nichepoetryandprose

poetry and prose about place

writing a novel – characters with a point of view

with 18 comments


As some of you will know, I have been working on a novel since November of last year.  Although I have been quiet about it in my Blog, I work on my manuscript almost every day and the plot is getting tighter with every edit.  I now have 83,000 words, 23 chapters and 273 pages.

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The novel has the working title ‘Saving the Landing Church’ and is about a woman, Sadie, who decides to buy an abandoned church as a learning center for her new writers’ retreat.  People in the community where Sadie lives have mixed opinions about her undertaking and Sadie meets a lot of opposition as she sets about acquiring and moving the church to its new location.

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abandoned church near Knowlesville, New Brunswick

abandoned church near Knowlesville, New Brunswick

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The book is written in the first person, past, from Sadie’s point of view.

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Sadie

Sadie … she looks a little timid, but she is determined to own the abandoned church

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When I completed the second draft of the novel in January, I asked a few people in my family and my writing group to read it and tell me what they thought.  I also workshoped Chapter Twenty at the Maritime Writers’ Workshop Winter Retreat in February and received many helpful comments from the workshop participants.  I have obtained useful analyses from several people, most especially my niece who has read the draft carefully and given me many useful insights and edits.  Various members of my two writers’ groups have also listened to parts of the novel and provided ideas for improving the writing.

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One of the most consistent comments I have received is about one of my main characters, Sadie’s husband, Tom.  Tom is not well.  He has an advanced condition called Welder’s Lung and his doctors have given him less than a year to live.  This situation is one of the main drivers behind setting up the writers’ retreat – it will give Sadie a livelihood after Tom is gone.

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The criticism about Tom has been that his only role in the book seems to be to die.  Readers have consistently told me they want to find out more about him.  One of my writing group friends suggested I try writing the book from Tom’s point of view.  She said she knew I would resist this idea, and, sure enough, my first response was ‘No way!!!’  …  my book was almost done, my book was perfect!  And write from a man’s point of view? … squiggle!

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Tom

Tom, Sadie’s husband … he is looking a bit battered by his illness, but he is willing to do anything to help his wife

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However, I thought about the possibilities and decided it might be interesting to write a small part of the book in Tom’s voice.  I looked at each chapter and extracted a bit of the conversation or action that I thought might be better seen from Tom’s point of view.  In some cases, Tom’s viewpoint immediately solved the problem of segments where there was no action, only Sadie’s thoughts about where she was in her quest for ownership of the church.

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The new parts of each chapter were surprisingly easy to write and it took me less than three weeks to develop Tom’s ‘words’.  As Tom’s voice began to emerge, I realised that Sadie has some things wrong … an example is her analysis of Tom’s  response to his illness.  To her, he has given up all hope.  Tom sees his response not as despondent, but resolute.  Also, Sadie has a consistently passive response to some quite violent behavior in the community.  Tom takes nothing passively.  Confronted by opposition, he responds in kind.  And he has a couple of pals from his days on the construction site who will help him in any endeavor.

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Tom's friends

Tom’s friends Paul (left) and Rigger (right)

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Tom also wants a dog and the introduction of Jasper, a German Shepherd mix puppy, to the action has been so much fun to write.  Try adding a dog to your own novel or plan for a novel.  At the height of the action, who is taking care of the puppy???

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Dusty

Jasper responds to a crawling military toy

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Responding to people’s editorial comments is difficult.  First, your ego has to be tamed.  Then, you have to decide if the edit will really improve the draft.  I try to look at every comment objectively but this is so hard.  I give extra weight to a comment made by more than one person since this suggests the reading public may have a similar response.  I know, however, that when all is said and done, it is my book and I have to make the decision to edit or not to edit.

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My experience with the ‘Tom re-writes’ shows me that sometimes a seemingly radical comment can lead to an improved draft.  Writing from another character’s point of view can suggest new ways of working out plot problems, add dimension to the story and background, and take the narrative in new and interesting directions.  I strongly suggest looking carefully at each character in your story, writing a good character sketch for each and considering every bit of action from their point of view.  As your characters find their way through the story, they will reveal unique ways of responding to the action.

