Friday, November 1, 2013

GONE GIRL: A LESSON IN POINT OF VIEW



Once in a great while you see something done so well you just have to stand on a virtual street corner and grab everyone by the sleeve, yelling, “Look! Can you believe it?”

There is the danger that people will take you for an online homeless person, ranting about the end of the world.  But there is the greater hope that your readers will follow your lead and find something wonderful.

In this case, I’m not alone in thinking Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, is a fantastic read.  The book, published in 2012, spent eight weeks at Number One on the NY Times Bestseller List and is still in the Top Ten on that list.  The mystery/psychological thriller/sly commentary on the state of modern society will keep you up late at night for lots of reasons, not least of which are Flynn’s page-turning pace, frequent plot twists and horrible-but-can’t-take-your-eyes-off-’em characters.

As a writer, though, and one who has used point-of-view to special effect in my own novels, I have to applaud Flynn’s stunning use of POV in Gone Girl.  For any of you struggling with POV in your work, I strongly recommend reading this novel, but I warn you:  Do not try this at home!  Flynn’s high-flying stunt work is only for advanced students of the art.

For those who have not read the novel, Flynn has written the first part of this tale of a marriage gone wrong and the disappearance/possible murder of the wife in the couple from two points of view:  Nick, the husband, in first person, in “real” time as he discovers his wife’s disappearance, and Amy, the wife, in first person, in the “past” as part of her diary, as she tells how they met and fell in love.  Analyzed from a writer’s perspective, each of these voices is clear and distinct.  We really “see” these people and feel for them.  

From a reader’s perspective, we sympathize with both POV’s and believe both of them.  That’s key to the mystery Flynn is building.  Did Nick kill Amy?  But Nick has a defense of his own, which he begins building in his POV as the first part of the book continues.  The reader vacillates, depending on which POV she’s reading. Nick/Amy.  Amy/Nick.

Only a writer could have any idea just how difficult this is to pull off.  Consistently.  Engagingly.

Then Flynn makes it even harder on herself.  She adds yet another POV.  “Real” Amy’s.  In “real” time.  To explain how she does that would be to give away the book.  I’ve already said too much perhaps.  But, wow.  Just, wow.  And this POV is just as distinct, just as clear.  And messes with our little reader brains even more.  The only thing we can be sure of—and this persists to the end of the book—is that these people are screwed up!  (If Flynn fails in anything, it is that she carries this premise through to its miserable conclusion.  The needs of fictions are probably not best served by her consistency.)

Obviously, what Flynn has done with Gone Girl is light years beyond the basics of POV.  She could not even begin to attempt something like this if she did not know everything about Nick, everything about Amy.  She could not afford to “head hop” from one POV to another in a paragraph, a scene or even a section devoted to a single POV.  She had to be ruthless about maintaining that POV in every emotion expressed through dialogue or body language, every piece of knowledge revealed.  The one thing that made this easier was that there were clear segments devoted to each POV, to each voice.

As for the basics, here's the rule: The best, easiest and clearest way to deal with POV is to give each of your major POV characters his or her own scene, separated by a line space or other indicator from the next scene.  That way, your readers can’t be confused as to whose POV it is.  IMHO.

But even when we don’t have those sections marked “hero” and “heroine” in our manuscripts, we need to speak loud and clear in their individual voices.  We need to make sure we know who our characters are, so their voices are so distinct in their creators’ heads they can’t come out on the page in anything but the words and tones that are unmistakably their own. 


--How About This?  Gone Girl was a selection of the Cultural Expressions Book Club of Richmond, Virginia, of which I am a member.  Which gave me an idea.  Those of us who read and write science fiction romance are always looking for ways to discover and get the word out on great SFR.  Why not do what readers have been doing forever and form a book club of our co-bloggers and special guests—right here in the Spacefreighters Lounge?  On a regular basis, we could select a book to read from a list of common suggestions—maybe from our followers—then meet online to chat about it.  What do y’all think?


--Congrats to blog partner Sharon Lynn Fisher on the one-year anniversary of the launch of her RITA-nominated SFR debut novel Ghost Planet!  Can’t wait for The Ophelia Prophecy!


1 comment:

  1. Excellent review, Donna. This book sounds like a well-crafted POV masterpiece.

    And I love the idea of a Spacefreighters Book Club. Let's work toward making that a reality.

    ReplyDelete

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