Character and Point of View Need to Work Together

I’ve just finished another indie book that was an enjoyable, imaginative story slightly flawed by some writing mistakes. This time, at least, the writing problems didn’t exasperate me to the point of wanting to quit reading.

But it’s worth discussing what I thought was wrong. The book was shown mostly from the point of view of a fairly young male. As a character, he was well-drawn and likeable, good traits for the hero of the book. However, nearly every time a new female character was introduced (or entered a scene), the author gave us a detailed description of what she was wearing, far more details than most males would notice, let alone comment upon.

Setting aside that the clothes probably didn’t need to be described quite so extensively, unless the point of view character (in this case, the young male) was really into women’s apparel, it didn’t make sense to me that he was that interested in the lace details and so on that the women were wearing. After he fell in love with one of them, it would have been slightly more believable that he would observe the details of her dress, but not completely.

In addition, with only one or two exceptions, what the women were wearing had almost no bearing on the plot, other than to show social status. It seemed to me that the author loved the descriptions of the clothes and so included them, but they detracted from her book. Had the descriptions of the clothing been presented from the point of view of one of the female characters, with some reason why she was so hung up on what the others were wearing, it would have helped, rather than hindered, the flow of the novel.

The lesson here is that information given by the point of view character has to mesh with what that character knows and would be interested in observing. I’ve been guilty of this error myself. In my own book, I have a worried 12 year old boy notice the spring flowers he was walking by. One of my beta readers pointed this out, saying she didn’t think he’d care about the flowers. I let it stand, since he commented on the flowers because his younger sister was picking them, slowing down their progress. I have to admit, it was a case of liking my sentence and my imagery and not taking an objective look at my prose to decide if it helped the story or not.

This reminds of a scene in one of Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels in which he suggests that his writer friend completely rewrite one of her books. She objects, saying it would be painful.

“What does it matter,” he responded, “if it makes a better book?”

May we all be willing to endure the pain of chopping out our favorite lines and paragraphs if we end up with better books.

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