Tag Archives: Ben Carrick

In the First Person

Many of you already know from the sample chapters provided on this site that my novel is told in first person. In fact, other than the prologue, the novel alternates between four points of view: Kylie Baines, Ben Carrick, Colette Baptiste, and Matt Tracy. I chose to tell the story this way because while the characters’ fates are intertwined and rich in history, they all drift in their own particular orbits. I needed four narrators to move the plot along as well. And I hope with this last edit that I’ve sharpened each narrative voice so that it’s entertaining for the reader, not distracting.

They all bring different qualities to the table. Kylie is leading a double life and the story revolves around her family, romantic relationships, etc. It’s completely neccessary that the reader see her perspective. Ben is more lighthearted and tells anecdotes about the friends in high school. Kylie would never tell an anecdote for sheer amusement but Ben seems genuinely interested in getting the group back together (like the good ole days) and therefore he easily dips into an idealized, slightly romanticized past. Colette, as Kylie’s cousin and the daughter of kingpin Denis Baptiste, is essential to the plot. She provides insights into the Baptiste family and fills in some of Kylie’s background (the time after high school but before the start of the novel). But Colette is spoiled rotten so she has none of Kylie’s seriousness.

And then there’s Matt Tracy. He was the last narrator I wrote into the story. I did so at the behest of a writer’s group I attended with C.K. when we lived in Santa Monica. Perhaps because Matt was the last narrative voice to take shape or perhaps because adding him was not my idea, he’s been the most difficult narrator for me. With the other three characters, I hear them in my head easily. Sometimes it takes a few hours to get a dialogue down and then several more to tighten it up but I always know what Kylie’s, Colette’s, and Ben’s take on the situation is going to be. Kylie will feel the gravity of the scene intensely and over-analyze her own part in it. Colette will dismiss anything that would require emotional maturity then feel guilty for doing so, all while cracking jokes about the other characters. Ben will feel the scene more acutely than Colette but he really doesn’t have much at stake. He’s happily engaged and about to start his Masters program. But Matt is a strong, silent type. It’s challenging to give a voice to someone who would prefer not to chime in.

I say all this because three of the full manuscript requests came back as “thanks but no thanks.” Actually, I shouldn’t make it sound so cavalier. The agents took the time to give some great feedback that extended beyond “it just didn’t fire me up to sell it.” One of the main critiques is about the narration. One agent said that towards the end of the book, my narrators seem fashioned from the same cloth. It’s a fair critique and I worked hard these past few weeks to rectify it. I think I owe this agent a thank you. I believe I have a more polished book now. But another agent said that she didn’t like the first person narrators switching all the time. She wanted to invest in one person and hear the whole thing from his/her point of view.

 

All this got me wondering: should I have written this book in the omniscient third person? Or even limited third person and used Kylie’s POV?

Personally, I like first-person narration. It’s one distinct voice. I don’t have to like the narrator or want to talk to him/her. But I’m more excited to read the book if I do sympathize with the narrator. I also enjoy the changing perspectives. The Help and Gone Girl are good examples. For the former, I loved all three narrators. For the latter, I’m only a few chapters in but I don’t like anyone yet. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like the story so far.

Third person narration is fine but in my reading experience, the author needs to chose one character to focus on. Furthermore, the limited third person often clumsily dips into other character’s minds. Even the goddess of novel writing, Jane Austen, does this. I taught Pride and Prejudice several times at high school level and reread it each time. In the beginning of the novel, when I’m supposed to dislike Darcy along with everyone else in Meryton, I get glimpses of his feelings for Elizabeth and I feel a little cheated of the big reveal.

 

But I digress. I’m really writing this to find out what other readers think.

Do you like first-person narration or third? And why? 

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The Third Chapter…Meet Ben Carrick

Here’s my favorite guy! Ben Carrick! I love this narrator. I think I created someone that I’d want to be friends with. He’s getting married to my love interest Matt’s sister. And he’s known everyone since high school. So he likes to tell stories.Incidentally, he’s my sister’s favorite too.

