1. Paul_V
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    Paul_V Member

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    Writing Style Dilemma: Multiple Parallel Lines, yes/no?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Paul_V, Feb 20, 2009.

    First of all, thanks for taking your time to read this, regardless of whether you provide feedback or not.

    Now, the dilemma. I'm writing a novel with two of my friends (actually, I'm doing the actual writing, they're there to help me with background stuff and the plot in general), and we seem to have wildly different opinions as to how we should handle the actual storyline (what a shocker...).

    I believe that we shouldn't focus on a single group of characters, even if they're the main ones. My idea would be to intertwine several "plotlines," as if they were all happening at the same time, and shift the focus with every chapter. For example, in Chapter 1, we see Joe. In Chapter 2, we see Alice. In Chapter 3, we see Alfred. In Chapter 4, we see Joe and Alice. In Chapter 5, we see Mary. Etc, etc.

    Another one of my friends believes the exact opposite. We should stick to the main characters and avoid any "unnecessary distractions," regardless of whether these distractions are related to the plot or not. My third friend is indecisive. So, I have considered the Pros and Cons of both methods.

    Pros of Multiplicity: In my opinion, it's more interesting, realistic and (relatively) original. Cons: I will admit that it's highly possible that readers will simply lose track of so many characters, locations, etc. Also, I've heard that it's bad if the readers can't separate the main character/s from the rest of the cast, but I never really understood why.

    Pros of Focusing: It's easier both on the author and the readers, it's the traditional method, and it allows people to identify with the main characters and develop a bond with them. Cons: It's boring, predictable, self-centered, and I get the feeling that the readers will end up hating the main characters, based on the old saying that "Familiarity breeds contempt."

    So, o wise forumers, I plead to thee! Dispel any false assumptions, inform me of something I might have missed, relate your experiences and opinions! But please, bereave me not!
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    First off, I wish you luck in the minefield of collaboration. If it comes down to hard times, sacrifice the book. Friends are worth more in the long run.

    There are many ways to skin a cat, not that I have any particular interest in feline pelts. The important thing is to develop your principal characters and your plots, and tat all the subordinate lots contribute either to the central plot or to the development of your prioncipal characters. If you can do that from the perspective of peripheral characters, more power to you.

    On the other hand, As a reader I would wonder why you're even bringing in the peripheral characters. I'd generally rather stick close to the principals to get to know them best.

    Also, writing from multiple points of view (POVs) takes more skill than writing from a single point of view. Character driven narration requires more attention to the distinctive voice of the current POV character.
     
  3. Dcoin
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    Dcoin Contributing Member

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    I've always fancied the idea of creating several story lines and then finding a way to bind their stories at the middle/end. As Cog said this takes skill and the ability to keep readers reading each line, even though they do not seem to fit right away.
     
  4. Ghosts in Latin
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    Ghosts in Latin Senior Member

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    I second the above post.
     
  5. Scarecrow28
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    Scarecrow28 Contributing Member

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    I think that multiple parrelleling storylines would make for an interesting story but I also agree that doing so will be signifigantly more difficult than focusing on a single storyline. I guess it depends upon how experienced you already at writing and your own personal opinion on the story.
     
  6. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    Look I will say that the idea is good. I will not say multiple story lines is harder as much as it is more involved and requires more time. Sometimes it can take a 100,000 words just to get to know the MC. When you start bringing in more people you have more time, and more words, involved in making them someone a reader wants to get to know.

    There fore just start of with the P.O.V of the main character. Realisticly the only time I see multiple P.O.V.'s done write is in a series. Unless you are an author already published I would not be concerned about that right now.

    F.Y.I Multiple point of views is not as "original" as you may want to hope. George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan, J.R.R. Tolkien, and many others use that style. Even comic books use multiple P.O.V. remember that.
     
  7. Paul_V
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    Paul_V Member

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    Thanks for the replies, everyone.

    Cogito: Well, we have different priorities there. Friends are a dime a dozen, but there's only one work of your life. Anyway, I'm a firm believer that every scene must contribute to one of these three things: Plot advancement. Characterization. Character Development. So no, there will not be any unnecessary scenes. Perhaps they'll be boring, depending on whether the readers find the current character interesting or not.

