f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 2 of Free Bird – Free Love on the Free Love Freeway

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

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Day 2 of Free Bird – Free Love on the Free Love Freeway

Very few of us are totally ecumenical when it comes to our novels. We like first-person books and single narrator third-person books and omniscient books…but once there’s more than three narrators in a book—that drives us nuts.

Or maybe you dislike epistolary novels. “Nobody sits down to start writing in a journal and ends up with a novel!” you shout into the void.

Maybe you don’t like books narrated by dead characters, i.e. The Lovely Bones. *cough*me!*cough*

Regardless, this is something that as writers we can’t control about our readers. The same way we can’t control their emotional state when they pick up our book. There are readers who simply won’t be crazy about the form or perspective or something in our novel before they even start.

I bring this up because I’m not the biggest fan of the “road trip novel.” I don’t loathe them—far from it. I just think the necessary structure of such a story forces writers to make very similar decisions in their narrative. In other words, a new road trip novel often seems like an echo of an earlier novel I’ve read—through little fault of the author.

The reason is the episodic nature of such a story. The journey, almost invariably, is some sort of escape (often east to west in our country), and along the way our protagonist encounters various people and/or events that challenge him/her until they reach their final destination. At which point they’ve discovered the solution to that which they were escaping.

This is totally legit. We are affected by people who enter our lives for only a brief time. For whatever reason, I’m just not as drawn to reading about such adventures.

I think it has to do with the idea of fate/God’s hand/author contrivance.

Think about it: a man drives a car out his driveway in Delaware on a journey across the country. Unless he’s planning to stop to see friends, all that lies ahead of him is in flux. The people and situations he runs into along the way feel much more planned and controlled than in other novels. Why for instance does he meet the cute brunette in Tulsa? Why did he stop at that one truck stop where she was waitressing? There’s just too much of the random to engage me, I suppose.

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This is implicitly, I guess, a kind of criticism of Free Bird. I don’t really mean it that way. I guess I just want us to think about some of the confines, strait-jackets, boxes that the narrative structure or point-of-view’s we choose relegate us to.

Some we may not be able to escape. Choosing a dead narrator, for instance, is going to radically alter the options you have in allowing your character to interact with other characters.

Others we may be able to turn on their head or toy with to confound expectations. Think of the absurdity for instance of a “road trip” novel in which the protagonist continually runs into people he knows along the way.

We should try never to just accept the structure inherently however. Otherwise your story may be less of an echo and rather just a rote copy.
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Go to Day 3 of our discussion of Free Bird.