Saturday, May 09, 2015

Never Look Down

Our guest this week is Warren Easley who recently became the Blog Master for Poisoned Pen Press:

Warren grew up on the west coast and was educated in the UC system, where he majored in chemistry and minored in “wave mechanics and surfboard hydrodynamics.” His love affair with the mystery genre started with Ian Fleming’s James Bond gems when he was in graduate school at Berkeley. After receiving a Ph.D. he pursued a career in R&D and international business, including a stint in Geneva, Switzerland, where he learned he had no facility for foreign languages and was often accused of preferring skiing to work.

A closet poet most of his life, Warren started writing fiction 12 years ago, and currently writes for Poisoned Pen Press. Never Look Down, the third book in the Cal Claxton Oregon mystery series appears this September.

When I started writing the Cal Claxton mystery series, I had this vague notion of my protagonist, a burned out ex-prosecutor from L.A. who had moved to the Oregon wine country to start a one-man law practice in the aftermath of his wife’s suicide. I began writing the first book (a book that rests in a drawer, never to see the light of day) in first-person POV, as we say in the biz. This means the story is being told directly by Cal, so he refers to himself as “I” in the book. I did this, to be honest, without giving it much thought since I was a writing novice.

Little did I realize that I had just made a very significant decision.

As I began to tell Cal’s story in that first book, I could simply place myself in his head and “see” the story unfold from his point of view.  This was great for helping me bond with my protagonist.  As I began to see him more clearly, it was as if his thoughts and feelings emanated from him rather than me.  What would Cal do in this situation?  What would he say to this person?  After a while, I didn’t have to think about those questions as much.  I just knew.  First-person POV gave me that intimacy. 

But, wait.  I quickly learned that there’s a price to pay for this intimacy.  Since I’m telling the story strictly from Cal’s point of view, the plot can only advance through what he directly sees and does.  For a mystery with a complex plot and lots of twists and turns, this can be a daunting limitation.  Had I chosen to tell the story using a narrator who knows all and sees all (called an Omniscient Narrator) I could roam around the story and tell it from multiple points of view.  Such flexibility!  Such power being omniscient!  It was tempting, to say the least.

I began writing my first published book, Matters of Doubt, in first person POV.  After slugging through about twenty chapters and wondering if I could pull it off, I began rewriting what I had using an omniscient narrator.  Sure enough, it was easier to move about the story, which involved a couple of murders and a bunch of unruly, headstrong characters, all vying to take charge.  If I needed the reader to know about an important clue, I could simply have the narrator reveal it.  No problemo.

It was around chapter 12 of the rewrite when I had the epiphany.  I remember that moment well.  I stopped in mid-sentence, pushed myself away from the keyboard, and said out loud, “I’m not doing this!” 

 Sure, it was easier to tell the story, which was important for a writer like me, who finds it difficult if not impossible to outline.  Sure, I could plant clues and see a few more chapters ahead.  But, I had lost that intimacy with my protagonist, Cal Claxton.  It was as if he had become simply one of many players in the story.  I didn’t want this.  I wanted the story to be his story, and I wanted the reader to experience it through his eyes and nobody else’s.

 The beauty of writing, of course, is that, aside from grammar, there really aren’t any rules.  Some writers, probably most, use an omniscient narrator to tell their tale.  I’ll stick to first-person, thank you. 

 Warren C. Easley is the author of the Cal Claxton Oregon Mysteries, Matters of Doubt, Dead Float, and coming in September,  Never Look Down.


Charlotte Hinger said...

I've written in both first and third person. My mystery series is in first person and it just seemed more natural.

Like you, I'm not an outliner.

Eileen Goudge said...

I love that. "There are no rules." Just the one: tell a good story." Well said, and sounds like you're in your groove.