OK, you caught me. I’m a day behind on ROTTEN AT THE HEART, and it may be a day or two before I post another chapter. Hey, read the fine print. I said everyday or as near to that as I can manage. I’ve been clipping along at a pretty good pace, but we’re heading into the home stretch here – maybe another 10K words, 15K at the outside, so I’m thinking about a week’s worth of writing, and I had to catch my breath for a minute, think a few things out, make sure exactly how this thing ought to end. Because the fact is, it could still go a couple of ways. If you think you know who did it, then you’re a better man than me, because I don’t yet, not for sure. But I did have some writer-type thoughts to pass along, stuff I’ve learned this time out.
First things first, or should I say first-person things first. This is the first time I’ve written a novel in first person. In fact, other than the short story I wrote in a recent issue of NEEDLE that gave rise to this entire exercise, it’s the only thing I’ve ever written in first person. That’s a little strange, because the first-person PI novel is maybe the cornerstone of American crime fiction. Yet, for me, first person was a hard sell. Not reading it, I’ve read plenty of it. But writing it.
My other two novels were both written in the third person and from multiple points of view, each with its own narrative voice. From a plotting perspective, that’s so much easier. It gives you different channels with access to different information so that there is always a way to funnel something new into the plot. But with first person, I’m stuck with what Will Shakespeare knows, and that’s it. When I think of some new angle to the story line, he has to uncover it, ferret out its meaning, and then position it in a way that leads to the next angle, and the next angle, and all in some way that doesn’t seem forced. And that’s way harder than just popping over to another point of view and tossing another twist into the plot.
While that’s hard, it makes some things easier. It’s kept the plot more focused. My other novels have way more stuff going on, and when it comes to re-write time, that complicates the cleanup effort. This time, when I type The End, I think I’m going to be much closer to the end because I won’t have to balance the effects of changes to several different points of view against each other. Which isn’t to say I’m against more complicated plots – I’m not, I love them. It’s just an observation. First person made this a harder novel to write, but is going to make it an easier novel to re-write. So I guess that part balances out.
The other thing about first person, though, is the more intimate connection between the protagonist and the story. My third person novels are ensemble in nature – there are several major characters running around, some of them equal or almost equal in weight to the protagonist, and their thoughts and voices are all clamoring for attention. But this novel is very much Will Shakespeare’s story, beginning to end. Because of that, I’ve delved into his head in a way I haven’t with even the protagonists in my previous novels. In this novel, only his thoughts matter, and so I’ve given his thoughts much freer reign, let him run off on tangents about issues like religion and politics and economics and whatever else springs to his mind not just because those issues all play into the plot, but because, when you’re writing in first person, the inside of your protagonist’s head is part of the setting. His thoughts and emotions define his world as surely as do the physical sights and smells and sounds we usually think of when we talk about setting. That mental landscape has to be surveyed so that readers can find their way.
The more obvious difference between this novel and my previous efforts has been the faux-Elizabethan language I’ve been writing in. It isn’t actual Elizabethan, let’s make that clear up front. It’s just an imagining of how I think Shakespeare might talk and think presented in language that has currency in our day and age, but with some nods to the syntax and style of his time. So the language is more ornate, and, language being the stuff of thought, the thinking is more ornate, more nuanced. It passes the light of reason through a more complex prism and throws out colors in shades that the simple, direct language that is the usual stuff of crime fiction does not. Frankly, that’s been a hell of a lot of fun for me. And it’s got me thinking about whether I’ve been a lazy in my other work – whether, the words being simpler, I’ve let the thinking be too simple, too. Since I don’t suppose I’ll be writing in faux Elizabethan for the rest of my life, that’s a lesson I’ll be taking with me.
OK peeps, I’m back to 1596 for more fun with our pal Will. Ya’ll got thoughts on differences your choice of POV makes? Language? Anything? Lemme have ’em.