In a novel the ‘point of view’ (POV) is considered one of the most crucial elements of telling a story. I had a customer complain about the fact that in ‘The War Wolf’ I used what seemed to them to be many or multiple points of view. To date they are the only person to complain about this but that does not in any way make their opinion less valid. In fact it is something that I had not actually considered.
When I started work on ‘The War Wolf’ it became obvious to me from the very beginning that I could not work with the traditional points of view. In fact, to illustrate my point I will quickly recap what the various accepted ‘points of view’ are.
First we have ‘First Person’, this where all of the action is seen through the eyes of the narrator or principal protagonist of the book. It is a point of view that gives immediacy to the reader and when well written it can even convince them that they are, with a little suspension of disbelief, that main character. Like everything it has its negative connotations, for example it tends to limit the scope of the book to just one person. It is almost an absolute rule not to mix first person with third person perspectives.
Next we have the ‘Third Person’ point of view, often divided into two versions, the single third person and the multiple third person. The difference is subtle but important. In the third person single point of view the author concentrates on just one character, which benefits the reader as they can see them develop and follow their journey. This approach is not as limited as the first person point of view as the writer is not stuck inside the head of their character but can use other characters to help describe and define the protagonist.
Finally, the multiple third person point of view works as above but, the clue being in the name, for more than one character. This is a technique used in books where there are many important characters, particularly political thrillers for example where the reader may need to know what is going on in a much broader scope than where the protagonist currently finds themselves at any particular point in the story. If you read these kinds of books then you will probably already be aware of this technique. It has been likened to what directors do in movies, shifting their cameras from one character to another, and it works very well in that medium.
When it came to writing ‘The War Wolf’ I opted for the third person multiple approaches for a simple reason; the topic was just too big to be related effectively by just one character. I wanted to tell a story that used actual historical events as both its cause and impetus; however, many of these events occurred beyond the possible experience of Coenred the Huscarl. There was no logical or acceptable method that I could arrange for him to be in all the times and places where key historical characters made their fateful decisions, well, short of giving him a TARDIS that is. Coenred was near the top of the Saxon social structure but he was, to all intents and purposes, a servant even as a huscarl. His journeys were limited to wishes of the lords he served and, historically, they did not require him to visit the courts of either King Harald Hardrada in Norway or Duke Guillaume in Normandy.
I wanted Coenred to remain the principal character but I also wanted to examine the motivations of the other historical people as well. Using third person multiple points of view was the only method of doing this. I saw all of them King Harold, Duke Guillaume, and King Hardrada as people first and I wanted to portray them that way. Another reader has commented on the lack of bias in the book, they liked the fact that I treated each side equally and without judgement, I believe that that grew from using the multiple points of view. I was able to put everyone’s side of the argument, to examine their motives and reasoning, and slowly pull the threads together to create the collision that culminates in a clash of arms on the battlefield.
Another key rule of writing is that when you establish a point of view you should not change it; I agree with this. It meant that I had to treat other characters in a similar manner so that you have people like Mildryth giving her view on the world in her day. I think that one of the benefits of this approach is that the growth of the character was not limited to just Coenred but was extended to many others as well. I am not sure if this made the work of writing any harder, as I have stated previously I have a good imagination and memory, I certainly have not found it difficult to develop people like Mildryth, Edwin, and even Wulfhere. For me they are the extra layers that give the story of the Sorrow Song its depth and texture. I always wanted to write the books with reference to the lives of the common people, not just the kings and dukes. It is they who may orchestrate the wars but it is indeed the peasants and serfs that usually fight it and come away with the greatest hurt.
In conclusion the role of the point of view adopted by the writer is indeed crucial but I think that there are some factors that constrain or even dictate the choice. If I ever get round to writing something different, genre-wise, then hopefully I will get to experiment with a different point of view; time will tell. Personally, I think I got it right with ‘The War Wolf’ and “For Rapture of Ravens’ however.