While editing the manuscript for Hidden Duchess, I’ve made the conscious decision to change a couple of chapters from one character’s perspective to another. Today, I’m explaining why I would go to all that trouble – and why writers should be looking at their stories from different angles, to give their readers the very best experience they can.
In my case, I wrote almost the entire story from Celeste’s perspective (she’s the Duchess from the title, and the heroine), then at the end, added in some from Marcel (who is the hero). It felt a little unbalanced to me, as if poor old Marcel didn’t actually find his voice until the very end. So I’ve looked back over the chapters, and looked for situations where the emotional impact on Marcel was the same level as Celeste, or where the impact on Marcel would be greater, or where it would make sense for Marcel to have something to say on the events that are occurring.
For example, there are a couple of chapters where Louise, Marcel’s sister, suffers a debilitating influenza. This is the second time she has been afflicted, the first time around, both of their parents died. In the late 18th century in provincial France, there was no such thing as a flu jab, and since the countryside was in poverty, and people were already less than robust, death from influenza was all too common.
Originally, I wrote the chapters from Celeste’s perspective. She has become close to Louise, who thinks of her as a sister. So she is devastated by the possibility of losing Louise.
But imagine the impact this event is going to have on Marcel. He is reliving the very worst moments of his life. Moments when he watched his beloved parents die, was suddenly shouldered with the responsibility for his family farm and the welfare of his little sister, who he very nearly also lost. He had no choice but to plough through his grief and bewilderment, staying strong for the sake of Louise, having to tell her their parents are gone, waiting to see if she survives the illness or succumbs. If she dies, he is left alone.
Now, he’s forced to live through it again.
So, while Celeste is affected, the emotional impact on Marcel is so much greater. I can’t imagine why I didn’t write the chapter from his perspective in the first place.
Writers who meticulously plot out their books before writing may find deciding which perspective to write in easier, as they are making that kind of decision prior to the actual writing. Those who scribble it down as it comes to mind, being surprised by new events that pop out of their pen, and having no clue which direction the story will head in next – they would do well to look at the story afterwards, and see if they can draw more impact from something if it is written from a different characters perspective.
It’s relatively easy to decide what to change to the new perspective. The difficulty is wrenching yourself out of one person’s head and trying to crawl into another.
Things that Celeste might notice are significantly different to those that Marcel notices. For example, Celeste is impressed by the way the community comes together to help them get through. She’s never seen it before, and it’s amazing to her. Marcel, on the other hand, wouldn’t comment on this. It’s been ‘the way it’s always been done’ throughout his entire life. Everyone helps each other. It’s the done thing. Nothing to see here. Move along.
These chapters can’t be edited. They need to be rewritten. Sigh. But the book will be so much better for doing it.
This book has been in the making for twenty years. I have the original manuscript that I typed up on my trusty electric typewriter, with my maiden name inscribed on the cover page. I haven’t used my maiden name in eighteen years, and I started the story years before that.
I’m three quarters of the way through editing and rewriting, and I can’t wait to share my Hidden Duchess with you! It’s a completely different story from when I first wrote it – the original idea is still the same, but I’m not sure anything of the original inscribing has survived. Probably a good thing, too. Especially the changes in perspective.