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Weaving

I do a lot of multiple point of view books. A lot of multiple thread books.
Unfortunately I’m not sure I do it well.

Might be a matter of never having taken an English class since I was in high school, and never having taken a creative writing class ever.

So, here I am laid up by a muscle cramp of all things, and not able to sit at the desk for very long.

In fact, kicked back on the couch with foot elevated seems to be the order of the day . . . well, week. So I started rereading David Weber’s Safehold series. Now for a moderately successful writer . . . well, let’s just say the shear competency of the man’s writing is humbling.

Let me try to explain how I see the threads of a story.

 

Parallel, sort of, threads shouldn’t look like this.

Your two threads have to meet, even if the characters don’t, there needs to be something in common between them.

 

 

 

Even this is better. Sort of the basic minimum. Get together for the grand finale, which both should have meaningful roles in.

 

 

 

Better if they also start together, split up, and then get back together for the big fight, whether it’s between the two of them, or fighting together against the Evil Villain of the story.

 

And tying it all up together is even better.

 

 

But three threads and it can get a bit tangled.

 

 

 

 

 

It would be nice if the author could exert a bit more control, look like he’s crossing threads for a purpose. Mind you, reminding the reader that the other threads are still in play is a perfectly good reason, but making those crossings into important plot points and suddenly your writing is going to level up.

 

 

Did I mention I wasn’t terribly good at this? I think I may be hovering at getting it tied up and a big tangle.

And my David Weber study?

I think what I’m seeing is a lot of scenes with cliff hanger ends. Then when he gets back to that thread, time has passed and he dives straight into the next action. One example has all the usual panic as the Empress goes into labor and the scene ends with the arrival of the obstetrician. The next scene, baby princess is peacefully snoozing beside the relieved parents. The in between, messy part, wasn’t important to the plot, so it got skipped.

The major battles are shown in clearly delineated series of different POVs, generally short, occasionally ending with the death of the POV character, some protagonists’ POV, some antagonists’ POV. In a great huge rush.

If you want to write action, read David Weber. I don’t write anywhere near his level, but clear delineations of the POV shifts works. And I’m going to be pondering his use of cliff hangers for a while.

So? Any of you want to mention authors that handle multiple POV stories especially well?

 

Or, of course, you could see me give it a try:

45 Comments
  1. What, my storylines aren’t supposed to look like the cat got into the yarn bag? 😀

    June 15, 2018
    • Tangles are OK, so long as you can figure out how to get them all (or at least most) to a satisfactory ending.

      June 15, 2018
  2. c4c

    June 15, 2018
    • Draven #

      c4c

      June 15, 2018
  3. Christopher M. Chupik #

    F. Paul Wilson comes to mind.

    June 15, 2018
  4. Seveneves by Stephenson handles POVs well

    June 15, 2018
  5. Larry Correia did a good job (I think) with multiple POVs in The Grimnoir Chronicles and Son of the Black Sword.

    June 15, 2018
  6. wolfwalker #

    Your use of the Safehold series as an example is interesting. I tried the first in that series and very quickly got lost; I simply couldn’t keep the many different characters and plotlines straight. Too much like work. 🙂 Never went back to it. The later Honorverse books are also near-impenetrable tangles. I don’t think anyone — not even Weber — can keep more than three or possibly four story threads going smoothly.

    June 15, 2018
    • Yeah. It was what I was reading while I couldn’t sit at the desk, so it got used for the blog.

      I definitely started with a hard series. If it weren’t for the odd names (pot-kettle) I think they’d be more readable. On a re-read, I was astounded by how he never drops a ball, always gets his threads back together, and makes them move the plot. And massive doses of gratuitous explosions, of course. How he manages this through ten (on pre-order, and I think it might be the end of the series) books is astounding.

      June 15, 2018
      • Draven #

        hard names?

        June 15, 2018
        • It’s not a good idea to make your readers stop and sound the name out before they can go on reading. . . . Aivah Pahrsahn *snap* Blink. “Oh. Ava Parson, right.” And that’s one of the easy ones.