    My main intention with the peripheral characters is not to lay the burden of plot advancement onto the heroes. I mean, I'm going to need certain things done, in order to further the really complicated overarching plot, and it strains Suspension of Disbelief that it's always the main characters the ones that do them. Also, we created an entire universe from scratch (several, in fact), and I don't want to focus all of my attention in a group of people. I want to show the readers what's happening elsewhere, and that the plot doesn't revolve entirely around these six characters, whether or not it's actually true.

    I fully agree with everyone who says that it won't be easy and that it's going to require a lot of skill. I do not fear difficulty. I think that anything can be accomplished through hard work and sheer willpower. Also, I don't have any exceptional writing skills, so I hardly believe that the result is going to be any different either way. It's just going to take more time. Also, my experience, if your measuring standard is published work, is nonexistent. If your standard is actual written work, regardless of whether it has been published or not, then you can say I've been writing stories since I learned how to read and write (and I'm not exaggerating, I have really old stories from when I was 5 or 6). Which would total to around 13-15 years or so.

    TwinPanther13: The word count doesn't faze me, but I can see how it can scare some of the readers. Also, I do hate to read long stories that seemingly lead to nowhere. I will take that into consideration.

    I don't quite get your second paragraph, but I am planning on releasing the novel in six books. And the style is not going to change between each. If I decide that I'll write in a Single POV, I'll stick to that until the end. Likewise for the other choice.

    Of course it's not original, hence why I added the "(relatively)" part. However, you have to admit that Multiple POV is far more original and modern than Single POV.
     
  8. Miswrite
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    Miswrite Member

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    The choice is rather obvious. You say Friend 3 is undecided. Bribe him to side with you. 2/3 is a majority, even in Congress, so your other friend will have no choice but to comply.

    Just kidding :)

    I personally would more enjoy both options, if you managed to still develop the multitude of characters you would have on yours hands if you choose to focus on all of them.
     
  9. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    Well what I was saying is that those writer's develop there characters over multiple novels. They switch P.O.V. so often in one novel that you never really get to know one character. Over the course of the many novels you get to learn characters very well.

    My two favorite chracters from the wheel of time are Matt and Perrin, but there are novels in the wheel of time series where those chracters are only featured in one or two chapters out of the 900 pages that I read. That makes me not want to read the stories cause the characters I like are not in the story often. I know he was moving towards a certain goal, but it pissed me off. I did not care about Rand and all his women I wanted to know about Matt and his Dragon army and Perrin the Wolf man. That is something to look out for.
     
  10. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    Question: Why are people easy to warm up to twenty 500 page books, but are afraid of, say, a single 1,200 page book?

    I desire to write a LONG book, because I want it to be richly detailed, have a complex story and realistic characters that the reader should want to get to.
    This, I think, can only be accomplished with a long book, at LEAST 800 pages, and I truly intend to make it as LONG as I can get away with. (Two-thousand pages or more)

    I constantly read books, and if I find one I enjoy, I have NEVER thought, "Man, I'm glad that ended," though I have, at times, thought, "Wow, that had a great ending!"

    Everyone I know tells me of how they grew increasingly filled with dread as they neared the end of the book because they just didn't want it to end.


    Anyway, more to the point:

    I am currently reading a book (I think I have given more 'real' examples than anyone on this forum! How many times have I opened a line with, 'I am currently reading a book'?) wherein the viewpoint switches from the five or so main characters, to other important characters that are also involved in the plot.

    (Whether it be bad guys or otherwise)

    I would generally be annoyed by this because I am so interested in the main characters that I do not want it to switch viewpoints, however; he does it so well and interestingly that I do not begrudge him for it.

    So I say; have at it, if it advances the plot and makes things interesting.
     
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  11. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    In my opinion you should be able to say what you have to in about 500 -600 pages and that is pushing it. When you get to 900 pages to me you are writing fluff for a pay check. That is why I believe some choose multiple view points. It's like you are writing multiple stories in one novel.

    Look at the War of the Lance from Wizard's of the coast. That book has so many little back stories writen after the original series filling in gaps about different points in the main narative. The overall narative was complete on its own. The extra stuff was a great way to extend the life of that time frame of the story.

