Writer Seeks Advice
As my regulars know my view has always been that writers should go quietly about their business and not seek the opinion of every Tom, Dick and writers’ workshop. No-one sees my stuff until I deliver first draft to my editor and my agent. My husband gets to read final draft, if he asks nicely. So, anyway, I’m now at first edit stage. My agent and my editor have sent me their notes which, comfortingly and amazingly are almost perfectly congruent, and now I have to see what I can do with their suggestions. Blue pencil time.
It’s quite rare for me to jib at anything my editor suggests. But this time there’s something that’s keeping me awake nights. Let me run it by you. At least, let me pose a hypothetical case because I don’t want to give away my story eight months before it’s published.
Imagine you are reading a novel that features a major historical event. Let’s say…. the French Revolution. We all know what happened. There’s no changing the facts. All you can do is tell it from a new perspective. What, for instance, if the story is being told by someone who is, at the time of telling, oblivious to the fate of Louis and Marie-Antoinette? The narrator could be in the deepest dungeon of the Conciergerie. Bear with me here. It could be someone who sincerely believes the revolution will be humane. It could be someone who believes the Royal family have been spirited away to exile. For you, the reader, which is more powerful – to know something the narrator doesn’t know? Or to turn a few pages and find the narrator just caught up with the facts? News just in….
That’s my jibbing point. I thought I’d created a poignant moment of blissful ignorance. My editor feels we should, a bit later, deliver the full meal, like one of those TV dinners that has everything on the tray. Turkey, cranberry, apple pie, execution scene, gravy.
Your opinions on a postcard please. Well actually an email would do nicely.
Do it your way Laurie and argue your case – you already know what will work. Am now wanting to pre-order it.. J xx
I think I like the idea of knowing something the narrator doesn’t. It gives a more authentic feel of the time – I mean, no one knew what way it was going to go. (loved in Humble Companion how they followed events in France, it was fascinating.)
For me it would be more powerful and real if the reader knows what the narrator does not. You’d need otherwise to find a way to make the narrator “know” and this would probably call for much contrivance, which I detest.
Is the editor’s problem that you don’t get to see the character’s reaction to what actually happened or that there’s a risk that the reader might not know what actually happened? If the latter, could you do an epilogue-y Historical Note at the end filling in what happened – so people who don’t know what happened can get filled in, but without losing your poignant moment of blissful ignorance?
Keep the narrator in ignorance for a while. You could drip feed information about events through the medium of gossip etc. between any characters who co-exsist in any way with the narrator. It does not have to be a sudden revelation, more of a dawning of understanding of present events. A subtle turning of the screw of knowledge could have the reader on edge, and your ending could be what ever you want.
I’m sure it will be wonderful. I will buy it, read it and rave about it. But secretly I’ll be hoping very much that you get back to contemporary fiction! Bit fed up of historical novels and wondering if the ‘unknown character in a well-known story’ thing is done. Beautifully. Please revisit Perfect Meringue woman – we’re all still here/there!
I go with the above concensus; better to have the narrative deliverd by one whom you realise is labouring under a fatal delusion, perhaps born out of their innocent belief in the fundamental humanity of their fellows. That way the reader is led through the narrator’s adventures and misadventures with the ever present shadow of the facts lending a poingnancy to both his/her good fortunes and misfortunes alike.
It would be difficult for the reader not to feel a twinge of sympathy for the story’s narrator, regardless of their – at this distance – more detatched view of the moral issues of such an event as the French Revlution.
Many years ago I read with fascination Thomas Carlisle’s classic history of the French Revolution, and was left with a conviction that the aristocracy of Louis’ France really had it coming to them! They weighed upon what they doubtless regarded as the lower orders of humanity like a plague of parasites, indulging their preposterously extravagant excesses in the name of art and refinement and denying access even to the burgeoning professional classes, to any opportunity for advancement and social mobility. And it was from this very quarter that the stirrings of revolt originated. So says Carlisle.
I apolgise for the digression, since you use the French Revolution only as a means to demonstrate your conundrum.