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Last Week’s WW: Fresh Eyes

Recently, I was having a conversation in which it was brought up that there is a standard, or at least, commonly seen way of writing.  Often, stories take place in chronological order, without big time gaps, from one persons point of view.  It was suggested that this was the easier way to do things, and that when you try to play around with that formula, it doesn’t always turn out pretty.

This seemed backwards to me.  The majority of my writing (with the exception of Flash Fiction, because it’s difficult to fit different points of view and things into 1000 words), are told this, not quite wrong, way.

Most of my stories involve multiple protagonist.  I am a big fan of an ensemble cast.   In my most recent story, my book spanned 18 years  and Otherworlders spans a few years, too.

I think that these things can be used to great effect, as long as their done well.  

Multiple POV/ Protagonist

I like multiple POV because you get to see so many sides of the story.  I think that it can create a richer experience, and gives you a lot of options.  Want someone to fall in love?  Someone to die tragically?  Someone to be saved?  Well, you can do all of those things with a large cast of characters.

The challenges:

Making people care about so many characters:

  • You’ve got to get the readers invested in your characters.
  • Introduce them slowly.  You don’t want to bombard readers with names.
  • Don’t switch between your characters so frequently that the reader forgets about another character.  Bigger chunks, or at least longer chapters with one focus help keep the reader connected.
  • Make sure that each chapter, even if told from a different POV, still relates to the one before it.
  • You could also use intertwining backstory.  Make people connect, show more then one, even if that other person is going to have their own point of view.

Don’t Lose People:

  • Just like above, if you’re going to tell a story out of chronological order, you must make sure that the chapters relate somehow.   You can’t just skip through time for the sake of skipping through time.
  • And not just relate it to the other chapters.  Have a real reason to do it in the first place.  Know why your story is better told out of order.
  • Make sure you have a map, a plan, an outline, something, so that you can keep it all straight and consistent.
  • Use it as preparation.  If you have a difficult concept, or something that you really want to show, but won’t make sense without the other parts, then you have a reason to jump around, so you can show it in an order that makes a certain sense that telling it in actual chronological order might not.
  • Don’t just flashback because you’ve got a killer scene that you can’t wait to show.  Build it up slow if that’s your reason.  If it’s deeper then that, then go ahead, but cautiously.

Jumping Through Time:

  • The biggest threat here is the compulsion to summarize.  Don’t.  It’s exposition, or worse, exposition through dialogue.  If you can’t tell the story without summarizing, then perhaps those parts you feel necessary to cover deserve their own scene.  And if not, then why are you telling the reader about it anyway?

Those are my thoughts on navigating these potentially complicated and dangerous styles.

Honestly, when I use them in my writing, I’m not trying to be “different” in any way.  I think it’s just part of my style.  Time, and reviews, will tell if I’m any good at it.