Jack has fallen in love with two women and has to choose between them. Liz has revisited every past boyfriend and decided she might as well settle for the guy she can’t stand because fate keeps throwing him in front of her. And Kenneth has been told he can’t turn down a promotion that will send him to L.A.
Those were the plotlines for the season finale of 30 Rock last week, which was hilarious — and which got me thinking about plotlines.
Admittedly, I don’t watch enough TV to really know how typical this is, but the few shows I have gotten into the past few years (The West Wing, The Office, 30 Rock) all do this the same way: they divide the episode into roughly three plotlines following three different sets of characters, and they alternate scenes between those plotlines until they’re all resolved.
And it seems so normal for TV shows to do it that way that I hadn’t even thought much about it until now.
So what I wonder is . . . why is it so normal for TV shows but much less the norm in novels, which (at least in YA fiction) seem to tend toward single viewpoint?
I wonder about this question especially because I’m writing a novel with alternating viewpoints and I’ve heard comments from readers who say they can’t stand the format. They want to be firmly set in one character’s head.
Why is that? Do they feel the same way about TV shows? Would they have complained about Liz’s and Kenneth’s plotlines last week and demanded to see the episode only from Jack’s point of view? Think how much we would have missed out on, like the Somali pirate groomsman or Matt Damon as Liz’s pilot/destiny.
Does it all just come down to conventions? We’re used to TV being that way, and some readers are more used to strict single-POV books? Is it a difference in audio/visual material versus text-only, where because we don’t have the faces and voices of Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey to tell us immediately whose plotline we’re glimpsing now, we might end up feeling confused by the words on the page?
Just something I’ve wondered about.
For me, I feel like the viewpoint(s) a story is told from should fit the story. Multi-POV fits well with large-cast sitcoms like 30 Rock but also dramas like West Wing with multiple main characters. It’s also fit some of my favorite books like Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen of Attolia and King of Attolia, Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Laini Taylor’s Dreamdark series, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Maggie Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls series, David Wroblewski’s Story of Edgar Sawtelle, Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely, etc.
But then I can think of plenty of novels I’ve loved that made more sense from a single viewpoint, like Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Jacqueline Kelly’s Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, M. T. Anderson’s Feed and Octavian Nothing.
So as much as I love multiple POV, I try to go with the flow and see how the format matches the story.
Any insights? Do you have a preference for single or multiple viewpoints? What favorites do you have of either type?