How to write from multiple points of view and still maintain balance throughout the novel? This is a daunting task because, truth be told, there is no magic formula to share with you. There is no shortage of books to buy or blogs to read on the subject of writing novels; in fact, a quick search term of Creative Writing on Amazon throws up almost 70,000 ways to spend your money. From building characters, plot planning, creating structure, maintaining suspense – you can study all of these but, sooner or later, if you’re serious about the business of writing, you’re going to have to park your backside in a chair and …write.
As with everything in life, the best way to learn is by doing. What works for me may not work for you, particularly if you like to plan ahead. I barely plan what my children will have for dinner, or when my car will go into the garage for its M.O.T., or what shenanigans my family will be involved with this weekend. Wildest of All rolled around in my head for years before I put pen to paper. I wrote many variations of the start of the story, so many that eventually, unable to settle on the best way forward, I decided the best thing to do would be to start anywhere – and so I did, three quarters of the way through and with a character who was not my protagonist. So, if you’re brave enough to set off into the darkness without a torch or compass then this just might be a useful read for you.
Wildest of All was to be the story of Sissy, a seventeen year-old whose father dies suddenly of a brain haemorrhage. In her grief, she can’t find the support she needs from the remaining adults in her life and so goes off to make her own way in the world. It was originally a first person narrative but I discovered Sissy’s teenaged introspection closed off too many interesting routes. After all, the effects of a person’s death ripple far beyond those immediately closest to them. It became impossible to write about Sissy’s grief and anger without also looking at her wider family. None of us exist in a vacuum, after all.
I enjoy writing in first person. There’s no better way to find out who my characters are. It’s a hangover from my acting career when I used to create a biography for every role I played. It’s one of the most fun parts of the process for me; at this stage it’s all exploration and creation. I followed this method with most of the main players in Wildest of All and naturally I was left with a huge amount of material and wanted to use all of it. I toyed briefly with the idea of having multiple first-person voices but came reluctantly to the conclusion that I would have to switch to third person narration. I didn’t doubt it was the right thing for the book, but I was fearful. I hadn’t done it before and felt likely I would fail. Fear of public humiliation and of disappointing my publisher threatened to overwhelm me. I rued the day I’d signed that contract, but if I hadn’t I may not have pushed through this painful stage which is, I’ve since heard from authors far more accomplished than I, a normal part of the novel-writing process.
We must all be masochists. The only comfort to be had was in the certain knowledge that giving the older characters their space in the novel would bring a richness that only comes with life experience. Yes, it would be harder to write because it would be more complex, but a complex novel must to be the end goal. All art is a leap in the dark, literally spinning something out of nothing. Plus, when you have a vision, you’ve got to have a go. That’s the whole point. Safety is a killer for creativity.
So, I began to explore the impact Sissy’s dad’s death would have on everyone in the book and the story exploded overnight. Secondary characters blossomed and so did their relationships with people who had never even heard of Sissy or her father. It probably won’t surprise you that when I handed the draft into my editor and agent the main note from each of them was simple: streamline, streamline, streamline.
From the melee of characters, three emerged as a strongly connected triangle: Sissy; her mother, Jude; and grandmother, Anne. Thankfully, I don’t have too much difficulty in killing off my darlings so Danny, Susan, Rik and Cam returned to their peripheral positions. With them out of the way, the manuscript was much cleaner to look at. It was still Sissy’s story but there was now room for Jude and Anne to come to the fore, which was perfect for exploring how formative experiences continue to shape people’s lives, despite their strenuous efforts to shrug off history.
I won’t lie. It was a messy process that led to thousands upon thousands of words being consigned to the trash can. Collateral damage. There was no Eureka moment, no point at which I became confident I’d cracked the secret novel writing code. Rather, it was a continual, gradual layering of text interspersed with regular steps back for perspective, and plenty of snipping, shaving, cutting and polishing that led to completion of Wildest of All. Imagine trying to complete a 100,000 piece jigsaw without having the picture on the box to work from.
Some of those books on sale at Amazon will claim to tell you the A, B, C of novel writing, screen writing, play writing. How wonderful. They remove the fear. Some of them may even work. But that’s only one person’s way of doing it. What if adhering to a format prevents discovery? What if your way is much better? Treasure might lie at the end of any one of those meandering roads you go down. Conquer your fear. Relish the hunt. Every new writing project is a learning exercise. Will I meticulously plan my next novel? Unlikely. Will I aim to worry less? Definitely. If I survive it, I’ll let you know how it was. Definitely.
(c) P.K. Lynch
About Wildest of All:
The Donnelly family are a tight-knit bunch, but when one of their own dies without warning, the mother, the daughter-in-law, and the daughter, despite being united in grief, are each sent hurtling in wildly different directions.
From the churches of Glasgow to the nightclubs of London, can they find their way back to each other before it’s too late? And in the wake of a parent’s death, who exactly is responsible for looking after whom?
‘P.K. Lynch does it again with her second novel, demonstrating her skills as an author with real depth to her writing.’ Matt Bendoris
‘P.K. Lynch can tell a story deep as a wound… Read this one.’ Jeanette Winterson
Order your copy online here.