Chapter 3

Diet Coke, Anyone?

(BEN)

“Man, this elevator takes so damn long.” Taylor whined. This kid was always whining about something. Ever since high school. We had been waiting on the fifth floor of Darcy Hall for all of three minutes.

“You think that went well?” I said. I was preoccupied about the meeting I just had with the head of CSU’s English department. I really wanted to get into their MFA program for fiction writing.

“Ben, I think you’ll get in. Your dad’s Desmond Carrick. I’m surprised there isn’t a building named after him here. They should use some of that dinero to get new elevators.” Taylor laughed then he had some kind of epiphany, “Ben! Do you know who goes here? I just figured it out.”

“Who?”

“Man, where is this elevator? We could have taken the stairs like ten times.”

“Dude–FOCUS. Who?”

“Kylie Baines. Kylie Baines.” Taylor hit me in the arm then pushed the elevator button a few more times. “Kylie Bah—.”

“That won’t make it get here any faster.” After Taylor mentioned Kylie, his antics irritated me more than usual. This guy needed to calm down. Holy shit. She did go to CSU. One of my best friends and I didn’t even remember where she went to college. Well, best friends once upon a time.

I met Kylie back in high school—around the same time I met my fiancé. We went to school on Long Island. Not the same school though. I went to Chancellor High. All boys filled with raging hormones and no girls to interact with, no girls to help make us men. Mostly male teachers—assholes. Too tough on us if you ask me.

It was definitely one of those schools that you hated and resented while you were there, but when you left, it was a different story.  I proudly wear my class ring now. In fact, I got a great deal on a new Benz CLK just last week because of it.

The elevator door finally opened. Taylor jumped in and started pressing “Close Door” before I could even move.

“Yo, can I drive back?”

“Taylor, I got the car yesterday.”

“So? Help a guy out, Ben. Come on. My dad gets me a fucking pre-owned Lexus and you get a brand new Mercedes…for what?” The elevator stopped a few floors down to let some more people on, and Taylor’s shouting trailed off into a tense whisper, “For quitting school in England and coming here?”

“My dad probably paid the same amount for my Benz as your dad paid for your Lexus, or at least close.”

“Yeah, right.”

He didn’t believe me. In fact I’m not sure how much the car was. But Dad said he got a deal and I have Chancellor freaking High School to thank for it. I was lurking around one of the nicer cars in the Mercedes Benz showroom with my dad when the salesman eyed the Chancellor’s crest on the ring and asked what year I graduated. Turns out, he had a son that just graduated and a son that was going into his sophomore year.

We got to talking and he said how he loved the school because it was so disciplined and blah blah blah. He said he wished he lived on Long Island when he was growing up because he knew that his parents would have sent him to Chancellor and blah blah blah. Of course, Brooklyn had some good schools. He went to a great school. Had I heard of it? It’s getting closed down. Shame. So many good Catholic schools getting closed down. What a damn shame.

But, all my bullshitting with this salesman (and my class ring) paid off and soon enough I was getting a pretty sweet deal. I was thinking of maybe getting the car in navy blue. I always see CLKs in white or silver. The salesman looked at me and patted me on the back. He gave me that look of solidarity—that type of ethnic / religious / similar background solidarity (whatever you want to call it). I always find these looks amusing because I’m not a Catholic. I just went to the best all-boys school on Long Island. Chancellor just happened to be a Catholic school.

Let me clarify. My mother is Jewish and my father is Catholic. That explains my name. Benjamin Carrick.  I was brought up kind of Jewish with some Catholic thrown in. My mom tried to get us to follow all the Jewish traditions, but she gave up. Not that she was totally broken up about it. No one could ever accuse Mara Carrick of being a devout Jew. I just think that neither she nor my dad wanted to bend on the religion thing. Yet, I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mom go to temple by herself or my dad go to mass (you know, other than Christmas or Easter).  My dad is one of those “microwave” Catholics. You know what I mean.