          June 15, 2018
          • tom #

            Yeah. I get that he’s trying to capture a multi-century linguistic “drift” where names get distorted, but it would be much easier if they were just left with the “typical” spelling with a line here or two about how the name sounds funny to Merlin / Nimue.

            Which, bluntly, Safehold starts off as a literate society with no major interruptions of the literacy of the record-keepers, so they would probably do the English thing where the word’s pronunciation mutates but the spelling stays the same (and gets less intuitive over time).

            I love Weber’s books for the most part, there are just these little editorial-type decisions (“Let’s have old Earth names that are spelled funny!” or “Let’s describe finger-spelling in great descriptive detail each time it happens!”) that bug me sometimes.

            June 15, 2018
      • I noticed a long time ago that the more complex and “weird” the character names were, often the less I enjoyed the book. Not always, but in general.

        I finally took a hint from my (somewhat under-educated) father who, when he finds a word that is a little too long and not obvious to him how to pronounce, he just reads the first few letters and then makes up the rest. It works for him since he usually can figure out what the thing is from the context. So, if that thing is always read as sriptopodum throughout the read, who cares that it’s really supposed to be pronounced Cryptosporidium, he gets that it’s a parasitic avosomething, and knows what a parasite is, so understanding achieved. BTW, don’t get me wrong. My dad is brilliant in many ways, he just doesn’t read big words all that well.

        So that’s what I do with weird names. If an author spend weeks coming up with the perfect hero name “Apg’Dixflm”, I’m probably just going to read it as “Flaming Dickhead” throughout, and all that effort will have been wasted. Not to mention, chances are that if the author is THAT kind of author, I probably won’t make it past the first book anyway because their writing probably isn’t going to resonate with me (brains work too differently).

        June 15, 2018
        • mrsizer #

          This is me. There are tons of words that I’ve read and if prompted – in writing – to provide the definition, I could. I could never pronounce it or spell it, myself, though.

          June 15, 2018
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      I’ve enough exposure to transliterations of Chinese that the zh- stuff didn’t throw me, much.

      My issue is that there were some books in the middle, I’m not sure how many, where I could hardly tell one from another. I skipped a lot through the last book.

      And me purportedly with a love of crunchy goatgaggers.

      June 15, 2018
      • Having been exposed to ‘linguistic drift’ in Anne McCaffery’s Dragonriders of Pern, it doesn’t throw me much any more.

        Then again, I also really like Diane Duane, so ‘weird names’ don’t faze me much.

        June 16, 2018
  7. lpdbw #

    Weber’s work was genius. Up until he started writing like he got paid by the word.
    (We’ll ignore Out of the Dark. Everybody has something they’ve done to be ashamed of.)

    Honorverse went from building on the Horatio-Hornblower-in-space, very entertaining, even riveting , to Plato’s Republic plus Aristotle’s Politics revisited and expanded and doubled and redoubled, except much more boring.

    Safehold took one of my favorite ideas, Military-man-of-the-future-with-tech meets static-backwards-civilization (Heirs of Empire, Janissaries) and built an entire series from it. Which was entertaining for the first 3 or 4 volumes, when the plot basically froze in place with no forward motion AT ALL.

    As part of my Tor boycott, I’ve discovered I had no trouble dropping the Safehold saga.

    It’s like if Martin actually finished more books in the Game of Thrones series, only after reading the latest of them you realized NOTHING HAPPENED. I think that’s more frustrating than the tedious waiting for the next volume.

    June 15, 2018
    • Brett Baker #

      Some of us loved Out of the Dark! But yeah, the last Honorverse novel, 1,000+ pages, only 600+ in you get anything truly new. The one backstory helped me because I missed the one novel, but the one I’d been reading the last two novels? Went on too long. The new backstory world could get used in the future, though.
      Hoping the new novel will go back to the older ones in the series.

