As you might know, I’m currently working on ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, the last in the Larkspur Mystery series.
If you have read ‘Starting with Secrets’, you will know that book comes before ‘Legacy’ and concerns a treasure hunt in four pieces based on the four points of a compass. In ‘Secrets’, the characters chased three out of four clues because I thought having four story-lines running simultaneously might be complicated, and now, writing ‘Legacy’ with all four stories in action, I find I was right.
It’s not the weaving of the four plots that needs careful handling and consideration, but the way the stories are told. I love a good, interwoven plot line or four, where each thread has to be tied off neatly so my story doesn’t get knotted. What I am having to be aware of is who is telling the story, and in ‘Legacy’, I have four main characters seeing the story from four points of view (POV). So, the question is, how do you handle that?
One Character POV
Many stories are told with one main character (MC) as the central character. We follow his/her path from a normal world, through a series of trials and a character-development arc, to a twist, a change, a crisis and a climax. (Use the search box for earlier posts about story and character development.) That’s the classic hero’s journey kind of storytelling, but in ‘Legacy’, I am not telling one person’s story. What I am doing, is bringing to an end a series of 17 books through a device that uses characters and information from as long ago as the Clearwater prequel, Banyak & Fecks, and taking us right up to date and the previous Larkspur mystery, ‘Starting with Secrets.’
I decided I couldn’t write a four-story epic like ‘Legacy’ with one main character involved in each one of the four through-lines, simply because no-one can be in four places at the same time. However, what I could do, was have one of my main characters ‘lead’ each storyline and write it from his point of view, keeping one protagonist (in this case, Archer, Lord Clearwater), and one antagonist who has a band of other villains under his command.
Thus, what we have are four stories woven together, all playing their part in the success or failure of one overarching story (the treasure hunt), and all coming about because of one protagonist. Easy right?
Actually, yes. I’m loving it, but I have to keep my eye on the ball, particularly when it comes to who is experiencing the story, and as I just explained, that is not one character, but four.
Five actually, or maybe it’s six…
Know Your Throughlines
Without giving anything away, I can tell you that the action plot of ‘Legacy’ looks something like this:
- Overarching plot of discovering the secret and finding the treasure based on four points of the compass.
- South: a team chasing down the answer to the south clue
- North: a team chasing down the answer to the north clue
- East: Ditto but the east clue
- West: you get the picture
- The villain’s story, because we need to know that side of things too
Within those six storylines, we must have the emotional side of the story, so that the reader is engaged emotionally and is not reading a Clive Cussler action-adventure story.*
So, among the six listed above, I also have:
- The ‘heart’ of the story; the friendship story if you like
- The tying up of previous loose ends, love stories, histories, etc.
- The villain’s motivation explained
- The tying up of other threads begun in earlier books in the series
- Giving those that deserve it a happy ending (or not)
(* I love Clive Cussler adventure stories, btw.)
With those charted on my map that will lead me through ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, I set about writing the story… stories… while keeping everything and everyone focused on the final outcome: success for Lord Clearwater, and happiness (or not) for his band of friends, crew and academy men.
This is where, when you are writing from more than one character’s point of view, you need to remember who is seeing the story unfold.
General Narrator VS Character POV
Many authors write with their own voice as the narrator, and that’s fine. The narrator is an omnipresent observer relaying the events back to you, the reader. I always wonder, though, how this narrator knows what’s inside the characters’ heads and hearts, and I often find the telling of the emotional side of stories is muted because of this approach. That, like everything else I write here, is only my opinion.
Some authors, and I am thinking of John Steinbeck here, take on the voice of a character who lives in the world of the story but is not actually in the story. That works better for me, and I find my writing flows best when I am writing in the first person, as I do in one of the stories within ‘Legacy.’
Some of my books have taken two characters’ points of view, and others have taken more, but only now and then. ‘Banyak & Fecks’ for example, is told in four parts: Andrej, from his POV, Silas, from his, then the Andrej & Silas, and Banyak & Fecks sections which are variously from both points of view. In other books, we might find a chapter from a minor character’s point of view, as we do at the start of ‘Artful Deception’ which opens with a man called Henry Beddington, the concierge of the National Gallery. That’s fine too; we need to keep our readers informed and entertained, and if we have to change from one place to another, we might need to change from one character’s POV to another.
Beware: it’s not a good idea to have a new lead character and point of view in every single chapter or section thereof.
For ‘Legacy’, I have gone down the multi-character point-of-view narration style. It’s still my voice overall, but even though we read from a 3rd person, omnipresent narration in all but the 1st person sections, I am aware that I am describing things from a character’s POV and not my own.
I am trying to say, when making more than one character your main character, always be aware of who that character is, and make sure his/her reactions to and observations of what happens are character appropriate. Fine, but there’s more. I also try and ensure my style of narration reflects the main character of the chapter.
