Have you ever been convinced you invented a term, only to find that it’s been in circulation for years? I received some constructive criticism today about my outline. My correspondent suggested I had introduced a particular POV character too late in the story. Very fair, but I had a particular twist to the rules on POV characters in mind.

Back in prehistory when I was first addled by puberty I spent a lot of time working through a book called The Rats by James Herbert. Although I’m sure the novel has vibrant well-rounded main characters, I really can’t remember a thing about them. It’s the victims that have stayed with me. Most of these became temporary POV characters. Each one got a scene with a bit of action, maybe some back story filled in as they reflected on their life. Then a swarm of ravening rats stripped the flesh from their bones (do rats swarm?). Incidentally, the preceding action often involved graphically described sex – which may have something to do with my interest at the time, and my strong recollection now.

I’ve noticed this pattern (the POV given to victims before their murder, not the sex) many times since. It seems to be a standard convention in the SF, Horror and Mystery genres. I guess that by giving the victim POV the author achieves a number of things:

  • heightens the dramatic effect of the murder by allowing the reader to experience it
  • allows the identity of the perpetrator to remain a mystery, while still fully dramatizing the murder
  • makes the murder matter – it’s a real person dying, not Colonel Mustard

So I needed a neat phrase to sum that up. I came up with The Redshirt POV. Named in honor of the nameless Star Trek security officers who were killed on away missions week after week. Now, I recognize three things:

  1. Someone has probably already coined this
  2. It sounds like the title of an episode of the sitcom The Big Bang (and should be)
  3. There’s probably already a perfectly good name for this common technique

But I don’t care. I still think it’s neat