Why no repeat Points of View?

April 3rd, 2013

Back to the Inquisition, and there are going to be some serious spoilers on this one right from the question, so if you haven’t read all my books, I would STRONGLY suggest you look away, right about NOW, and buy them all.

Still here?  OK, then.  Tolmie Wright asks:

“Read through Red Country, fantastic novel,”

Well, DUH, but thanks for saying so…

“and couldn’t help but wonder why you chose to not include Logen Ninefingers’ point of view?  I’ve been missing the sections where the Bloody Nine comes to fruition and reading the thoughts of the Great Leveler where always my favourite parts of the original trilogy.”

I think the simple answer is – cause I did that already.  I like working in the same world, coming back to characters some years on. It gives me some instant well-developed characters to reach for, and I think it gives readers a deeper resonance, a sense of a broad and developing world, some feeling of continuity.  Generally, if I’ve got a need for a certain type of character somewhere in a book and I’ve a suitable candidate we’ve met before, I’ll use them again.  But for those that have been primary points of view, I’ll probably put them more in the background, and won’t use their point of view again.  Partly it’s because I think there’s a value in seeing these characters now from the outside, what the reader knows about them perhaps standing at odds with what the new points of view may think about them.  Partly it’s because I want to do something a little bit new and different with each book I write, because if you’re not challenging yourself at least to some degree you’re probably stagnating, and that means new and varied points of view, if possible.  Partly it’s because you use up ideas and treading the same ground often leads to diminishing returns, and offering more of the same can dilute and diminish what you’ve done already.

People generally want more of something right up until the point they don’t want it any more.  And the art is in never reaching that point.  And just as important, if not more important, as keeping the audience fresh and excited, is keeping ME fresh and excited.  Yes, it is possible. A reader might get through the First Law in a month or two, and be desperate for more of those characters. I spent several years with them, and was good and ready to move on. And if you’re bored of something, feel like you’ve exhausted it, said all you need to say on a subject, but continue to flog the dead horse because you somehow feel you have to, it’s going to show. You can’t somehow expect that readers will be fascinated by things you yourself are finding laborious.

That said, the general principle must always bow to the specific case.  In Red Country, Lamb was always going to be a very important character. A much more central re-use of a major character than I’d tried before.  Logen just fit the role too well not to use, but I thought Lamb would be most effective if seen through Shy’s eyes, if people did not know his thoughts and therefore exactly what his past might have been or what he was capable of. If, for those who did recognise and know him, there was an element of not being sure what he was thinking now or how he might have changed. I was also interested to see how he might come across shorn of the softening effect of his internal monologue. I wanted him to be quite terrifying, potentially, and this seemed the best approach. I wanted to maintain some mystery around him.  I toyed with using the Bloody-Nine’s voice for a couple of short sections, but on reflection I wasn’t sure I could add much to it, and thought it was better not to dilute and re-use what I’d done with that in the First Law.

So there you go. Maybe the time comes when I’ll look back at a Point of View I’ve used before and think, ‘you know what, I think there’s something new I can do with this now.’  But that’ll depend on the individual case.  It may well never happen…

Posted in process, The Inquisition by Joe Abercrombie on April 3rd, 2013.

39 comments so far

  • Niko says:

    Aha, that explains the variation between “Best Served Cold” and “The Heroes” in not re-using Shivers’ point of view. I’d wondered about that more than Lamb/Logen, simply because in Lamb’s case, it seemed more Clint Eastwood not to know what he was thinking.

  • Pinkyfloyd says:

    Sir, it seems to me that the people who are asking these questions are looking for the typical stereotype fantasy novels. Eg Lead character stays lead character when ever they appear in books. One thing I have noticed is your books are not stereotypical. Far from it.

    I had a suspicion from the offset who Lamb was although it was hidden very well. It started off as a thought. “wouldn’t it be great if lamb was….” and then the more I read the book the more I realized my initial “hope” was revealed to be true. The fact that we don’t get much from Lambs pint of view makes it all the more fun to read. I, like many who read the First law books, feel we know Logan and everything about him. It was nice to have that knowledge revealed to someone who saw him as a gentle giant.

    Great work and long may it continue. Its part of what makes your books so good.

