Friday, August 29, 2014

CHARACTER OVERLOAD






I recently reviewed a book by an indie author who was a gifted natural story-teller. Her book centered upon a true, long-ago tragedy in a small, tight-knit backwoods town.  Unfortunately, I found the story difficult to follow, because of frequent POV shifts, sometimes as often as every few paragraphs.
 
There was usually a double drop between these shifts, but she also had a habit of changing voice. Sometimes the new POV was first person, sometimes third. Occasionally, I found myself stumbling from first person to third person subjective, followed by bursts of the venerable 18th Century third person omnipresent. Many of her narrators were unreliable, and there were many, many characters, almost an entire town. Few were well fleshed out. However, each one, Rashomon-like, had a unique piece of information about the pivotal event.

 
As compelling as the story was, I’d have to say "thumbs down." Her tale was interesting and important—and probably remains inflammatory, even years later. People probably still remember where they were on the terrible day when a labor dispute went terribly wrong and police waded into strikers and killed someone.

 

POV shifts are tricky business, even in the hands of more more skillful writers. If I’d been her editor, I know our discussions would have been difficult, because she clearly had problems making a choice about who the main characters were. Although it might have created other difficulties in telling the story, the loss of focus that resulted from all that switching around made my job as a reader far more difficult than any author has a right to ask.  

 

My diagnosis? The story hadn’t jelled when she began to write. In her rush to get the inspiration down, to cover all the bases, she created a huge maze of information and very nearly couldn’t unravel it herself. A novel, (which is, after all, an artificial creation and not reality) needs a core character(s) and a core point of view, a place for a reader to stand among whatever whirligigs of narrative and event the author can contrive. 

 

So, if you are thinking of finally writing “that book,” definitely work out who/what/where/when before you get going. Laying the groundwork, pouring the foundation, you might say, is the place where a writer really ought to start.

 

 

 
 
 
Juliet Waldron
See all my historical novels:
 
 
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