It’s the most difficult kind of novel to write. Writing it is awful.
Writing a novel with multiple points of view comes down to faith; faith that the story will come together if you remind yourself what it is about, stay true to patterns and themes, you can do it, especially if you’ve explored your character’s needs, wants, desires, and you remember that they need to be “tortured.” This doesn’t mean that all the content you’ve generated will be retained. Much of it won’t. For my novel, Bombing the moon, four characters tell the story; Devin, Cole, Julia, and Lily. But before publication, entire scenes were slashed. Characters killed. It’s a curse imbedded in the writing process.
When embarking on a new chapter, I will try to write about 8,000 words. I’m writing my way through the scene, finding out what happens, what people want, inviting surprises, searching for a feeling which is to say I run with whatever comes. To my friends, I call it “drunk writing,” though that’s not literal. It’s writing minus too much thinking, minus judgement, minus reserve. Then, when this disorderly, fragmented, unwieldy bit of writing is exhausted, I go back and look for the gems. Typically, I trash about 4000 words from drunk writing and start the painful course of rebuilding.
But when there’s four voices telling the story, even this harsh process gets more difficult. So during the write of Bombing the moon, instead of following the story chronologically, I’d get into one voice and write scenes with them, multiple scenes, stretching too far ahead into the story, so I could hold on to their state of mind, the particular rhythm and flow of their speech. When I had many scenes from the four main characters, after I double-checked for evidence of progression, I cobbled together the novel, intermingling the scenes, one Devin, the next perhaps, Julia, and so on. Piece by piece. It’s an over-simplified explanation yet that’s how the novel began to take shape.
It didn’t bother me that I was also creating flashbacks within a novel with multiple points of view. The reader wants to know where motivations and vulnerabilities come from and there are times when select portions of our past speak to us more loudly. That fascinates me – all this going on within; how a face can change moment to moment as someone relives a memory. But in novels, timing is key and in Bombing the moon, I had flashbacks saved in another file, and at times, when I was up for puzzle-making, I’d look to see where they could fit in, looking for “triggers,” chances to expand on a past wound, and to increase reader participation. Other times, flashbacks came out holding hands with the present-tense. If only it was always so.
I will write one day about characterization, but for now let me say that I can’t remember reading a novel where the reader had unlimited access to the brains and hearts of four leading characters, and their burdens, when past, present, and future collide. If there is one, please comment and let me know!!