Saturday, February 20, 2016

Persons of Interest: First and Multiple

 DISCLOSURE:  Your favorite approach for narrating a novel is the multiple point of view, where the dramatic information is variously presented or challenged by more than one narrator. This was not an approach you discovered from your own use of it, rather through reading the works of others, probably starting with your discovery of Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone. 

Multiple point of view was later called to your attention in more recent times by the quintessential commercial writer, Day Keene, from whom you learned so much about writing, including the thing Keene could do so brilliantly and you could not do at all. 

This was the matter of plotting. Keene and Leonard Tourney, another writer you've known and even co-hosted writing workshops with, seem to be able to wake up in the morning with,  a fresh plot in mind, the energy and discipline to see the plot through to completion.Them but by no means you.

This reminds you of a story you heard about the lyric giant of the tenor saxophone, John Coltrane, when he was a part of the Miles Davis Quintet. Coltrane complained to Davis about not knowing how to end his solos, which tended to border on epic constructions. "Simple," Davis said. "Take the saxophone out of your mouth." 

Whenever Day Keen spoke, he seemed gruff, but most of the time was not. In poker games, for instance, when the game was draw poker and most players said to the dealer, "One card," or "I'll take two," Keene would turn it into a question. "Are you going to give me two cards?" If he had a particularly good hand, he might even say, "How'd you like to give me two cards?"

"Multiple point of view will get you over the can't-fucking-plot problem, all right. When you have a group of characters, each of whom believes he [or she] is right, you've got a plot on the way. All you have to do is have them argue their way into it."

Another writer from the Florida Mafia, whom you read but never met, was John D. McDonald. Before he found his way into his legendary Travis McGee series, which was told entirely by one character, in first-person narrative, McDonald wrote many of his paperback original thrillers using the multiple narrator filter. 

"Here," Day Keen said, before the poker game began one week, tossing you a copy of McDonald's latest, called The Damned."Everything you need to know is there. A bunch of people want the same thing, recognize there are others who want it, but don't trust them."

Keene was also the reason you began writing a novel a month,thinking there were perhaps other such secrets to be had from the simple notion of picking a set of characters who went after something, found the going tough, and in their frustration, began throwing rocks at one another.

At the time you were engaged in this sort of activity, you were discovering a number of estimable first-person narratives, not surprisingly developing a fondness for the novels of Raymond Chandler. The more of him you read, the more you became aware of that singularly resonant quality shared by most of the writers you admired. That quality is best seen as voice, the narrative tone or, better still, the personality of the story and the individuals within it. Thus settled in on voice, you were able to go back in time, so to speak, therein to read a writer you'd managed to avoid throughout your time at the university.

Henry James had, in addition to being admired by the sorts of individuals you longingly hoped for as readers, a tone you found irritating in the extreme, yet could not set aside as unworthy of your time.  This was because his narrative observations and some of the discourse among his characters seemed so true of individuals you'd have no means of observing if not for the social life James led and for the social lives he presented on his pages. 

You rationalized your way into a deeper connection with James and some of his work by thinking of his novels as multiple point of view, including the authorial presence of Henry James. Your approach to Aldous Huxley was similar, although you'd begun an independent study of Huxley as an antidote to the Age of courses, as in The Age of Pope and Dryden, The Age of Milton, The Age of Hawthorne and Melville. By the time you'd gone through a number of Huxley novels, many of which were given the multiple point of view narrative filter, you'd become impatient with his voice to the point of parodying it in a midterm examination, which won you the admiration of the instructor's reader and then, the instructor.

In your self-designed mufti of your present state of enlightenment, you like to challenge your students with the questions, "Who's telling your story? and Why?"  There has to be a dramatic reason, which is to say a reason directly related to story,for all the important elements. No reason, no admittance to the auditorium. Go back to The Damned, reread, and see if you can figure out the answer.

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