Victoria has recently published her debut novel, The Queen's Secret, set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Brimming with colourful characters and courtly intrigues, The Queen's Secret is a must have read for any fan of historical fiction.
Victoria tells us about writing in multiple viewpoints, often necessary to convey historical fiction in the most dramatic way. So without further ado, let's hear it from her...
Victoria Lamb on Writing Multiple Viewpoints
When writing my debut historical, The Queen's Secret, I decided early on that the plot was too complex to be carried by one narrative voice alone. First person narrative is excellent for increased intimacy, and I did consider it. But I didn't want to get into that dubious territory of having multiple first person narrators, identified by italics or their name at the head of each chapter or section. I've always found that highly confusing to read. So I chose to write instead in the third person - he or she, accordingly - and to put in a chapter break whenever voices changed, with readers able to tell who was narrating within the first few lines of a chapter.
Blocking out the plot is a major issue when dealing with a complex novel told through multiple viewpoints. I find I can't just launch into that kind of book, but need to plot out each character's highs and lows on a board or graph. This helps me to plan out the book, but more importantly to check where each plot point or character arc intersects with the others. It's vital to make sure all threads pull together at some point, preferably just after the end of the second third. This increases the reading pace and heats up the story's temperature.
With straight historicals, where some if not all events are based on tight timings, this pulling together of plot threads can become a logistics nightmare. At a screenwriting conference last year, I asked Robert McKee, the well-known Hollywood story doctor, how to keep a plot tight when your story was based on true events - some of which might not conform to film structure requirements! He advised me to work a little writerly sleight-of-hand, that is to massage the true events so that they would fit the structure. Cheating, yes. But unfortunately necessary if you don't want a story that bores the reader and never reaches a classic denouement.
Writing multiple viewpoints can become tricky, especially if one or more of your characters does something unpleasant or downright nasty. As the writer, you have to identify with your narrative voice at all times. In The Queen's Secret, Lettice Knollys has an adulterous affair with the Queen's favourite, Robert Dudley, and often behaves in ways I found difficult to present sympathetically. But as a narrative voice within my story, her viewpoint and motivations had to be respected as much as Queen Elizabeth's or those of my heroine, Lucy Morgan. So I tried to think myself into Lettice's head, as an unhappily married woman looking for love at a court where she was constantly under her royal cousin's authority, and not become too judgemental about her morals.
One way I found of writing multiple viewpoints was to find each voice's 'rhythm' and slip back into it when required. My heroine Lucy Morgan is a young black entertainer in her first year at court, and her voice is light and sweet, though often anxious too, as she struggles to find a place for herself in a hostile world. Queen Elizabeth's voice was more staccato in its rhythms: by turns weary, cynical, passionate, angry, this is a woman who has seen it all and who wields immense power - though not over her favourite's heart, it seems. Lettice, as I have said, is a beautiful but manipulative woman, so her voice is quite a superficial one, looking mainly at surfaces and not what lies beneath. And my final narrative viewpoint, that of Master Goodluck, a theatrical spy and Lucy's guardian, is probably the richest of all voices in the novel. He is a natural observer, and so his voice becomes a moral axis around which these other stories revolve. His narrative rhythms are the most complex and considered, constantly weighing everything to find its worth and meaning. All together, these different viewpoints weave a complex multi-strand story which needs to be seen from many different angles.
Some of these narrative voices will continue in the sequel to The Queen's Secret, which is due out in early 2013. But that's another story!
Victoria Lamb's debut historical The Queen's Secret is published by Bantam Press, £12.99, and is set during Queen Elizabeth I's spectacular visit to Kenilworth Castle in July 1575.