“A thrilling, imaginative soul quencher. Crowder’s stunning debut is sure to become a modern classic.” —Rita Williams-Garcia, Newbery Honor-winning author of One Crazy Summer
“The direct powerful prose in this first novel dramatizes the exciting contemporary survival story. . . . Fans of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet (1987) will want this.” —Booklist
I'm so pleased to have author Melanie Crowder on the blog today to talk about character development in a novel with multiple points of view.
Melanie lives in Colorado and writes both middle grade and young adult fiction. I was lucky enough to attend the book launch for her debut novel PARCHED (published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) earlier this year, and have been dying to interview Melanie ever since. I will be giving away a copy of PARCHED to one lucky person who leaves a comment on this interview.
Here's a summary of her gorgeous book:
Sarel is a girl with secrets. She knows which tree roots reach down deep to pools of precious water. But now she must learn how to keep herself and her dogs alive. Nandi is the leader of those dogs. She knows they can’t last long without water—and she knows, too, that a boy is coming; a boy with the water song inside him.
Musa is that boy. His talent for finding water got him kidnapped by brutal men, yet he’s escaped, running away across the thirsty land that nearly claims his life. And so Sarel, Musa, and the dogs come together in what might be their last hope of survival.
On with the interview!
How did you come up with your characters for PARCHED and tap into their unique voices and perspectives?
Sarel came to me first, in an image, and Nandi was right beside her from the beginning. I had the clearest picture of Nandi, so hers was the easiest character to write. Dogs perceive the world with immediacy, in a highly sensory way, so of course Nandi’s voice would have those qualities. With Sarel, I felt like I understood her from the very beginning, so I find it interesting that hers was actually the hardest point of view for me to write.
To me, Sarel’s chapters were always humming with emotional resonance, but my writing partners helped me to see that the reader wasn’t necessarily feeling the same emotional impact I was. It took many revisions to get Sarel’s emotions on the page in a way that the reader could connect with, but that also satisfied my own need to be true to the trauma and emotional shock she was experiencing.
Musa came later. I had felt for a long time that there was a third piece to this puzzle, and once I found him, thankfully, his chapters flowed naturally.
PARCHED is told with three distinct points-of-view. How is character development (and overall writing, for that matter) challenged by having multiple POVs?
Well, it requires an attentive reader, for sure, to keep track of whose chapter they are in.
And then, each character needs a satisfying arc of his or her own, complete with emotional growth, tangible purpose and resolution of some kind at the end. The key is finding a way in which every character’s journey hinges on the others. I don’t want to give too much away, but in this story, every one of these characters absolutely needs the other two, not only just to survive, but to find a way, in the end, to really live.
Your novel is deliberate in its use of sparse and carefully-chosen language. Was this approach ever a concern for you in terms of making sure your characters were fully developed and three-dimensional?
Oh, it was such a balancing act! But the setting and premise demanded spare prose, so the challenge became bringing about poignancy and emotional connection between the reader and the characters. It was so hard, but I am really proud of the result!
Sarel, Musa and Nandi are wonderful characters, each one with their own personal challenges. How did you balance their individual voices/stories?
Am I sounding like a broken record yet? Emotion was the driving force for me. Because of the spare prose, I needed to use every single imaginable opportunity to show emotion and character in a way that didn’t feel intrusive or inorganic to the style of the novel. So I used chapters from one character to reveal something about another. So when you weigh the needs of plot, pacing, perspective and revealing character, the balance fell neatly into place.
Okay, let’s talk dogs. While I can name plenty of MG novels featuring dogs, there aren't too many where the dog is given a perspective. Both the opening and closing chapters are in Nandi’s point-of-view. What led you to give an animal a more intimate role in PARCHED?
Sarel’s story broke my heart. I could not write her journey without giving her Nandi as a protector. In my mind, Nandi is all things wise and fierce and strong. At the same time, two truths confronted me as I was writing the story: first, that in order for the reader to connect with Sarel and to understand her situation, I had to begin the story with the Tandie raid on the homestead, and second, I could not show that scene through Sarel’s eyes. She, and the reader needed distance from that traumatic event.
So the natural choice was for Nandi to show that scene, and once I had given the reader a peek in to her mind, I couldn’t stop at just one chapter.
What final advice on character development would you give writers who are drafting novels with multiple points of view?
Make sure that each POV character has his or her own emotional journey. One way to do this is to physically pull the draft apart—to separate it into three stories and to read each character’s chapters as its own draft. There will be gaps in the narrative, and since you will have revealed things about the POV character in other chapters, there will also be gaps in that character’s internal journey. However, it will give you a sense of character evolution and consistency in voice.
Finally, look for ways in which each character affects the others so that their interactions and the ultimate resolution have a sense of inevitability about them. Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo is a great example of this—I won’t say any more at the risk of spoiling a wonderful read for you all, but if you haven’t already, read it with an eye to how each character’s presence in the story affects change in the others.
A huge thanks to Melanie for coming on the blog! Her next book, AUDACITY, is a historical YA novel-in-verse (coming from Philomel in early 2015). For a chance to win a copy of PARCHED, simply leave a comment for Melanie! I will count any comment between now and Thursday, December 19th. The winner will be notified by email on Friday, December 20th.
UPDATE: The winner, picked by Random.org, is
UPDATE: The winner, picked by Random.org, is
~MELANIE CROWDER'S LINKS~