Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Two views

'Stone faces' in one of the temples of Angkor by eschu1952

There are a few scenes in my current work-in-progress Soft Collisions which appear twice, each time viewed from the perspective of a different character. The aim of this technique is obvious - to be able to show the misunderstandings that take place, and how an action may be perceived very differently from how it was intended. However, some early readers reports said that they felt this effect held the novel up so I've been tackling that issue today, on the two chapters (5 and 6) where this occurs.

It is more complicated to fix than I expected! For a start, the scenes don't match up exactly - one might refer to a previous event, then cover action a, then action b. The contrasting viewpoint might take place during action b, but refer back to action a, then go on to a new scene whilst also including some detail not mentioned in the other version. So it is not as simple as just choosing one viewpoint for each action and deleting the other, there is a lot more to untangle!

I started by printing out all the relevant scenes so I could lay them side by side on the floor and draw various boxes around sections of overlap, then add arrows and numbers for order changes, and chop things out which no longer seem so relevant. It is definitely like working on a puzzle; and akin to a puzzle there is a sense of satisfaction when you find a working solution and can move on to the next section.

It is also a good procedure for getting the word count down. Being able to cut material is a skill every writer needs. You can't get too attached to every word you give birth to. Still, I am trying to keep the alternate views of all the important aspects. The main techniques I am using are:

a) Show one perspective, e.g. Mark's; then just have 1 or 2 references to the incident in the next scene from Sam's perspective (rather than repeating every action). This aims to just get across the main contrasting feelings.

b) Split the scenes up so that each character covers one thing, then the other character covers the next - but when all added together we have a single continuous period of time, whilst also hopefully giving enough of an impression of how different the experiences might seem for each character.

I'm just over halfway through this process, but the end result should read far better, whilst not losing anything.


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