Thursday, January 12, 2012

What Larks, Pip!

Today at lunch I made a more detailed outline of Chapter 7 for the WIP, expanding my single sentence outline to about 400 words, including snatches of dialogue, some internal monologue, and the final image of the chapter—the point to which I’ll be moving while writing.

This book’s chapters have so far all been about 5,000 words long and more or less in the shape of freestanding short stories. I continue my habit of giving chapters a three-act structure, because that makes them easier to write and—I think—to read. Hopefully I can knock out Chapter 7 by the end of next week.

I noticed a chapter or so back that the point of view is subtly different in the odd numbered chapters than the even numbered chapters. The odd numbers (so far) center around David Molloy, and the point of view in David’s chapters is a limited third-person. You never see the inner thoughts of anyone but David. The even numbered (so far) center around Catherine Lark, but those chapters are written in an omniscient point of view, where the inner thoughts of any character I like can enter the narrative. I’m not sure what will happen in Chapter 9 or 10 when David’s storyline merges with Catherine’s.

The reason I’m using omniscient in Catherine’s chapters is because I found that the limited third-person of David's felt constricting and claustrophobic after a while. I wanted the narrative to relax in tone and to be more inclusive, to breathe and to feel as if it held the entire world within it, not just a single person. There are also thematic reasons behind this decision, but I’ll leave those for critics and readers to sort out.

The point of view choices I’m using might make the story seem to belong more to David than it does to Catherine, so possibly I’m making a tactical blunder here. I’m not convinced of that, though. When I’m writing Catherine’s chapters, she is clearly the protagonist of the book. When I write David’s chapters, the book clearly is about him. As I say, it will be interesting when the two meet at the midpoint of the novel. I’ll have an interesting formal/aesthetic problem to solve. Though perhaps not. Of course I already have ideas.

Meanwhile, I'm about 100 pages into Great Expectations. Dickens keeps using the following method to introduce new characters:

1. Pip meets stranger.
2. Stranger behaves in unaccountably strange manner.
3. Pip learns that stranger's behavior is explicable when backstory revealed.
4. Strangers with backstory become important to narrative.


5. First stranger introduced (escapee from prison ship) continues to behave strangely and we can assume he'll continue to poke his head into the narrative every 60 pages or so. I expect his backstory will come in the third act and his identity will have a great impact on the course of Pip's life. It's a Dickens novel, after all.

Miss Havisham, I note, is a great idea for a character. She could not exist in real life, but she's fabulous on the page.


  1. Amazing how the things like Miss Havisham that cannot exist in so-called real life can only exist on the page and sometimes the reverse is true: real life can be stranger than fiction.

    You're hard at work by the sound of things. Good for you.

  2. Elisabeth: Life is almost always stranger than fiction, in my experience. Perhaps somewhere there is a woman who has been for decades living in the ruins of her catastrophic wedding day. People do that sort of thing all the time internally; it's a short step to actually living out that metaphor, maybe. Either way, it's clever of Dickens to give us the physical, realized version of someone who never moved on from a personal tragedy. It was very postmodern of him.

    I have to be hard at work on my own novel right now. My plan is to write 60,000 more words in the next 5 1/2 months. That's only about 2600 words/week, which is an achievable goal if I stick to a regular writing schedule. We'll see how it goes.

  3. I've been giving a lot of thought to writing in omniscient. I wrote my first book that way and had so much freedom. I've been writing in close third for my hero and heroine, and I find it's very stifling these days. I wonder if it's the weather.

    Perhaps when spring arrives I'll be in a much better position to guage where my next story will be written from.

  4. I've never tried writing in limited third person, mainly because I feel it is currently beyond the scope of my talents. Omniscient and first person is all I've attempted so far. They're more natural to me, and easier.
    When Catherine and David meet, I have no clue how you'll combine the two types of narratives. I'd probably stick with the omniscient viewpoint of Catherine's chapters. I wouldn't like getting used to omni, then suddenly have the wool pulled over my eyes.

  5. Anne: The thing about true omniscient is that it contains all the other possible POVs. You can move between them as suits you. You can zoom in and be inside a character's mind, or zoom way out and view the totality of the universe from so far away that your characters aren't even visible.

    I hadn't actually planned to write the David sections in limited third; I assumed I'd write the whole thing in omniscient. But the David character is sort of irritating and limited third keeps the reader bound tight to him, and I wanted the challenge of keeping the reader interested in this annoying guy. I want readers to keep going despite the character's many flaws, carried forward by the prose and the storytelling. We'll see.

    Charlie: I think that as long as the prose is solid and the story has forward motion, readers won't really notice when the POV changes.

    Also, I might keep the alternating POVs and alternating main characters going even when David and Catherine's storylines merge. That would be a good trick. I enjoy the technical challenges, you know. It keeps it interesting for me.