Friday, 22 February 2008

Two strands living in just one book

Aliya and I recently sent the draft manuscript of our co-written novel off to a couple of very generous readers, one of whom (not a million miles from this blog) pointed out something of particular pertinence to the book I’ve been working on longer than any other, but which I’m still forever back-tracking, scrapping and starting over again.

The point in question was leaving readers without access to a POV character for too long a period of time, potentially leading to a reader’s frustration (needing to know what’s going on with that character) and possibly boredom with the thread that is keeping them from the absentee.

My work in progress has two separate threads. I recently came to the realisation that rather than both of these threads bearing equal weight, one of them is of greater importance, and should probably make up the bulk of the book. The simplest and least alienating way I can think of writing this is for the main thread to consistently run the bulk of a chapter, with the second thread appearing either at the start or end of it. (More heavy editing, Neil. Oh joy.)

But can an approach like this work in the type of book I’m writing? It’s not particularly genre-bound, and when such a tactic is usually employed in fiction, the smaller piece is plot-driven. The problem I’m trying to get my head around is my primary thread is more important and relevant to the reader, but second thread is of great importance to the first thread, and not just a plot-driver. I need readers to completely engage with it, but not be disappointed that it makes up such a small portion of the story. Instinct tells me I can pull this off, but I would feel a lot better if someone could point me in the direction of something fairly literary where a similar feat has been accomplished.

Am I even making sense? (Bring back the veggiebox and dancing penguins and dump the soul-searching I hear you cry.)

1 comment:

David Isaak said...

Proportion and balance are tricky (but what isn't?).

I think with multiple threads where one predominates, it's important to give the reader some sense of rhythm. Switching POV characters asks some additional effort from the reader. If you can establish a pattern in the reader's mind, I think it helps.

For example, in my novel "Tomorrowville" the protagonist, Toby, has the dominant POV, but there are four other POV characters. So I wrote the book in the pattern:

2 Toby chapters / 1 "other" / 2 Toby chapters / 1 "other" ... lather, rinse, repeat.

Of course, it need not be this mechanical (though I like it that way because I'm a simpleton).
It just needs to feed in the second POV after the reader feels "it's about time" for the primary POV to be interrupted; or the reader needs to have a sense that there is a constant proportion of "stuff" happening in the two threads.

Of course, knowing when "it's about time" requires clairvoyance and/or telepathy...