  • Luke Scull says:

    Love this post, particularly the part about the need to keep yourself interested in what you’re writing being of paramount importance. I’ve no idea how authors can write the same characters from the same POVs book after book – surely there’s other stuff to explore by that point?

  • Adrian says:

    I actually really enjoyed it! Seeing Lamb from the outside view was actually a really awesome new take on my fav character of any series by any author. You’ve got my vote for president with that approach in Red Country!

  • Tom says:

    A very interesting post. I thought that the lack of familiar POV characters really added a lot to Red Country. You really got a sense of Lambs viciousness when he was viewed through the eyes of others. Cosca too seemed so far gone and utterly malevolent when you’re not hearing him justify his actions internally. Overall I think the novel gained a lot by letting us see characters familiar to the audience from new perspectives. I was on the edge of my seat when Shivers and Lamb finally met, I can’t imagine there being quite so much tension if we were reading from either of their points of view.

  • James (the ex Amazon exec) says:

    It’s a nice approach. It gives you essentially a new character, Lamb, that you have a nice warm familiarity with, which builds as the story goes on and the character converges more and more with Logen. Using the Logen POV would’ve essentially killed any novelty to Lamb – a high price to pay for the comfort blanket of familiarity.

  • Dangerous Jim says:

    I like it.

    I think it also helps create a sense that each book is a story about the main protagonists of that book (I’m counting the initial troligy as one book here), not the continuing saga of a whole bunch of characters from day one.

    I would compare it to The Wire, where the initial principle cast of characters faded into the background, making that background really rich, by the end of season 5 an established characters could tell a whole load of story just by seeing them walk past in the corridor and raise their eyebrows.

    I think its one of the things that made the Wire great and it makes the first law book great too.

    It’s just a shame so many great characters are already dead! (I say shame, I enjoy the way no characters are ‘safe’, would have liked to read more about Morveer, I loved the whole gentleman-psychopath he had going on)

  • Idlewilder says:

    Really interesting – I suppose it’s much the same process vice versa (as in the likes of Cosca and Shivers were moved from Supporting to POV from The First Law to Best Served Cold.)

    The only POV character who I’d be really curious to see a return to would be Glokta. I imagine returning to him would be a challenge – especially as we’ve only been hearing about occurences in Adua second-hand for the last few books.

  • Sidney Harbour-Bridge says:

    Joe, if you never use Glokta’s internal monologue again you will be cutting your nose off to spite your face. Speaking as a fan, it would take quite a lot of overuse for me to tire of that character and, indeed, his Practicals (think up some new ones!).

  • Cara(Eli) says:

    Much as I want to read more about Logan and his inner monologues, I agree that Red Country wouldn’t have been half as good if you’d written it from his POV. In my opinion it was perfect the way it was done.

    I won’t give up my hope of seeing Bloody Nine in all his horrific glory again, though.

  • Billy says:

    Re-using Shivers’ point of view would be very interesting, I think out of all of your characters he’s probably had the most polar arc. We only got a glimpse into the man he is now at the end of Best Served Cold, with small looks into his character in the The Heroes, and Red Country. I was really content with (spoiler alert) the ‘duel’ at the end between him and Lamb. You built to it really well and I was constantly wondering how it was going to go down. I think the way it did was the only satisfying outcome and it suited Shivers character. But anyway, I really want more Shivers, even if it’s not his perspective, he’s my favourite 😀

    And keep up the good work man, your books kick ass and I have them all (even if it’s a pain to find them in South Africa).

  • Doug M. says:

    The fact that I ever-so-want you to give me much, much more from the POV of Logen should be taken as a clear indication that you’re ever-so-right in denying me the pleasure.

  • Thile says:

    I liked how Lamb was done in Red Country. It added the excitement of knowing it was The Bloody Nine!!! with the freshness of new characters. I wonder how it would be with Glotka since much of his persona comes from his inner monologue (I would think even moreso than Logen’s?)

    I think the secret was out for me too soon on The Bloody Nine, the youtube ad for it gave it away?

  • Aled says:

    I agree with Niko, I found Caul Shivers easy to read and quite whiney in Best Served Cold but then in Heroes he had this dark aura and it meant that the ending as it was was never predictable.

    I loved Logen, more for his Bloody moments, but agree it could have been far too comfortable reading from him again instead of through the cynical eyes of Shy, who again helped make it so even former Logen fans would never truly suspect Lamb’s inner thoughts.

