Week 89

This week is a bit short, on account of posting late last week. For the sake of consistent and comparable weeks, I'll try to post every Sunday from now on. As I thought, writing the new stuff is considerably easier than rewriting old material and fitting it into the new draft - I wrote the first two chapters in a way I liked. The situation and characters are so changed that it seemed like starting over. Which is fine, but the temptatation to start over is always strong - introductions and build-ups are fun to write, it's the bit in the middle that gets tricky.


Third chapter - which I knew last week would be hard - was just that. I've still not cracked it. The voice isn't quite there, and the narrative falls apart a bit.

Reading Kazuo Ishiguro's Remains of the Day this week (so far only the second book of his I've read, and oh my God, I am in awe) reminded me again that flashbacks, memories - whatever you want to call them - ought to be prompted by character, not similar-sort-of-things happening in present-day life. That's made me rethink some of my plot and focus again on my main character.

It also made me think about narrative and first-person narrators. It's not the first time. Those two books I've read of his (Never Let Me Go being the other one) are both written in the first person, as mine is, and it struck me that that old maxim "show, don't tell" doesn't quite work with first-person narratives. Everything is in effect, "told".

I often realise that I have written a scene that works, or feels like it does when you're close up and writing, but doesn't make sense if someone involved is describing it. They are woken from a daydream, say, or they go back and forth in time, remembering things that have happened that have a bearing on what is at hand.

Whereas in third-person narratives like Hilary Mantel's - infamously so, given criticism of her exclusive use of the personal pronoun "he" - or Woolf's experiments with consciousness, these flashes of memory can be associative, immediate, like the flicking of a switch.

First person - and Ishiguro's butler narrator in Remains of the Day, full of cavils and self-abnegating pomposity, is an extreme case of this, admittedly - requires narration at all times. Describing a scene too faithfully should be avoided - the reader should always be able to hear the narrator's voice: "why am I telling you all this?" they might say "Well, let me explain..."

The way the narrative is ordered takes on another significance - what is being let on and when indicates character development as well as story. Of course all this is managed by a third-person narrator in other books, but they have more of a free wheel to express things there. Their principle motive (if they are objective) is to tell the story as it happened. Or, in Woolf's case, as it occurred to a character in terms of thought and experience.

My point is, I still wonder if first-person isn't right for me. It makes things like this *really hard*, especially as my story is already fragmented into at least two different narratives, past and present, real and not-real. I'm plagued by the thought that perhaps I should revert to third-person narrative. I could maintain the claustrophobic and partial perspective of my main character (which was my main reason for preferring first person), but write in terms of she not I, just as a writer such as Anita Brookner so beautifully does.

Sigh. You'd have thought I'd have got this sorted by now, wouldn't you.

Word count this week: 4,782 Second draft: 10,092 First draft: 128,661