What I'm reading: Deeper Than the Dead, by Tami Hoag
When I read, I want to be immersed in the story. I want to see what the characters see, worry with them, rejoice with them, and follow them from Chapter 1 to The End. Too many characters, too many switches and the emotional connections get diluted.
For me, the key word is "follow." I'm a fan of deep Point of View, although if an author switches viewpoints smoothly, I don't mind. I don't care much for POV characters brought in for one or two scenes; I'd rather see them having a vested interest in what's going on, so I can care about them too. When I read those scenes, I'm often pulled away wondering if the author couldn't have found a way to convey that information via one of the main characters.
For example, I've been working on writing (and rewriting) the last two scenes of my book, trying to make sure I've got the right characters on the page at the right time. I've got two major plot threads to tie up, and the characters with the information the reader needs aren't in the same place.
We need to know why the bad guy did what he did, and we need to know how Rose escaped. We also need to know what happened to the missing secret that's been behind the entire mystery. And, as the author, it's important for me to make sure the right character is on the page when each of these things is revealed.
Gordon, my cop, found the bad guy, but Rose, the elderly woman the bad guy had captured, was still missing, and Gordon had a personal connection to her. His conflict became my conflict. He's got a bad guy but he doesn't have Rose. Where are his priorities? Should he follow his professional training or emotional instincts? Does he turn the bad guy over to the county detective who's with him, or stay with the bad guy and send another cop to find Rose? Raising the stakes, the bad guy has already killed 2 people, so delaying finding Rose could cost her life.
I could slide in a new point of view character for a scene, so the reader would know, but that would diminish the impact because (I hope) the reader has been wanting to see how the cop will handle catching the bad guy, especially since he was the one to figure out who the bad guy was. One way or another, I need to have Gordon be on the scene when the bad guy confesses.
Another issue that surfaced during a recent read was the 'flash forward' approach. It really bugs me when I'm reading and all of a sudden either the author or the character steps in to tell me what's going to happen later. Even though the book may have started in such a way that makes it clear that the protagonist is re-telling something that's already happened, before very many pages have gone by, I'm "in the moment" with the character. There have been books that being with the character in the hospital, recovering from whatever happened at the climax of the book. Yet, by chapter 3, I've forgotten, and when that moment arises, I've been drawn down the path, and I'm not thinking about it.
Granted, in a series mystery, the reader knows deep down that the detective will solve the case and come out alive. But the tension is still there, and the reader follows along to see how the clues are discovered, and how the protagonist puts everything together.
However, when a chapter ends with something like, "If I'd known then that XX would be found three days later with a bullet in his head," then I growl. I've been watching XX. I might like or not like XX. But I don't want to know he's going to be dead. Not yet. That's a total spoiler, and when they find the body, there's no surprise.
Is it wrong? Obviously not, because it's a frequently used device. It seems less bothersome when it's something like, "If she'd seen the look on his face … " because it’s likely that I've got a decent handle on whoever "he" was. But I still don't like it if I'm in "her" POV, because she didn't see the look on his face, and the author is bringing someone else in to tell me about it.
So, back to my problem when Gordon has to decide how to deal with having the bad guy in hand, but Rose off in the bush. I could say "Later, Gordon would regret his decision …"
But that's not what I'd want to read, so that's not what I'm going to write. If Gordon's going to make a bad decision, he's not going to know it's the wrong decision to make until that 'later' actually happens, and as a reader, I don't want to know either.
What about you? Do you prefer one or two point of view characters? Or a cast of many? Often, in series with recurring characters, it's easier to deal with multiple POV characters because you meet them over the course of the books, and grow more familiar with them as the series progresses. But what about the reader who begins in book 3? (which is never me, because I HAVE to start with book one!)
Come back tomorrow for a new Friday Feature.