Monday, 10 February 2014

Anna Karenina and The Advantages and Disadvantages of Head Hopping

It might have taken me a month, but last week I finally finished Anna Karenina by Tolstoy.
It is an amazing book but I did wonder if you sent it to a modern, Western publisher today what they would actually say. I'm sure they would take a large red pen to huge chunks of it which are not essential to the story.

But the main thing from the book I want to look at today, because it is considered one of the big 'no-no's' of modern writing, is head hopping. That is, changing points of view between characters. 

Anna Karenina is all over the place, sometimes switching points of view within a paragraph. There were times when I wasn't actually sure whose head we were inside. And at one point I worked out we were in the head of the dog.

Showing us the different points of view in places added to the story (I meant enhanced the reading experience, but now I come to think of it, it is equally true it added the the page count.) With the large number of characters giving their own opinions made a delightful, or extremely sad, comparison between natures. This struck me at the beginning of the story where we first see things through Oblonsky's point of view, and how he feels he is justified in having affairs on his wife because she now has the children to look after and has lost her good looks. (Okay, when Tolstoy says it, it seems more reasonable). But then a little later we get his wife's point of view. Dolly was completely in love with him, and has give up her beauty and figure to bear him children. She spends her days sorting out the domestic issues that come from him spending all their money, and yet its not enough for him. She feels utterly betrayed and heart broken.

The poignancy of the situation could not be gotten across except by showing us both points of view.

Having said that, making us connect with these two characters, and then numerous others who are not the main characters, I think does detract from the connection with Anna. Perhaps it was because I knew she committed suicide at the end anyway, but going through chapter after chapter of other people's issues, problems and perspectives, I never connected very much to Anna. Her death was not that great a tragedy for me as at least Levin and Kitty got a happy ending, and I cared more about them than Anna and Vronsky. We kept coming back to Anna after months of interval with other characters, and each time she was in a completely different state which I struggled to keep up with. She seemed like a different character each time.

Now I want to compare this to the next book I started reading: The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton. (It was only after I started reading it I remembered that the main character in this also kills herself and yes, on the weekend I had to see Disney's Frozen just to make up for all the doom and gloom). I haven't finished the book yet, but already I'm much more invested in Lily Bart because 90% of the book is her point of view. We occasionally get glimpses of the thoughts of other characters, but it always comes back to Lily. What we learn through seeing other people's thoughts is used to explain what is going to happen to her. They are background brush strokes which highlight where the main character is being led to and why. For example we get a bit of a digression into Lily's cousin Grace Stepney part way through chapter 11. However, comments such as 'Even such scant civilities as Lily accorded to Mr. Rosedale would have made Miss Stepney her friend for life; but how could she foresee that such a friend was worth cultivating?' Suddenly we are given the hint that understanding Grace will help us understand Lily's ultimate demise, and what was pointless now becomes very important indeed.  (Of course, I'll need to finish the book to find out exactly how this happens. I've only seen the movie many years ago, so can't quite remember how it all plays out.)

I would recommend a study of the points of views in both books for those who want to understand the advantages and disadvantages of head-hopping within fiction. If you have as much space as Tolstoy did, you can take long discursions into other people's problems and interests. However, you risk your audience losing their connection with the main character. If you want a sharper, faster paced book then Wharton's use of point of view, where other POV's are carefully used to show the reader the unavoidable path the main character is being led along, is very effective.

Having said that, experimenting with using just one point of view, letting the reader be surprised with the main character, is a very interesting exercise. Once I realised the effect head-hopping had on the connection between my character and the audience, I stopped it. I now look carefully at who I want the audience to be interested in within a scene and show it from their point of view. For some books this means always the same person, but in other books I change it to bring in conflict or greater understanding for the audience. I recommend you try changing the point of view and see how that affects otherwise flat scenes.

As to my own writing:
I am currently waiting for the proof copy of the paperback for The Nice Guy's Guide To Online Dating Profiles from Amazon. It should arrive tomorrow, yah!
I ran a Goodreads giveaway for it which ended tonight, and 666 people entered. Is that a bad sign?

I didn't get through the first two days of Bootcamp by last Wednesday, as I had hoped. I'm still working on it, and today found a whole new section on different genres I should add to help the reader. Hopefully I will get that finished tomorrow morning, and finish Day 2 as well. Will just have to see how much I can get done before work.

I've been sending off proposals to agents for 'A Little Bit Of Leaven', so all prayers for that gratefully received. I fulfilled my quota and sent a few more as well, so that's one goal met. I also made it to the gym three times last week, so another goal met.

Finally, reading The House Of Mirth has made me wonder whether I should change the character of Lucinda Hargraves in After The Winter a bit. When I finish Bootcamp I'm going to start on that, just need things to fall into place a bit more. For those who have read the sample chapter on the Synopsis page, do you think she is a bit wet? Would she be better a bit stronger, even if it is to the harsh side?

This Week's Goals:
- Finish the first run through of Bootcamp and sent it off for a structural edit.
- Started editing After The Winter.
- Create the cover for Bootcamp (I want to play with the one I already have a bit), and start a Goodreads Giveaway for the hard copy, giving myself a deadline for when it will come out.

That should probably do.

Anyone read a book with a lot of changing points of view that really worked? 

1 comment:

  1. I cut my reading teeth on those books so many decades ago! but as I didn't know about head hopping back then and so many books did it I guess we just managed to negotiate our way - it is easier if it's not done too often

    I read your sample and taking a guess at the story line I'm thinking she is going to change into a more confident healthier person? in which case if you make her too strong at beginning where will you get the contrast? or maybe if you want more guts make her shyness more defensive (aggressive( as her defence - but keep the inner thoughts as weak - that way the reader can follow through watching the change - as she gets more confident the defensivness can lessen - make any sense?

    excuse spelling. and puctuation -having a bit of a dyspraxic early morning:( all the best:)