Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Multiple Mania!

By Julie

I'm taking a crash course in my latest manuscript. I'm writing not only from different points of view, but in different settings and times in history. I've written from at least two points of view in each long manuscript I've written or dabbled in, but the multiple setting and time periods thing is new and certainly a challenge.

For research, I've been checking out relevant online articles and studying the books I'm reading carefully to see how the authors handled similar challenges. I thought I'd share a few of my favorite resources so far with our What Women Write readers.

As Joan mentioned in her personal blog the other day, Donald Maass posted a series recently on Writer Unboxed. Like Joan, the series couldn't have come at a better time for me, especially Part III, posted just last week.* In this installment, Maass discusses how using multiple points of view can enhance your story. He says, ". . . readers respond powerfully to a sense of vastness, a depth and sweep, being transported, journeying far and yet feeling at home. It may be easier to evoke all that with multiple points of view."

That was enough to reassure me my current process is worth the effort. But Maass went on to say that just having multiple points of view is not enough, that "To create a true sense of scale, every characters' storyline must be equally absorbing."

And he could have just left it at that, but he doesn't. He provides a series of questions I've copied and pasted at the bottom of my current manuscript. Each time I contemplate them, I make notes and dig a little deeper into the multiple points of view I'm attempting to write. In Maass's words, I'm building scale into the story. I hope.

Then, last week, I happened upon a link posted by my friend Lisa on her Facebook page. On the surface, this article, Strategies for Writing About Loss (by Robin Black, author of IF I LOVED YOU, I WOULD TELL YOU THIS, guest posting on Beyond the Margins), sounded like a good resource almost any way you look at it. Most of us choose to write about loss in some form or fashion. Black's focus in the article is on how to write about loss in such a way that makes it unique and different. But the deeper I dug into the article, the more I realized how much it spoke to me about my multiple POV/setting/time period challenge. She suggests:

"There are also strategies for defamiliarizing stories that might sound, in summary, like a million others stories that have come before. . . . One possibility to consider is an intertwining, secondary plot line that both contrasts and resonates with the central one."

Aha! and Oh, yeaaaaah! I thought as I read those sentences. That's why I began writing my modern day point-of-view character to begin with in ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE, my current manuscript! I just needed a little reminding when things started to feel a little confused and overwhelming. And that whole article is packed full of some good stuff.

Finally, I recently polled my Facebook friends, asking what books they'd read that used multiple points of view in different time periods and preferably different settings. Joan was spot on again with her recommendation of THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN, by Kate Morton. I gobbled up this hefty novel last week and came away from it thinking, well, if she can do it and make it work, so can I. She juggled even more POVs and time periods than I'm attempting, all to good effect. She talks about the process here on her fascinating website.

With a little help from my friends, some excellent articles, and the best research for writing fiction ever – READING – I feel like I'm well on my way to wrapping my head around this challenge.

What about you? Any additional words of wisdom or resources or just feel like commiserating because you're attempting something similar? We'd love to hear from you.

* Any writer at any stage could benefit from reading all three installments of Maass's excellent series, The Elements of Awe -- Part I here; Part II here; Part III here.
Photo credit: Daniela Vladimirova's Flickr photostream by Creative Commons License


  1. Kate Morton describes weaving her 3 characters' stories as though she were braiding hair. Right now, my multi-timeline story is a tangled mess!

  2. I loved that metaphor, Joan, and how it relates to her story, too!


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