I recently read John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel, Little Star. While I enjoyed the characterization and some great bits of suspense, at 620 pages, the book is far too long. The first quarter is taken up by the life stories of the two protagonists from birth to present day, and even the background of their parents. The title character’s story is unnerving, but the tension is evaporated by a hundred pages of another character’s relatively normal childhood. It could be an interesting slice-of-life drama, but it’s frustrating to plod through arts and crafts with Dad after the shocking, grisly end of the first section.
This gets me to the topic of shifting perspectives. The book is written in close third-person perspective. Our eerie title character is only ever observed from outside. The primary observer is the secondary main character, but we also hear from two sets of parents, a brother/guardian, and a sleazy publicist. We hear about their childhoods, love-lives, dark secrets, and personal interests, even if they die or vanish from the story before the halfway point.
We may want to write from a certain perspective, then change hands once the character’s plot is complete. For example, we could show what leads to someone’s death, or allude to mysteries that the other characters aren’t privy to. But Little Star constantly passes around the baton. Not just between its several acts, but also between chapters, some of which are only a couple pages. Someone’s plot might be getting interesting, then we switch, only to return after it’s all resolved. Some characters disappear for long stretches, or we don’t see inside their heads when it would be most exciting. One literally leaves on vacation toward the third act, never to return. At the end, rather than experience the climax with our main characters, we read from the POV of several strangers as they die one by one.
If we follow a single character too closely, the plot can bog down with the minutiae of their every move. But hearing from too many characters burdens proceedings with excessive detail. It’s frustrating to read all about a character’s childhood, only for them to not matter by the end. When you switch POVs, consider why the reader needs to hear from this character. If you just think they have a great tale of their own, maybe they deserve better than being spliced into someone else’s story.
I enjoyed Little Star, but we can miss key details and character beats when we’re distracted by plots that go nowhere, and minor characters hogging the spotlight.
(By the way, sorry for the pause in updates, NaNo was a beast! I got through it though, so I should be posting more regularly soon.)