Polishing, Plots and Pianos

I’m polishing up the first draft of my novel at the moment. It’s a slow process but I think I’m on track for my 30th September deadline. Once I get some feedback I will start work on the second draft. That will probably involve a lot of rewriting. For one thing, I’ll need to make the four narratives consistent with one another. At the moment I have one in first person, present tense; two in first person, past tense and one in third person, past tense.  I just can’t decide which way to go with that. Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down is an excellent example of a novel with four first person narrators but I also enjoyed Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories which has several third person narrators. The only thing I’m sure of is that I can’t mix narrative styles. Or can I? Does anyone know of a novel that is narrated in both the first and third person?

Another thing I have to figure out is how to tie the narratives together. I would like the four stories to be intertwined from the beginning but at the moment they are connected only by one big event near the end of the novel. I’ll need to spend some time working out how to involve the four main characters in each other’s lives more.

A final area of concern for me is how to order the four narratives? Iain Pears’ brilliant An Instance of The Fingerpost has four narratives told consecutively, in completion. In Case Histories, the narratives were alternated all the way through.  I may have to try both styles to see what works best for my plot.

Oh, that’s right. The plot. Let’s not talk about that just now. Instead why don’t you read this short section of my novel that I was working on today and I’ll go back to obsessing over point of view.

***

The music room is in darkness, the heavy curtains are closed. I could open them, but instead I turn on the light. The room maintains a sufficiently gloomy ambiance to suit my mood.

There are music stands piled up in a corner and boxes full of tambourines and maracas. I catch my breath when I see the piano. It is magnificent. How had they got it up here? They must have had to raise it through the window. It is like an animal with a smooth mahogany pelt. I run my hand over it. I expected it to be dusty for some reason, but it isn’t. It smells of wood polish. I sit down at the bench and try a few of the keys. It’s in tune.

When I begin to play, I feel as though I am a kite swooping on the wind and the music is the string that runs through my centre. It tugs at me, setting me free into the sky and anchoring me to the earth at the same time.

I stop playing abruptly when I see someone standing in the doorway. It is Russ.

“I didn’t mean to disturb you,” he says. My fingers are still poised above the piano keys.

“Do you want to play?” I ask.

“No, I brought my own instrument.” He holds up a black violin case.

“I’ll leave you to it,” I say, standing up and closing the piano lid. I’m not sure if he recognises me, but as I start to move past him, he reaches out an arm to block the door.

“Stay a minute…Louise, isn’t it?”

I nod.

“How are things going?”

“Very well, everything’s fine,” I say, then wonder why I am lying to him. I suppose I want to believe it myself.

“That’s good,” Russ says. And then, I can’t really describe what happens next. A moment ago I was a kite, somersaulting in the air, but now the wind has dropped and I am cartwheeling towards the ground, the energy I had inside me spiralling outwards. Maybe Russ feels it, coursing out of me in raw, hard waves, because he fixes his eyes on my face and I hear myself say, “It’s hard. The tutorial work, I mean. I thought I would enjoy it more.”

“It’s often a big leap from school to university. It will get easier soon.”

“It’s not just that.” I feel compelled to say more, although Russ has not questioned me further. “It’s the people too. They’re nice but I’m not sure I fit in. I’m …different.”

I wonder if I have said too much. My words hang between us, just the two of us in the dark and silent room. The world outside is completely blotted out by the heavy velvet curtains.

Music

I remember once reading an interview with Sophie Kinsella where she said she liked to play really loud, pounding music in the room where she was writing to block out the outside world. I couldn’t understand that at all. I would far rather have had the sound of traffic outside or people talking downstairs than music in the background.

When I was in high school we were told that listening to classical music would help us to study because the rhythm is in sync with our brainwaves (something like that, anyway) so I used to play Mozart while I was revising. It was so distracting that I had to turn the volume right down so that music was barely audible above the whir of the cassette. I’m not sure it did my brainwaves much good at all.

In the last few weeks, however, I have found that listening to music while writing helps me to keep on hammering the words out rather than stopping every other sentence to think about what’s coming next. I’m writing from multiple view points so maybe I ought to develop a playlist for each character to create the right atmosphere for their particular view point.

The only problem is that I am playing the music on my laptop with my earphones plugged in so that I don’t disturb my housemate. When there is a power cut, which happens quite frequently, though only for a minute at a time, my laptop beeps really loudly right in my ears. The first time it happened I got such a shock I nearly bit my tongue out. At least it keeps me on my toes.

Point of View

I have somewhat ambitiously decided to write my novel from the point of view of five different characters. At this early stage, it’s all rather same-y. The characters don’t have individual voices; they are all still extensions of me.

Any writer will tell you that in order to write well you have to read. To help me get over my point of view troubles I have been thinking about books that I have read recently that were written from multiple viewpoints and have tried to identify what made them successful.

By far the best example that I can think of is A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. In this novel, each of the four main characters is a 1st person narrator. It is as though the character is addressing the reader directly, speaking to them in their own voice so that the words they use and the way they construct their sentences give an impression of that character’s age, education and personality. I’ve been writing in the 3rd person, which distances me from the characters I am writing about and makes it harder to get into their heads. Over the next few days I will experiment with the 1st person narrative to see if it helps my characters become more real and distinct from one another.