04 August 2011

One Voice, Too Many Heads

I got to read two books at the beach. The first was my autographed copy of Maybe This Time, by Jennifer Crusie. I've been on a self-imposed Crusie ban since I started writing my novel. In the beginning, I lacked confidence in my "voice," or style, so the last person I wanted in my head was my all-time favorite author. But I thought I owed the woman my attention after she so kindly signed the book, so I dove in one afternoon. I went to bed at 2 AM that night. When I get the chance to read, I do it until my eyes burn.

However, now when I read, I find I am doing it for research as much as for pleasure. I am wading in, testing the water, figuring out what the author does well, and what I find jarring. When I was reading Crusie, I paid close attention to point-of-view. Crusie, the teacher, forbids what she calls "head-hopping." A story can only be told from the point of view of the hero or the heroine. No one else can weigh in. I have a problem following this rule.

Apparently, the constant chatter of my daily life has infected my writing. I spend half my day as a detective, and the other as a referee. In the midst of all the squabbling, I must deduce who has committed the crime, and then negotiate a truce. As you can imagine, there are varying points of view in these disputes. I give everyone a chance to share their feelings, before I mete out punishment. I think it's only fair.

But it's not about equality in my manuscript. Most of the critical comments I've received from contest judges focus on fixing my POV, so that my readers can more easily immerse themselves in the story. I just got my reviews from the final, I swear, contest I entered, and they were very complimentary, except on this issue. I already knew the problem, so I wasn't surprised. I did have a laugh, though, when one kind judge suggested I read some other authors to get a feel for point-of-view. "But not Nora Roberts," she said, "because she can get away with anything." So, I shouldn't write like one of the most prolific, successful authors in the business?

I wrote a little on vacation, stealing time at a small table in my bedroom, my laptop propped up on two books, three fans running in the background, to keep the heat and noise at bay. Hemingway in Cuba it was not. But it was me, still, my "voice" uninfected by my brush with Jennifer Crusie. I considered that quite the accomplishment. I'm proud of what I've written, even though I know there will be revisions.

I just may have to spin my awesome secondary characters off into their own book. To be fair.


  1. They're right about Nora Roberts, you know. I can't read her for that very reason. I think the thing to keep in mind is that you need to stay in your POV character's head for the duration of the scene. Take Bet Me for example. We have several POVs in the book (Min, Cal, David, and I can't remember if Cynthie was one or not), but each character owns his or her scene. Otherwise, it's confusing. If you head-hop, it can take a few sentences for the reader to figure out whose train of thought they're in, which means they have to stop and recalibrate, and you never want to give your readers an excuse to stop. Now, it's true, it doesn't seem to hurt Nora Roberts, just like a complete lack of character arc doesn't seem to hurt Janet Evanovich. But I can't read either of them for those reasons, which means they've lost me due to completely correctable problems. As a newbie, I can't afford to do that.

    *steps down off lectern*

    Of course, your writing is awesome, so...

  2. @Delia: I like you at the lectern. And I get the part about being new. I don't even disagree. I just have work to do, even though my writing IS awesome.

  3. "When I get the chance to read, I do it until my eyes burn."

    Yeah, I do that too. And in the back of my head there's a voice that warns "you're going to regret this tomorrow," but the obsessive side wins and I'm a zombie the next day. But it's a satisfied zombie, not like those video game zombies ;)

  4. See, I'm trying to add in a little pov for my leading man because he lacks a bit of zee personality.

    And while I've only read part of one nora roberts (the villa had waaay too many characters for me), there are other authors I've read who have that amazing ability to just pull off *anything* and i don't want to start thinking I'm one of them.

    Good for you having so many great secondary characters. At most I manage 4 to 5 named speaking characters TOTAL and I'm always looking to eliminate one if I can combine any...I have a very very short attention span when it comes to keeping track of character names.

    Amusingly, last night when dh was reading to me (book 9 Wheel of Time, oh lawdy), I interrupted a dense passage of description with "That's not right. Murrandy was where they make lace, not Lugard." He flipped back to the maps at the front and went, "Lugard's the capital of Murrandy, how the hell did you remember they made lace in Murrandy?"

    Um, I pay attention to obscure things I find interesting. Like when I point out that one of the mc's is riding a different horse "because Stepper isn't dappled." lol I love doing that to him. He can keep zillions of names straight, but *I* know where in the fake fantasy universe they make lace! (evil cackle)

  5. Sometimes I think I have too many characters in my novels. Then I take apart other people's novels, like Crusie, SEP, JAK or even Evanovich and I realize, I'm doing okay.
    In Don't Look Down there are some scenes from the pov of the villain. Course, maybe that was the influence of Mr. Mayer.
    It gives me a good feeling to hear you talk about liking your work.
    Also - I LOVE the title of this post!

  6. @lora: I don't have the patience for fantasy. I think I have to REALLY identify with my characters, to the point where I practically only read contemporary romance. I did read a Regency romance on vacation, and enjoyed it very much; so maybe there's hope for me and my limited world view.

    PS: I think I actually like and understand my hero more than my heroine, so she will require fleshing out.

  7. Very interesting topic, Megan. I don't find head hopping to be as distracting as other people do. If the characters are interesting and I get to be fond of them, I don't mind spending time with their point of view. I know that it's a big no-no, I just have a high tolerance, I guess. For example, you have three characters in your book who have wonderful, distinctive voices. And I love hearing the story from their perspective.

    Although I also love Nora Roberts. I never even noticed that she had an issue with POV! I guess, I'm a little tone deaf when it comes to this issue.

    But I know you'll figure it out and the book will be even stronger than its current total wonderfulness! Can't wait for the spin-off!

  8. Anonymous10.8.11

    I love multiple POV in stories, as long as I know whose head I'm in. I adore the In Death series (by Nora Roberts writing as JD Robb), and she does head hop... sometimes it makes me pause but usually it doesn't stop the flow of the story for me. But I'm with Delia on the need for arcs.


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