Wednesday, October 10, 2007

plot or style? follow-up

So democratic vote indicates that while most people ideally want a book with great plot AND writing, if they have to do without one or the other a small majority would rather the plot was good.

My point of view, which I realize now I never wrote HERE, is that it depends entirely on what you're looking for when you read. For me, reading is escapism, and I absolutely need to be 100% immersed in the book or I won't enjoy it. I'm a really slow reader, so if the writing isn't absolutely enthralling I get bored. Almost immediately. And then reading becomes work. That's why to me, at least, writing is more important than plot.

Thanks for all the interesting opinions, guys. I think it's important for editors to remember that there is taste, and taste varies. Different books fly on different merits, and different readers are looking for different charms.

Angelle and I were having a "discussion" yesterday about another fine narrative point. She likes books with dual narrators when the author succeeds in creating two different and believable voices; she likes the way multiple narrators offer complexity and varying perspectives to the story. I, again the slow reader, really dislike multiple narrators. This, again, is because of my escapism quest--the jarring from one narrator's voice to another is an ongoing reminder that what I'm hauling through is a work of fiction.

Sometimes I'll really enjoy a book told from multiple perspectives, but because the experience is slightly cheapened for me by my own relationship with reality (alas), these books will never quite make my top tier. Some examples of books I really enjoyed but wouldn't die for? THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE--great complex plot; jarring alternating perspective. THE THIRTEENTH TALE--awesome heart-pounding story; jarring alternating perspective.

So another poll, if you can be bothered--do you like multiple narrators? Do you care how a book is narrated?


Froog said...

First person or 'omniscient' narration always works best for me. Multiple narrative viewpoints are rarely carried off entirely succesfully, and even if they are, you're still rather uncomfortably aware that it's just fancy-pants artifice for its own sake.... rather than actually necessary or useful.

Bernita said...

I'm with Froog, but what will irritate me is multiple pov's plus time and location gaps.

angelle said...

hmm i think also, it never jarrs me if it's done well and believably, because to me it's almost sort of like a movie. in movies, you can jump from shot to shot interweaving different events going on at the same time, and not feel jarred if it's done successfully. so i just approach it in the same way. i also just like seeing how everything comes together, maybe because i'm fascinated by the different viewpoints and stories of different people and how that ultimately makes us come together. it, of course, has to be done consistently, and well. poor alternating narrative is terrible.

other things i like that other people either love or hate - large chunks of flashback/alternating time frames. again, must be executed well, but i think it gives a little something.

i think i like these things because it keeps me active and wanting to move through the book. there are always parts i care about a little more, but somehow it's still sort of exciting. for instance, history of love (i know you have issues with the book but i'm going to bring it up anyway) - you have the man character old dude, you have the 12 year old girl, you have the 3rd person narrative about the writer who stole his book. somehow even though the old dude is whose story it IS and i care about most, it was almost rewarding to be left off in one place and go back and forth between the different lines. it kept you wanting more constantly. so i wanted to know what happened with the writer dude, but i had to be patient, while i was learning more about the little girl. i don't know, stuff like that. i like the complexity it adds. and i guess i dont have a problem switching back and forth in my head and still remaining fully immersed.

so i guess what follows, moonie, is that you're going to dislike any book i end up writing, since it most likely will contain some sort of non-linear narrative... :)

Precie said...

Hmm. Do I care? Yes. Do I have a preference? long as it's done well.

But then again, Time Traveler's Wife is one of my favorite novels...despite some of its minor shortcomings. I love the jarring structure and multiple povs. I thought it worked well overall.

Froog said...

I don't think the move analogy really works, Angelle. POVs in movies are never (well, almost never) inside the heads of the characters; so movie narrative is always detached, third person, omniscient.

I think there are two inherent problems with multiple-POV:
1) Characterisation is hard enough anyway, and effective characterisation of a narrator's voice is fiendishly difficult. If you can pull it off really well even once in a novel, you're doing well. If you can pull it off several times in the same novel, you are..... who?
2) It's heavily obtrusive, and makes extreme demands on the reader's attention - does the writer have any good reason for doing this? Is it just show-off tricksiness, or is there actually some point to it? How are the multiple viewpoints actually necessary to the unfolding of the narrative?

angelle said...

Froog - I think multiple POV narratives can work well depending on what you're writing about. Whether or not a reader finds it jarring I think is somewhat objective, but as I see it:

Time Traveler's Wife for example. This is a story about the guy (his name is escaping me right now) but it's also about the girl. The title is Time Traveler's WIFE, not the Time Traveler. I believe this story to be about a relationship, and I think the way the book is structured does a good job of illustrating that.

My Sister's Keeper: Another book with not two, but several POVs. I think because the book revolves around such a controversial issue, the multiple POVs serves to illustrate the multi-sides of an argument, and the effects such a heavily moral question can have, not just in theory, but on the lives of everyone involved. The final chapter actually is in the voice of someone who, up until now, we haven't heard from at all even though she is central to the story, which I think is really telling of its purpose (whether or not I felt the ending was as good as it could have been is another discussion entirely haha).

So I don't think it exists necessarily strictly as gimmick for the sake of itself - I do think that it serves a purpose depending on the kind of story you are trying to tell. I'll give you that many stories can be told in traditional straight first or third person linear narrative with one POV. But depending on how it's done and to what end, I think it can shift focus on also help make certain points across in an intentional way.

Moonrat - I just had a thought about what we were discussing yesterday... remind me to tell you later.

Church Lady said...

I loved "The Book Thief" which was narrated by Death. I thought it was a clever way of telling this story.

I haven't read 'Time Traveler's Wife' yet, but it's on my shelf. Now I'm curious about it!

writtenwyrdd said...

I will read an enjoy any version of narration that works. but I do not like first person, present tense much. It's really about presentation. If I try to say I prefer writing over plot, I'd find a zillion exceptions, and vice versa. Same with narrative styles.

For me, it's all about the sum being greater than the parts.

writtenwyrdd said...

Funny, people keep referencing Time Traveler's Wife as an example. I hated that book. It's on my Most Hated books list.

Just goes to show that tastes can't be described. Which sort of goes with what everyone keeps saying.

Lisa said...

Multiple POV is one of those acrobatic tricks that works brilliantly if the author can pull it off, but I don't think most authors have the skill to do it. Naturally, I'm not coming up with a huge list of examples, but I believe one of the best MPOV novels ever written (and done well) was The Stand. Faulkner does it in both As I Lay Dying (the only Faulkner novel I ever got through -- and loved) and The Sound and the Fury (on my shelf, still unread). I know I may be alone here, but I really liked The Corrections and I think MPOV worked well in it too. I read Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down -- it switched between four character's POVs and it was disappointing, but I don't think the MPOVs were its main problem.

Everyone seems to love to read and write in first these days and my confession is that I used to like it because it was a bit of a novelty -- I think it's one of the reasons Catcher in the Rye was so groundbreaking. But now everybody seems to be doing it and I'm a little tired of it. I do like long descriptive passages and beautiful prose and that POV doesn't lend itself much to either, most of the time.

Kaytie M. Lee said...

Chiming in:

I've liked multiple POVs and single POVs. I tend not to like first person narratives because they feel contrived to me.

The stories I admire tend to have many threads that combine into a greater whole. Doctorow's RAGTIME, for example. But in those cases, the POV is usually more distant to allow for jumping from one character's story to the next, which lends continuity.

If we're talking multiple first person narratives I think it would be extremely difficult to pull off. (I loved AS I LAY DYING, too.)