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!

Eloquence, Confidence and Power (bonus points if you note all the ironies)

Music: Radiohead – Life in a Glass House (some damn good trombone!)

A few evenings ago I was beneficiary to an observation about eloquence, confidence and POWER. “You can be the cleverest person, but if you can’t express* your intellect, you have no power,” thus the observer (WTTE). I blushed and said something stupid, perhaps proving his point.

Upon reflection, it seems even more alas! plausible than it did to my subconscious psyche in those few seconds. People in power, sure they’re clever, but politicians have that ‘sparkle’, that intensity: instinct or even the art for rhetoric. It’s not knowledge that empowers you (scientia potentia est, as attributed to Sir Francis Bacon), but application thereof.

For example, education over recent decades has made a significant shift from fact recall to structured analysis. My mother spent her schooldays learning every precise geographical feature of a series of maps she was expected to be able to hand-draw—dimension and all, to the last contour. Now they’d give you the map and tell you to analyse it: what does this feature mean and how might it impact the surrounding environment (or whatever; I’m no geographer)? We are expected to THINK.

The few truly eloquent teenagers I meet are instantly my favourite people. I’m not impressed by wit, necessarily (especially not the snitzy tumblr kind, though that can be mildly amusing for a short period of time), but an insight into the world and its ridiculousness, a fine vocabulary and the deft conduction thereof will surely ‘win my heart’. Indeed, that ain’t me.

And with that I wonder about positing a different formulation of the eloquence-power relation. I find, myself, that associating with these superior verbalists as described above somewhat dissolves every particle of wit and interest from my own ego. If I have not already proved myself confident and eloquent (neither of which I’d call myself, thus I falter at the first clause) to a word-wielder, I genuinely cannot do so thenceforth.

Through no fault of his own, the person who gave me the subject of this post is one such creativity-sapper (as far as I’m concerned). Why, I ask myself, when I get on so very well with people who don’t use my beloved words like he does?—and there it is. Other people (and this isn’t meant to sound swanky) I can outwit, out-math, out-music, out-vocab, out-mock, out-run, out-age. Even if all else fails, I can mention God or church (again) and get an exasperated glare. POWER. The only power I have over this person is that I can write a damn good blog post (1. when I stop talking about myself; 2. when I can be bothered; 3. ahem, I need your support, to cover this ugly boasting), and even then, I’ve never read his writing. All fails!

My point, ladles and jellyspoons, is that one may have eloquence, but without also that beautiful gift of confidence-regardless-of-whatever-power-you-have-or-don’t-have-as-the-case-may-be, you will not have POWER.

‘Blind confidence’, my observer called it. ‘Well-judged confidence’, I corrected him. In retrospect, ‘blind confidence’ is pretty much it, except I’ll change ‘blind’ to ‘unconditional’.

So, POWER is internal and external, and without the former you can’t have the latter**. That’s why earnest compliment-fishing only earns pissed-off stares. Alas for me and many! insecurity gets you positively nowhere.

What a failing: that I love to assert myself, but am so petrified of failure that those against whom I’ve ‘already’ ‘lost’ never get to know I can assert myself. Hierarchy turned on its head, if ya like.

Lesson over. Add your thoughts; contradict mine 😉


*vocal expression and execution, that is

** I wouldn’t wish to pose that as a rule. ‘Confident’ people may be less respected than those quiet people who necessarily have weight (though it could be argued that they do have inner power, but don’t externalise it consciously; other only people ‘feel’ it). And, of course, there are ‘confident’ people who are everything but inside (this is the hard one, and it might involve a redefinition of POWER—yeah, should’ve done that before I began talking about it. Your call!).