  • Sword1001 says:

    I have to admit, the lack of Logen’s monologue was the biggest disappointment of Red Country for me. I understand why you did it, but I still wanted to hear his PoV – especially at the very end when *SPOILERS* he lines up to fight Shivers. I still do not fully understand why Shivers would track logen for all those years, only to walk away. The ‘trying to be a better man’ thing only gets you so far in my book, there needs to be a proper reason why he walks away, and that could have been articulated by one of them.

    You try to write what is ‘true’ to the characters, and that (the trudging half way around the world to walk away from a man you had walked away from a decade earlier), did not feel true. It felt forced tbh, one last trope to go against.

    I have only read RC once, so perhaps I missed something

  • bobbby says:

    Though i hated this the first time, now i do agree that removing logen’s PoV was a good approach. Else he would have dominated all the characters.

    Also, i agree wiht the whole dilution thing. The first time the Bloody-Nine appeared, it just reversed my whole opinion of Logen. The other times he appeared were really great too(better than 90% authors), but lacked that “first time” charm.

  • sarah says:

    ok i get it. but please give me more Jezal and Ardee and what the heck happened with their kid, and i hate glokta. can Jezal grow some balls and kill him somehow? thanks.

  • Dav says:

    This brings up a question I’ve had since finishing Red Country.

    Was there any doubt in bringing Logen back? Did you leave it ambiguous because you wanted to leave us on edge or because you genuinely wanted an option where you COULD bring him back or kill him?

  • Knappos says:

    Not to blow your trumpet too much here Joe; but, I think the lack of Logen/Lamb’s POV in Red Country was a master stroke.

    I had already pretty much guessed by assumption your reason for doing it and your answer above confirms what I had thought.

    Reading the First Law you always knew that Logen, to any one else, would be one of those people you only see next Tuesday and his actions were at odds with his POV. To see him through Shy’s eyes (as well as Temple’s) was revelatory.

  • Mab says:

    I have always liked what Patrick Rothfuss said, “It is an author’s job to keep secrets.”

    My favorite use of your POV swap is the poke-poke-poke scene with Beck watching Shivers in The Heroes. Even though I knew how he got there, it was chilling to see how far Shivers had gone.

  • Mark says:

    I completely understand not using Logen’s POV. One thing I’ve wondered since reading Red Country (twice now) is if the fact that no one in the book actually says “Bloody Nine” Several victims start to, but no one ever actually get’s it out. Was this done on purpose, and if so, why? Just wondering.

  • Izzy says:

    Seeing Logen through Shy’s eyes during Red Country was an excellent change during Red Country. He developed a lot in all of our minds when we saw him the way that others do – and were deprived from seeing the good intentions tucked away in his heart. We know the character so well that we don’t need to hear the POV in his head, and some scenes (especially the final one with Shivers) are more melancholy when his internal emotions are left to the reader’s imagination.
    Lamb in Red Country was a great way to incorporate an old friend without using him as POV, and I hope this means we could get to see Jezal and Glokta in similar roles. Would love to see what a fresh pair of eyes think of our new puppet king, and the Arch Lector feeding him whispers in the background.
    But Glokta’s italicised bitter thoughts… by the dead I will miss those.

  • Danny says:

    You know that lump you get at the back of your throat when you’re about to cry?

  • AntMac says:

    I loved that we got Lamb turning into The Bloody Nine without any of the characters “knowing” what was coming, without it being stated explicitly as it would have had to have been if we had of heard Logan thinking.

    I avoided spoilers before reading it, where I could, but I pretty well knew anyway that he wasn’t in any danger of being killed. How did I know?.

    The internets were still working, and not a solid fused lump within weeks of the book coming out, that is how. 😛

    I hope you continue to find challanges, Joe. I might not understand without being told how you have gone about meeting these self set tests, but I ain’t paid out money for them once and felt anything but rewarded.

  • Kreso says:

    I respect the choice to not go for Logen’s POV again, but he is my favorite character in probably all of fantasy (and I’ve read a LOT, from Martin to Erikson to Williams to Jordan and Bakker and Lynch), so yeah… Not getting into his head and hearing his (fantastic) monologues was a bit of a let-down.

    Doesn’t make Red Country any less enjoyable, it’s a great book… But as my personal preference, I like my some Logen monologue.

