Sarah M. Cradit, author of “St Charles at Dusk”, wrote a very helpful post called Five tips to writing Multiple Points of View (POV). I am reading her first novel in the Series, “The House of Crimson and Clover”, now. She is quite adept at utilizing this literary device. In her use of the literary device in a style of writing, the literary voice and person perspective of the characters actually play a role in the POV.
I have thought a lot about this post and I wanted to let you know that my book, Red Clay and Roses, offers a little taste of this done in a slightly different style than what I am finding in Sarah’s work. This work was based on a compilation of true stories. Since my first few chapters are real life interviews, the narrator, Hannah Hamilton, has opportunity to explore a couple of characters by inquiring directly on their point of view. I used multiple points of view in a way that let’s the reader into the minds of two characters, Beatrice and Moses.
Beatrice, the Good Doctor’s wife, is in denial about her husband’s work and thinks the world of him. The Good Doctor plays a small but most significant role in the story, but knowing him through Beatrice is paramount to understanding the story line, and how his work affected her. Beatrice, who also has a less than significant role in the story of the romance between Sybil and Nathan, makes a major contribution to the story line by allowing us to come to understand her delusions and /or hallucinations.
Excerpt from Beatrice:
Mrs. Handley was a red-haired woman, though not much hair was left. Thin places were seen between tightly wound pin curls. She stooped so low that she had to turn her neck to look up at me. She was arthritic and twisted, with gnarled fingers. She had a broad smile with slightly bucked straight teeth, yellowed and trimmed in gold. She looked as if she had been a pretty woman in her prime, bright blue eyes and lean figure. Her step was spry. She wore a navy plaid dress with a white sweater sitting over her shoulders. There was a white full apron tied around her small waist. Her yellowed slip was hanging out from under her knee-length dress, and her shoes were flat with soft soles. There was something finished about her, yet askew.
She looked in Trudy’s direction, “Trudy’s not a real nurse, you know, she’s only a sitter. She just sits, and that’s all she does. Gets paid to sit, and to sleep. She has a night job, so she just sits and sleeps because my sons think I need a sitter…like a baby sitter, only worse because she sleeps. I could be dead back in the kitchen for hours and she wouldn’t know. Isn’t that right, Trudy, hum?”
Trudy said nothing, and pretended she hadn’t been addressed.
“Probably sleeps on her night job too,“ Mrs. Handley continued, as if Trudy wasn’t present, “You know you could offer our guest some tea, you could, but she won’t because all she does is sitting.”
“I’ll get it myself, of course I will, because you can’t get good help anymore, you just can’t,” she continued, as she made her way to the back of the house where the very large kitchen was located. I followed.
She put the kettle on to boil and proceeded to tell me all about the house. “The Good Doctor and I, we built this place, designed it and had it built just like we wanted it. That’s bamboo on the ceiling, came all the way from the Philippines. And these floors, this isn’t pine, you know, its mahogany. You can’t even get this anymore, all that rainforest preservation and such. We were one of the first couples in this area to build our house out of brick. I know everybody does it now, the newer homes, but nobody did it back then around here, no, just stick-built houses with clapboard walls or some artificial siding, back then. Yes, we bought the best red brick and these walls, no they aren’t stick built like today. Today, they throw up stick built walls and insulated siding and then slap the brick right over it. No, these walls are all poured concrete with steel reinforcement inside. I watched them put it up myself, we did. We were staying in the little house out back and I watched them build every inch of this house, and lay every brick. The Good Doctor, he had a colored boy move into that old place out back with his family. There’s nobody, but the spirits, living out there now, though. Do you believe in spirits?”
“Yes well, sort of, I don’t think I have really given it much thought but I do believe in a spiritual presence,” I said.
“Well, you should.”
The kettle had begun to boil and she set out three cups and saucers. She steadied her right hand with her left hand as she poured the hot water and set the saucers to steep the tea.
“What music is that playing on the stereo?” I asked.
“Oh that’s Freddie Hubbard’s album, ‘Red Clay’. I think Negros play the best music. They always have. I’ll turn it down a bit. Music is the best thing to keep bad angels away. I like the Big Bands too. I have a tremendous album collection, 45s, 33 1/3rds, goes way back to some 78s that my mother had. Tommie Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, I liked it ‘sweet’ and ‘hot’. Like Bean and Prez. We were swing dancers back in those days and man weren’t we good. I was a little bitty thing and whipped right over the backs of my beaus back then. You can’t see it now though, can you?” Her broad smile faded. She stepped into the den and went toward the living room to turn down the stereo.
