I’m currently reading a mystery series by an author friend who is really popular. It doesn’t bother me in the least that I’m reading the books out of order. In the first book I read, about three months ago, one of the detectives was killed in an arson fire. In the book I finished reading in January, that detective was applying for the job and got hired. I keep reading them, not because the writing is fantastic or anything, but because I like the characters and the stories.
The author wrote these books using only one viewpoint character–and that character is relating the story in first-person point-of-view. It’s as though the character is telling us directly what he’s thinking and feeling, and what is happening. We, the readers, can’t know anything else that’s going on in the story world, unless the point-of-view character knows it and tells us.
Some authors will use a single viewpoint character, but instead of using first-person point-of-view, they will write the story in third-person point-of-view, which gives a bit of a filter between the character and the reader. In a way, it’s more like we’re watching and eavesdropping on him or her. Still other authors use multiple viewpoint characters. One of my favorite authors wrote a series that has one first-person viewpoint character and half a dozen or so third-person viewpoint characters. Another favorite author uses multiple third-person viewpoint characters and no first-person viewpoint characters. It’s all a matter of preference.
I’ve heard many readers and writers say that they prefer single viewpoint characters, because they like getting really involved with that character. It can make for a simpler story and you get to know that character really well. Other readers and writers like multiple viewpoint characters, because they can get to know a wider range of characters in a story and see different angles and perspectives.
In the mystery novels that I write, I use multiple viewpoint characters and close-third-person point-of-view. Why? Because I want the freedom to explore what’s happening throughout my story world. If I stay with only one character, I feel locked in–either I have to manipulate the story to get the character where I need him or her to be in order to get the information needed, or I have to leave something out that I want to have in the story. Also, readers wouldn’t get to know my other characters as well as I want them to know them.
Take my first novel, In the Shadows, for instance: In part of the story, the characters split up and are in three different locations. By using multiple points-of-view, the readers get to follow Dave to England and Maurelle and the grandmothers to a remote part of France, and yet they can still see Simone in Reynier, France. With single viewpoint, the story would have had to follow only one character. The rest of the scenes would either go away entirely or would be summarized in conversations. Much of the story would have been lost.
This doesn’t mean that multiple viewpoints are the way to go in every book. Not at all. It depends on the story, the characters, and the writers. Every story is different. Every author has his or own style and/or preferences. Authors can even vary the way they write, depending on what they want to accomplish in a particular book.