How many POVs is too many?

I have been listening to The Disappeared: A Retrieval Artist Novel, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, because I wanted a sci fi detective story, and so far it is interesting and fairly exciting, but I am finding myself somewhat annoyed by how many POV’s it has.

I find myself annoyed by the cliff-hangers every time it switches viewpoints. As a strategy to keep the reader moving, I’m not sure this works as well as I used to–and everyone still seems to–think it did.  Maybe it works with just two viewpoints, but with 3 or 4 or 5, by the time I get back to the exciting place we left off, I find myself not caring as much, and more thinking about what I just left behind. This is very likely not the same for all readers, but I think there is a drop off point for how often you can switch viewpoints and still have effective cliff hangers.

Another problem with constantly changing views, especially in a detective story, is that I know much more than all the characters know. Watching a detective discover something is not nearly as exciting when I already know the secret because another character saw it or did it in a previous chapter.

A specific example in this book (The disappeared), we follow the main detective of the story as he deduces, using some clever investigations and questioning and hunches and reasoning (all very well written) to figure out that another character is lying, and what her real story is. Unfortunately, it’s not so exciting to read because we already know exactly what happened to that character because we saw it from her point of view in a previous chapter. So instead of turning the pages to find out the secret, I’m turning the pages thinking ‘hurry up and figure it out, man’.

The story so far still has my interest because it’s pretty intriguing, and I like the characters. But it’s not the detective story I’d hoped for, due to all these POVs.

Find a writing enemy

Competition always makes me more productive. I’ve written my best stories when they were for contests among friends. I knew if I didn’t turn in something good, I wouldn’t live it down, so I’d meet the deadline no matter what.

By writing enemy I mean someone you want to be better than, someone you want to defeat. Someone on your skill level that you can struggle against in a friendly way. Who can write more words in an hour/day/week? Who can get a story into x magazine first? Who can write the best story as judged by some other group of friends?

I find when I’m writing for other people, and not just myself (as is so often the case with unknown writers) that I’m much more productive. And if you’re not able to find anyone to beg you for more writing because they want to read it, I’m sure you can find another writer to compete against!

Try it, it will improve your productivity!

Real life

I’m having trouble concentrating on the fictional worlds I create, when the real one I live in is in such turmoil.

It’s hard not to think ‘what’s the point?’ Who care’s what happens to a pretend person I made up when there are real people in trouble everywhere?

But we can’t all do everything. That’s what I tell myself. The world needs art even more when it is in pain.

That’s how I try to justify it. But it’s still hard.

Several short sentences about writing, by Verlyn Klinkenborg

I got this as a gift last year, and am finally finishing it now after a long hiatus of distraction.

This is unequivocally the best book on writing I’ve ever read.

Each page–each sentence–is a useful insight that most ‘how to write’ books would stretch out into an entire chapter.

It is a joy to read, humorous, inspiring, encouraging and endlessly  helpful in such a clear and straightforward way that you will find yourself wanting to bookmark every page.

This is the first, and so far only book on writing I would recommend to any aspiring writer.

Get it!


Replay, by Ken Grimwood


The worries I wrote about in my previous posts on this did not come to be, and the book ended up being less infuriating than Harry August, but also less interesting.

Jeff Winston is living twenty-five years of his life over and over again. Each time he dies of a heart attack at exactly the same day and time, at age 43, and wakes up at age 18 to do it all over again. The things he chooses to do with his lives, however, are rather simple and mundane.

He makes a lot of money in one life, by placing bets and buying stocks based on his foreknowledge. But he doesn’t do anything particularly interesting with that money. Doesn’t travel anywhere interesting, or fund any interesting research or start any crazy projects. He just lives a life as a rich man, then dies.

One life he reconnects with the ‘one that got away’, living another normal life with a woman he loves, and starts a family.

After the repetition starts to get to him, and he is distraught that not only will he never see his daughter from his previous life again, but that she’s been completely erased from existence, he lives a life of debauchery, drugs, endless meaningless sex, and eventually isolation. But still, nothing particularly interesting. He stays inside the US, and predictable parts of Europe. No exotic locations or experiences other than drug trips and multiple-partner sex.

When he finally meets another ‘replayer’, who is trying to do something, with big plans that have global scope, he ‘disagrees with her methods’ ie, disagrees that she’s doing literally anything beyond the normal, and gets mad at her about it.

I’m puzzling over the point of this book. It is really well written, and full of nostalgia and melancholy, but I’m not sure exactly what it is trying to say. It seems to be making a point that no matter what you do, life is full of pain that you can’t prevent, so don’t worry about what you’re going to do next, and just enjoy the moment… I think? ‘Don’t question it, just appreciate it’ is another thing it seems to say.

Claire North did a lot more interesting things with the concept in her book, but still seemed to have a somewhat similar message, in that the character who was after answers was the villain.

There isn’t really a villain in Replay, other than time, I suppose, but it has the same feel–that questioning and seeking answers is a waste of time, or is in fact harmful, and you should just enjoy your life and love those around you while you can.

I suppose this is a good message–but when I’m reading a book about a guy who is impossibly living his life over and over, I’m sorry, but I want answers! I’m not going to nod and smile and heave a sigh of relief when he decides to just live his life with his wife and kids and enjoy the moments. That’s not what I want to read about, nor do I imagine it is what anyone who would pick up a book with this premise wants to read either.

Over all this is a very will written book packed full of nostalgia and melancholy. The tone is very consistent and perhaps it is more directed at older people looking back over their lives and pondering their decisions. I recommend Claire North’s book higher for the much more interesting things she does with the concept, but Grimwood’s version is much less irritating in the way the story is framed.

Will AI ever write fiction?

With all the advances in AI showing seemingly creative potential, I wonder if in some distant future, AIs will be able to scan the whole of human writing, and determine what makes for the perfect story–and start churning them out.

I’ve always been a proponent of AI, and see it as more helpful than harmful in the long run, as well as very interesting. But this idea… somewhat disturbs me. Not that I feel threatened that an AI might write better than me, or think that an AI producing fiction based on some algorithm somehow cheapens the art, but because I just know that the publishing and film industry would use it to put human writers out of work.

We already have a hard enough time surviving by being creative, we don’t need a machine that will work endless hours for free taking our few paying jobs!

Character questions

What would your character do if approached by a drunk in a bar? Lost in the woods with no food or flashlight? Locked unjustly (or justly) in solitary confinement? If they were told they just swallowed poison?

This is an exercise I was just doing recently with my sister, and it’s fun and also informative. Trying to imagine your character in different situations (even if completely unrelated to the story, or even impossible for the world the character lives in) can help you get a clear idea of who they are, or let you know that you don’t really have an idea who they are at all.

Try it out, you might learn something about your protagonist!