Mark Terry

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Game of Thrones - Point Of View

January 8, 2013
As I've been reading George RR Martin's GAME OF THRONES, I've had real cause to think about a story's point of view. I've written about POV often on this blog and devote a fair amount of time to it in my free booklet, On Writing, which can be downloaded for free here.

Although there are myriad POVs to choose from in fiction, the most common, and probably (in my opinion anyway) most effective, are:

-third-person, single POV. In other words, the story is told from the point of view of a single person, even though it is narrated in the third person.

-first-person, single POV. Popular in cozy mysteries and PI fiction, it has its limitations, but it's very intimate.

-third-person, multiple POV. Several characters share a POV scene or chapter. This is typically how I write my Derek Stillwater novels, although I usually structure things so that Derek's POV is in at least every other chapter, so it's clear he is the main character. The novellas - to-date, that would be DIRE STRAITS, but I'm working on GRAVEDIGGER, which will be out sometime in the first half of this year hopefully, and I use a third-person, single POV for them.

There are, of course, many other ways. Occasionally writers mix first-person and third-person with varying degrees of success. Rick Riordan's recent THE MARK OF ATHENA, had about 6 narrators. Each narrator got 2 chapters at a time. It worked, although part of the problem is if you like some characters more than others, the ones by characters you're less inclined to spend time with get to be a little bit of a chore.

And of course, there's the omniscient third-person, which has the reader wandering in and out of different character's heads and POVs seemingly at will. Mostly this way sucks and gets confusing, but I'm sure there are good examples of it somewhere. (None come to mind).

I'm a big believer in structure along these lines and in making life easier for the reader, so I'm biased. When you use multiple POVs, I really think you need to structure things.

Which brings me to GAME OF THRONES. Martin has 9 POV characters. Each one gets a chapter, in seemingly no particular order. It works quite well. There are basically 3 story lines. Each chapter is labeled whose POV it is, so it works. While we're in each chapter, it doesn't wander from that character's POV. We're not in Tyrion's head then drifting into Jon or Eddard or Catelyn or Arya's head. Thank God for that. [Let me think. In GOT the POV character's are: Eddard Stark, Catelyn Stark, Jon Snow, Bran Stark, Tyrion Lannister, Cersei, Daenerys, Arya Stark, and Sansa Stark. There's also a prologue told from the POV of a guy named Gared. So technically 10, although Gared doesn't live past chapter one.]

The reason I bring this up in this context, is that it is my understanding that somewhere down the line, possibly Martin's A DANCE WITH DRAGONS, he's got 31 POV characters.

As much as I'm enjoying GOT, I confess to more than a little bit of trepidation about reading a book with that many POV characters. Granted, his books are massive, 300,000 to 500,000 words, but ... 31 POV characters? How does the writer keep them straight, let alone the reader?



Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

I suspect that as readers we will manage to deal with almost any arrangement as long as things are clear and our interest is being held. Speaking as a reader, I can have a hard time keeping characters clear, period. Never mind if they get POV chapters. Thirty one POV characters better all be wearing name tags for me!

My preference, to read and to write, is to use multiple points of view but without any strict artificial structure aside from giving each character his or her own chapters. Seeing the story unfold from the POVs of the characters who happen to be in the best position to view the story at each place along the plot line works for me. With the caveat that, as you mention, it is also probably a good idea to make sure that the character who's supposed to be the protagonist gets the most chapters.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I think the rule of thumb, should any writer try to determine which character to make the POV character, is, Who has the most to lose?

One of the things George RR Martin did in Game of Thrones, and presumably throughout the entire series, is - there's no main character.

I'm pretty sure people coming to the book without warning would think Eddard Stark is the main character. And I'm sorry if I'm ruining things for you, but...

OK. Spoiler, in case you didn't already know...

He gets killed at the end of the book. Or second-to-last episode in the first season.

If there's any hallmark of the series, it's that anything can, and probably will, happen to any of the characters. I've read up on what happens to some of the other characters in the series and presumed main characters get killed, maimed, shamed, crippled, raped, etc. Martin, to his credit, does not play favorites.

1:34 PM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks, said...

Martin has a way of making it clear and fluid. It's not voice, either, but he just gets so in the head of his characters. Plus some of the characters overlap (you might see it from Cersei one scene and from one of the courtiers the next scene, but Cersei will be in the second scene, or at least come up). I admit DANCE was not my favorite because of several reasons, one of those being I didn't get to spend enough time with my favorites.

7:31 AM  

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