question reminds me more of the movie The End of the Affair. The movie
starts with a husband confiding to a friend that he thinks his wife is
having an affair. The friend offers to hire a private detective to find
out. This only convinces the husband that his friend had an affair with
his wife in the past.
movie goes back into the past and shows the affair from the friend’s
point of view. And it shows the affair ending, from his point of view.
the movie shifts and shows the affair ending from the wife’s point of
view, which creates an entirely different understanding of why the
the shift of point of view completely changes an understanding of what
happens in the film. The film even ends with an omniscient pov, where a
sister as an adult sees her younger self and sister playing at a beach.
was a TV show called Boomtown. The basic set up was to show a
crime/event, then shift the POV to give a different understanding of
Question, 'What is the redemption in the movie, "The Shawshank
Tim Robbins goes from being emotionally numb to an ability to feel. There’s
a shot early in the movie when he goes to prison showing the width of the
walls. That is symbolic of the internal walls that block Tim’s internal life.
Morgan Freeman’s character gains an understanding of how he ended up in
Two men who appear beyond redemption are redeemed.
Originally Answered: 'How many points of view (POVs) are too many in a novel?'
The problem with a question like this (or doing a prologue) is that someone
skilled at storytelling can accomplish many difficult tasks, including telling
a story with multiple points of view.
Someone who lacks skills in understanding POV will screw it up.
Years ago I read a manuscript for an author with a background as a TV
producer. She didn’t understand POV. She would shift POV if someone mentioned
an article of clothing and she’d go off into a POV shift about what someone
thought about it.
No point to the shift, served no purpose, just wrong.
I told her how to fix it. She said she did. She got an agent to read her
novel, which was rejected by the agent’s reader because of POV problems. The
agent’s reader refused to review the novel.
So the author asked for my help. I again explained how to fix the POV
problems and she asked me to ask the agent to again look at the revised novel.
The agent’s reader came upon the same POV mess and refused to read the novel.
Suggestions that inexperienced writers avoid POV shifts are for the same
reason people are told to avoid doing a prologue and children are advised not
to play with gasoline and matches.
More than ONE point of view shift is too many if someone doesn’t understand
POV and how to use it.
Question, 'In novels, do you believe that theme is always more important
This needs to be broken down.
To say a story has a theme is a way of saying it has a point.
A novel that doesn't have a point risks appearing to be pointless.
When I would be asked to critique pointless novels that eventually had a
character dealing with redemption, the author would put the word redemption in
the 2nd paragraph of the 2nd page and say, 'See, I have a theme. Everything
should be okay now."
Not really. Consider Harry Potter, which is storytelling/plot 101 in terms
Harry wants to fit in. He's the symbol of a war about pure versus mixed
blood (about allowing more people to fit in versus a smaller group of pure
That issue connects every character in the novels.
Each novel is a step in Harry's journey toward fitting in.
Each chapter in a Harry Potter novel is a clearly defined step along a plot
line, that large step that will resolve the issue of fitting in for Harry in
Rowling uses a process I call question, answer, question. Each short chapter
starts with a question. The answer to the question at the end of the chapter
raises a new plot question to resolve that gives meaning to the next chapter.
Returning to the issue of fitting in, even the Dursley's want to fit in by
appearing normal. Harry Potter by his existence is a mortal threat to that
See the conflict this creates? It creates what I call narrative tension, the
tension an audience feels about whether Harry will be expelled from Hogwarts
back to the Dursley's.
As the plot of a Harry Potter novel increases the obstacles Harry must
overcome, the narrative tension increases, making each novel compelling (to its
Now, compare that to a novel that appears to be pointless.
The reader has to memorize details until they have a context. By the time
you get to the third character who acts to no apparent purpose, getting through
that is like getting through a swamp.
Using another example from a popular novel, The Hunt for Red October. Ramius
wants to be free of oppression. That's what the story is about, it's theme, if
you will. Each step Ramius takes to gain his freedom increases the obstacles he
must get through. Once a reader is hooked on the question of whether Ramius can
gain his freedom, they have to finish the novel.
Note that any character in the novel, a Soviet pilot for example, can be in
the novel for two paragraphs, but his actions clearly have a purpose within the
scope of the story, trying to stop or aid Ramius in his quest.
Like in Harry Potter, every character in Hunt is on a side and their actions
have meaning that advance the plot.
But these mechanics of storytelling also apply to literary fiction.
In Joyce's short story The Dead, an intellectual doctor in Ireland takes
his wife to a salon, where other intellectuals debate the issues of the time.
After the salon, riding home in an open sleigh in the snow, the doctor images
his wife is waiting for him to explain the intellectual arguments of the
evening she didn't understand and that will be a prelude to intimacy.
Instead his wife is thinking of a time when she was a young girl and a
suitor came to see her in the snow just before he passed from consumption
The intellectual doctor realizes that with all his vaunted intellect, he
could not recognize the mood of his wife. That all the intellectual arguments
of the night are like the snow covering the earth, some frozen water vapor
covering the deeper reality of the earth.
The plot and characters of The Dead revolve around ideas.
The Dead as a story is an inch wide and a mile deep.
The Hunt for Red October is a mile wide and an inch deep.
But both operate to a dramatic purpose and both have a plot.
I recently read All the Light We Cannot See, which is a novel about how war
impacts ordinary people. The plot is about which of two main characters will
survive a city being bombed, and then who will survive the war.
Simple story, complex plot.
Returning to the issue of theme, in general I avoid using the word and just
come to an understanding of what a story is about. Typically for an unpublished
novel that starts out pointlessly, that revelation can come deep in a novel.
Another way to consider this is to think of a story in terms of music. Lets
say Harry Potter is told in the key of C. That means there are particular notes
that work and have an effect in that key, and notes that are discordant.
Struggling writers are hitting notes/words in the wrong key.
The audience can hear the difference. Coming up with different verbs for how
something crosses a room - siddles, glides, dances, strides - doesn’t change
anything if those words are in the wrong key.
Fixing an unpublished (or self published) novel written by someone who
doesn't understand what key/theme they are playing in can mean conveying an understanding
of storytelling and not thinking changes in grammar or proofreading or changing
the order of opening chapters will fix the overriding problem.
Also, someone who doesn't understand what a story is about generally doesn't
understand how to create a strong plot.