Thursday, January 29, 2015

Of Two Minds

MOST NOVELS ARE written from a single point of view ... one narrator telling one main story. But what do you do when you want to tell more than one main story?
   That was an issue I had to address when I wrote my 2009 novel, Pirate Hunter. It was going to combine the stories of two protagonists: one a rescued slave who was serving as a crew member on a pirate ship in the seventeenth century, and one the story of a contemporary marine archaeologist who was searching for the remains of a pirate ship.
   I wanted my stories to echo one another. I wanted to tell them, for the most part, in alternating chapters, and I wanted the transitions from one chapter to the next to be as smooth as possible. And I didn't want to depend on a dateline at the beginning of the chapter ("The Spanish Main, 1638"). In fact, I didn't want to use datelines at all.
   So how were my readers going to tell which story they were in?
   Easy: I told my historical story in third person ("he"), and I told my contemporary story in first person ("I"). It worked well; in fact it worked so well that I've had readers wonder how it was that I kept it so clear which story I was in ... and then they were surprised when I told them about the shift in person. They weren't aware of it; they only knew that it worked.
   This is by no means an idea original to me. I've read books by my friend Steven James in which he does the same thing. In fact, in some of his work, he will shift both person and tense (past in one and present in the other), which works quite nicely.
   So ... got two stories to tell in one novel and want to keep them distinct? Not a problem. You have first-person, second-person and third-person narrative points of view to work with. Pick two.
NOTE: If you are reading this on January 29, 2014, and want to see how I did this, for free, get yourself the ebook edition (Kindle, Nook and all other major ebook platforms) of Pirate Hunter. Today only, the price is $0.00.