Reader Preferences: When a Literary Problem Becomes a Genre Fiction’s Convention


It’s no surprise that I read widely. I’m willing to pick up anything and everything made up of words that you can find out there. Whether I’ll end up liking it is a different story, but I’m not that hard to please. Though I am hard to wow.

Right now, I’m in the middle of a writing text called The Making of a Story, by Alice LaPlante. I talked about it a bit here when I mentioned it before. While I think it’s widely applicable, it does focus on the literary side of writing.

I have a literary background though I’ve been reading “genre” fiction for as long as I’ve been reading. And for the record, I think those labels are idiotic, but they serve their purposes when you’re comparing them. There are merits to both branches of fiction, I really don’t believe one as a whole is better than the other, though I do think people could meld them better and they could learn from one another. But that is a post for a different day.

In Chapter Six: Who’s Telling This Story, Anyway? LaPlante discusses point of view and narration. On pages 280 and 281, under the header Common Point of View Problems, she says this:

In general, once you establish your point of view, you’re going to want to stick with it. The point isn’t to follow some esoteric rule, but to avoid jolting your readers out of the story. When such jolts occur, some would argue that there is a point of view error that needs to be fixed. But while this might be the case some, or even most, of the time, you can read stories—good stories—in which the point of view shifts, say from one kind of limited third person to another kind of limited third person. In such cases, we assume that the author felt it important enough to risk jolting the reader to get some additional information into the text. Does it work? Does the author get away with it? Only the reader can say. (LaPlante, Alice. The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York. 2007.)

In response, I jotted this in the margin: Depends if the writer is good at conveying two narrators with different voices –done routinely in romance successfully.

In literary fiction, readers are used to seeing a lot of experimental things in a piece they’re reading. Though literary readers are harsh judges. In genre fiction, like romance, readers aren’t as critical, they’re happy to see a new twist on an old convention, and they’re more lenient towards their writers.

Like my response indicates, this POV “problem” amused me to no end. Shifting POV between your heroine and hero is a longstanding convention in romantic fiction. With or without breaks in between the shifts. Even pulling back the camera lens for a wide shot of the action is perfectly normal in romance.

Personally, I think this is something that speaks more to skill regardless of the writer’s genre. This isn’t so much of a problem with POV as it is an illustrative example of a writer’s abilities with voice.

But like I said, I’m not a picky reader. I’ve seen shifts between narrators done well and not so well. The bad ones haven’t jolted me out of stories, even when I’ve had to go back to figure out who I’m seeing the world through. More often than not the parts that have a tendency to ruin my reading flow are spelling or grammatical errors or characters doing complete 180s with absolutely no explanation.

However, I will admit that I’m forgiving as long as everything stays in third person. There’s something about a writer mixing first and third person in one story that I find off-putting. And stories with multiple first person narrators who all have the same voice, even with different chapters devoted to each which also identify them, irk me. No two characters voices should sound the same in the same piece no matter what.

My reading preferences definitely influence my writing preferences. And I love playing around with voice, though I’m tentative to experiment with point of view.

What are your thoughts on shifts in point of view? Are you a forgiving reader or do you have preferences you don’t like to stray from?


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