I’m currently reading dystopian sci-fi page-turner Wool by Hugh Howey. I’ll post the review once I’m through, but one aspect of its narrative structure struck me and I wanted to discuss it; namely, its cliffhangers.
My own work, Citadel, is written in third-person deep point-of-view, which means I refer to the character I’m following in the third person, but the narration stays in her head, describes the events she sees and notices the things only she would notice.
But like many writers, I move the perspective around between my characters, staying with one for a full chapter, then moving to another for the next, just as Howey does in Wool.
The problem is, sometimes there can be AN EVENT that affects everyone, or A TRUTH that people discover separately, at different times. This creates a dilemma: by the time your second character becomes aware of something, the reader already knows it. You cannot elicit the same reader response (surprise) more than once.
This happens in Wool a number of times: one main character discovers A TRUTH, then another, then that character describes THE TRUTH to another character, and so on. We experience revelation repeatedly, rendering it almost redundant.
That’s not to say Wool is poorly structured or filled with superfluous sections – at one point, the protagonist must divulge THE TRUTH to her ally in order to procure their assistance. But the way the chapters end, it feels as though we’re being asked to share this revelation again.
Closer to home
I’ve had the same thoughts concerning my own work, but from an opposing angle. I have a MONUMENTAL EVENT that sweeps through the world of my characters, but rather than each one LEARNING THE TRUTH and that forming the end of my chapter, their relation to THE EVENT is wildly different, whether that be immediate danger, loss of a loved one, or a perceived social shift.
That is to say, I don’t ask the reader to learn the same information more than once, aside form how that new information affects my characters in disparate ways.
I hope I’ve succeeded.
The problem with Wool – coming from someone only half way through it – is that there is only one MONUMENTAL TRUTH and it affects everyone the same way, which makes it very difficult to keep the reader engaged. After a rip-roaring initial fifty pages, I was hooked, but near the middle of the book, I lost interest a little because I was seeing other people find out the same thing I already knew.
It’s a tiny niggle in a book I’m otherwise thoroughly enjoying; but it’s also one I think could have been avoided. Saying that, Wool is intentionally focused and claustrophobic, resulting in less space to explore different perspectives of the same reveal.
What do you think? Should we only have one person’s reaction to an event? Or is their reaction to it more important?
I’ve intentionally kept spoilers out of this post, so if you’ve read Wool and want to air your thoughts, please follow the same courtesy in the comments!