Revising the Novel: The Comfort of 1st Person

I have written about 170 pages of the 4th revision of my novel and put about 3 years of work into the project as a whole. If I had to guess, I’d say that about 40-50 pages need to be written to get to the conclusion of the book. My aspiration is to get that done by the first week of May, when the manuscript is due to an editor I’ve hired. But in my naivete, I failed to understand the amount of time wedding prep would take (and Mom is doing most of it!). That, plus travel, scattered my mind more than I prefer.

All this being said, I was able to make five small additions to the novel last week that I hope make it through to the final version. While I’ve been writing in limited 3rd person point of view for every single chapter–sometimes focused on the American soldier Nathan, other times focused on the Afghan characters Aaseya or Rahim–this hasn’t come easily to me. Much of Flashes of War is, in fact, 1st person and involves only momentary scenes or clips of narrative. The exhaustive focus and exhale of a 3rd person novel length is humbling. 

The additions came in the form of a peripheral character named Shanaz. She’s an old Afghan woman who has made a dire mistake. She’s devout, stubborn, uneducated, and speaks her mind. I’ve known this about her all along, though she only appeared for one chapter in the early drafts of the book. She is mentione–without appearing–about 4 times, though, because Aaseya has to walk past Shanaz’s house en route to the bazaar. In my new rendering of this woman, each time Aaseya walks past, Shanaz sees her and shouts something or glares. This provides a much more realistic rendering of Shanaz later, in the chapter where she fully appears as the focus of the action.

I thought about the changes I had made and knew I was heading the right direction, but something hadn’t fully clicked. I still felt I needed to build up to Shanaz’s chapter somehow, and I had some backstory about her that could increase tension in the novel, but Aaseya wasn’t aware of it so I didn’t know to include it without a point of view violation.

How to get that information into the story?

1st person flashes, of course! Thanks to author and friend Abigail DeWitt, who I meet with monthly to trade chapters and talk shop, the backstory came out through conversation. As I spoke to Abigail at length, I realized how fully I knew Shanaz and her story–separate from the main thread of the novel–but confessed I didn’t see any way to include it. Abigail suggested 1st person and my heart leapt at the thought. 1st person writing, fiction or nonfiction, is a “home place” for me. It flows more readily than any other point of view. Once I put my mind to it, I wrote five separate 1st person flashes in Shanaz’s voice and positioned them between chapters of the novel to increase tension and slowly reveal a side story that will hopefully add a layer of meaning and entertainment for readers.

Now, back to the final chapters…onward, toward May!

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