Sunday, February 7, 2010

Day 22 - Thoughts on Genre and Point of View

I seem to have hit a reassessment point on the novel, and I've decided that all of my troubles have to do with genre. I hadn't really figured out what the genre is. (I have now - Mystery Suspense.) Knowing that, I've now pulled a lot of things into focus, but I spent most of the day in a writer's stupor, and haven't written anything into the manuscript. So in lieu of words, here are some thoughts on genre and point of view:

There are a lot of sub-genres in the mystery/crime category. And many of them overlap with mainstream and romance, and all sorts of other bookstore categories. There is an audience cluster, I think, in the area I call "light adventure", though that is not a recognized genre, and it contains portions of many genres, and the flavor and style hits the same notes.

So everything I write is humorous (but not an out and out comedy), and has elements of romance (but the plot doesn't revolve around romance), and adventure (but not manly-adventure - just people getting themselves into predicaments that may involve guns, horses, chase scenes, and disguises). The plots are almost always driven by a mystery, which at least narrows it down. Even if mystery has a million sub-genres of its own.

When you've got a clear genre choice, voice is easier. The hard-boiled, for instance, is traditionally a narrated form, because a part of the definition of the genre is that the hero is a professional - a detective, a cop, a reporter, a fixer. They are all people for whom reporting is a part of the job. They are good at a narrative, and remember important details, and they maintain enough detachment to keep telling the story even in the emotionally tough parts.

That's why it was a no-brainer to make Mick and Casey a first person narrated series. Even though the series itself is silly and cozy, and a western, the form is really hard-boiled. Mick and Casey are professionals (more or less).

For the non-professional character, first person is usually (but not always) best used in a confessional mode. Those are stories of an extraordinary circumstance - whether a Noir antihero confessing his crime on death row, or the heroine of a romantic thriller who tells how she survived the terrifying (and unique) event of her life.

Once in a while you will find an amateur sleuth who just happens to be a great story teller, and who gets in a lot of trouble in her lifetime, so she can tell a series of great stories the same way a professional can. But usually an amateur's story is best told in third person, because amateurs are more likely to live in the moment, and don't have much cause to relate them fully later on.

The heroine of my current book, Karla, is certainly one of those. Oh, she is thoughtful, but she's not the sort of person to give organized testimony. She is intuitive, and has a tendency to jump around, and would give you much more information than you could ever want.

George, on the other hand, may be a professional, but he's not that kind of professional. He's the kind where you tell him you need to retrieve the secret launch codes, and he'll disappear and then reappear later, with a bloody nose, mussed up hair and wearing diving flippers, and just hand you the codes without a word. He will tell you what he thinks you need to know, but that isn't necessarily what you want to know. (There's a reason his career as a Mountie didn't last very long.) If you want to know what he actually did and thought, you need to use psychic surveillance - i.e. Third Person.

So that's why I went for third person on this book. I knew better than to try first. There are still a lot of choices even in third person, and I'll continue the discussion of point of view next time.


Paula RC said...

I think that's the hardest thing about writing is to know what category your book sit snugly in and what view point to write from, once you've cracked that you find the book writes itself.

Kathy McIntosh said...

Sounds like we have something in common. I wrote a few novels in first person but changed to multiple third person in the most recent because it was a comic crime caper, a la (I wish and hope!) Carl Hiaasen.
And, although I started thinking I'd write straight, serious mysteries, the humor seeps out like cheap dye in warm water.

The Daring Novelist said...

Oh, I love that image!

Yes, humor does tend to stain, doesn't it?