Monday, August 22, 2011

Gaining New Perspective: A Lesson from a Derailed Novel

As the dust of Faye settles and I'm able to more rationally look back over the massive derailment that is the novel, I realized that despite the immense frustrations of the project, I think I learned more while working on this one novel than I did on the previous four. I learned a lot of what not to do (rush down plot holes, begin before the plot is solid, change points of view, have a vague theme, have a vague emphasis of the overarcing story, and change the magic/world system midway through the novel—to name a few).

There were also a lot of productive lessons—I defined what it takes for me to write a good novel, I streamlined what makes a novel great (to me), and I pinpointed my key weaknesses (overwriting and dialog).

Happily, I found a workaround for the my troubles with dialog: third-person perspective.

I've written first-person novels from the start, liking the immediacy of the sound of first-person narration as well as the narrow focus. First-person narrative filters the world through the main character's eyes, giving the reader a unique look into not just what the character is saying and doing, but what they're feeling. I've never been one for third-person omniscient (seeing into every characters' head and emotions). It feels too cluttered and too easy.

However, with first-person writing comes the trap of knowing the main character extremely well and forgetting that, as the author, I need to know the motives and emotions of the other characters, even if the main character doesn't.

While writing, I would find myself getting mired in dialog as I attempted to bounce back and forth between characters' heads while maintaining the limited view of the main character. Yet, during scenes (that in my insanity) I wrote in third person, I had a much easier time lending veracity to all the characters' words and actions. It was so much easier to see into everyone's mind while writing from none in particular.

While I would never recommend that anyone do as I did and write the first third of the novel in first person, the middle third in third person, and the last third in first person again, it did teach me the that, as a tool, switching to third person to plot out a troublesome scene is tremendously useful.

The key, of course, is to not get carried away with the new perspective and decide it is the best thing since the backspace key for your novel.

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