Ten: Quick Confusion


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Disclosure: I’ve yet to finish the book, but wanted to make a quick point.

Gretchen McNeil‘s young adult mystery/thriller Ten is a retelling of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (which was adapted for the stage and screen, sometimes under the title Ten Little Indians). Ten teenagers attend a party on an isolated island only to be murdered. Since I’ve been desiring YA mysteries and enjoyed Christie’s book as a young teen, it sounded interesting. Mainly, it  has been, however I had to overcome an initial, unfortunate hiccup.

Ten begins:

Minnie’s face was deathly pale. She stared straight ahead, eyes fixed on the back of the stained cloth seat, and bit her bottom lip so hard that Meg was afraid she would draw blood. She’d never seen Minnie this seasick.

“Mins, are you okay?”

Minnie dug her fingernails into the seat cushion. “I’m fine.”

“You’re turning green.”

The ferry rolled to the left as a particularly large swell hit them from starboard and Minnie clamped both hands over her mouth. For one tenuous moment, Meg was convinced her best friend was going to hurl right there in the passenger cabin, but as the boat slowly righted itself, Minnie relaxed.

(Nook App, iPad mini, pg 6)

There is a simple and a complicated issue with McNeil’s beginning. Basically, the identities of the two characters are too easily confused.  Since this is the introduction to the novel and the characters, there is very little to differentiate Minnie/Mins and Meg. The reader doesn’t yet know the characters’ personalities or backgrounds. So, one of the reasons for the character confusion is the fact that their names start with the same letter. Upon first reading, it is easy to be perplexed by what is happening to whom. Unclear action and uncertain characters is the main reason a reader is pulled out of the story.

Further, the more complex issue is that McNeil’s close third person is imperfect. Again, this issue is especially detrimental at the beginning of a novel. It’s necessary for a reader to know who is narrating, so they understand the perception. Narrative perception defines the story’s tone. Farther into Ten, Meg is distinguished as the narrator. However, in the above paragraphs, there are two instances where the narrative slips into Minnie’s perspective.

“She [Minnie] stared straight ahead, eyes fixed on the back of the stained cloth seat…” is one such slip. The reader is seeing through Minnie’s eyes, not the narrator, Meg’s. Specifically, “eyes fixed on the back of the stained cloth seat” is only something Minnie would know, and thus a confusion of narrative. In close third person, the narrator is not privy to other character’s point of view. The second hiccup is “but as the boat slowly righted itself, Minnie relaxed.” How can Meg know Minnie’s emotions? She can’t. Meg could see Minnie’s shoulders drop, or breath deeply, or any number of physical actions illustrating relaxation.

The start of a novel is difficult to write. Most of the time it is revised multiple times in each draft. Potentially beginnings are the most important part of novels. They need to be engaging immediately or, at the very least, not confuse the reader.

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