Using Multiple Points of View for Structure
Using multiple points of view is a strategy many novelists use to tell their stories. In others words, authors may employ two or more narrators/characters who pull the reader into their point of view of the events, either in first person (I) or, more commonly, third person (s/he), usually in alternating chapters or with clear break-points within one chapter.
Doing so has several advantages:
- It allows the author to pull the reader into a close-up of several major characters.
- It deepens characterisation.
- The use of several perspectives tends to enhance the reader’s understanding of the relationships between the major characters.
- It provides a more complex picture of human behaviour.
Examples of novels I’ve read recently and enjoyed for that reason – amongst others – include Jane Messer’s Hopscotch, Mark Dapin’s R&R, and Georgia Blain’s Between a Wolf and a Dog. Reading these novels can teach you a lot about how to structure YOUR novel by using multiple points of view.
When I interviewed Georgia Blain for my book Celebrating Australian Writing: Conversations with Australian Authors, she told me that structure is one of the aspects she loves most about writing.
Reading Georgia Blain’s Between a Wolf and a Dog can inspire your learning about:
- using multiple points of view for structure
- writing dialogue,
- giving specific detail, and
- poetic writing.
Review of Georgia Blain, Between a Wolf and a Dog
Georgia Blain is one of my favourite authors. So I was crushed to read in a newsletter from her publisher Scribe that she was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour towards the end of last year, at the age of only 51. Not only did she and her mother Anne Deveson, a renowned journalist and writer herself, have to deal with Georgia’s brother’s schizophrenia and suicide after many psychotic episodes, which her mother wrote about in her book Tell Me I’m Here, but more recently Georgia has also had to cope with and grieve about her mother’s Alzheimers disease.
Georgia has published many novels, two of them for young adults – written for her daughter, she told me in the interview for my book Celebrating Australian Writing: Conversations with Australian Authors – the short story collection The Secret Lives of Men, essays, and the memoir Births, Death and Marriages, which won the Nita B Kibble Award. Her novels have been shortlisted for many literary awards. Despite the strength of her previous works, her new novel Between a Wolf and a Dog is a stand-out, a polished gem. And unlike her previous work, much of which is set in the 1970s, this one is set in the present day.
The story focuses on four main characters of one family whose lives are portrayed over the course of a single significant day with all characters reminiscing on the past. Ester is a family therapist, divorced from her husband Lawrence, with whom she shares custody of their two daughters Lara and Catherine. Lawrence works as a pollster, specialising in organising the opinion polls on government and opposition. Ester is estranged from her sister April, a struggling songwriter and musician. Unbeknownst to Ester, her 70-year-old mother Hilary, a filmmaker of note, has been diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour, in a surreal mirror of the author’s own diagnosis.
Skilfully, Blain shifts the point of view to each of the four adult characters in separate chapters. Their insights into and tribulations in their own lives, enriched with the perspectives of the respective other characters in later chapters and their memories of past events that have shaped them all, provide a rich tapestry of the human condition. Ester’s working life as a family therapist and glimpses into the lives of her patients add further depth to the novel. Blain’s eye and ear are exquisitely tuned to the inner lives of people in contemporary middle class society.
Even though sibling conflict and loss has been a recurring theme in Blain’s work, her latest novel Between a Wolf and a Dog explores it in ways completely different from her previous novels. And the antics of Lawrence as a pollster – informed by Blain’s acquaintance with a Fairfax-Nielsen pollster, as she told Charlotte Wood in an interview published in the SMH in mid March – will have you read the political opinion polls in a far more cynical way than before.
I have little doubt that Between a Wolf and a Dog will be amongst the top five novels of the year 2016 for me. Apart from the exquisite story and the structure she employs, the novel showcases Blain’s skill in writing dialogue and her flair for beautiful writing. Just take the first paragraph, which completely hooked me: ‘This is the dream: Lawrence is alone. It is not quite dark, between a wolf and a dog; a mauve light is deepening like a bruise, the cold breath of the wind a low moan in his ear.’
While it may be too optimistic to hope for yet another novel by Georgia Blain, in the meantime we can read about her battles with and reflections about cancer in a monthly column she now writes for The Saturday Paper.
Between a Wolf and a Dog is the pinnacle of Georgia Blain’s career as a writer. It is published by Scribe, 257 pages long, and the RRP is $29.99.