    There were even background stories written about what happened before the heroes met. That is all those 900 pages are extra little tid bits. Yes they are nice, but if the main narrative does not require it do not force me to read it. Especially when my favorite character only shows up in one chapter.
     
  12. Paul_V
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    Paul_V Member

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    Hummm, that was some really nutritious food for thought.

    Miswrite: That's not really a problem, since my indecisive friend has agreed that if push comes to a shove, he's siding with me, since I'm the one doing the actual writing. I'm just hoping we can find an alternate solution.

    How exactly could I have it both ways? Either you focus on the main characters or you don't. Of course, we could break the action at certain points with "Interludes" from other characters, but that's still focusing on the heroes.

    TwinPanther13: Well, my intention is never to go to that extreme. I want to keep all of my characters in the spotlight as often as possible. Sure, some will appear only a couple of times per book, but I do intend to be fair with the spotlight distribution.

    Atari: Well, you aren't doing anything out of the ordinary. Stephen King, without looking too far, is easily the King of Doorstoppers (no pun intended). And the worst part is that some parts in his books aren't really necessary. Oh, sure, they add characterization and help paint the setting, but they aren't really vital for the story.

    Personally, I don't care about length. I have a story to tell, and I will do it the best that I can, whether it takes me two hundred pages or two thousand. I won't pad and I won't cut, and if that makes my book a doorstopper, then so be it.

    Your real-life example is pretty much what I intend to do. I've also read some books where that technique was used, and I particularly enjoyed it. Mostly because as a reader, I am the opposite of the majority: Unless a character is unique or exceptionally original, I am going to hate it eventually. And the more you rub its clich├ęd little quirks and personality twists on me, the quicker I'll wish for its death.

    TwinPanther13 (x2): I disagree with you there. I don't think that there's a "set" amount of pages that can be used as a standard for when a work is drawing too long. If a story is complex, it's going to take more words to develop it, whether you like it or not. You can't cram a deep plot with layers and layers of complexity into 500-600 pages, because that will simply ruin the story. Conversely, the opposite is also true. If you draw out a simple plot through pages and pages of inanity, then you will have also ruined the story. I think that each story has an ideal length, and that you can't have a "standard" to measure whether that length has been exceeded or not.

    Well, I'm not talking about going to the other extreme. Like I said, I intend to be fair with the spotlight distribution and make sure that everyone gets a certain amount of attention, since I don't want to neglect anybody. There will be exceptions, of course (I will fight predictability to the death), but that's going to be the general idea.
     
  13. Miswrite
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    You could do both if you choose to focus on all the characters from the third person omniscient POV for a couple chapters and then, to bring the readers closer to a character, do a chapter focusing on just a main character. I've read several books structured like that, and enjoyed a lot of them.
     
  14. Paul_V
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    Paul_V Member

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    Waitwaitwait. Whaaaaat?

    How exactly do you "focus on a main character?" My writing style was going to be a detached and unbiased recount of what the characters are thinking, feeling and doing; using the exact same style for every character I come accross. An example:

    Chapter 1:

    "Mary was feeling happy that Sunday morning. She felt at peace with the world, and utterly satisfied. She doubted things could get any better."

    Chapter 2:

    "Joe's heart was aching that Sunday morning. He had barely managed to get out of bed, and his resolve to face the outside world seemed to fade with every step he took."


    While I doubt that it's going to allow the readers to "get inside" the characters, it's the best I can do given my abilities. I figure that it's going give the reader the impression that he or she him/herself is an omnisicent witness of what's going on, rather than being the actual main character.
     
  15. Agreen
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    Agreen Faceless Man Contributor

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    The story I'm working on right now has multiple POV characters and story lines. Because I loosely follow an act structure, the hardest part has been fitting in the different character arcs in a satisfactory manner without bogging the story down too heavily. If you'd like to run parallel story lines, I'd say it's best to have a clear idea where each of them are going, how they relate to each other... and consider how each viewpoint outside of the main character's adds to the overall work. If you'd like something to read both Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy and Brandon Sanderson's Elantris are recent examples of books with parallel story lines done well.
     
  16. Vayda
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    Vayda Senior Member

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    I think you need to determine your audience (Young adult, adult, fantasy, etc.) and read a book or two that does what you propose.