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As for my squirming about writing as if from a man’s point of view, this was easier to do than I first thought.  Tom’s character was embedded in my head, so I had a good idea of how he would respond to a given circumstance.  His ‘voice’ and reactions are unlike Sadie’s, so there is a significant difference in the words they use and the way they express their ideas.  Tom also speaks in the present or immediate past tense, so his ideas are more visceral and lack the reflection brought by time.  As for thinking like a man, I think Tom is likely from Saturn, rather than either Mars or Venus!  And he likes quiche.

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Lots of fun …

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Copyright   Jane Tims   2013

Written by jane tims

May 15, 2013 at 7:31 am

18 Responses

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  1. lol! Then he must be a sensitive man (if he likes quiche).
    This is fascinating, Jane. I’m so glad you’re sharing the process with us.

    Like

    Robin

    May 24, 2013 at 2:49 pm

  2. Hi Jane, thanks for writing this update about your novel…. it is so interesting to find out how it has developed from when you were sharing in the autumn… and as always, your charming little drawings simply make it all so much more fun to read and ponder about…. I want to read your novel when it is finished!!
    And I have bookmarked this post for future reference, should I decide to one day become very brave and resurrect my own half-done, half-baked novel! Cheers for the writing life and creative process!! hugs, Leigh

    Like

    SingingBones

    May 20, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    • Hi Leigh. I’m sure you will return to it (or another) some day. I have three earlier draft novels, but now I think of those as practice for this one. If I publish this one, I may return to them as well. Thanks! Jane

      Like

      jane tims

      May 20, 2013 at 9:08 pm

  3. 83,000 words – wow, that’s fantastic Jane. Well done! It’s not easy listening to other people’s criticisms about our work but it is so important if we’re serious. It sounds like you’re taking it all on board very well and switching to Tom’s voice has obviously been a refreshing turn for you. If it feels right, it generally is. Keep going!

    Like

    Gemma Hawdon

    May 16, 2013 at 9:09 am

    • Hi Gemma. Including Tom’s voice was definately beneficial to the story. Thanks! Jane

      Like

      jane tims

      May 16, 2013 at 5:08 pm

  4. I’d also wondered about your novel. Thanks for sharing the process you you are using to write and revise your novel. It is really helpful to see how others approach writing.

    Like

    Sheryl

    May 16, 2013 at 12:48 am

  5. I was wondering about your novel,,,,I cannot wait to read it cover to cover.! I find it very interesting indeed. Gotta run,,,have a good day.!

    Like

    patsi

    May 15, 2013 at 11:44 am

    • Hi Patsi. Thanks. I’m going to post a bit more about my novel in the coming days. Jane

      Like

      jane tims

      May 15, 2013 at 7:45 pm

  6. Thanks for this excellent post, Jane. It is extremely useful to hear about your experience through this process, adding more value than just reading straight advice.

    Like

    Jane Fritz

    May 15, 2013 at 9:30 am

    • Hi Jane. Thanks. I went on Saturday evening and I was proud to hear your name read out as 1st place for your Robby Robin story. It was a good weekend, lots of good stuff about children’s literature. Jane

      Like

      jane tims

      May 15, 2013 at 7:44 pm

      • Oh wow, this is fun to read. Thank you so much for telling me. I sure wish I could have been in two places at once!

        Like

        Jane Fritz

        May 15, 2013 at 10:47 pm

      • Hi. I have no doubt you’ll be there next year, getting another award …. Jane!

        Like

        jane tims

        May 15, 2013 at 11:11 pm

  7. It is a challenge to hear critiques about a piece you’ve worked so hard to create. You are wise enough to know the difference between an uninformed or ill-thought suggestion and a comment from a qualified reader. Both have to be tolerated in order to grow the work. You are also wise enough to know in your gut what your work wants and needs. Trust yourself. And thanks for the report on how it is progressing. I was wondering.

    Like

    Carol Steel

    May 15, 2013 at 9:01 am

    • Hi Carol. A wise summary of the process of receiving comments and editing. The work itself seems to have a kind of internal ‘rightness’ that helps guide the process. Thanks. Jane

      Like

      jane tims

      May 15, 2013 at 9:09 am

  8. I totally admire your commitment and dedication to your characters, Jane. Wisdom will shine through 🙂

    Like

    BettyAnne McDorman

    May 15, 2013 at 7:44 am

    • Hi BettyAnne. The feedback from Fictional Friends has been so helpful! The characters created as I write and edit my novel are constantly with me … I think most writers of fiction have this experience. Thanks! Jane

      Like

      jane tims

      May 15, 2013 at 8:52 am


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