Before we move on to Chapter two, here is a longer “note to self” that I dropped in with no intention of sharing it with anyone. I normally think in long, convoluted sentences and my first drafts – depending on the day and my mood – sometimes become quite dense. I spend a lot of time chopping the weeds out of my sentences so that only the grass remains.
In this brief piece, I have only cleaned things up enough to tone down the worst of the confusion.
The tone and tenor of this story will depend in part on how old Matthew is when he tells the story. If it is told as if we were looking over his shoulder as he experiences it – as it mostly is now – then it will have a callowness and lack of depth due to his immaturity. If he is looking back from age 20ish, as if he were narrating at the age he is in the prolog, it will have greater maturity. It will now have a greater sense of the depth of time, but will lose some immediacy. If he is telling the story to his grandchildren at age 70ish, he will have to explain some things to them which will be beneficial to the modern young reader, and will take away some of the stiffness and the feeling of dialect in the voices of the slaves.
He might, for example, say, “Bonnie, I know no one says Massah anymore. That’s cause there aren’t any slaves any more. It sounds funny? No there was nothing funny about it.”
This could smack of Conrad’s “Ah, youth. Pass the bottle.” but despite that it is still legitimate form of storytelling and it gives that distancing effect, that storytelling effect, that allows the author to comment on old mores, which is something the narrator can’t normally do.
If the Conrad reference is unfamiliar to you, Joseph Conrad’s story Youth is told in flashbacks by a narrator during a drinking bout some years after the events it describes. The narrator’s calls of “Ah, youth!” and “Pass the bottle!” become tedious and eventually laughable. Don’t let that scare you off, though; it is a minor flaw on a fine story.
Something I did not discuss in the “note to self” is person. Voices has to be first person; it is about Matt’s internal struggles, and no other form would work.
I normally prefer third person for its flexibility, and because it allows me to comment on the protagonist. The only other first person novel I’ve done is Raven’s Run. If I had made it third person, it would have an entirely different tone, less reflective and more hard edged. I like it like it is, but in third person it might be easier to sell.
My first real novel, Jandrax, was written in first person. It didn’t work, so I rewrote the whole thing into third person and Ballantine snatched it up. I did cheat a little. I managed to leave two chapters in first person, one as a narrated flashback, and the other presented with the feel of a folk tale.