      June 15, 2018
      • Mike Houst #

        Out of the Dark did have some length and boringness issues. Would you consider that an editing and pacing problem? The plot I liked, and the turn about the last 10th of the story from straight SF to a revision of old horror was cool.

        June 15, 2018
        • lpdbw #

          Out of the Dark: Length is not a problem. Boringness was not a problem.
          The last 10th made me wall the book.

          June 15, 2018
          • Terry Sanders #

            I didn’t want to wall it. But yeah–if you’re gonna pull *that* kind of gun off the wall and shoot somebody in Act Three, it had d*** well BETTER be hanging there in Act One. However well disguised.

            June 15, 2018
    • mrsizer #

      Wheel of Time

      June 15, 2018
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      I found Out of the Dark adequately foreshadowed. I recall that the samples for the Uncompromising Honor eARC struck me as interesting. Is that the one you are talking about?

      June 15, 2018
      • Brett Baker #

        Yes. Like I wrote, hope it goes more like the older books in the series.

        June 17, 2018
  8. Margaret Ball #

    FWIW, I think you already handle multiple threads well, and IN THE RIFT is a great example of that. I enjoyed watching the characters grow and change, and I don’t think that part would have been nearly as much fun if you’d stuck to one POV and one storyline.

    Certainly a lot better than Martin, who stays so long in one POV that when he shifts I have to flip back 100 pp to remind myself what was going on last time I saw those other characters!

    June 15, 2018
    • Yeah, you have to switch back and forth _or_ have the character on the current thread get a message from, or think about the other, just to remind the reader the other thread exists.

      In the Rift is a book I wrote about twelve years ago. A kind editor (Toni Weisskopf) pointed out all the things I was doing wrong–mostly inappropriate dialog tags and punctuation. I finally got around to getting rid of all the “she smiled” and “she laughed” in places where no sane person would be smiling or laughing. (Hey, I was just starting out, and everyone was saying to never use “said”) Sigh. How I got from there to trying to help other people write, I have no idea.

      June 15, 2018
      • Same way as me. We both missed the memo about the meeting time changing and were named to the Help Others committee. 😁

        June 15, 2018
      • I think that one of the hazards of multiple threads is that readers will like one character, or thread more than the other – I know that I sometimes do. And I skim the one that I don’t much care for, just to get back to the one that I like.

        June 15, 2018
        • That’s my problem when I’m _writing_!

          June 15, 2018
      • Zsuzsa #

        “Hey, I was just starting out, and everyone was saying to never use ‘said'”

        Interesting how those fads change. At this point, everyone is saying never to use anything except “said.” At the last writers group I was at, the leader was suggesting that rather than saying, “Come here!” Bob shouted, you should instead go with something like:

        “Come here!” said Bob.
        “You don’t have to shout,” said Alice.

        you know, whether it would make sense for Alice to say that or not.

        My personal opinion is that “said” should be the default, but there
        should be room to use other dialogue tags when it fits.

        June 15, 2018
    • Zsuzsa #

      I will defend Martin’s use of multiple POVs in the earlier books. Many of those worked quite well. I think especially the Battle of the Blackwater in the second book, where he moves between one PoV for the attackers, one PoV for the defenders, and one for the women waiting behind the lines. I found it quite effective.

      By his last book, of course, we had 16 different PoVs few of whose stories intersect. I don’t care how good a story weaver you are, you can’t keep 16 separate threads going and not end up with a mess.

      June 15, 2018
      • Margaret Ball #

        I was just starting to write SF/F and had a book with one thread in 3rd person and another thread as the diary of a Victorian wife. Writing group I was in said “You can’t do that.”

        Ditched said writing group.

        June 18, 2018
  9. TonyT #

    Not that I think either of these books would be a good guide for sell-able literature, but talking about multiple points of view and characters made me think about the classic American “literary” example, Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury (which I read too late at night during high school, and still don’t know which parts I read and which parts I dreamed….), and the Chinese classic, Dream of the Red Chamber, which is told in an episodic manner and has about 40 major characters and only another 400 or so minor ones…I haven’t read it yet, but I do have a copy.

