On February 15, 2015, Melissa Mead (formerly carpelibris on the old blog) wrote, I’m having trouble figuring out who the story I’m telling is really about. (Gail, it’s the version of “Sleeping Beauty” that I told you about at the book festival.) It’s not the title character. I thought it was the Eldest Fairy’s story, but then the Youngest Fairy started to come to the forefront. The usual “Who has the most to lose?” trick isn’t working, because there are different ways to “lose.”
Any suggestions for figuring out whose story this is?
Michelle Dyck responded with this: Whose story is the most interesting/exciting? (I guess that’s pretty similar to the “Who has the most to lose?” question.) Whose personality or voice grabs you the most?
Just a random thought: could you compromise and pick a few POV characters? Or do something like the movie HOODWINKED, in which the same story was told multiple times from multiple points of view, and each one fleshed out the tale a little more. That might be cumbersome in book form (or might be better suited to a series rather than a single book). But maybe that idea could be modified.
Melissa came back with: That’s the problem. It’s a tie!
This is just a short story, so I don’t think there’s room for the Hoodwinked treatment. (I did have fun trying to pick that movie apart, though!)
I had trouble choosing the POV in Fairest, and I tried out three–zhamM, Ijori, and an omniscient narrator–and wrote hundreds of pages I couldn’t use. Finally I figured out how I could write from the first-person POV of Aza, my Snow White character, even while she was out cold from the poisoned apple. The problem with zhamM and Ijori as narrators was that they weren’t present for a lot the story. The trouble I had with the omniscient voice was that I couldn’t resist dipping into the minds and hearts of everybody, and the story slowed to a slug’s pace.
But for those of us suffering from POV Uncertainty Syndrome (PUS!), an omniscient narrator may be the way to go. If we do, we can delve into the thoughts and feelings of those characters who particularly fascinate us, in Melissa’s case, the youngest and oldest fairies. Of course, we have to avoid my failing of getting too interested in everybody and losing control of our story.
Another advantage of trying an omniscient narrator is that it can be diagnostic; we may naturally find ourselves dwelling more on one character than the others, and, voila!, without tearing out a single strand of hair, we’ve discovered our POV character. We can switch then and there to that POV and clean up the omniscient voice when we revise. In Fairest, the omniscient narrator came right before I figured out that Aza should be my POV character, so it worked for me.
Similar to an omniscient POV is the POV of a character who is not our MC. We could choose the median fairy, for example, the one halfway between youngest and oldest, to tell the story. She wouldn’t be as impartial as an out-of-the-tale narrator or as partial as the oldest or youngest, because she’d be on the periphery of the action. A magnificent example of this kind of narrator is Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby (high school and up). And if you want to read prose that’s marvelous enough to cause heart palpitations, this is the book for you.
My idea with zhamM as narrator was to have him be in love with Aza and have it be a doomed love, because he’s a gnome and she’s human. But I didn’t know how to work him into all the scenes I needed. If I had decided to keep him as my POV character, I would have had to make the story belong to him, with many of the “Snow White” events happening in the background.
Mostly, I’ve gone with the obvious choice of MC: Cinderella; Snow White; in my Princess Tales with Sleeping Beauty, the “Princess on the Pea” princess, the “Golden Goose” lad, and so on. But I didn’t in A Tale of Two Castles, which is sort of a retelling of “Puss In Boots.” The miller’s son is a character, and there are many cats, but Elodie, my MC, and the dragon detective Meenore don’t exist in the original fairy tale. Since Aza, Meenore, and the ogre are at the center of my plot, I had to invent a new story arc and many scenes.
As I think about “Sleeping Beauty,” I notice how full of feeling the story is. Sleeping Beauty is an infant, but her parents experience horror when they first hear she’s going to die young. After the terrible gift is ameliorated, they still have to wrap their minds around the hundred-year sleep.
The oldest fairy is mired in rage. She may have other emotions as well, like loneliness, jealousy, and hurt for being left out. The youngest fairy may be frightened, because she’s going against an elder. She may be worried, too, that she’s going to mess up the spell. She could be ambitious, a meddler, a very kind soul.
When we choose our POV character, we can decide which feelings we want to explore from the inside out. This is like Michelle Dyck’s wondering about which character is the most interesting, in this case most interesting from an emotional standpoint.
We can ask which character is most like us and which is most different. Then we can decide if we want the security of the familiar or the risk of the unknown. (Both choices are fine.)
Here’s another metric we can use: Which character is most likely to be talky inside her head? A character who isn’t introspective may be more challenging than one who is. Do we want that challenge?
Also, one of them, may lie to herself about herself. If we’re in her mind, we have to see past her self-deception. Do we want to always be on our guard?
We can try one way and then another. As I’ve said many times, writing isn’t efficient. Wasted pages are a small price to pay for the right POV.
I’ve never written from the POV of a non-human. Regardless of which POV is chosen, it’s fun to consider how a fairy might think. She has to think in words or we can’t write her, but can we introduce an element or two into her thought process that will reflect her alien-ness?
When Melissa Mead first posted her question, I wrote a note to myself that I still think is worth thinking about, and it was that maybe this should be a novel as Michelle Dyck suggested and not a short story. It’s possible that the idea is too complex for short story treatment. Or not.
Here are four prompts:
∙ Write a scene from “Sleeping Beauty” in the voice of an omniscient narrator. Delve into the thoughts and feelings of everybody, even the baby.
∙ Write the story of “Aladdin” from the POV of the genie of the lamp.
∙ Using “Aladdin” as backdrop, tell the story of the genie and his imprisonment in the lamp. This means moving away from the original fairy tale and creating something new.
∙ Write the thoughts of any one of the “Sleeping Beauty” fairies when she first sees the baby princess. Give the thoughts an inhuman quality. Do this one way, then another, and another.
∙ Try “Sleeping Beauty” from the POV of a minor fairy, who has opinions but is more observer than actor in the story. You can make her a busybody, so she insinuates herself into all the major moments.
Have fun, and save what you write!