I’m extremely pleased to welcome acclaimed and often controversial children’s author, Melvin Burgess, to the blog today with an interesting post on how he used multiple points of view within his award winning novel, Junk.
Here’s what he has to say on the subject:-
Junk was originally conceived, and written as a single voice POV – Gemma’s. The book was written, accepted by Andersen Press and on its way to be published, when they sent it out to a reader who came back with the remark – “Gemma. That voice, going on and on and on!’
As sometimes happens with criticism, that hit a chord at once and I decided to change it. If it wasn’t for that reader, the book as we know it would never have been written.
Even when the book was in a single voice, the idea was to show different people with different attitudes to drugs. Gemma just wanted a good time, Tar was trying to escape, Vonnie used soft drugs sensibly, Lily was going hell for leather all the way, Skolly was totally against it, etc. I decided to extend that so that each character presented their view directly to the reader, even trying to convince them of it. That’s how the whole polyphony thing came about.
But you’ll note that I had the whole story there to start with. Using multiple voices is a great technique – it allows you a real three dimensional view of the action, a degree of relativity difficult to achieve by any other means, and the shifting viewpoint creates a lot of interest – but it is hard to hold together. It takes much longer to write such a book. Each chapter in each voice needs to be a little like a short story as well as a chapter in a novel, and each character who has a voice has to have a journey of their own, of some kind or other. Knowing what the story is is a big help. Either that, or you have to do more re-writes getting there.
To keep things clear, I decided at the start to use the two main characters’ voices, Gemma and Tar, to narrate when things were in the same state. By state I don’t mean stasis, I mean, when an aspect of the story was still under way – for instance when Tar is still in his home town. I then used the minor characters, such as Skolly, Richard and Vonnie, for when things changed – as when Tar has moved, is trying to find a new way of life in Bristol and Skolly narrates meeting him. That helped me give a structure to it, although, as the novel progressed and I got into my stride, I no longer worried about that. It would be interesting to go over it again and see if that form stayed even after I’d stopped worrying about it. Maybe I’ll do that one day.
About the Author
Melvin Burgess is regarded as one of the best writers in contemporary children’s literature. In 1997, his controversial bestseller Junk won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award and the Carnegie Medal. It was also shortlisted for the 1998 Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year. Four of his novels have been shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. Melvin lives in Hebden Bridge with his partner.
In his latest novel, Kill All Enemies, Billie, Rob and Chris each have a story to tell. But there are two sides to every story, and the question is . . . who do you believe?
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