Still, I get gifts on Christmas and Hanukah, so that means I get the best of both worlds, right? I definitely like the Catholic holidays better—anyone who has sat through a Seder at my grandmother’s house would probably feel the same.  I really don’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God though. Seems like he was a cool enough guy to make me want to celebrate his birthday. I don’t know. So, I don’t think about it.

Okay, now I’m getting tangential—as Siobhan would say. That’s a good word. Tangential. “Use it three times and it’s yours!” I can hear her voice in my head right now. My fiancé is trying to help me increase my vocabulary so I subscribe to this website that sends me a new word every day. Today was “juggernaut” (by the way, when the hell would you use juggernaut?) The day before yesterday was “tangential.” I don’t even remember yesterday’s word.

“Dude, I swear if you go to school here, you should plan an extra hour just for the elevator to make sure you get to class on time.” Taylor broke in again. He kept lifting his heels, popping up and down.

“And you care that I get to class on time?”

The elevator doors opened on the first floor. I had just forgotten that Kylie Baines goes to school here too and there she was. When I saw her, I was stunned for a moment. A little scared even. But then I remembered it wasn’t me she hated. And it wasn’t Taylor either. I was pretty happy just then that my fiance’s brother Matt wasn’t standing with us. That would have been awkward. What do you say to someone who used to be one of your best friends? Especially with the way Matt broke things off.

Immediately I thought of the first time I met Kylie. We were at a dance my freshmen year of high school at Chancellor. My friends were the biggest dorks. I remember my tie had Sylvester and Tweety on it. We were required to wear khakis or suit pants, loafers, and a man-tailored shirt to all school functions. But to the dances, we didn’t have to wear the school tie or any tie for that matter. My mom insisted that I wear one though. She hated the way man-tailored shirts looked without a tie. So, I insisted that the tie be my Looney Tunes one—an even trade I think.

I was pretty nervous. I mean, I had met Siobhan before but she looked incredible that night. And Kylie looked great too. Kylie always looked older than all of us. She could have passed for a junior or a senior. And we were all dorky freshmen. When I started realizing that I would have to talk to these girls, I got all sweaty. I definitely remember thinking how the night probably would have been better if I sat home and played video games with my younger brother Adam.

Kylie and Siobhan spent most of the night hanging out with Bret Dillon. Bret was a freshman like us but he was built like he was in college. So my chances of getting with Siobhan were crappy.

The one time I did get to talk to Siobhan all I could muster up the confidence to say was, “Too bad they don’t have Diet Coke, right?” We were standing at a card table covered with a plastic tablecloth and Dixie cups full of sodas. I can’t believe that’s the most suave thing I could think of to say.

“Too bad they don’t have Diet Coke, right?”

“Yeah, too bad.” Siobhan made a face at Kylie like, Oh don’t mind my brother’s idiot friend, Ben  He’s slightly retarded. Then she looked back at me like, When are you going away? After a pause, she just said “Yeah, I guess I’ll have to drink full-calorie soda tonight.” Then she went over to another group of kids.

What was she supposed to say to that? Furthermore, what was I suggesting? All girls obviously drink Diet Coke? Clearly, she would want Diet Coke because she needs to lose a few (which she didn’t). Even today, Siobhan is one of the skinniest girls I know. I swear if my fiancé turns sideways, she might disappear.

“You drink Diet Coke too?,” Kylie smiled, willing to chat for a moment with the kid in the Looney Tunes tie.

“Yeah, it’s all my mom ever buys. I never really had Coke so now when I have to drink it, it just tastes too sweet. I think my mom put it in my bottle as a baby” I’m embarrassed right now as I retell this. What an ass I was. But Kylie played along. She totally saved me.

