Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Novel Struggles and Fun

Lately, all my conversations have gone something like this:

Other Person: I haven’t seen you in a while—what are you up to?

Me: Um, I’m writing a novel…

Other Person: Really? What’s it about?

Me: Can I get back to you on that?

Since I’ve been researching and writing for about a year I ought to be able to say something. So here goes…

I’m using a multiple viewpoint structure.

The first book I ever read that changed narrative structure in the middle of the story was Treasure Island. I was about ten-years-old and shocked. And delighted. I’d been reading from Jim Hawkins' perspective and suddenly I was reading from the Doctor’s. The idea that one story could be viewed differently by different characters fascinated me.

As I matured, I read more books that played with narrative structure, moving between viewpoints, time frames, tenses, etc.: Home at the End of the World, In the Time of the Butterflies, The Hours, As I Lay Dying, and Rabbit, Run.

In other words, all the cool literary kids are doing it. (Correction: All the cool literary kids have done it; now it’s kind of old hat.) So I thought I would enjoy writing a multi-viewpoint novel. I do, but fitting all the different voices and tenses into my story structure is a bit like trying to create a single image out of several 5,000-piece puzzles—after they’ve been run through the wood-chipper.

I begin to see why some multi-viewpoint stories, although I enjoy their style, seem disappointing in terms of plot and character-development—by the time the author got all the structure worked out, her brain melted onto the keyboard.

So here’s a question: Is there a multi-viewpoint novel that you really enjoyed—both for the structure and story itself?

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