Now that I have finished Camp NaNoWriMo, I have had to get back to editing ‘From Here to Nashville’ with a vengeance. My aim is to go through my three beta readers’ comments and do a final edit of the story before the end of May, at which point I will send my manuscript off to be assessed by the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association). I’m now on my fourth draft of the story and I’m finding it so difficult to apply some of the points that have been raised. The proofreading type edits are easy but it’s the more meaty comments that would involve a lot of rewriting that are so hard to deal with. So I thought it would be useful in my blog post today to raise two of the more difficult issues I’ve been trying to handle, for you to consider.
Writing in a different gender My story divides quite easily into three parts. Part one is set in Dorset and is written from Rachel’s point of view. The second part sees the story move to Nashville and is from Jackson’s viewpoint. The final part moves between both settings and so I alternate between the two main characters’ points of view. I’ll come back to point of view in a moment but I’d like to look at this problem of writing in a different gender. Obviously, it was always going to be much easier for me to write Rachel’s point of view because she is a woman, like me, and I can understand what’s going on inside her head that much more easily for that. When it came to Jackson, I didn’t really ever think consciously, now I need to write more like a man. I had the character in my mind and just wrote his part the way I saw it. However, the feedback I’ve received from two of my beta readers is that he’s not enough like a man, in fact, he’s too much like a woman. The problem with this is that I have created a character in my mind and tried to put him on the page the way I imagined him to be. I can accept that maybe he’s a bit too feminine and work on some of what he says and does but I worry that if I try to make him more ‘manly’, I may stray into male stereotype territory and I don’t want to do that either.
As always, I did some research on the internet and came across this useful article from Janice Hardy’s ‘Fiction University’ blog. If you’re interested in this issue, you really must read the full article but I would like to pick out the main points that I found useful for me in my current dilemma. Firstly, she says that ‘A well-rounded character is just the same, no matter what the sex.’ She says that we’re often tempted to write gender stereotypes when writing about the opposite sex to our own but this will only lead to us writing flat, two-dimensional characters and our reader won’t believe in them. What we need to do is to look at people we know who are of the opposite sex and ask them what they would do or say in the situations our character finds themselves in.
For example, I asked my husband what he would say in answer to a question about whether a wedding had gone well. Jackson says ‘It was really lovely’ in my story but my husband said he would never say that. He thought he would probably say ‘it was really nice.’ Well, that’s a bit bland for my character but it made me think about my choice of language for a man. I don’t think my husband is a typical man’s man but his language is definitely not as flowery as mine.
Another tip Janice gives is to focus on the character, not the gender, seeing them as a person first and foremost. I liked this point a lot. Everyone is different and should be treated as such and for the reader, that’s what makes a character interesting. My question for myself needs to be not whether Jackson ‘needs to grow a pair’, as one reader advised (!) but whether his character is genuinely more in touch with his emotions and whether that reads right in my story. Her final point is to get a beta reader of the opposite sex to read the story and to see what their take on it is. I am going to take that advice and see what happens.
Point of View I want to come back to the question of which point of view you write in. As I’ve said, my story is told in the first person, either by Rachel or by Jackson. I have had some surprising reactions to this. One reader a while back told me that she had only ever read one book written in first person point of view! I was shocked by that statement. I’ve lost count of the number of stories I have read in the first person and it doesn’t bother me at all. It did knock my confidence at the time she said that though because when I did some more research, I found that some critics believe that only inexperienced, first-time writers (like me) would make the mistake of writing in the first person. I blogged about it here. Anyway, I got over it and decided that, whilst I respected that view, it was not something to focus on. However, I’ve had this comment again recently, thus stirring up the same storm for me all over again. This reader has carried on and adjusted to that point of view and she is no longer bothered by it but it is still a worry for me, now that a few people have mentioned it. To change it now would be really hard but I am wondering whether to change the third part of the story to third person instead. I have heard from other writers that Carole Matthews, a very successful romance novelist, writes in first person from different characters’ points of view, concluding with a change to third person and so I feel heartened by that. I need to get round to reading one of her novels very quickly to see how she does it!
In summary then, it is a hard job editing your novel and trying to work out which comments to take on board and which to leave out. The important thing is to consider them all and then make your own decision. It is very important to have other people read your work of course but at the end of the day, it is your story and these are your characters. Only you, as the author, can decide what exactly it is they would say and do in certain situations but it helps to have other people give your their opinions to make sure that you have written the best characters you can write for your novel.
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog today. As always, I would appreciate any comments you might have on these topics.