Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I hear many things around the tinterwebs. I know Roni, who is often my blog post muse these days, is experimenting with a different kind of story structure. And torrid affair Carrie mentioned that she's interested in gaining knowledge on how to write a kick ass sex scene, just in casers. It got me thinking. While I do think I've grown as a writer in the past few years, most visibly in my current story, (and I vivaciously defy you to disagree; Nemesis need not supply commentary on that), I also think I stick to a relatively predictable formula. Likely this is because getting that formula right is a pain in the chorus and verse (=erse = arse). But I still wonder when I'll be ready to experiment and play a bit.

I'm pretty sure that super smarty pants people have no problems with this, but I'm only smart enough to realize how much I don't know. When I read twist-o-flex stories that contain plot twists you never saw coming, or awesome, mind-bending tricks that make my head spin, then I know I'm reading the fruits of a genius brain. It's one of the reasons I cannot write mystery: I simply can't solve the mystery.

In women's fiction, there tends to be a pat formula: woman has problem + meets guy / loses guy and must confront issue = gets guy and solves problem. Add in a dash of shoes if it's traditional urban chick lit, if you must. There's nothing wrong with this formula, but it gets way old after a while. I need a little somethin'somethin' to make it stand out for me. That is why I particularly like my BFF Marian Keyes' books -- because she adds in "real issues" like drug addiction, depression, and domestic abuse.

So I began to think about the ways in which one might experiment with story:

Multiple POVS
Multiple POVs are probably the most often used alternate construct. This is hard. I've never tried it because it's hard. Having several people tell the story means making sure several plot threads stay connected, get solved, and are well-developed. Frankly, I'm not ready for that, but God knows I love a challenge, so one of the stories cooking in my head involves multiple POVs.

Time travel or time split
Dividing the story arc between two times, either by time travel or by past and present, isn't easy. Your times must eventually mesh, and doing that elegantly will be trick-ay.

Unconventional POVs
This is where you write from the point of view of a cat, or someone in heaven looking down, or someone in hell looking up, or a moose with a brain tumor or something.

Alternate formats
Novels written in e-mails, tweets, text speak, memos, or other non-traditional formats. The problem with this is that once it's been done once, it really doesn't need to be done again. I don't think I've seen a novel written in semaphores. I might do that.

Themes with a Higher Cause
This is tricky. Ian McEwan's new novel Solar purports to tackle climate problems. Apparently, the main character tries to get a solar farm in New Mexico going, even though that would not happen because New Mexico's state renewable portfolio standards (RPS) are not that great for solar, and also the lower population in the state do not currently make solar very viable there despite the excess of sun and heat. #justsayin. Where was I? Oh yes, novels might have characters and plot lines and arcs and all the rest, but its real purpose is to caution or preach.

Have you experimented with any of these? How has it worked? Can you add to this list?


Julie Dao said...

Okay you just gave me like a dozen story ideas with this post. YOU are officially my latest blog muse! Hmmm, any that I have experimented with... well, I'm doing the past/present thing as you know and struggling from time to time. Also the multiple POVs, which is every bit as hard as you say. But the unconventional POV sounds interesting, I've never written an entire story with this theme before and that might be good to get out of the comfort zone.

Travener said...

I have a hard enough time writing a complete and coherent novel as it is without experimentin'.

Cynthia Reese said...

I've tried a few of these, and you're right ... they're trick-ay, indeed!

Natalie Murphy said...

My first story had 2 timelines, and though it was difficult, I loved writing it.

I ALWAYS write with more than one POV (generally hero and heroine, since I write romance). It's become such habit that I find I dont like to read books with just one POV.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Julie -- I think you're already doing a great job of experimenting!

Trav - when will we ever get to see a glimpse of your work??

Cynthia - :) That's the challenge and the fun though I guess!

Natalie -- interesting about the multiple POVs. So if you had to write a novel with only one POV, I wonder if you would find that challenging?

Natalie Murphy said...

Hmm, maybe. I think the biggest potential issue I would have is boredom.

CKHB said...

One of my crit partners writes mystery. I am in awe, and have no idea how she does it.

I'm working on a multiple POV short story now, and my novel doesn't preach but I think it has a BIG THEME.

Jm Diaz said...

My - recently put to rest - wip is written from two POV's (1st, and 3rd omni). It was challenging to maintain the distinct voices, while also keeping the mystery (for the later twist) alive and fresh. I think it worked in mine, though i've been told i'm biased. could always use another opinion *cough*.

The next one *might* be 3rd seep, but the narrator might change as generations of family change. We'll see... I think experimenting is half the the fun of writing... I wrote a short from the point of view of a zippo lighter. That did not work.

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

Thanks for linking to me. As you know I'm experimenting with the dual timeline thing. The challenge is fun, but I'm halfway convinced I'm insane to try it. I keep considering cutting out one of the the lines (past or present) but then when I read through, I'm like, I heart BOTH of them (not my writing per se, but the story arcs). *sigh* We'll see.

As for the multiple POVs, that's a must in romance, so I'm used to that. And I have to say I lurve writing the male POV. It's so much fun because it's such a change from the female brain.

Great post, as usual. :)

Lola Sharp said...

Duel timelines I've mastered, but multiple POVs...I can't go there yet. *squack* (that's my chicken noise)

Another great post.

Amber Tidd Murphy said...

I like the idea of dual timelines, especially since I'm so compelled to start with a prologue from Laurel's adult POV and then head straight back into her childhood in chapter one. Maybe chapter two should hop back into adult Laurel's life. (Might this also count as dual POV?)


Amber Tidd Murphy said...


that was a good eekspice.

Meredith Rae Morgan said...

I wrote one story from four distinct POV's. Same story narrated by four different characters. I love it! So far nobody else has, but it was a learning experience.

Now, I'm working on a mystery. I love to read mysteries. Might as well try to write one.

There's just too much fun to be had with all this experimenting!

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