f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 3 of Complexity – Degree of Difficulty

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Day 3 of Complexity – Degree of Difficulty

Writing a novel isn’t the platform diving or figure skaing or Olympic gymnastics. Despite what certain critics may say, you don’t actually get more “points” for completing a novel with three POVs, fractured narrative, and without using the letter “F.”

Instead, the focus becomes “why.”

Why are you telling your story through three POVs?
Why are you using fractured narrative?
What’s the point in not using the letter “F”?

Everything that goes into your book should be there to support the overall vision you have for your book. When that’s being accomplished, decisions aren’t made on the basis of complexity. Complexity emerges (or doesn’t emerge) from the scope of your vision.

I’ve written two novels at present.

One was told all in third-person limited. It started in early July and ended eight week later around Labor Day. There a mild flashbacks within the context of the story, but primarily it’s a straightforward narrative focused on a single man struggling with an internal and external problem. The subplots that exist are written within the framework of his perspective. The attention they receive in the story is the attention the main character is able to spend on them. Nothing exists outside of those eight weeks.

Book two was a different ball of wax. It starts in January 2000, is officially told completely in flashback, is officially all in first-person, except we’re also reading journal entry research written by the first-person narrator that cover 70 years of history and unearth the lives of two other women. One who is still alive and also appears in the present narrative. Book two took images of mazes and labyrinths as its central symbology and I tried to write a story whose narrative played out in the same way.

I’m never going to lift either book up as a paradigm of writing excellence. If nothing else, though, I think I completed books in which all my choices—like them or loathe them—were justified by the stories being told.

One thing I see in CBA fiction are fairly conservative and fairly simple narrative and structure choices. Lots of duel narrator stories—he said/she said. Lots of straightforward narrative, point a, to point b, to point c with maybe a flashback thrown in for back story.

I’ve already said that complex doesn’t equal good, so I’m not criticizing this. I’m merely pointing out the overarching limitations. We’re missing out on a lot of narrative possibilities. We’re missing out on thematic depth that comes through multiple narratives told in proximity to each other.

Your story may be simple and straightforward. Tell it well and that’s wonderful. But don’t feel like you can’t swing for the fences. Because, despite what I said at the beginning I think, as readers, that we do appreciate degree of difficultly. I think that Chinese puzzle box stories in which every piece comes as a surprise yet slips into place are a pure delight to us. So are books told in multiple perspectives that each seem as unique and distinguishable as our best friends. So are multi-layered books that take on a weight and gravity beyond the accumulation of their pages.

But in the end, tell the story the way it needs to be told. Staying true to that is always your best hope.
Go to Day 4 of Complexity