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New Serfdom — Finding the Center

It’s possible for a novel to have so many characters and plot lines that it has no center. Some writers can manage to hang on to a central theme in the midst of what may look like clutter. For instance, Bacigalupi’s Windup Girl, which damned near drowned me in detail and clutter before I found the life raft. It was an interesting trip, but I was hanging on by my fingernails all the way and not a trip I’d particularly care to take again. I’m not capable of writing that kind of book, nor do I want to.

So, finding that The New Serfdom had somehow accumulated a multitude of characters and plot threads, with no obvious way to pull it all together was disturbing. Time to stop and think things through. Windup Girl is science fiction. New Serfdom is science fiction. And that’s where any resemblance between the two ends. In Windup Girl, the whole point of the novel is the technology and the setting. The characters come and go in service to those two themes. I want technology and setting to serve the characters. But which characters? All of them? Are they all equally important?

Some clarity came with deciding that the technology and setting are the framework, not a major part of the story. Still, what is the story? Making Gil one of the central characters continues to affect the novel’s evolution, which is now looking like the story of Nolan’s development over the years and his relationship with Gil. Nolan Graves is the hub around which everyone else revolves, and much of that is probably going to be seen through Gil’s eyes because he’s the one closest to Nolan, the only one with insight into his character.

I’m still leaning toward flashbacks as an integral part of the novel’s structure, Gil’s being the most important, and keeping them very short — literally flashes rather than long diversions. To make sure the jumps back and forth aren’t confusing to the reader, I’m also considering putting Gil’s memories in first person. The bulk of the novel will be third person limited omniscient, and I don’t know if that kind of POV switch is ever done or acceptable. Maybe someone can offer examples, or suggestions about why it might or might not work.

Placing Gil’s flashbacks in first person may be a problem for third person flashbacks that involve other aspects of the story — the Dennisons, for example. So that’s a new problem to work through. And Andy’s story, as interesting as it might be, looks as if it will drop by the wayside altogether because I haven’t found any role for him.

6 Comments

  1. Interesting conundrum.

    I’ve seen books which have the MC in first person, but switch to third when not in the MC’s presence. That always seemed to work without undue confusion.

    Of course whenever you go to first person you do take on the persona of the “author”. Making it clear that you are only going into this person’s mind for effect might be tricky. One way to do it, though, is for those first person flashbacks to be letters or diary entries.

    • Good to know that it’s been done. I’ve probably seen it, but I have a rotten memory and rarely notice what POV a book is written in unless something makes it stand out.

      Letters or diaries wouldn’t work here. Each shift into a first person flashback would be a natural extension of something going on at the moment or something that just happened. You’ve made me aware of needing to keep that in mind. Not using first person for any other purpose would probably help it work the way I want. It’s going to be an interesting experiment.

  2. By the way, the last four or five times I’ve visited here I’ve been the 100,000th visitor, along with the assurance that “this is no joke”. Ha! Just now as I was writing this I won again!

    • Must be some kind of glitch. There isn’t even anything for number of visitors on my stats page, and since there have only been 16,000 page views, that number doesn’t make any sense. But we’ll pretend — Congratulations, Richard Scott, on being the 100,000th visitor to this illustrious blog!

      By the way, are you doing NaNo this year? I don’t remember you saying anything about it. But that could be another memory failure.

      • Hi, again

        The 100,000th visitor is one of the advertisements added to your site by WordPress. I get a kick out of it’s “this is not a joke” (indicating that it is true) but that I win it almost every time I visit. I guess some advertisers think we’re a dim lot. ))

        Yes, I plan on doing NaNo again (I’ve promised myself to compete every year I can). This will be my 11th time. Still have no idea what I’ll be working on, though.

        • I didn’t know ads were showing up on my blog. I’ve never seen them on mine or anyone else’s so I’d forgotten that WP does have them now and then. Maybe they only show up if you’re not signed in. I think there’s an option to pay to be ad-free, but nobody has ever complained, so I’d guess they’re not too obnoxious. Just checked and it’s $30.00 a year to go ad-free. No thanks. Maybe when my writing makes me rich.

          You’d better get cracking with a NaNo plan. Time is fleeting. I can’t believe it’s almost here. I have a feeling I’m not going to have the whole thing laid out neatly this time. Half plotter, half pantser.

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