    If it's young adult I can recommend Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey. Not exactly what you're trying to do, but close.

    For adult, try Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, it's told in shifting first person POV from the perspective of each of the family members and I think one chapter from a neighbor.
     
  17. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Same reason I snack all day instead of eating three full meals. A bunch of small things is less daunting than one huge thing, even if the several small things ends up bigger than the one big thing. Some people might not be able handle the intense amount of detail that such a long book needs, or keep up with what's going on. Or they think they can't handle it and choose not to go there, which has been true of me at times.
     
  18. Paul_V
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    Paul_V Member

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    Agreen: Yes, of course. I completely agree with you. I can't just shift character focus left and right without a plan. It's inconceivable to me. Thanks for the recomendations, I'll keep them in mind.

    Vayda: My audience is going to be probably Young Adult, and the genre is definitely Fantasy. I've already read several books that do this (the Warcraft novels, several unimportant mystery novels, etc), but I appreciate the recommendations. I heard about "As I Lay Dying," mostly because I wanted to read it at some point. Skin Hunger, I'll have to check that one.

    I am the exact opposite. I'd rather face it now than delay the inevitable. If I'm going to eat, I'd rather do it at prearranged times and get it over with.
     
  19. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Everyone is an individual. There is no right or wrong in this sort of thing. You should write for yourself first, but also be aware of the need of people who will most likely be reading your work once it is published.
     
  20. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    Well, Paul, I disagree with you on one account. You said,

    While I doubt that it's going to allow the readers to "get inside" the characters, it's the best I can do given my abilities.



    I, personally, thoroughly enjoy getting into all of the important character's heads personally.
    In fact, I intend to do something a little different in my book, that is; first-person omniscient.
    I know, you don't even need to say it. As daunting and clunky as that sounds, I believe I have, at least in part, devised a means of getting into everyone's head, even though the main narrative is in first person.

    You can't use REAL LIFE to refute this style, though.

    "You can't get into everyone's head! Your character can't know what everyone is thinking!"

    Well-- he doesn't, at least, not at the time of the events.
    When he's WRITING the story, however; he DOES know everything that happened, and what everyone was thinking.

    I'm not afraid of sentences like this:


    As I walked away, Kamar and Mia stood abreast, watching me leave, then spoke without my knowledge in whispered voices.

    [Cue conversation]



    That is INTERESTING, to me, and can build a type of suspense because the reader knows something, now, that the main character doesn't. (Which is one of the MAIN rules of creating suspense; the reader knows and the protagonist does not)


    Where was I going with this? Oh, yeah; it was a shameless boasting of how I'm going to write my story.


    But it was also to make a point:

    Getting into everyone's head does not mean that SUDDENLY WE DON'T HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH ANYONE!

    Tom Clancy's "Without Remorse" switches between several different characters, who are all in different areas.
    Everyone is talking about the same stuff happening, without cognizance of one another.

    So one moment we're at the police station, getting details about an officer who is trying to solve a case. And we come to like (or dislike, as the case may be) this guy and understand what he's going through.
    Then, it will switch to the actual main character, and we get closer to him.
    Then it switches, actually, to the BAD GUYS, and believe it or not, we get to know them well enough to care. (Or not care, actually, since they're bad guys, but you perceive my point)


    So, in closing of this verbose post, I merely want to say; don't think that, without skill and effort, ANYTHING is inaccessible to you.

    I believe that people put an unnecessary limit on things.

    Like, you were saying (or someone else) that my book, if too long, is only continuing for the sake of continuing, with lots of filler and pointless blather.
    To be sure, my story is just going to be a LONG STORY, spanning many months of the character's lives.

    A lot of it will be sheer character development, but it will be the entertaining variety. For me, reading good books wherein the characters just sit around and chat at times, is even MORE entertaining than when the characters are advancing through the actual plot.

    If my characters are as likable as I intend to make them, then any campfire dawdling or pointless - but funny - conversations will be welcome.

    What say you to that?
     
  21. Paul_V
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    Paul_V Member

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    Rei: Right, I hadn't mentioned this, but I write for myself first and foremost. If I don't like what I'm writing, how can I expect anyone else to do so? It's simply illogical. After I'm satisfied with my work, I look for ways to improve it for others, since I'm aware that my mind does not function like that of the vast majority of people.

