Monday, May 30, 2011

Ciao, neurotic narrator

by Joan

Yesterday’s Parade Magazine featured an essay by Connie Shultz: “What, Me Worry? Oh Yes.” I swear Ms. Schultz lives in my head (just like the writer of the comic strip Zits lives in our house). She wrote: “I’ve yet to meet a situation I couldn’t fret about.” Like her, if someone is twenty minutes late for a lunch date, I assume the worst. I might think my friend crashed on the Tollway or, worse, perhaps I’ll begin writing her eulogy.

It’s no surprise some of my characters are a bit irrational or apprehensive, but I tried, really tried, to leave “Joan” out of my current manuscript. Writing voice is tricky and The Italian Architect at Highgate is told from numerous characters’ points of view, none whom are meant to be neurotic.

When beta reader Julie mentioned she needed to stop seeing “Joan” as she read, I thought the worst. Am I—(gasp!)—an intrusive narrator? Am I not letting my characters speak for themselves?

“What I mean is that it’s hard to separate my feeling of ‘This is Joan I’m reading’ from the story itself. I tend to have that experience any time I start reading a book by an author I know, even if I just know them online. Sometimes I just feel and hear authors SO much in those first few chapters, I have trouble suspending disbelief and plunging in to the character’s voice instead of the writer’s, but then it usually clicks. If it doesn’t, I don’t care for the book.”

Julie wrote that she has been able to separate me from my manuscript, so that’s a very good sign. (She did suggest I give my two main present-day architects more distinct voices and one of her ideas is downright hilarious—I just might steal it.) Imagine my thrill then when I received this comment from her:

“Loving this story a lot. I want to understand it better because I care about the characters and these interesting parallels and injustices. Loving all the little mysteries and how they are coming together in the separate threads! You’re doing it so well.”

Instead of letting my neurotic narrator begin the eulogy next time a friend is late for lunch, I’ll let some other voices into my head. Maybe lonely Aidan Bryce-Healy, who lives in a white-walled flat with a dog named Mack, or maybe pony-tailed Luca Tucci, who dreams of Italy and lives surrounded by his great-great grandfather’s Old-world knick knacks.

Ciao for now…

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