A Change in Point-of-View

Music: Judie Tzuke–Blackfurs

Big news: I’ve finished Captain Corelli’s Mandolin!

I’ve learnt so much about Cephalonia, the fiasco of World War Two, and the passage of post-war civilisation. Gated, backward, quirky island culture was portrayed to a T (I should know). The humour was exactly my jam—from the first scene, during which Dr Iannis extracts a fossilised pea from his deaf patient’s ear. The characters were ridiculed without being trivialised, and the prose provoked thought without choking me on philosophy. I loved the recurring gags, such as the doctor’s system of peeing on his herbs in strict rotation.

Louis de Bernières is a master of bathos.

The eponymous character didn’t appear until over a third of the way through—an interesting decision, considering that the blurb gave me the impression of a love triangle. Yet I think it’s a strength of this book, and of many great works of literature. Note that Jane Austen limits even her ficklest characters to one love interest at a time (open to argument). Fact is, Pelagia is one of the greatest women I’ve ever read—she’s strong, honest, clever and unrelenting, admits temptation, admits regret, admits her morality is mostly circumstantial. Oh, yes, de Bernières pays great attention to the circumstantial! He’s not above beginning a chapter with ‘Dr Iannis was in a terrible mood for no reason other than the fact that it was a very hot day’ (or WTTE). It really is true to life.

Dayum, though. It gets dark. So much for a bittersweet, much-belated note of hope at the end: you only have to Google Cephalonia’s history to find out what the climax is plummeting towards.

Really what I want to discuss, though, is narrative perspective.

I often hear writers talking about which POV to use—first person, third, even second, tense. It can be hard to choose. I understand.

So, De Bernières was writing a massive ass hist fic. His solution to the which-perspective problem? ALL OF THEM. Chapter one is close third person on an unqualified, free-thinking Greek doctor. Chapter two is the first person monologue of Benito Mussolini!

There are chapters of letters showing the passage of time, chapters formatted like a dramatic duologue showing the progression of a relationship; it goes on. In the first half of the contents, seven chapters are entitled ‘L’Homosesuale’. It later becomes clear that these chapters are the sections of an Italian soldier’s ‘confession’ of his role in the war. This makes them easy to group and read in order later on, and see how his path crosses with the islanders.

I loved the thought and craft that went into it all—effortlessly, de Bernières sped up his pacing with a constantly surprising POV, incorporating aspects that broadened the story to far more than a mere romance or a tragic war crime. When you’re reading the POV of a goatherd mistaking bombs for fireworks, and an English parachuter for an angel, you know you’re in deft hands!

Now I talk about POV and me (because I’m self-centred like that). Ever since I started writing, it’s been in third person. I call it my ‘natural voice’; that’s where I feel comfortable. For that reason, I may have entertained a snobbish attitude at some point in my past, and for that I now apologise. I’m only just learning what a tool it can be to employ the right perspective. No POV is more valid, more correct or more effective than any other. It’s simply than different systems work for different books, and must be chosen accordingly.

I can’t believe how long it took me to recognise that! My WIP is in first person. It just is. One of my MCs has no physical presence (hard to explain, but it boils down to the word ‘ghost’). As a third person realistic contemporary writer, I’m soooo out my comfort zone it’s not even funny. But I got this. His first person POV feels so right.

Anyway, enough of me.

Check out this post by JA Goodsell, another #PitchWars hopeful, in which she discusses the merits of both first and third person and why it’s so important to think about your choice. 

Speaking of Pitch Wars, I’m so grateful to Brenda Drake and the team for putting together this enormous contest. ❤

I was lucky enough to snag some CPs via #FicFest a few months ago, with whose help I prepared my book for the contest. In submission week I met the Teen Squad (the other underage entrants (oops, that sounded as if PW has an age limit…)), and I’ve read two of their books so far. So. Much. Talent. I just want to squee about how wonderful and supportive this group is, how great it is to spar with GIFs, suss out our male characters’ underwear preferences, blaspheme against dentist appointments. These are real teens with teen worries and teen joys and a seriously good handle of real teen dialogue.

Rant over. It’s cool. I hope I’ll stay in touch with everyone I’ve swapped MSs with over the past three months, because what with my critique group and the #teensquad, I’ve finally found my people.

