Thursday, 7 October 2010
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.