My thesis from grad school was a work I was proud of…until I pulled it out a year afterwards and began reading it. At that point, I felt a strong desire to send my degree back, tuck my tail, and crawl under my bed. How could a story I had bled for and remembered so fondly be so horribly bad? How was it possible after two years spent with incredible professors (who were professional writers) and talented student writers that my work remained so bad?
Okay, so I’m a bit hard on myself. My own worst critic and all that. I decided to go back to all the feedback the novel received in the program; the good, the bad, and the ugly. What I found was the things we found that weren’t working, we fixed. Some of the feedback was the kind I blew off as not good for my story. Then, there was the positive comments. That was where the revelation awaited me.
We’ve all heard how important point of view is. I’ve talked about it relentlessly here. But this time I’m not talking about do I use first person or third limited or omniscient. Now, I’m talking about who is really meant to tell this story. That was the epiphany for me. The reason The Drought of Sam Dakota still didn’t work for me was because Sam was telling the story and as odd as it sounds, it just isn’t his story.
The novel, it turns out, is noir, a genre I’ve read a lot of over the years but never dreamed I’d write. Sam’s story was just born from that and his character was the first one, after all the entire plot revolves around him; his missing son, his career as a child advocate, his corrupt father-in-law.
However, at some point a minor character took over Sam’s story. It’s not the first time I’ve had a character change the trajectory of a story so; but this is the first time, I’ve been so slow to recognize it. The story is technically about Sam, but Rami, the private detective he hires, is now the one telling it.
And suddenly like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat, the secret is unveiled.
Point of view.
Have you ever had a minor character take over your story? Have you ever had to completely change your POV because the characters reminded you that they are the ones in charge? Tell me what you did.