But hey, always room for more. Do comment your thoughts on de Bernières and/or narrative POV!

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An Unexpected Triumph

Hiya, people who read this! Today I’m blogging about general things in my life, because a lot has happened lately and because my exams begin on Tuesday (make what you will of that as a ‘reason’).

Firstly, last month I participated in CampNaNoWriMo. I took to Camp the novel I blogged about at Christmas, and haven’t had time to write as I’d hoped. Well, I certainly made time, because I wrote 42,000 words in April, a personal record. If I hadn’t gone away for a week (see flat bit on the graph below) I might’ve even got the 50k.

CampNaNoApr14

Can I take this paragraph to say how much I love my Camp novel? I’m totally shameless–sometimes I doubt I even wrote the plot. It’s so much fun to write! MC installs toads in water tank. Bakery gets sued. MC sent to my homeland (yay!), where she discovers all the quirks of being a Guern (hedge-veg, bombed tomato lorries, the fairy ring). Her uncle once wrote a sonnet comparing a pretty girl to a cabbage field, and in the now another boy imitates it, replacing cabbage field with toads. The only romance is between Flavie’s middle-aged uncle and his neighbour, and it’s very, very cute. See what I mean by fun?

And my cabin was awesome, so supportive and funny, and filled with Disney references. Why couldn’t even one of them have Twitter? *bemoans loneliness*

Here I come onto Pitch Slam. Some of you may know it. In short, it’s an online contest hosted by LL McKinney where you pitch your novel and, if you’re chosen, your 35-word pitch and the first 250 words of your MS are posted on the host blogs, where real life agents bid on them for queries and partials. But it’s the best kind of contest, because you get feedback and the chance to edit and resubmit prior to the agent round.

I’m not going to lie when I say I entered out of curiosity. The feedback on my 250 did not disappoint:

“If we were to divide the votes, there would be more of us who didn’t get the voice than those who did, but what we did agree upon was it was unique. Possibly so unique that it overshot the mark. … All of that said, we understood what was happening, the actions were clear, the writing was concise, we just had some trouble placing the voice.”

Unique, eh? That’s possibly the best compliment I’ve ever received, and it’s enough for me that some people ‘got’ it. And the second best compliment: ‘the writing was concise’. After the whole wordcount fiasco (plus I know I’m naturally verbose) that makes me so happy. (Update: after cutting countless scenes and characters, and totally wiping the religious theme, Drina’s wordcount is down to a smacking 89,863. I honestly don’t believe I’ll make it to 88k (two thirds of the original 132k).)

On the day of the Great Reveal of who got into the agent round, I logged onto a school computer, blog-skipped, sifted through titles. And then I saw: WHEN THE CLOCK BROKE. No, silly, that’s not my title. It’s Alex’s. I feel quite personally involved in WTCB’s fate by this time (oh my gosh, did I never post my review of it?!) so I logged straight off and phoned her in case she hadn’t seen (and interrupted some important revision in the process).

Later that evening I was traversing the Pitch Slam blogs reading entries, noting awesome things they did that must’ve got them in. And wow, I was thinking, these titles are so good. I came last to Team Electric hosted by Renee Ahdieh, and skimmed down the ‘band’ poster. SINGULARITY. Wha-? I read it again. SINGULARITY is the title under which I’ve entered Captain’s Paper in contests. Were there really two entries of that title? I’d have to go alias-title-hunting again.

TeamElectric

I clicked on the link, and to my tremendous surprise, saw not only my title, but my wordcount (the highest in my Team, I believe), my pitch, and then my crazy first 250. I can’t remember the last time I felt so surprised and gratified and invigorated.

Plus, I got an agent bid! Query and first ten pages. I did my research, polished the ten, wrote a query FROM SCRATCH, and sent. I’m not holding my breath over it, but it’s a massive step.

Someone got my ‘unique’ tone! Someone liked my conservative British concept!

That excitement pretty much destroyed my last days of CampNaNo, but I got my target and smashed my PR somehow.

Whew! I’m only halfway through the list of life-things (that you probably don’t care about) that I was going to talk about. The others being exams and universities (and a maths lecture at Cambridge last Saturday involving permutation cycles which got me VERY excited), I’ll leave them for another post.

Meantime, all the best for you in your navigating of this unmapped (figuratively, but peradventure oxymoronically) world.

🙂

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