Let me try and illustrate what I am saying.
Again, without giving anything away, here is how I am approaching this multi-character point-of-view style in ‘Legacy.’ Here are a few examples of how I am trying to change my narrator’s voice to reflect the attitudes of the main characters of each of my storylines. These are first-draft, unedited sections, so please forgive any clumsiness.
1) Action at Larkspur Hall is seen from Silas’ point of view, therefore the first thing we get is a cosey scene of two lovers in bed. The writing style is mostly straightforward, to reflect Silas’ character, and when writing, I find myself ‘thinking Irish.’
‘This is an outrage!’
Silas rolled over to find his lover sitting up in bed, his reading spectacles teetering on the end of his nose and his face red with rage. Archer’s knuckles were white as he gripped a newspaper, and his coffee sat steamless on the bed tray. Silas hadn’t heard Nancarrow come in, deliver the coffee and pour, nor had he woken when the butler drew the curtains revealing a grey sky…
2) Action pertaining to the ‘heart’ of the story (the good fortune of the academy men, friendship, the changes Clearwater has enabled in his men, the more emotional side of things). This is mainly seen from Dalston Blaze’s point of view, he being the first Larkspur Academy man we met in ‘Guardians of the Poor.’
The workhouse. A previous life of tedium, cold and hunger. An existence he wouldn’t wish on anyone, and yet, had it not been for a house fire and an unknowing public, he wouldn’t have been taken to the Hackney spike. There, if it hadn’t been for a kind matron and his ability to draw, he would never have met Joe, but if he hadn’t met Joe, he may not have fallen prey to Skaggot. His life had been shaped by a chain of coincidences, and the only one among them that felt inevitable was meeting Joe.
3) 1st person narrative is written by Bertie Tucker in diary form. He’s a pretty rough character underneath, been at sea since he was seven, and not greatly educated, but he’s been asked to keep a diary. In this brief section, he’s trying on clothes with an Italian sailor called Mario. The style is completely different to a) give readers a rest and a smile, and b) bring them into the action, because 1st person is more direct.
I got me boots and trousers off, and was in my drawers going through the shirts when I found one I thought might fit him. So, I turned back to hand it over and he’s standing there naked as the day he was born. Or, more like, the day he was carved out of marble, because his body (darker skin than me) showed me every single muscle.
‘What you doing naked?’ I said, and should have looked away, but being me, I couldn’t resist a gander. Just a quick one, you understand, but enough for him to see what I were doing.
‘No underwear,’ he said. ‘Lost it in a bet.’
Bloody hell. This great big peg dangling about dark as you like, and a couple of buoys you could hitch a few lobster pots to and never lose them in a storm, and… I mean, where’s a man to look?
4) The descriptive, darker side of villains. When we switch to the baddies and what they are up to, I have, as I have done before, slipped into Tripp’s mind, but in some cases, as in the example below, I have become a general narrator as if I and the reader were floating around in the fetid atmosphere of the villain’s lair.
To Tripp’s left stood the letter table, a relic of a fortunate past once lived, where industrious staff had placed the box for posting, and the deliveries from cheerful men wishing Fareham’s household a good day. Now, it was nothing but another shape in the gloom, whose usefulness had faded like the writing on the envelopes that once might have waited there. What remained was an opener. A long, steel blade which, unlike Tripp, had meaning. It was within his reach, and it would do its work with speed, but it was not work Tripp could currently allow. No matter how vile his master, he needed the earl. Perhaps, once Clearwater was dead, so could the earl be, for Tripp had nothing to live for after his revenge was done.
5) Others, and so on. Other parts of the story are seen through the eyes of other characters, such as Frank Andino, and when he’s on stage as the MC, I am aware that he’s a blunt speaker. Not only is this reflected in the dialogue, but it’s also shown in the ‘black stuff’, the narration, as if we were in his mind.
The sauntering young Greek became a confident Englishman as Frank entered the foyer, hands out of pockets, guidebook under his arm. His hat doffed to the sleepy old lady behind the counter, he mounted the stairs with grace until the turn, and then bolted the rest of the way to their room. Two open suitcases, Jimmy’s spare jacket on a hanger, Frank’s trousers off the floor, two bottles from the table, one bloody boot? Where’s the other one, malaka…? Both in the case, case shut, other case shut, quick check. All there. Fuck off out of here.
How Many Voices Tell Your Story?
To bring this to a close, I repeat: How Many Voices Tell Your Story? I answer my own question by saying, as many as it takes, but be careful. Ensure your narration fits the main character as well as your characters’ dialogue suits them, and don’t be afraid to transport your reader from one place to another at the turn of a page. However, remember your overarching through-line, your character arcs and your plot.
Hey, this writing thing is meant to be fun, isn’t it?
Have a good weekend, Jackson