“Me too. That’s so funny. My mom never buys anything but Crystal Light and Diet Coke. You know…other than milk and orange juice and stuff.”

Was her mother a rich Jewish woman who only wears track suits and spends most of her day doing aerobics videos? I couldn’t tell at that point. The conversation didn’t go much further.

Siobhan came back over to rescue her friend. “So are you having fun, Ben?” Siobhan asked. Maybe after Kylie and I talked, she was more comfortable. Or she just realized she wouldn’t look uncool if she was polite to me.

“Uh, well, I guess,” I rolled my eyes. I totally blew it.  I tried to feign indifference about the situation, the dance, the lack of Diet Coke, her, but she caught on. Siobhan walked away, back to the herd of OLV girls.

“Okay, so maybe I’ll see you later. Good luck with the soda, Ben.” Kylie looked back at Siobhan then smiled back at me.

I had nothing. I wanted to step back about three minutes and rethink that roll of the eyes. I learned that night that pretending not to be interested in someone you really are interested in never works out. When you like someone, you have to just go for it.

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Revisions, Resumed

I started revising again. It feels good to get back in the groove. It’s amazing how far I’ve come (over 100,000 words and a completed story) and yet daunting because I have so far to go. The novel is in no way ready to be shopped around yet. I have some excellent connections but I don’t want to use them if it’s not ready.

Here’s what I’m playing with: no more 3rd person narrator and adding other narrators (namely adding Kylie’s love interest Matt and Kylie’s cousin Colette). That way I can just label all the chapters and hopefully they will blend into each other more seamlessly. Right now I’ve got Kylie, Ben and 3rd P. Kylie is the main character so hearing from her is important. Her decisions and what happens to her are the crux of my story. Ben is my strongest narrator–he’s funny, tangential, very Holden Caufield (sp?). His role in the main plot is rather secondary (a supporting actor if you will) but he gives a lot of background information.

If I added Matt, he would have to be much different than Ben. I think his voice would be straight-forward and a little brooding. I think his language would be more economical (the way he tends to communicate in the story). But, we can’t know too much of what’s going on in his mind because that’s half the fun of the plot–not knowing whether he and Kylie will get back together.

If I added Colette, she’d be female version of Ben. However, she’d provide details about Kylie’s life as Styles Baptiste, an employee of her infamous uncle.

Back to work…

This has nothing to do with my novel — RIP Roxy (my aunt’s awesome bulldogs whose farts smelled like aluminum foil).

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RE-visiting

I started the actual second draft of North Shore South Shore last night. Well, let me clarify that: the first three chapters are in their third or fourth drafts because I’ve edited, added, moved around stuff for writer’s group or as per writer’s group suggestions.

Last night, I changed two major things. First, I fixed Ben’s first anecdote about Kylie and made more mention of Matt. After all, Kylie is just friends with Ben–that’s it. I can’t be building to something that won’t happen. Ben is such an appealing character that if the reader would root for him to be with Kylie. That’s fixed…I think. Second, I combined two chapters so that the scene where  my character meet at the elevator in CSU is one block. I had it divided but I think it’s better this way. I’ve been building to this scene for long enough. Plus, it’s the scene that incites the rest of the plot. The trial, Ben’s anecdotes, Kylie’s life as “Styles Baptiste”–they’re all spicy side-plots.

I feel good that I got to work on it again. Finally.

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Workshop Time

I got some great feedback at the Writer’s Group tonight. It’s a group of awesome people that work at Mahalo. We get together every Tuesday and read each other’s work. They’ve been reading North Shore South Shore since I joined the group in the fall of 2007.

Here’s what I learned about my work:

I need to give my “hero” Matt a bigger presence earlier in the book.

I need to cut back on my narrator Ben’s “love” of Kylie. He’s in love with Matt’s twin sister and I need to keep that at the forefront.

I need to get to the big conversation at the elevator sooner. It’s my narrative hook. It’s starts the real action so it should come sooner.

I’m making progress though.

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