Some of my characters are frustrated. Specifically, those from Summer at the Crossroads. They’re tired of waiting for me to finish Death Out of Time, the book I think would find the “biggest” audience for a new writer.
They forced me to look at their manuscript again. They read the beta review comments for the other book, and they’re afraid readers will point out similar problems. Their biggest concern? Point of view (POV).
The book is written in 3rd person, limited omniscience. We get into several characters’ heads while telling the story. We’re not limited to one character’s perspective.
The potential problem is that, as written, we can be in two characters’ heads in one scene. Some readers really dislike that. Others don’t mind. In this manuscript, one character always dominates the scene. But sometimes we get a glimpse into another character’s thoughts—never in the same paragraph, though. That is bad writing. But I have some paragraphs where we get into another character’s head.
If this was a traditional book, moving from beginning to end with one set of characters, I would clean this up without a second thought. But it’s not. We meet our “main” character, Catherine Donnelly, in the opening chapter. Then we spend 1/3rd of the book with an alternate self, Katharine Donnelly, in another universe. Then we spend a chapter with Catherine again. Then it’s her alternate Kathryn Donnellan for another section. Back to a chapter with Catherine. Then we get the story of alternate Katarina O’Donnell. And we finish with Catherine for a chapter.
Are you still with me? I hope so. Early test readers enjoyed it.
In this format, I can’t give too many characters major POV roles. But I think glimpses of other characters’ thoughts beyond the few mains help flesh out the story. Will a reading audience agree with me, though? Or would this be too distracting? Here’s a sample to show what I have in this draft. It’s part of one scene where Katharine is the main POV character.
Katharine worked from home in early August, writing up a National Science Foundation report on the abbreviated field season in Guatemala when the doorbell rang. Her old advisor stood at the door.
“Kendall, come on in! Why didn’t you call?”
Kendall Jenkins grinned as he hugged her. “Come on, Kat. You know how much I love to surprise people.”
Katharine laughed as she had him sit down. After she poured iced tea and sliced some baklava, she joined him in the living room. He had aged since she saw him last year, but he was in his late seventies. Had it really been twenty-five years since they met?
“So what brings you here? Is everything okay?”
Kendall smiled when he saw the baklava. Back in their field days together, he feared Katharine would go through withdrawal at the beginning of the season without her favorite sweet. He picked up a small plate while Katharine prepared to serve dessert. But a lifetime’s career led him to turn it in his hands and study the pattern and form of the modern ceramic.
Katharine watched affectionately as she waited for him to finish his examination. Still the archaeologist, even after all this time, she thought.
You see where we slip into Kendall’s head for a few sentences, giving us some insight into Katharine.
I reworked this so that Kendall’s thoughts became dialogue. He teases Katharine about her love of baklava. But I can’t do that elsewhere. For example, a Russian embassy officer isn’t going to tell State Department officer Kathryn Donnellan why he’s questioning her in a certain way. But being in his head at key points lets readers see the bigger picture of the story.
I’d really appreciate your opinions on whether this works or is too distracting. And I’m just as interested in opinions from readers who aren’t writers as I am from writers.
So here’s a first for the blog—a poll where you can share your views. Of course, I’d also love comments with more details if you’d like to leave one.
Thank you for participating! Your thoughts will help me (and the characters) make this book the best it can be.
No Fireworks Photos
On a side note, our county canceled all fireworks displays for the 4th of July. Too many people were still without electricity from June 29th’s derecho, and more than 140 signal lights were still out. They didn’t want to overburden emergency services or risk major accidents on the roads. A wise precaution. But it means no fireworks photos like I’d hoped. I’ll try again next year. Maybe Mother Nature will cooperate then.