Using Alternating Points of View in Fiction (CNF as well)

Today is only the fifth day of summer break, and I cannot remember another summer when I’ve been out of the starting gate so ahead of where I thought I would be, less than a week following the last day of school. You see, I took the time in May, believe it or not, to devise a summer writing schedule.

Here was the plan.

Beginning on Saturday, June 20, and every day following, I would place my writing above all else.

Now, that sounds pretty selfish, especially when you have three kids you are raising, and your wife does not get the benefit of having nine consecutive weeks off. Still, I was unwilling to compromise.

So how did I make it work?

I did not change the morning alarm on my Blackberry, and I made writing the first thing I did every day. That means, by 5 a.m., exactly 13 minutes after my alarm (“Early Riser”) brings me out of my sleep, the coffee is already brewing, and I am downstairs, in my writing sanctuary (never mind the washer/dryer, old refrigerator, and cat litter box), selecting the morning’s playlist (based on what I am writing), and putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. This gives me, at the very least, a solid 2-hour block in which to work on my writing.

That’s been my schedule since June 20, and It has paid off enormously.

Today, though, was a bonus payday. Here’s why.

I just finished reading Stephenie Meyer’s Eclipse last night, and I noticed that, toward the end, as well as in the epilogue, she played around with point of view. I didn’t necessarily like what she did so late in the book, but now that I’m reading the final book in the series, Breaking Dawn, it makes perfect sense to me.

Running parallel with reading Eclipse, I’ve been struggling with how shallow my own manuscript, Journey to Cold Rock, is. A few years back, I was days away from sending it to the printer with an initial order of 500 books. But the final round of reviews came back less-than-raving, and I decided to pull the manuscript and put it back into production.

Then I fell into a deep sadness about it not going to print, and I avoided it for two years. I took the criticism personally, and struggled with confidence in my voice. Looking back at those tough months, I realize now that I was more eager to get the book published than I was invested in its possibility as something more than a good draft written in 30 days in November.

Out of my self-pity, I started sharing the story with other writers who offered solid advice that stretched beyond the reactions. Still, though, I was faced with little time to write during the school year. The questions percolated, but I didn’t build in time to write specifically on Cold Rock.

Then, in May, I decided to structure my summer to give me that time, and now Cold Rock is getting the depth it needed. The question I’ve struggled with, though, has been how to do this when the story is written in first-person limited.

While reading Eclipse, I realized that the climax would have been so much better if the reader could have seen the approaching villain and know what was going to happen to the unsuspecting protagonist, who was working out the complicated love thread that ran through the books. Instead of Meyer putting all of the emphasis on the love story at the climax of Eclipse while we waited for “something” to happen, she could have improved the story’s depth greatly by giving us that third-person account of the villain.

But then I thought, how weird would that be, when the books have all been told in first-person?

Like I mentioned, she switches narrators to another first-person POV in the epilogue, but that’s still not the same thing as going between first- and third-person POV.

So, I sent out a reply to my teacher-writer friends across the state via the Maryland Writing Project network, and I received many suggestions and examples, along with some great advice.

Some of the books that modeled this shift in POV included:

Jodi Picoult:

  • Nineteen Minutes
  • Change of Heart
  • Tenth Circle
  • Handle With Care

Ken Kesey:

  • Sometimes A Great Notion

Ann Tyler:

  • Celestial Navigation

William Faulkner:

  • Absalom! Absalom!

Toni Morrison:

  • The Bluest Eye

Robert Hellenga

  • The Fall of a Sparrow

And then another brilliant individual compiled this list to share:

  • Anastassiades, Chris, and Sam Carroll.   Noah and Saskia.
  • Brook, Martha.  Mistik Lake.
  • Burgess, Melvin; Bloodtide.
  • Caswell, Brian. Double Exposure.
  • Chambers, Aidan.  Postcards from No Man’s Land.
  • Cooper, Susan.  Victory.
  • Cormier, Robert.  Tenderness.
  • Cross, Gillian. Tightrope.
  • Hearn, Lian.  Across The Nightingale Floor
  • Hess, Karen.  Brooklyn Bridge.
  • Juby, Susan.   Another Kind of Cowboy.
  • Lanagan, Margot.  Tender Morsels.
  • Na, An.   Wait for Me.
  • Oates, Joyce Carol.  Big Mouth and Ugly Girl
  • Pinkwater, Daniel. The Snarkout Boys And The Baconburg Horror.
  • Peet, Mal. Tamar.
  • Sedgwick, Marcus.  The Dark Horse
  • Stroud, Jonathan.  The Amulet of Samarkand.
  • Woodson, Jacqueline.  If You Come Softly.

I never knew so many authors played around with alternating POVs….Just goes to show how much more time I need to spend reading books written by a variety of authors, from a variety of sub-genres…

So: What does all of this mean for my own book? Specifically, this:

When I wrote the first draft of Cold Rock, I considered all of the characters beyond the protag (Dylan) to be for the primary purpose of further developing his character. For most of them, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, one character, Sammi, is so integral to the plot that I realized her lack of development made the book too shallow. Because I wrote the story from Dylan’s point of view, though, I wasn’t sure how to develop Sammi’s character to the point that she would be seen as a near-equal protag to the reader.

Now that I’ve seen some examples, I know now exactly how I am going to do this. In the beginning of the novel, they are together, but an accident separates them until the end. Now, I am going to tell her story and her journey taken to get to the Cold Rock Lighthouse, where Dylan ends up. Instead of having the entire book about Dylan’s struggle to love again, I will be focusing on Sammi’s struggles, too. The difference is that each character has chosen an extremely different path to push away the past. In the end, they both end up at the Lighthouse, where they will have to come to terms with their past to live fully in their present.

Thanks again to all of the writers/teachers in and beyond the Maryland Writing Project network. For those of you who have already read the first series of Cold Rock drafts, I’d be happy to share with you the final revision when I complete it later next month. If you have NOT read Cold Rock and are interested in reading it before it goes to press (I just love putting happy blurbs on my cover, assuming you like it!), let me know via email at theoldmanse (at) gmail (dot) com.

Again–Thanks to all of you for your advice and inspiration. I hope to see each of you at the publishing party next spring! 🙂

One thought on “Using Alternating Points of View in Fiction (CNF as well)

  1. I didn’t even think of you writing from another person’s point of view.
    Now I can see it.
    But what struggles does Sammi have that she has to over come? What’s in her past that brings them together?


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