Saturday, July 25, 2009

Changing the POV in a Novel.

Which is what I'm in the middle of doing
on an earlier novel, Oranges for Magellan.

For the bulk of the novel this guy Joe Magellan
is living on a 10X10 redwood platform
at the top of a sixty-foot flagpole.
He's trying to set a world record
for his own peculiar obsessive reasons.

I originally had it in omniscient third person,
so I could go to other characters on the ground,
including his wife and son who live and work
in an attached café/apartment at the foot of the pole.

But Joe & his story didn't feel close enough in third person.
It's a simple but strange story that needs to be as close
as possible to get.

So, the problem was how to do first person
when the guy is in one spot for a lot of the book,
and much of that time all by himself?
And still include a bunch of other earthbound characters.

I toyed with but didn't care for him being in first person
and the others in third.

I decided to start off with him in first person, before
he goes up, with his family, stay with him in first
when he is up, but go to first person with other
characters below as well.

I just designate (in parentheses) whose chapter it is
at the start of the chapter. I don't change within chapters.

I also have a couple chapters so far
(I'm about a third done changing the whole thing)
that have remained in the original third person omniscient.
I like the mysterious feel I get out of that.
It wasn't mysterious before, but now, contrasted with
the surrounding first person chapters, the omniscience
has a sort of ominous feel it didn't have when the book
was all third person.

The omniscience & steadiness of third person
made the story too remote, but also made the narrative
too unified & smooth. With changing POVs, the divisions
& conflicts between the characters, and between what's happening
at the top of the pole & on earth below, gets an edge
& an emphasis they didn't have before.

I've never liked innovation for innovation's sake,
but this variation I decided on was more a necessity
to boost the intimacy with the characters
the book was crying out for. Joe's being stuck
up there called for the mother of invention.
Though I'm poorly-read, I was aware that variations
of this POV set-up existed, and have been informed
of others. Which is not quite the same as doing it yourself
& by necessity rather than whim.

It feels simple & appealing to me,
once I overcame the
"Oh you cant do that it's not permitted &
people will complain & get confused!"
state of mind. Somebody said,
Don't underestimate the intelligence of your readers.
I have to remember that not all readers are as slow
to catch on as me.

It feels right because it almost changes itself as I go,
because the book has come alive to me on wavelengths
it was half-drowsing in before, and because it's
easier to follow & less jarring or fragmented
than I thought it might be.

I like to make a book easy on the reader to get into,
inviting, accessible, so I was concerned just a tiny little bit
that this arrangement would be like rocks on the path, or
too sudden lefts & rights on the path. But I believe
it's not difficult to go with, and in fact fun, so
those rocks turn into playthings to kick and throw
instead of trip over, and those zigzags become exciting
& enlivening. I'm happy that this change has renewed my
love for the book.

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Kerri said...

Wow, Richard, this sounds thrilling. I'm struggling with the "too unified & smooth" problem right now myself. I've been thinking about using leaps in time as a way to sharpen and invigorate the story, but your post is inspiring me to be even braver in my re-imagining. As long as it serves the story, I guess I should be able to take whatever liberties I want with my own material.

This post was just what I needed - thanks.

Richard Martin.... said...

Oh, I'm glad, Kerri. Thanks for leaving that. Yeah, we really think we're under a big shadow of laws and rules, when we're not, or it's of our own making, or accepting of how others say it should be. As long as it serves the story, as you say, we're free. It seems like I would know this already, since we're, oh, what, a century into post-modernism now? Me got thick skull. Me have to find out for self. And the big proof for me, as you say, is in the thrill of making the changes and how easy (most of) it is, and how it brings the story rushing back to life for me.