Points of view

My first story for 2011, “Rescue” is the second story to take place in this universe in which I am writing. (I haven’t sold the first story yet, but I am hopeful.) The story is only loosely connected to the first, in very much the way Heinlein’s “Future History” stories were loosely connected (and written out of order). After writing a number of short pieces, I am deliberately attempting to write “Rescue” as a novelette because I think that is the appropriate form and length for the story I have to tell. There are two issues I am struggling with as I go through my process both of which related to point of view.

First, as I did in the first story, I have the idea of telling these stories from the point of view of secondary characters as opposed to the major players. That sounds backwards. But you see, there are big events happening in these stories, and it seemed like an interesting idea to tell them from the point of view of characters who are on the periphery of these events, watching them happen. As an analogy, think of a story of an airplane crash as told from the point of view of an air traffic controller as opposed to the people actually on board the aircraft. I think this worked well in my first story in this universe, in part because that first story also worked out to be a murder mystery that was peripheral to the events taking place. In this story, the scope is larger, but ultimately, what we are dealing with is a rescue mission (as my working title suggests). And rather than tell the story from the point of view of the rescuers, I am telling it from the point of view of one of the characters in need of rescue, and from one of the people supporting the rescue mission. I think this adds an interesting level of tension (to say nothing of perspective) to the story, but only time will tell if it actually works.

This leads to my second issue: how well do multiple viewpoints work in short fiction. Certainly at the novel length, there are plenty of stories told from multiple points of view (and Stephen King is a master of this). In short fiction, I am hard pressed to think of stories with more than two view point characters. For “Rescue” to work I needed at least two view point characters, but the real question was whether a third was necessary (the third being one of the rescuers). I’m now leaning toward just two. But it does raise the question as to whether there is a reasonable limit to point of view in short fiction, outside of someone experimenting–which I am not doing here. I am simply trying to tell a good story in the most interesting and exciting way I can imagine.

Two character viewpoints allows me to get pretty deep into the heads of those characters, where a third would start to strip away at this depth, I think. I’m certain there are writers out there, far more talented than I, that could (and have) pulled this off, but it is a struggle for me. With short fiction, I am used to a single point of view. Nevertheless, I have convinced myself that two points of view will work well for this story and that three would not. I am more interested in making the minor characters around which these events are unfolding the major characters of the story and putting the “heroes” into the background. Of course, this means that for the story, the minor characters become the major view point characters, even though their role in the arc that ties all the stories and background together is minuscule .I have no idea if it will work, but I think it worked well in the first story and I think it can work even better in “Rescue”.