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Two for the price of one

A Southern Girl (ASG) began as a short novel, by word count almost a novella. It began with the infant’s abandonment as the U.S. family, the Carters, debated the wisdom of adoption. It ended with the resolution of the conflicts on both sides of the world (hey, it’s a novel, it has to resolve conflicts).

But then that question set in again: what if? What if the infant thrives and something happens that devastates the family unit? That led to what would have been my third novel, a manuscript I called Just A Dance (JAD). JAD proved a longer work, and longer still was the time it took me to realize that the two manuscripts, ASG and JAD, were one story that belonged together.

You might assume that combining two manuscripts from the same author on the same subject would be a relatively simple cut and paste, and the reason it is not is an issue that sometimes vexes writers called point of view (POV). POV is nothing more than answering the question: who is telling the story? A favored POV among us is third person omniscient. This puts the writer in the position of a demi-god. He or she can see all. He can get inside Millie’s head as she plants next year’s lettuce, he can flash back to give us an image of Millie as a small child, then leave Millie in the fields and take us to the war breaking out in Europe where Millie’s man is going into battle. He knows all, sees all.

But suppose Millie is telling the story, in POV parlance a first person narrator. She can speak with authority about the lettuce she is planting, and what she is thinking as she works, and she can flash back to relate what life was like for her growing up. But what about that war breaking out in Europe? She isn’t there. How does she know what the reader needs to know about what brought the war on, the leaders pushing or resisting it, or what life is like for those, like her man, in the trenches fighting it. If Millie describes things that, as readers, we know she cannot possibly be privy to, we begin to doubt Millie, and in turn Millie’s creator, the writer. And doubt, my friend, is not something an author wants to encourage.

And in combining ASG and JAD, I ran into a POV problem I had not anticipated. ASG was told in that third person, god-like voice I described above. But JAD was told in the voice of Coleman Carter, the father, or first person POV. Changing POV in the middle of the story is a bit like changing horses in the middle of the stream; it doesn’t take long for problems to surface. How I tried to solve this, and the ultimate outcome, is the subject of the next blog.

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