    June 15, 2018
  10. TRX #

    There’s one particular book I use as an example of how to do multi-thread, multi-character: Tim Powers’ “The Anubis Gates.”

    Powers throws a crazily disparate mess into the pot, like two dozen different unrelated stories interleaved. Time travel, magic, body-swapping, serial killers, monsters in the sewers, ancient Egyptian wizards, Dickensian London, Shakespearean London, viewpoint bouncing among multiple characters… he just keeps piling it on past the WTF? point. And then he starts tying all the bits together, *all* of them, every dangling scene and apparent loose end, moving from WTF? to “well, obiously, of course it had to be that way…”

    And that last bit is the difference between “successful story” and “master work”; that makes the whole novel one solid chunk instead of threads running through a story.

    Alas, Powers never managed to write anything like that again…but very few writers can accomplish it *once*.

    June 15, 2018
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      So I need to try reading that again?

      June 15, 2018
    • wolfwalker #

      [[There’s one particular book I use as an example of how to do multi-thread, multi-character: Tim Powers’ “The Anubis Gates.”]]

      YES! Yesyesyesyesyesyesyes!!! “The Anubis Gates” has … let me see … something like five major characters and at least one secondary character who get significant time as a POV character. Each with their own plot-thread. And yet, he never loses track of them. A perfect example.

      And no, he never wrote anything else that blows the mind the way “The Anubis Gates” does… but most authors would kill to write something that great even once.

      (Which is not to say or even suggest he didn’t write other good books. He did. Just nothing else that was AS good.)

      June 15, 2018
  11. Carrington Dixon #

    Edgar Rice Burroughs uses a two-thread approach. Hero and heroine separate early in the book and have separate adventures while trying to find each other. They finally get back together in the final chapters to defeat the back guys and life happily ever after until the next book. Rinse and repeat.

    June 15, 2018
  12. mrsizer #

    The cliff-hanger pov switch only works for me if I care about the characters more-or-less equally (or I want to skip to the continuation) and the chapters are relatively short (so I don’t forget the cliff-hanger).

    Too much time cannot pass, either. One chapter of week for character Y, followed by a year of character X, then back to Y is jarring. It might work to resume Y a year later.

    Something I read recently (don’t recall which human space empire series it was) kept switching to the enemy’s pov. It would have been much better with all that ripped out. If the reader finds out what the enemy is planning when he does it to the protagonist, that’s fine. Even switching pov during the conflict (“you think to foil my dastardly plan so easily? Bwah ha ha, here’s my contingency plan!”) would have been better than reading about the contingency planning sessions – of both sides.

    June 15, 2018
  13. Dan Z #

    I would say Tom Clancy handled the multi-POV thing well in “Red Storm Rising.” There have been times that I’ve gone back and re-read it, but just for fun I stuck with only one of the points of view in the book and skipped over the others. You can do that with some of POV characters (maybe all of them? it’s been a while since I’ve read it) and still end up with a complete (much shorter) story.

    June 15, 2018
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      I remember liking Red Storm Rising. Some of the later Clancy struck me as very much not doing it to my taste.

      June 15, 2018
  14. Mary #

    Multiple points of view are useful for dramatic irony (since you are revealing information in one point of view that you couldn’t in another — one hopes) and, if handled with extreme deftness, indicating the scope of a world.

    June 15, 2018
    • Or raising the tension. “Oh no! They’re walking right into . . . ”

      I like multiple POV, but single POV can be fun (and useful!) too.

      The one thing I can’t stand is head-hopping, where there are frequent POV changes, poorly marked. I understand this is common in Romances, although I haven’t read any recently to be able to point to one.

      June 16, 2018
      • Mary #

        Er — that’s an instance of dramatic irony. You know something the characters don’t, and that’s what raises the tension.

        June 16, 2018
        • Eh. Like I said, no creative writing classes. It’s not what I’d recognize as irony, but perhaps “dramatic irony” is a term used.

          June 16, 2018

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