Welcome to novelist Claire Dyer whose third novel The Last Day juggles the viewpoints of three characters. Here she reveals how a change of viewpoint, between drafts, liberated the characters and energised the story.
“Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog. It is a huge treat to be able to talk about points of view. One very kind reviewer recently said about The Last Day that ‘creating one authentic character is hard enough but to create three is remarkable …’ And I must admit that I loved every minute I spent in the company of all three people in the book, but I have to confess I didn’t plan the novel the way it turned out.
“As I wrote, each person’s story evolved and, when I finished the second draft, my agent and I agreed that I should switch viewpoints so that Honey, who was in the first person, should be in the third, and Vita, who was in the third, should switch to the first person. This was a real labour of love! It almost sent me boggle-eyed as I changed every pronoun and every verb of their narratives. But it was worth it because, by doing this, Vita seemed to emerge from the shadows and, waving her paintbrush at me, said, ‘At last you’ve realised, this story is really about ME!’
“I have long wondered which the best way to approach a multi-POV narrative is: is it wiser to write each person’s story separately and then weave them together, or write them contemporaneously? I must admit I do the latter as I find that themes and motifs seem to appear and chime with one another and one person’s story acts as a kick-off point for another’s. Editing both approaches would I imagine be tricky. I know editing The Last Day certainly was. I had to make sure that each of the three voices could be heard, that the reveals were handled carefully and came at the right point in each narrative, and that each had their own satisfactory arc.
“My work in progress is a different kettle of fish entirely. This has one central character and is told in the first person. I must admit I got to about 40,000 words and wondered whether I’d have enough material to make a whole book, but by giving myself an interesting structure to work with, I have two timelines – one in the present and one in the past – the story came thick and fast. I tell the current story in the past tense and the past story in the present, up until the past meets the present and the two narratives collide when I switch to the present. I maintain the close first person throughout and it was really interesting to get to know my character this way. It’s not so much that I came to a deeper understanding of her; after all, I believe I understand the three characters in The Last Day, but it’s a wider understanding, it seems to be allowing me to encompass more of her history.
“With multi point of view novels, there may be more onus on the reader to fill in the gaps and this can be satisfying, or it can lead to holes which the reader finds frustrating. However, with single point of view, there’s the danger of getting too deep that the reader’s at risk of drowning. There’s also the conundrum of the authorial voice – how can a story be convincing if there’s little or no context given by an omniscient narrator?
“Managing POV is not easy but I think I get over this last conundrum by a strict adherence to the 5Ws, especially the where and when. Using the senses also helps; making a reading experience a sensory one can lift a narrative and help keep the reader close whichever point of view you, as author, have chosen.
“And which do I prefer? I really don’t know. I’ve written manuscripts with ten points of view and I’ve written novels with one, or two, or three, or four, or eight. I think I like all variations but in different ways and for different reasons. I agree it’s not an easy decision to make when we’re setting out at a book’s beginning, but I also believe that sometimes it’s our characters who tell us how best to tell their story and to wait for them to do so, and the other thing is to be flexible, to change things around to see if they work better another way. I’ve come to believe there are no absolute rights or wrongs to this, only what feels right and, as authors, we get a sense of that, normally at night when our minds are empty of the day’s details and we can see the shapes of our books and get that wonderful and longed-for tingle when we believe the decision we’ve made is the right one.”
Claire Dyer’s latest novel, The Last Day, is published by The Dome Press. Her previous novels The Moment and The Perfect Affair and her short story Falling for Gatsby, are published by Quercus. Her poetry collections, Eleven Rooms and Interference Effects, are published by Two Rivers Press. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London and is a regular guest on BBC Radio Berkshire’s Radio Reads with Bill Buckley. Claire also teaches creative writing at literary and writers’ festivals and for Bracknell & Wokingham College and runs Fresh Eyes, an editorial and critiquing service.
‘The Last Day’ by Claire Dyer [UK: Dome Press]
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How THE LAST DAY author @ClaireDyer1 juggles viewpoints #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3js via @SandraDanby