The End of Multiple Points of View

The same agent who said "Male point of view doesn't sell" also refuses to consider novels that have multiple points of view. Oh well, I'm guessing Roberto BolaΓ±o probably never considered submitting The Savage Detectives to this individual anyway...

My gut response is to say, "If it doesn't have multiple points of view, it isn't really a novel."

Then again, having several viewpoint characters does lead to technical problems. I've read Anna Karenina a lot of times, for example, and sometimes I get all the way through without wishing one of the Levin sections shorter, so that I can get on to the next Anna Karenina section -- but other times I don't. If even Tolstoy couldn't entirely avoid the risk of having one character become more interesting to the reader than another, perhaps this problem is unsolvable?

Having worked on a lot of (unpublished) novels, I notice a trend in my own work toward fewer and fewer viewpoint characters per novel. Does this reflect a craven bowing to commercial pressure on my part? A tempting alternative is to view it as a sign of my own increasing psychological integration. When a novel has two viewpoint characters, these tend to reflect warring elements of the author's psyche, but there's something satisfying about forcing these conflicting elements into a single character... This is a topic I may return to.

5 thoughts on “The End of Multiple Points of View”

  1. Someone explained to me that the iliad has multiple viewpoints so we don’t think one side is better than the other. This resonates with me. Haven’t read the Iliad in a while.

  2. See, I like the Levin parts of the AK far more better than Anna’s. Which should count for more since I’m the female reader and — according to your own data — represent the more significant demographic πŸ™‚

    There was a special discussion on the multiple point of view novels at the sci fi conference I went last month. In sci fi world, “they” love omniscient narrators and multiple points of view — and hate first person narrators. The general wisdom is that an alien story told in first person sort of automatically becomes a story of a misunderstood teenager.

  3. Sometimes I too like Levin more than Anna. So as I recall does Dr. Vaisey in Kingsley Amis’s The Russian Girl — he thinks the most sympathetic character of all is actually Karenin.

    That could be true about aliens, but could you please do me a favor and say “science fiction” or “sf” and not say “sci fi?” I feel like this is kind of a lost cause — the last Gene Wolfe book I bought actually says “SCI FI” on it in horribly big letters — but I still can’t help feeling strongly about it. It’s a shibboleth, like saying “Frisco” or “San Fran” instead of “San Francisco…”

  4. I didn’t *say* it (at least, this time), I used my keyboard to input the words in the comment box of your blog.

    I’m still waiting for you to explain why you think science fiction is an outdated genre πŸ™‚

  5. I consider science fiction the most important twentieth-century literary movement. But all literary movements peter out eventually. We are way off-topic.

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