Polyphony is hard!


July 24, 2008 by Tracey S. Rosenberg

Otherwise known as, multiple characters can be really confusing.

I regret having to ditch some, but when I went through three chapters and removed all but two characters, I found that I only needed to rewrite one scene to keep the plot moving – in other words, out of 2500 deleted words, I only had one necessary scene. There were a few observations I want to work back in, but that should be easy enough to do in dialogue format. It’s always a wake-up call when you cut things and the novel doesn’t suffer for it – and in fact, improves, as you clear out the underbrush. Phyllis Eisenstein once mentioned something about having deleted some thousands of words, then joining the two ends together and finding they came together seamlessly.

My theory is that if I reread it and don’t notice anything’s missing, then it really doesn’t need to be there.

So I’m effectively left with two narrative voices, emphasis on voices, because if they sound alike there’s no point in splitting it at all, and I still feel that’s where the book needs to go.

Meanwhile, getting critical responses to my first chapter has been an eye-opener, not least of which in the sense of ‘everyone’s going to think differently.’ One reader had primarily minor suggestions with some advice about structure, one felt the writing was good but that major structural changes are required, and one – well, ‘they misread the draft!’ sounds like a knee-jerk response, but I can’t think of any other way to interpret the most important part of the feedback. The reader’s belief that the book is fatally flawed and unpublishable (even by a small press) seems to be based on the assumption that the character flaws in the opening chapter are continued all the way through the end of the novel. I didn’t include a synopsis, which (hopefully) would have clarified things. It’s a reminder to me to make the reader aware that the character – who’s a young Nazi – is capable of breaking out of that mindset, and to weave that in from the beginning, because I don’t want the reader to think ‘this is all played out on a single emotional level,’ but I refuse to believe the book is unpublishable.

Well, my next reader is an agent rather than an author, so it will be interesting to see which of the readers they agree with – or, more likely, they’ll have yet another response….


One thought on “Polyphony is hard!

  1. kicking_k says:

    An interesting set of observations. I’ve never tried to write something with multiple voices, partly out of a conviction that I won’t be able to differentiate.

    I hope the agent likes it and is constructive!

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Tiny bio

I live, work, and write in Edinburgh. I travel to other places as much as I can. To contact me, email writingmostly at gmail dot com.


CURRENTLY READING: The Ginseng Hunter by Jeff Talarigo.

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