means breaking the rules -- but doing so well and with a reason.

  2. I n repsons to Koala Bear Writer, Jodi is American and that makes a huge difference or so it seems with the POV issue.
    Every time I've talked to anyone in the Canadian published world, this is something that has come up.
    Louis L'amour changes POV from sentence to sentence and most of the time it isn't confusing. Then you can go a whole chapter in just one characters head. No publisher today would think that a good model. At least no one I know in the industry.

  3. My take on this issue is that the writing rules provide necessary guidance for beginners like myself. Once you are experienced--better yet well-known!--you can afford to experiment with bending the rules without destroying coherence.
    Changing POV with chapter change keeps the reader in context. But of course, changing POV with first person accounts is probably a no-no!

  4. Interesting you mention Louis L'amour. I've never read anything by him, but I almost added a second-hand copy of one of his novels to the growing pile of used books I was purchasing at our library annual used book sale the other day.

    Now I'm intrigued to go find a copy one and read firsthand what you are chatting about in your post.


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