Look Who's Talking!

Four years ago, I started writing my first novel. (I’m not counting the one before that, back in my twenties, which I never finished). Anyway, this one’s told from the points of view of three characters, two women and a man. Third person, present tense. Its theme is change – indeed, originally it was called The Change (please, no sniggering). And change has certainly been the theme of its journey towards the novel it’s now becoming.

In those four years, I’ve revised and revised. I’ve altered the structure. I've dropped the adverbs. I’ve killed the darlings. I’ve changed the title. I’ve copy-edited countless times. The usual stuff. Then, for a variety of reasons, I stopped. Began the next one. Got a third of the way through the first draft of it. And stopped again.


There followed several months of nothing. And more nothing.
And one day I woke up knowing that I needed to return to the first novel. And that I must make one big change to it (along with a list of other, smaller changes).

I had to change one of the characters into first person pov.

That this should come at the end of the process rather than the beginning is an oddity, it seems. I’ve read that one of the ‘mistakes’ first-time novelists make is to write in first person – I’ve never been entirely sure why. The implication is that it’s self-indulgent, or that one is too close to the narrative to be objective.

Whatever, from the moment I began the process of changing this pov to first person, it was as if something fell into place – in the novel and in myself. Where before the emphasis on the two main characters was equal (and deliberately so) now the strength of narrative falls on Jo, the first person character. Where before, seen from outside, and objectively, Jo appeared to be the victim, changing to first person has mysteriously transformed her into the heroine. It’s been the strangest of processes.

Each time I changed ‘she’ to ‘I’ (and everything else that’s needed when such a change is made) I felt happy. As if I’d somehow claimed something for myself from the process. I don’t know if this makes any sense to you, but this is how it feels.

When I was at art college, I experienced a similar turning point. I'd been struggling to find my 'voice', visually, until I decided to take famous paintings - like Picasso's Boy With Pipe - and add myself to them. Putting the 'I' into these paintings changed my own relationship to the art world, which had until then felt like an impervious world. Perhaps this is what I'm doing now.

I wonder, in fact, whether changing ANY of the povs into first might have an equally powerful, but different, effect. But this is the one I've chosen intuitively. It may or may not create a more marketable book, but in a way that's not the point. It's created the book I want to write, and I believe it's better than it was before. And that's all you can ask for, really.


Fionnuala said...

I've heard too that first person POV is a little poo pooed by the literary fraternity. As such, I steered away from it (having written my first novel in first person present tense)
However, years on, I now feel that the writing will transcend any POV arguments for or against. If it now feels more authentic, then its prpbably the right thing for the character.
ANd I've gone back to writing first person because for me it brings me closer to the characters thoughts and self- which I think rather than be indulgent brings an immediacy to the reader too?
Good luck with it Susie!

Caroline Green said...

I'm a huge fan of writing in first and have heard the opposite thing about new writers - that third is often the biggest mistake, so go figure! Really sounds as though you've found the missing piece here Susie...sending masses of good luck wishes for its success.

Caroline Green said...

Ow wow, Susie, I've only just realised that the amazing painting in the picture is YOURS. I'm almost thinking that having writing skill as well as that level of artistic talent is bordering on unfair!

Essie Fox said...

So pleased to hear this, Susie.

diney said...

sounds like you are nearly there - good luck!

Gillian McDade said...

I wrote a whole novel from third person into first, and it was the best thing I did for that book.

And you are doubly talented too, Susie :)

Fiona Glass said...

I have a novel which is eight years old and no nearer being finished than it was after the second draft! In my case I recently realised I had to change the nationality of one of the characters. I'm a firm believer that if a writer stops working on a piece it's because deep down they feel there's something not right with it...

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks, all. So glad others are going through similar processes. Sometimes, as my friend Derek says, things can 'turn on a sixpence' and something as apparently small as changing the pov or the nationality or whatever can have this effect.
And thanks for your comments about the picture too!

Lydia said...

I absolutely love 1st person pov and use it almost always in short stories for the closeness it gives to the character's emotions. However, have also had novel rejected more than once for precisely this reason - apparantly it's important for the reader to see action from other povs. Tell that to all the authors of hugely successful 1st person pov novels! It's a subjective business. I think an agent either loves it or doesn't whoever is telling the story! x

DT said...

Wonderful! Wonderful that you're allowing your writing to take you on a reciprocal journey of transformation and wonderful that you're wearing your 'art' on your sleeve. We all want (crave) publication, but the path of the writer or the artist is also a journey of discovery and an adventure. Did I mention that I have over 100 sixpences in a bag?!

Incidentally, your September update is late!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Lydia, I so agree about the subjectivity.
Derek, thanks - and I know, I know (about the update). Will get to it.