Tag Archives: First Person

Novel Girls: Consistency, Emotions, and Showing

3 Apr

Even though we’re missing Sonia more than we can take, the Novel Girls are venturing onward. We met last Thursday after almost a month apart and it was so good to see these girls again. We met at Nicole‘s new apartment for a change of scenery and to meet her cutie cat, even though he didn’t seem to like me very much.

The three things we decided to talk about are all running together in my mind, so I’ll try to separate them as best I can. We read the last section of my novel (yay!) and there was one thing that really bothered Katherine. My female protagonist is a pretty head strong character and an independent thinker but in the last two pages, someone says something about her that makes her seem very weak. I hadn’t noticed it until Katherine pointed it out and I’ll need to rework a few things to fix it. We talked about when there are one or two lines in a story that can completely change someone’s opinion of the character and how strong/weak they are. I made a similar comment about Nicole’s scene, in which her intelligent and sophisticated character was attacked and didn’t do much to defend herself. Nicole explained why this happened to us, but we needed to see it in the text because not everyone eats pizza with the author.

This is the joy of beta readers. They can see the lines (like in mine) that change their opinion of a character and they can find points (like in Nicole’s) where a character’s motivation needs to be clarified. Many times, motivations can be explained through the emotions a character is feeling. If a character is scared, he or she is more likely to act defensively instead of aggressively. When the author is able to show the emotion of a character, it’s less likely that their motivations will need to be explained and the reader will be able to sympathize more no matter what because they are inside the character’s head. I’ll tend to recommend this if there are long passages of dialogue that don’t have much as far as tags or time to delve emotionally into the character.

Our last point is almost opposite to this advice and it’s getting out of a character’s head a little bit. In a first person point of view, it’s tempting for the narrator to remain slightly anonymous and undefined. Unless the character is looking in a mirror, why would they describe themselves physically? This can be frustrating for the reader, who wants to be able to picture the person whose head he’s inside. Katherine’s narrator went through a strange change to her physical appearance and it was hard at times for us to picture what she looked like as the story progressed. Sometimes it is good to get out of the head of the narrator so the reader can get a whole picture.

This is a little shorter than some of my other Novel Girls posts, but I think we discussed some really important points. I’m curious how my next re-write will go now that I have all of the things we’ve talked about in my mind. I hope to come out with a better product because of it.

Until next time, write on.

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Book Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

17 Sep

I’m flying through books, trying to meet my Reading Challenge goal of 70 books this year!  I’m currently at 51, 2% ahead of schedule.  This one was an audiobook and not my favorite one at that.  Read on for a review, but be forewarned of spoilers!

The Paris Wife by Paul McLain

I love historical fiction and I love the 1920s so The Paris Wife seemed like an obvious choice.  It was a recommendation of of my book calendar (I’m telling you, that thing is killing me slowly).  McLain’s story is about Hadley Richardson, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway.  If you’re not familiar with Hemingway’s personal life, he is considered to be something like the jock of the writing world.  He was a womanizer who love big game hunting and bullfighting.  I love his no-frills writing and that he writs about Michigan, something I hold dear to my heart.

Hadley doesn’t think much of herself as she reaches her late twenties and has been turned down by the one man she loved.  When she meets a young man named Ernest Hemingway, she’s swept off her feet, despite the warnings of her good friends.  The two marry and soon enough are off to Paris to pursue the writing scene that Ernest feels he has to involve himself in to be the writer he wants to be.  The life in Paris is like nothing Hadley’s ever experienced before.  There are homosexuals, polygamists and of course more alcohol than she knows what to do with.  They begin a wild life and parties, vacations, friends, and love.

As I’ve already discussed with my friends on Facebook, this book seemed to fall flat to me.  Hadley was not a very likeable protagonist from the beginning and never grew on me.  She was foolish in a lot of her daily decisions and seemed overall weak.  What was most memorable to me was the picture painted of Hemingway.  He started off very likable, but when his first stories got good reviews, he stepped on the people who helped give him a shot.  He was unappreciative of all he was given, including Hadley’s love.

I know that some of my frustrations with Hadley come from a difference of almost 100 years, such as her letting the maid raise her child and the focus on wealth and the desire to be so rich that life is a game.  It’s hard for me to relate to this.  I try to focus on the main themes of the novel: devotion, love, and the complications of friendships.

Hadley’s love for Hemingway is undying, as she admits late in the book.  He can offend her good friends, his own mother, even herself, and Hadley will love him and stay devoted to him.  She lets this take control of her toward the end and it’s somewhat sad to see her fall apart.  Throughout much of the novel the two are so strong that when they tell friends that they’re splitting, many are in complete shock that such a solid couple could stumble.  The ups and downs of the friendships in the novel are a very curious thing.  I can’t think of a single character that remained friends with the Hemingways for the whole novel (though I wish F. Scott Fitzgerald had, he was a great character!).  Friends come into your life for a season and a reason before they leave.

The reader can probably tell I wasn’t a big fan of the book and wouldn’t recommend it.  I had The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin next on my list, but in light of this book, I’m going to take a break and put that on the backburner.  I will say that I really want to read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises now that I’ve finished The Paris Wife.  If it’s the mix of bare boned prose and bull fighting that I’m anticipating, it will be amazing.

One of the themes that McLain beautifully explored was infidelity, which I’ve never seen done so believably before.  Many books will have one character turned suddenly cold or hateful, but McLain has Hadley and Ernest ride out their separation slowly and painfully, the way a couple would.  The ending was very touching and for sure my favorite part of the book.

Overall, I thought it dragged too much in the middle and the ending went by almost too quickly.  The Fitzgeralds were my favorite characters and I loved the historical accuracy of the piece.  The Lost Generation is so often talked of in terms of their writing and not written about so this was refreshing.

Writer’s Takeaways: I think the first person point of view worked well in this case.  Without it, the piece would sound too much like a history without the fiction.  Being inside Hadley’s mind helped me feel that this was as much a story McLain made up on the spot as it was well-researched.  As someone who hopes to write more historical fiction going forward, this is very worthy of note.  As I said before, I think it dragged a bit in the middle and there could have been a bit more ‘fat cutting’ to bring the piece to more bare bones as Hemingway would have done.  But perhaps not doing so is ironic.  Hm.

Two out of five stars.