Friday, September 14, 2012

My Transformation to Writer Continues

As I've said in several recent posts, I decided to change what I was doing in my life over a dozen years ago. I started learning about my craft. I made more mistakes than not. I read book after book on writing. I read tons of fiction, since I knew that's what I wanted to write. I read genres where I had no business trying to contribute. I mean, I'm not someone who wants to build worlds, populate them with non-humans, write about vampires and werewolves, although I love reading about them.

I read literary fiction. Some of it dry as stale toast; some of it exciting; all of it not what I felt qualified to try. I wanted to write about strong women in situations beyond their immediate control. I wanted to drop women into a maelstrom and see if they could swim. Some sank. Some stunk. A few rode the froth of the eddy to the top to grab my attention. Enough of these tired cliches.

I found I liked strong women. I liked reading about them. I liked writing about them. In fact, the main character in my Mad Max novel was not supposed to be the main character. She started life as a secondary character, rather like a Greek chorus, commenting on action but not being affected by it. And then one day, she grabbed me by the throat and shook me. "Listen to me," she shouted. "My story is the only important one."

I had started Mad Max: Unintended Consequences as a story about a divorcing couple. I wrote in first person from three points of view: the wife, the husband and Mad Max. The wife becomes strung out on drugs. I had a terrific time writing long, rambling, run-on sentences reflective of what goes on in an addled brain. The husband thought and spoke in clipped terms. Half sentences, partial thoughts, Clint Eastwood-type "go ahead, make my day" stuff. Great fun. Max was more measured in thought and speech, expressing herself in complete sentences, adding her observations as her daughter's marriage dissolved. The first working title was Death of a Marriage. Didn't work.

My writing group, the Lake Writers, suggested (no, twisted my arm) I write using a single point of view, a single voice. I didn't think the story would be interesting, but I tried. First I tried the daughter. Not good. I never thought about writing from the husband's voice. That's when Max stood on her hind legs and yelled at me. The more I let Max be Max, the better the narrative flowed.

So, I locked myself into first person singular. Max tells her story her way. Sassy at times. Snarky at others. She has to deal with the dissolution of a complete family. And in so doing, she is forced to choose between doing what the family needs and doing what she needs.

You'll have to wait for a later post to see how she balances the conflict.


  1. Two books I've read recently, Porch Lights by Dorthea Benton Frank and Kill Alex Cross by James Patterson, each in a different genre and each by a bestselling author, use multiple POVs. We've both had it hammered into our heads about never, NEVER changing POV, it seems that it's not such a cast-in-stone literary law as we've been led to believe. In this case, I say, do what works for you. Do what your story demands. Write on!

  2. In my book "Escaping the Arroyo" I do change POV for the three main characters all the time. Nobody has complained, I think mostly because they want to know what each one is thinking. Right now I'm reading Cujo by Stephen King and the point of view changes all the time. It even goes to the dog's POV. I like knowing and I'm not sure what the problem is as long as everything is clear to the reader.

  3. This sounds like a terrific story, Betsy. I love it when a character whaps us a bit and shows us the direction a story needs to go. Once we are so fully vested in a character, the story just flows.

    Regarding POV, I think some stories do need one POV throughout, while others can have changing POV. It depends on the genre and if you want to write in first person or third.

  4. Sometimes a story just works better with a single point of view. Especially a story in which the conflict would tend to polarize the POVs of the other characters, sticking with one would make the events more objective, while the deeply involved POV character would still communicate the emotions. Sounds like you made a good choice!

    Marian Allen
    Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

  5. I'm doing battle with the multiple POV question for a short story I'm currently working on and for the novel I am researching. I'm still in the 'can make a case for either or both' stage. I'm waiting for the characters to duke it out and answer the question for me.