Thursday, March 4, 2010

on the corner of 1st and 3rd

i consider my writing style to be "organic".
i start with an idea (that usually can be explained in just one sentence) and go from there. 
i might have some plot points i'd like to hit during the course of the book, but nothing is ever set in stone.

i'm not sure how common my method is, but it works for me. i've never been the kind of writer that makes a detailed outline, marking every twist, turn, reveal and arc. i'm not even the kind of writer that decides on how the novel will end before i write it. i start with general ideas, and through the course of writing i find my path. 
i've always said my books write themselves, and really it's true.
but sometimes my books stop flowing on their own. i wouldn't say they hit a wall, but they definitely stall, and that's when i have to take an honest look at what i've produced and decide what my next step will be.
this is what's happened with my latest work in progress.
i've had the idea for this novel for almost three years, but i didn't get serious about it until january of this year. i knew what i wanted to happen (generally) and where i'd like to see it end, but i had absolutely no road map. i just sat down and started writing.

originally i felt this novel needed to be written in third person. i have two main characters and i thought an omniscient narrator would work best. 
the writing flowed and i'd found my path, or so i thought. you see, my male character has been a dream: super easy to write with a very distinct personality. my female character never quite seemed as complete as her counterpart. soon i began to struggle with her chapters, sitting in front of my computer trying to conjure up what would happen next to her.
that's when i realized i needed to make some major changes. 
sure, my female lead needed a makeover. but that's not the only thing that needed changing.

i realized, even though i'd employed the use of a third person narrator, i wasn't using it to advantage. the narrator wasn't omniscient at all, and was only giving the reader one point of view - that of either the male or female main character, which is exactly what i wanted. i only wanted their two perspectives throughout the novel. it became clear there was only one thing to do and that was change the narration from third to first.
i had to trust my instinct though i did have concerns - would having two first-person narratives confuse the reader? would the pages be filled with "I"s and "me"s? 
i did some research and found it is not uncommon for there to be two characters written in first person. i even read nick and norah's infinite playlist to see if, as a reader, i could enjoy an entire novel written in this manner.

happily i am now rewriting. the narration change has been the easy part. tossing all the chapters focusing on my female lead was a little painful, but totally necessary. now her character is much stronger and her motives clearer (though if i'm totally honest, still not as easy to write as the male) and the novel is once again flowing. here's hoping that my book continues to guide me toward the right path!


Gabrielle said...

it sounds great...good luck :D

Maura Anderson said...

True omniscient is actually quite hard to write in. It's a state where everything is known and visible and I think it's actually quite distancing from the characters.

I write in either first or a deep third person POV as my preference and find those POVs much easier to both read and write.

I will say I've never been fond of stories with two first person POVs - usually because I get lost between the two and it's not clear whose head I'm in at the time. My best advice is to make sure the voices and mannerisms of the two main characters are distinct and obviously different so the readers KNOW whose head they are in and make the breaks very distinct as well (like your aforementioned chapters).

ikw said...

gabrielle - thanks!

maura - thank you so much for your advice. i agree with third person omniscient being too distant at times. i definitely felt that with my wip, which is a major reason i changed to first person.
and you make a really good point about keeping the voice and mannerisms of the two main characters distinct. i keep that in mind as i write, and i'm sure i will have some changes to make when i go in to do edits after my first draft is done.

Christine Fletcher said...

This is so interesting to read b/c I recently set aside a WIP with 2 main characters told from alternating 1st person POV. It was fun to do, and Maura's right about keeping the voices and mannerisms distinct. The book didn't work for other reasons, but I enjoyed alternating "heads."

One other thing to deal with is that instead of one story arc, you now have to create two--each with emotional resonance, increasing tension and good closure. Which also is fun, in a sort of beating-one's-head-against-a-rock kind of way.

Kudos to you for stepping back, seeing what needed to be done, and being willing to sacrifice chunks of writing. Been there--that's hard!

ikw said...

christine - the "we have to talk" conversation between you and your previous wip is one of the funniest things i've ever read!
and thank you for the advice about creating two story arcs. this wip is very different from my others in that it's the first multi-layered novel i've done, all the others have been very linear.
i know i will be spending a great deal of time editing because i want to make sure it's a strong piece - not rushed or sloppy.