The point of view (POV) cast of Lessons in Falling had already been tentatively formed: one sensible head teacher; one slightly eccentric teacher; one popular male student; one intriguing female student. A symmetrical, neatly sectioned shape which looked promising. If Toni Morrison could nail it in Paradise, where was the harm in trying to navigate and cement my own set of voices?
But something just didn’t feel right; someone needed to go. Well, stay, actually, just not as a main point of view character.
This may well be a wise decision to make while ideas are being wantonly splashed down at the planning stages, a little further even, no problem. But 25,000 very roughly drawn first draft words later is a bit more alarming. Maybe not to others, but it was to me! To unPOV this main character – it was the sensible head teacher, Mairead – involved a process of disentanglement and relegation which must have left poor Mairead feeling more than a little abandoned. She is still the responsible head teacher, with all the burdens attached to such a role, but she has now been downsized to a regular cast member who is narrated through the thoughts, eyes, and ears of others.
Before, Mairead clunked along in her two-dimensionality. She was likeable enough, but that in itself was not enough. How could it be? I couldn’t hear her voice as distinctly as the other POV characters. She didn’t unnerve or disarm me the way they did. I couldn’t touch her skin or reach into her soul or feel her breath in my ear.
So how did I let Mairead go and yet still keep her as herself? I walked through each of her unfinished sections and, if I didn’t delete them entirely, I transplanted her viewpoint, or actions, onto Sandra, the slightly eccentric teacher. At first, it felt intrusive, a mild battering, but by the last of Mairead’s sections it felt right, a sort of kindness. Now, as Sandra’s senses are widening, Mairead’s are being subsumed into the mise-en-scène of the whole story. The exposure of her own demons is no longer controlled, or censored, by herself; she is at the mercy of the other narrators, a challenge, among many others, which I am now facing into with my early drafts.
The following is an example of Mairead’s viewpoint and actions being replaced by Sandra’s while driving to the hospital to see one of their students who has been violently attacked:
(Mairead as POV character)
Her heart is pounding inside her chest but at least her hands have stopped shaking. Clara, she says aloud, if you are stable that is good. You will be okay, I’m almost there. Don’t worry, we’ll sort this out, we’ll make you better.
(Sandra as POV character, ‘taking’ one of Mairead’s scenes)
Her heart is pounding inside her chest but at least her hands have stopped shaking. Clara, she says aloud, you’ve gone too far now, child, you better be in a bad way. Calling attention to yourself like this, do you not think you’re already in enough trouble?
Sandra is now delighted with her newly enlarged vantage point. She walks taller and is more judgemental and manipulative than Mairead, more assertive and more comfortable in her skin. But Mairead hasn’t been cardboarded into the page margins; she is still head teacher. Instead she has been somehow liberated and is beginning to find her voice again. Yes, it’s now filtered and observed through the other three characters but with some dialogue tweaking and personality morphing the demoted Mairead fits more snugly around the new triangular shaped POV of the three louder voices.
Lessons in Falling is my third book which I hope to complete some time in early 2020. The story is set in an English language school in Sandycove, south Dublin, and centres around a violent attack on a student.
(c) Paula Tully