I can’t begin today’s post without saying a huge ‘thank you’ to everyone who read and/or commented upon yesterday’s post, sent me messages of congratulations via one of the (seemingly) endless forms of social media I frequent, or who was – even slightly – pleased by the news I shared in recent days. I am really touched. Thank you, everyone.
Now, I hope I won’t let y’all down…
Anyway, it’s back to work as usual today. I had hoped I’d be able to get working on my new WiP (codename: ‘Web’) yesterday but I found myself pulled around by all the other things I had to do. It was one of those days where you do lots of little things, and it doesn’t seem to add up to much, and you end up wrecked at the end of the day without a lot to show for it. (I hate days like those). I promise (pinkie swear) that I’m not putting off getting stuck back into ‘Web’ because I know, for sure, that I need to rewrite the whole thing in first-person; in fact, I’ve thought about little else over the past few days.
Because ‘thinking about stuff’ totally counts as writing-related work.
There are, naturally, going to be problems with changing the narrative voice, mainly related to the fact that third-person narration (even, as I was using it in ‘Web’, largely restricted to one person’s point of view) affords more freedom in storytelling terms. I used to find myself naturally drawn to first-person narration – ‘Emmeline’ was the first book I’d really tried to write which didn’t use it – and I found that third-person had a lot going for it. Third-person allowed me more scope to tell the story even when Emmeline wasn’t physically present for some of the action, and it would have been impossible for me to create the story world without that particular narrative tool at my disposal. So, perhaps that’s why I gravitated naturally towards third-person for ‘Web’, too.
Except, it really isn’t working.
I had reached a point in the text where I’d felt the story – or, perhaps, its urgency – start to slip away from me. I’m writing about a girl who is facing the first anniversary of the death of her father (which coincides almost exactly with her birthday) and, at the point at which I left the text last week, whose best friend has been put in hospital. Telling the story in third-person was getting the words on the page, but I’m not entirely sure it’s really getting to the heart of the character. I think that third-person, for this story, allowed me too much freedom around my protagonist – in other words, too much distance from her. In a story like this one, distance from the emotion at the heart of it is a bad thing.
All I can do, I suppose, is rewrite the first few chapters and see which voice works better, and which one I feel more at home in. It may be that the story will need a little distance, in which case I can re-evaluate. That’s the best part about creating a story – these decisions are fluid, and you don’t have to remain stuck to one particular way of doing things if it’s no longer working. (If only the rest of life could be so sensible!)
What you do want to avoid, though, when writing a story, is the dreaded ‘head-hopping’, or the rapid switching of narrative points-of-view without giving your reader adequate warning. If you switch between first-person and third-person in alternating paragraphs (though why you’d want to do this is beyond me), or you submerge your reader in the heart and head of one character and then – in the next line, or mid-paragraph – you dunk them straight into the heart and head of another, it can get confusing. With third-person narration it’s particularly hard to keep a lid on this: you can change the character at the centre of a scene, sure, but make certain to do it after a clearly marked scene change, or in alternating chapters, or something equally defined. With first-person, you have to make sure to keep your voice as restricted as it would be in real life – in other words, you need to be very careful not to tell your reader what another character is thinking or feeling (because how would your protagonist, through whose eyes you are telling the story, know what’s going on in the heart of someone else?), only how it appears to them.
In any case, this voice experiment with ‘Web’ is one worth doing. I know I have 30,000 words of solid material in third-person, just in case this first-person version doesn’t work, so all is not lost. The important thing is to tell the story and to tell it as well as I can, and – most importantly of all – get a first draft done before my agent sends me back the eviscerated version of ‘Emmeline’…
Right! Time to get to work. What a pity this is all coinciding with a week of glorious sunshine, but them’s the breaks. I’d much rather be inside my own head, anyway!
*’Grind’ used entirely tongue-in-cheek, just so you know. One can never be too careful with sarcasm, these days.