In a previous post, I talked about an exercise that I loved to use when I taught middle school language arts and an exercise I love as a writer of fiction. Changing perspectives is a great way to step inside the heads of different characters, build back story for you as the writer without bombarding the reader, and it’s a great way to discover the heart of the story in new ways.
When I think multiple narrators, I immediately think of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, which has 15 narrators throughout its 59 chapters. Faulkner is a classic and a staple in the literary canon, but his work just doesn’t do it for me. Multiple perspectives also seems to be very popular in YA lit (like John Green & David Levithan’s Will Grayson, Will Grayson). But, honestly, I just haven’t come across a book that uses multiple perspectives where I fall in love with the story and the writer’s use of that tool (I’ve got a few on my to-read list). Any suggestions?
I have been toying with this idea of multiple narrators and, in theory, I love the idea. I believe that all first-person narrators are unreliable because you are trapped in the pages of their story through their lens and experiences and counting on their interpretations as true. But what about other characters and people? How do they perceive your narrator and the story that is unfolding? Often times when I’m reading a book, I always latch on to a character and wonder what he or she would say. How does this event feel and look to the person that isn’t the narrator?
Originally, I think I had 9 narrators (which I was never really thrilled with that many). But I honestly wasn’t in love with all of the characters or the chapters. Since my novel Poppy Swings an intimate portrayal of Tara Fergus’ last year with her dad, Poppy, and explores how messy, unforgiving, and simultaneously beautiful love is between family, friends, and lovers while showcasing how much a woman can change from one summer to the next. As of now, I’ve decided on 5 characters. I have officially decided to write chapters from each member of the Fergus family (Tara, her sister Mia, Poppy, and the mother, Molly) as well as the boyfriend/husband Josh who gets swept up in the wake of Tara’s rash decisions during her father’s descent into illness.
Eliminating some narrators and changing the perspectives of others is starting to strengthen the story and declutter the noise that detracts away from the issues and events I really want the reader to focus on. I’m cutting and revising the hell out of this thing and it’s slow and it’s painful. But it’s getting good.