A lesson in compassion

After the manuscript assessment, I cut my 60,000 word draft to 25,000, and have since built it back up to 40,000, with a pretty good idea where the rest is going to come in. Before I go any further though, I have made a drastic decision:

I’m going to change it from first person to third person.

This is a painful exercise and one I have been avoiding for a long time. I did the same with A Perilous Margin but at a much earlier stage. First person is a great way to get a feel for a character at the beginning when you’re unsure who they really are, but after a while it can feel like it is holding the book back. There are fewer angles, and, honestly, the main character can start to seem really annoying because they are always there.

After switching the first chapter, I have come to a new realisation.. When writing in first person, the character is judging themselves, and those judgments can be harsh. I’m not sure how many people in the world really like themselves, but writing in first person makes all those little personal criticisms tangible, like they are facts rather than opinions. Switching to third person, all of a sudden the narrator sounds mean for judging the main character like that, even though when the character was judging herself it seemed perfectly normal. All of a sudden I need to add compassion and understanding to what is happening.

I wanted to give this woman a hug because her harsh inner monologue seemed perfectly normal, yet when it was no longer inner it was unimaginably cruel.

Why are we so much less forgiving of ourselves than we are of others?

A test then, next time you think you have acted badly, or are generally unhappy with who you are. Write down something you did, including how you felt about it, and then switch it to third person. It is truly astounding.


Of food and clothes

My instinct when I first try to describe a woman’s outfit is to say she is wearing a blouse. For some reason, that is the piece of clothing that automatically comes to mind. I’m not sure why, I don’t think I’ve ever actually worn a blouse. Does anyone wear blouses anymore? I’m not sure I’ve even described a man’s outfit but they would probably be wearing a blazer if I did.

There are many parts of A Perilous Margin which make me cringe to think back on, but one of the least consequential, easiest to fix and therefore most annoying is a description of food at a dinner party. It is terrible. A weird combination of dishes which no one, especially an artistic, reasonably well-off, middle-aged couple, would serve to friends.

If only characters would just eat pizza for every meal.

Food and clothes are the bane of writing for me. They impact on every day of our lives and yet I have no words for them. I have no idea what people wear, what types of material clothes are made of, what different styles are called. Clothes create an immediate impression when we meet someone, and when introducing a character they can provide a cheat-sheet as to what that person is like. And yet, when every woman I write ends up wearing blouses it seems like they are either middle-aged or a complete dag.

The thing with food is I do have some understanding of it. I hate pretentious food and try not to open recipe books if I can help it, but I have a decent, basic understanding of what foods people eat and what those foods taste/look/smell like. And yet, while I am more than capable of noting all the times when characters are drinking tea, it is what they have had for lunch that I struggle with, even though that might give a clearer idea of their personality.

Maybe it is because, while I interact with food and clothes on a daily basis, the choices around them are not my favourite things to think about. Deciding what to wear in the morning is frustrating. I eat cornflakes for breakfast just so I don’t have to think about what to put on toast. I happily eat mushroom pasta every night. I think this ambivalence to two things which many people take a lot of pleasure from seeps into all my characters. They will be blouse-wearing, tea-drinking dags on the first, second and probably third edit, until I decide to put some time into thinking about a part of their life that I refuse to think about in my own. It may call for some research, *shudder*.