    Also, I don’t think going back to interesting characters is ever a mistake… Logen and Glokta are somewhat unique characters, and no offense to others in the book, but Monza, Shy, even Shivers and Cosca can’t hold a candle to them.

  • bobbby says:

    I have already said this, but will say this again : Can we have a short short story, with the PoV of Logen, in a fight with Glama Golden?

  • Joe says:

    Aww, man. I wish I hadn’t jumped straight to the bold question. I’m still finishing Last Argument of Kings and didn’t know if Logen would live or die. Oh well. Live and learn!

  • Toby says:

    Hey Joe

    I see what your trying to do but please I beg of you, we the readers must hear the inner workings of one Sand Dan Glotka if he is ever used again (please be in the nest book). Without a doubt my favorite character.

  • Michael says:

    Joe: Red Country is great!! Fixing to read it again and only bought it a week ago…. I really liked the new characters weaved in with the old ones. Love Cosca, what a coksca! And Temple, what a master stroke with him and Shy! I laughed more in RC than all the other five books put together. You have refined your drug and I am fully addicted. Shit, where is my husk pipe?

  • Thaddeus says:

    Very interesting piece, Mr. Abercrombie.

    I would guess that the continuity/change issue would be a problem too. Over so many years a man would change (especially from the Bloody Nine to Lamb), so the POV would change, but it would also have to have a strong element of continuity. I imagine if we opened up Logen’s brain in Red Country (pre-return to form) it wouldn’t be filled with thoughts of fuzzy bunnies and cats called Mister Snugglekins.

  • bobbby says:

    Plus, from Shy’s POV , we can really see how utterly “unpredictable/made of chaos” Logen really is.

    Its hard to be spontaneous when you are inside the guys head.

  • Lewis says:

    Hi Joe
    I guess what your saying makes sense; the fun is after all in getting to know these characters and seeing how their personalities take them through the world you’ve created. From a personal angle the thing I LOVED about Logan, is his ability to make that world fit his view point. He is that rare individual who creates the circumstances rather than reacts too them. I guess my meandering point is if you think you can do better, then have at it. I promise to give that next character a fair shout. One thing to bear in mind though if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!!!!!!

  • DepressedRat says:

    Oh man i totally love you, I think that not using Lamb POV in red country was great choice for all the reasons u said before; and u are also HANDSOME.
    But now i want to know if there’s some chance u’re going to do the opposite, not using a POV from a main character in his first appearance and then using it in a later book so that also us, avid reader of ur works, can connect all pieces after years and get there (like someone reading red country first and then first law trilogy)!

  • Graham says:

    DepressedRat – maybe a Bayaz POV?

  • DepressedRat says:

    Well the problem about bayaz is that being a selfish narcisist he had already explained himself pretty well, so apart from some events of his past there isn’t really that much u can unveil with a later Bayaz POV that blows minds. Also i think that big powerful chara shouldn’t be POV, because they’re too distant from a normal human and too distant from a reader perspective (not from the writer, cause we know he’s a god in human body).

  • Nick says:

    I thought it was cleverly done… I felt like I knew what Lamb was thinking while Shy looked on. Seeing Lamb through her eyes, it added to the excitement knowing what she did not know. Sbe is baffled by this coward turned killer, yet, I know what is happening to him: I thought it was done pretty well.

  • Nick says:

    In fact… I am waiting for POV from the prophet, the emperor. You know, Bayaz’ enemies… I thought maybe the next trilogy would cover their POV’s. (Y)

  • Brian says:

    Echoing Mark’s question, it’s interesting that neither “Logen” nor “The Bloody Nine” never come up. What makes this even more interesting if that you also never reference who “The Mayor” is when it’s pretty clearly (or I’m really wrong”) Carlot dan Eider. I mostly get not referencing Logen, but was puzzled re: Carlot.

  • David says:

    I absolutely loved the fact that Logen was in ‘Red Country’, but not as a POV character. I’ve honestly had a “Dogman” feeling for Logen after he killed my favorite character of all time, The Thunderhead…but I’ve loved how in the last 3 novels in the “world” they hae changed POV’s. I actually read “Red Country” first just because it showed up first (I ordered them in the mail) and it kind of spoiled “The Heroes” the first two for me…but I have nobody to blame for that but myself eh?

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