Friday, October 15, 2010

Experiments and Doubts

So I am getting down to the wire on my WiP. I've decided to experiment in several ways with this novel, and although I'd like to say I am totally confident about these choices that's not exactly true.

Have you ever done that? Tried a new method of writing or preparing that made you a little squirmy? I'm open for experimentation. I am always trying to find better ways to hone my craft, to prep and write a novel. Sometimes the results are spectacular. Sometimes things go splat. I am hoping my latest experiments will be wildly successful, or at least not ruin the book, but again, I still feel nervous.

My first experiment will be in the form of an extended plot outline. I didn't think I would ever use one, but the need seems to call for it. I am trying plot out the events I have to know to make the novel work, but leave a lot of ground left to explore. Since the story's main driving plot is very close to a murder mystery, there are certain things I need to know ahead of time. Like how the two main characters collect evidence from immaterial objects, like ghosts. Fun, I know. 

So while I don't have who's going to live and die planned out to a T, and only a sketchy idea of how things are going to get solved, I still have to know how their methods work. Enter the extended plot outline. It's a really detailed plot outline, that lets you be as specific or vague as you want. So one chapter might read "Bast discovers dead body" another chapter that I have more ideas for might even have a piece of dialogue I thought of and don't want to forget. 

This will allow me to plan out the nitpicky details ahead of time, without ruining the fun of creativity. This doesn't mean I won't have to smooth things out in revision, but at least it gives me something to stand on. I also intend to plan the first few scenes out in great detail, and use only the broadest strokes for the middle and end. Just the scenes that have to be there to make the basic plot work. Then, after I write through the scenes I have planned out on notecards, I will then plan the middle, incorporating anything that has changed since the outlining stage. I've never plotting this way, but it sounds like an excellent way to have some stepping stones in the plot without having to incorporate your new elements completely in the first revision.

The other great experiment with this book is my POV choice, and the one that's making me extremely nervous.

It's going to be multiple first person point of view. 

First person is a bit of a change for me. I usually save first person for the books I know are only going to be from one character's perspective, and when I have an excellent feel for their character. I've never finished a novel in first person, but I have two half finished novels from first person, both with totally different voices.

When I started working on my WiP, I already had Bast's voice talking in my head, and she was definitely going to be from first person. When I added another main character, I didn't think much of it, because I also had an excellent feel for that character's voice. The characters are polar opposites and have different roles in the story. 

I realized that I would need a way to tell the reader that the POV has changed, because most people assume a book written in first person is from only one person's perspective.I considered my options.
I don't like naming the chapter after the POV character, because it feels a little...clunky. I usually don't name chapters anyway, because it can break the flow of the book. Don't get me wrong; I've seen both techniques used well, but I just didn't think either work for my book. I also decided that I would change POV with each chapter, and any scene break I wanted to do within the chapter would be indicated by *** marks.

When I went to the writing seminar at Dragon*Con, I asked the writers giving the seminar, Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston, how you would make sure the reader knew who's head you were in without naming the chapter after the character. To my delight Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston did not tell me I was a naive fool for trying to pull off this perspective. 

Instead, they advised me to make sure each voice was unique, so there was absolutely no doubt who was talking (Which is a good habit to get into, even when you're writing third person). I told them about my chapter plans, and they thought it was also a good idea, because eventually the reader would pick up on the fact that a chapter means I am changing character perspectives.  

That settled, I didn't think too much more about my POV choices until yesterday.

Yesterday I ran across a story about a guy who tried to get him multiple first person novel published, but couldn't because the publishers didn't like the POV. I read several other articles talking about badly used multiple first person. The general wisdom for multiple first person is don't do it. I know there have been books utilizing this perspective, but it's really hard to pull off. You have to make extra, extra sure that the character's voices really ARE unique and different. You have to make sure the characters are relaying a different view on the world to justify their having a POV at all.

You're supposed to do this with a POV character anyway. No matter if you're writing in third, first, single or multiple, you're supposed to make sure your POV characters each have something important to contribute to the story. You're supposed to make sure they all are unique and sound like real people. 

This doesn't always happen though, and never is it more obvious than multiple first person.  Now I wonder if I am kidding myself. I mean, I'm not even published yet. Should I wait until I have a few published novels under my belt before embarking on such an ambitious endeavor? If my POV choice bars me from getting published, it will feel like a waste, because that's something that can be fixed. 


If I can pull off the POV choice, I think it will rocks your socks. The events of the books are character driven, and very personal. Both characters are put into uncomfortable moral situations where they have to choose which is the lesser evil, and deal with the outcome of their actions. The character themselves are polar opposites.

I guess at the end of the day, I just need to make sure that the characters come across as unique and different. I have thought of this book as a multiple first person for so long, I have a hard time imagining it any other way. In order to make sure this really is the POV that will do my book the best service, I will rewrite a chapter from each character in third person, just to make sure. But I am still slightly nervous.

Have you ever had something like this happen to you? Where you thought you had things under control and then you read or hear something, and suddenly you're questioning your choices? How do you decide which is fear talking and what is good common sense? How did you decide what to do? Does anyone have any advice on multiple first person perspective? 


  1. Any rule can be broken as long as you have the skill to back up the decision.

  2. As far as that goes, I think first person is an overused POV anyway and double first person is INCREDIBLY hard. You can't just bring your A game with that one. You have to bring your A+ game.

  3. @Joe: I know! That's why I am nervous. I have to be on top of things times ten. And while you should always try to bring your A+ game to the novel, when you make something extra difficult, it's more obvious when you fail.

    BUT on the other hand, should I really avoid doing something just because it's hard???? Because the challenge intimidates me?

    I think not.

  4. I think not either. Contrariwise, will writing this the hard way make a better novel?

  5. If I don't totally fail, yes. It will make the novel soooooooo much better than if I switch to close third. But, for the sake of science, I still plan to rewrite the first two chapters in third just to be sure.