Wednesday, June 12, 2013

How One Ms became Three


It wasn’t a device I conjured up to make my three novels (Kedzie, Saint Helena Island Slave; Master of Westfall Plantation; and Sonny, Cold Slave Cradle) parallel stories. The characters and events of all three books occur on Westfall Plantation during autumn 1857 through May 1858. The difference is that each book is presented from different points of view (POVs).
I worked for years on this story as if it were one manuscript and reached a point when I was completely frustrated. I was overwhelmed by the story.
I was “head-hopping,” a term we use in my writer’s workshop for jumping from one POV to another within a given text. Head-hopping is emotionally expansive for the writer and confusing to the reader. I am not alone in pursuing this clumsy tactic, for it’s often seen in the work of beginning writers. Ultimately, the reader has to wonder why you have insight into the thoughts of some characters and not others.
In this one Westfall story were at least five third-person POVs. Had I backed off from my characters emotionally and ramped up the narrative voice with objective perspectives, I could have written from the omniscient POV. But it may have been a 600 page manuscript.

A St. Helena Road with Antebellum Memories

The road became clear during a critique of an excerpt at the Columbia II Writers Workshop. Laura Valtorta said I couldn’t write the slave and white stories together. I had to divide them.
As I began to separate the stories, a great relief descended on me. My hope was renewed that I could manage the story.
I rewrote everything. Little did I know when I began again that coordinating the events, times, places, and characters across three manuscripts would take such an effort. I’m sure I’ve made mistakes, but enough is enough.
In the end, Kedzie is told from the POV of two slaves, Kedzie and Rio. Master is told from the POV of Westfall’s owner Tilmon and his wife Georgiana. Sonny’s story is told by a deaf mute slave and Wink, the stableman.
The sequel to these three stories, which I’m working on, will be told from the omniscient POV. Events dominate the story while the interior opinions and feelings of the characters are presented in a less personal way. Tilmon, who is the dominant character so far, may control the story, for he has the most to lose.

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