    Atari: Well, there's a difference between your method and my method. While your method is certainly novel and interesting, it's something that would physically injure me if I tried to follow, given my visceral hatred for first person. Also, your method has the advantage that you are already inside someone. Even if it switches from character to character, the reader feels connected to them, albeit momentarily.

    My point of view is a "detached" third person omniscient. I can't really explain the differences with the normal kind, since they're very subtle. The only thing that comes to mind is the vocabulary and grammar, that will seem to have been taken out of a Biology report or History documentary. I suppose that it's an unwanted side effect from trying to be unbiased. I refuse to give any character (no matter how important they are to the plot) more attention than the rest. But since I can't reduce the amount of spotlight they receive (because some things must be shown), then I balance things out by using the same neutral tone for every character. My intention is to blur the lines between main and secondary characters. An unwise move, or so I've been told, but one I feel compelled to at least try out.
     
  22. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    No, you see, when I switch to OTHER characters, it is third person, not first. The only time it is first person is when I write the main character.

    Are you saying that you don't want to make any character a 'favorite' of the author; you don't want anyone to seem like a 'main' character, so you try to make everyone seem as bland and boring and detached as possible?
    I don't think that this is what you are trying to do.

    You are merely writing about all of them in the same manner, as you don't want a 'main' character. This is fine.

    The book I am reading now DOES have a main character, but the ONLY thing that distinguishes him is the fact that he has more 'screen time' than the rest.
    When it switches to any of the other characters, they are IN THE SPOTLIGHT.
    In fact, even when it passively mentions another character, you are thrust into that other character as if he is the main one.
    No character, save for the amount of time they have being written about, is respected above another.

    Nonetheless, I have not found myself uninterested or without cognizance of anyone.

    Once again, I disagree with you; unless you are TRYING to make all characters have no personality or uninteresting to the reader, then the reader should have a good connection with all of them.

    I like the idea of a WHOLE story, built around a plot and all of the characters therein, rather than a story built around a single person.
     
  23. Paul_V
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    Paul_V Member

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    Even so. First person: Instant get-into-character's-head effect.

    You were quite right up until the "try to make everyone seem as bland and boring and detached as possible" part. That's not the intended effect. Not in the least. It's an unfortunate consequence of using said detached approach. I do intend to make the characters as interesting as possible, but the emotion I imagine I will end up conveying is going to be akin to what you feel when you watch a movie or perhaps an aquarium. You find the action interesting and become emotionally attached to the participants, but you know deep down that there's an insurmountable layer of glass between you and the characters.

    I see. Perhaps my expectations of success were a bit low. That is exactly what I'm trying to do. The only thing that will make a character "main" will be camera time.

    I should hope so. I mean, if people can get attached to fish in an aquarium, it shouldn't be too hard to relate to actual (kind of) human beings, right?

    Oh, yeah. I DETEST character-driven stories. To me, characters are the tools needed to perpetrate the plot. Odd choice of words, I know, but I can't find one that fits better.
     
  24. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    That is odd.
    I, personally, prefer character driven stories, barring the event that the characters are boring.

    Actually, what I like is more like this:

    A character driven story wherein the characters are driven by the plot, and the plot drives the characters only out of necessity, and never otherwise.

    If the characters want to sit down and enjoy a long, pointless conversation over tea, solely for the purpose of entertaining themselves and, consequently (I hope) the reader, then all is well.

    Having characters do NOTHING for a little bit, especially when I KNOW that there is an engaging plot that is going to catch up with them, is extremely fun for me.

    But then, all this is rather obvious.
     
  25. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I think the main problem with multiple points of view is that it is easier to lose readers. So, I pick up a book, starting reading, I like the character. Next chapter, new character. Hey, what happened to the character I liked? New character, bleh, okay, not my cup of tea. Maybe the next chapter will have the character I enjoyed. Perhaps this second character will grow on me. Next chapter, and who in the hell is this? They are okay I guess, but where is the first character I loved so much? Chapter 3, where in the hell is the first character I loved so much? Skip ahead. Oh, there she is again in chapter 5. Forget this book.

    I am most positive it has been tried many times. I believe there is a reason why it fails.
     

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