I turned in The Midwife’s Confession, my May 2011 book, about a month ago and then waited a few weeks to hear what my editor thought about it. That’s always a nerve-wracking time. A writer’s career is full of waiting to hear what other people think — agents, editors, reviewers, and most importantly, readers.
I finally heard from my editor, and although she loved the book, she had some ideas. She always does, and they’re invariably good ones. Her idea regarding TMC was particularly good. The midwife, Noelle, is central to the story, of course, but she remains quite a mystery to the reader because she is not a point of view character. My editor’s suggestion (suggestion being an under-exaggeration of her feelings on the subject!) was to give Noelle more of a presence in the story. That should be easy, right? Just add one more point of view? Well, it would be easy if only Noelle didn’t kill herself in the first scene.
So I’ve been spending some time trying to figure out how to give Noelle more of a presence. I thought about the fourth book I wrote, Keeper of the Light*, in which Annie O’Neill dies in chapter one yet is undeniably the central character of the story. She had no point of view, but I made sure the reader knew her very well through the eyes of the other characters. Maybe I could make Noelle more central to the story through the eyes of others as I did with Annie? That wasn’t good enough for my editor, though. She really wanted Noelle’s voice in the story.
Then I thought about Kate in Secret Lives**. Kate is also dead in the beginning of the book, but she becomes a central character through her journal. Could I give Noelle a diary, perhaps? While it worked beautifully in Kate’s case, I thought it would have felt too contrived in Noelle’s.
Finally, I bit the bullet and did the only thing possible: I’m giving Noelle a point of view through her own chapters as I–and the reader–dig back into her past. As her creator, I knew her intriguing past and what led up to her confession, but now the reader will get to be intrigued along with me. As I write, I can’t believe I didn’t think of giving Noelle a more powerful presence myself. Sometimes we’re too close to our stories to see what’s obvious. This is what a good editor is all about.
So now, it’s back to the storyboard (inspired in its current three act form above by my writing bud, Alexandra Sokoloff.) Changing a novel always reminds me of my days as a family therapist. When you change one part of the family system, it changes everything else. It’s no different with a story. To make room for Noelle’s voice, I first needed to cut some other threads and subplots. If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time, you might remember there were four Galloway Girls in The Midwife’s Confession–four women who lived together in the Galloway Dormitory at UNC-Wilmington. Well, now there are only two. I’m still in the process of killing the extraneous two off (figuratively speaking). Frankly, they were not serving nearly as good a purpose as Noelle’s story is going to serve. Yet it always hurts a little to cut off the heads of people you’ve nurtured and gotten to know, even if they are getting in the way.
At the same time as I’m ditching those subplots, I’m developing Noelle’s backstory. She’s in third person because I need to make some concession to the fact that she’s dead. I’m enjoying getting to know her even better. I’ve always liked her and now I like her more. Of course, she’s going to do something not very likeable eventually. Will I be able to keep the sympathy flowing for her? I can’t wait to find out!
* Keeper of the Light will be reissued in 2011
** Secret Lives is now available as an e-book for Kindle and all other e-readers.