He Said, She Said

One of the first New Adult books I read was Courtney Milan’s amazing Trade Me. I’ve written about its amazingness elsewhere, but when I reread it recently I was surprised to find I had misremembered the beginning. Yes, there’s a great meet cute where Tina Chen rushes to class and is splashed with dirty water by a fancy car heading the same way. Guess what? That fancy car belongs to Blake Reynolds, a rich and good-looking classmate. They fight during class about privilege (his overabundance of it, her lack of it) and we’re off….

This opening efficiently sets up their attraction, their conflict, and later the situation of the title. It’s told in Tina’s point of view but I remembered Blake’s coming afterward. Except it didn’t. Chapter 2 begins with Blake at home, where his thoughts (about his future, NOT Tina) are interrupted by a phone call with his overbearing father. By the end of the chapter he thinks back to the scene with Tina too, but we never actually get it from his point of view. Instead Chapter 2 skips forward cinematically to a new setting and a new problem. The reader is left in some suspense about Blake’s reaction to the earlier scene.

This supports some writing advice I was given by an editor I’m working with on my new Extra Credit series, which is written in the alternating dual point of view now most associated with New Adult books. Why that writing structure works so well with that genre is a totally different (interesting) question (another day! another blog post!). But in commenting on the first two chapters in The Partnership my editor pointed out that I was repeating too much information, especially at the beginning of chapter 2. Rereading the whole book I realized that I often started a new chapter with a rehash of the previous events in the new POV. But even though the structure calls for two alternating points of view you don’t in fact need two points of view on the same events at all. That just slows down your narrative and bores the readers you want to entertain.

So yesterday I sat down and rewrote the second chapter of the book. The first chapter, narrated by the hero, showed the couple (Kyle and Lani) meeting in their first class together. It's a class for students on academic or disciplinary probation and we don't yet know why they are there, but we know they don't want to be. Instead of retelling that first class from Lani's point of view, the second chapter now moves forward to show her in a different situation and to set up problems that have nothing directly to do with Kyle. Of course, indirectly this leads her back to meeting Kyle and (hopefully) I set up how he will help her resolve these problems later in their story. It strikes me now that to have a persuasive romance (and a compelling book) both hero and heroine need “alone time.” To be fully formed characters they need to have lives and interests apart from each other as well as together. Like real-life romances. Duh! For my revision that meant more scenes when Kyle and Lani are apart and fewer scenes that re-play the same events from the other's vantage point.

There is a famous film constructed entirely of one narrative told from many different and competing points of view. It’s supposed to show that truth is never one single story and that all perspectives are really just interpretations with their own biases. It’s so famous that this method of storytelling is called The Rashomon Effect after Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film (you’ve also seen it in more recent popular films like Vantage Point or Gone Girl). But in New Adult romances the point of point of view is not necessarily to establish The Truth (or put it in doubt) but to establish the hero and heroine’s perceptions of each other. Readers don’t care “what really happened that night,” but rather how did Jack interpret what Jill said and what was Jill thinking when Jack did that….etc etc. Thus it often makes sense to switch perspectives in mid-scene (especially love scenes where the change in POV adds dramatic suspense to ends of chapters) but it rarely makes sense to actually recap scenes that already occurred.

 In case you want to see this in action here is the revised version of the first two chapters of The Partnership. The whole book is ready for prime time soon! Comments, feedback, thoughts always appreciated.