Monthly Archives: January 2011
If “empathy” is the ability to see the world through other people’s eyes, then fiction writing can be the most empathic of the arts.
My editor wants me to change the POV – or point of view – of a largish scene at the beginning of the sequel from the omnipresent third person to the more selective second person.
Let me explain.
Say you do that classic, 1940s British mystery, in which five strangers appear at an isolated castle on a foggy night. Agatha Bloody Christy and her ilk wrote this scene a thousand times. One way to write the scene is to see the drive up to the castle from the perspective of Lord Minsing-Latham. Do the scene in which the strangers first meet from the perspective of Jenny Sparrow, your plucky young heroine. And do the introductions from the perspective of Smedly, the butler.
No worries. You can write that easy-peasy, right?
Another option is to see the entire thing from the perspective of Miss Sparrow, beginning with the drive through the foggy countryside. She sees the castle loom up out of the mist. She’s a Londoner and drives her own car, naturally, which a few of the men-folk will find a bit uppity, bright young thing like that, with a car but no ring on her finger. She opens doors for herself as well, and she actually handles the introductions of the strangers, rather than waiting for one of the older men to initiate the conversation. Blimey, who does this bird think she is?
Doing the scene from multiple POVs lets you, the reader, sit at the right hand of God, seeing everything the author needs you to see and sharing their emotions. Lord Minsing-Latham is rather taken by Miss Sparrow while the butler harbors some seething anger, though we know not why. Yeah? But doing the scene from the POV of Jenny Sparrow means you, the reader, know only what Jenny knows.
I’m recasting the opening scenes of the sequel through one character’s eyes. It presents challenges, but it also (one hopes) grounds the reader’s perspectives and “imprints” them on that character.
That’s the theory anyway.
Katy King and I attended one of the all-time best book club meetings last night. The wine was delicious, the cheese plate plentiful, the chocolate cake tall. But most importantly, the seven or eight people in the club had all read my book!
This is a rarity among book clubs.
And boy, did they have good questions! They’d really thought it through.
The hostess, Dana Tierney, told us these women had been meeting as a book club for almost two decades. That, too, is unheard of among book clubs.
We go to events like the World Mystery Convention. They’re great. But it’s nights like last night that really make this gig irresistible!
My friend Paul Doiron has been nominated for a 2011 Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America, for his novel “The Poacher’s Son” from Minotaur Books.
Paul has been nominated in the category of Best First Novel. Full disclosure: I’m a Minotaur author, too.
Paul’s second book is out soon this year.
Other nominees in his category: “Rogue Island” by Bruce DeSilva (Tom Doherty Associates – Forge Books); “The Serialist: A Novel” by David Gordon (Simon & Schuster); ”Galveston” by Nic Pizzolatto (Simon & Schuster – Scribner); ”Snow Angels” by James Thompson (Penguin Group USA – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
As a practical matter, slipping from editing my second novel to writing the first draft of my third novel actually works pretty well.
I had been away from the third book for almost a month, and when I went back, what I found were pages of fat. Stuff I sort of liked, dialogue that had a nice flow to it, but which I could erase without hurting the story.
If I write first-draft material on a Monday and look at it on Tuesday, I’m often too close to see the problems. If I write first-draft material in November and get back to it in January, I have fresh eyes. I can see fat for fat. I can edit ruthlessly.
Novelist Joshilyn Jackson (creator of the Best Lead Paragraphs … Ever!) called the writing of first drafts “knitting bones from air.” She’s right. But sometimes, the bones we knit are un-opposable thumbs. You need time and space to realize: You gotta unknit that shit.