Trudy stood up and stretched, and stacked some of the newspaper across the top of her head. “Well, Ms. Bea, since you have your own real nurse here today, I guess I’ll head on back to the house.”
Beatrice didn’t respond to her with words. She looked in my direction and said, “She’s supposed to stay until seven, but I put myself to bed.” She walked to the living room door and that’s when I saw all of the brass on the door. She opened the door wide and Trudy made her exit. Beatrice closed the door behind her and reached into her apron for a large ring of keys. She bolted three deadbolts and slid across three chains and one bar lock. “There,” she announced, “We’ll be safe enough in here now. I have to keep the fairy babies out, you know, they are everywhere when it rains. The rains spook them up out of the leaves in the woods and they come scratching at the windows and doors.”
“Fairy babies?” I asked. “Are they sprits too?”
“Oh yes, of a sort, much more annoying than most spirits, but they aren’t dangerous, just annoying. They do bite and sting when you swat at them. You hear their wings humming before you can see them, worse than mosquitoes, they are, and much bigger, too. They will buzz holes in the glass. That’s why the windows are boarded, yes, to keep the fairy babies out. When they bite, I can feel it right down to my bones, I can.”
Also, Moses Grier, who tells his family’s story and brings up the first climactic point later in the story, is interviewed at The Colored People’s Old Folk’s Home. Incorporating the interviews allowed me to get into the thought processes and voices of these two characters.
Probably the greatest challenge, aside from generally editing the book, was to speak in the voice of an old black man while remaining respectful and doing so with dignity. I did not want it to come across as some sort of Uncle Remus rendition of a character, but I did want it to be authentic to what I actually experienced with Moses. Editing his interviews was a challenge because spell and grammar checks simply don’t suffice when speaking grammatically incorrect on purpose. Every detail has to be inspected for consistency.
Here is an excerpt from one of the interviews of Moses as he tells of his family’s life:
They had always taken phone calls at the brick house of the Handley’s, and the sisters were aware that Eula Mae was keeping house for them. But Eula Mae had concocted some sort of story about Moses buying up pecan orchards and making money off of pecans, and how well off he was since he had made these investments. She had been telling these sisters how they owned lots of land all around for growing pecans and how they had built this big brick house.
“Now it was true, that we was surrounded by pecan groves, but me ner The Good Doctor owned none of them,” Moses went about explaining.
“Eula Mae come a runnin from the house one day late in June 1955, had to be, cause Nathan done got into medical school and Althea she was already gone, and Eula Mae says to me, ‘I done made a terrible error, Moses, they is a comin down on the train fer to see us.’ Well, I didn’t think it was all bad til Eula Mae went to tellin me all ‘bout her lies she’d been feedin her sisters and what was we a goin to be able to do ‘bout this?”
“What did you do?” I asked.
“Coincidentally,” he said, “the Handley’s was a goin to Florida fer two weeks vacation ‘long ‘bout that time. Them two boys what Eula Mae had raised had already gone off to boardin’ school, and The Good Doctor and his wife was a goin down to stay a while, like they was doin from time to time. Eula Mae done taken all they photographs off they walls after they left and hid’em out to our house and when her sisters come in on the train we picked’em up at the train station and brought’em out here like it was our own house, you know to the Handley’s place.”
“That’s funny, did you pull it off okay?” I questioned.
“Course we did, we was all up in they house, and Mama had set’em up a room each upstairs and was cookin like it was her own kitchen, cause really it was, you know, and they was a playin the piano and singin, and Ms. Bea had all these records of black folk music, cause she liked it, and they was just like they was in our own home. They was a eatin on the Handley’s plates with they silverware, and a usein they dishes like they belonged to us. That just weren’t done in them days. Black folk weren’t served with the same utensils as white folk. We didn’t even dine at the same tables nor in the same cafes. Early in June in 1954, we had all went up to Washington D.C. on the train to see Nathan graduate when he received his B.S. degree. Eula Mae, me, Althea, Ms. Bea and The Good Doctor, in separate cars, you know, blacks and whites. We had separate hotels even in different parts of the city,” he laughed.
While these two examples are different from Sarah’s use of multiple points of view as a literary device, they do demonstrate how a character’s point of view, even in dialog, can move the story along and give insight into how the character’s thinking and behavior affect the whole story line.