What Hamlet fan fic taught me about Point of View

What Hamlet fan fic taught me about Point of View

If you bothered to read the title of that post (which I sometimes don’t), you’ll probably be wondering what on earth Hamlet fan fiction has got to do with point of view (POV for short)—or even anything at all. Hell, you’re probably wondering if it exists.

Well, yes, it does. I read some yesterday, and then, because I was procrastinating, I wrote some, too. After finally gaining an account on Archive of Our Own, a fan fic website requiring an ‘invite’ to join, I put out a request for fic prompts on Tumblr and somebody left me an anonymous request, asking if I’d rewrite the end of Hamlet so that Horatio takes Hamlet’s place and dies in his arms (because they’re totes in love).

I probably should have been either doing homework or working on my NaNo novel—the only reason I’m writing this post instead of working on it now is because I managed to email the wrong file to myself and don’t have it with me during my free period, which is irritating beyond belief—but I decided instead to make my first forays into fan fiction.

And it was Shakespeare. Sums me up, really, doesn’t it?

First things first, though. Was I going to write it in play format?

Well, no. I like to be introspective, I like to see my characters’ thoughts and describe their actions, and I don’t write plays. So, it was going to be ordinary prose, if a little more dialogue based than usual.

Was I going to write it in Shakespearean English?

My initial thought was no way. As I began writing, I realised I could use much of the original dialogue, paraphrasing some bits to make them more natural and easier to understand, and I kept the style as formal and old-fashioned as I could. It sounded passably Shakespearean. At times, a little less dense, but that was all for the good.

And then the big question: whose head would I be in? Would it be first or third person? What was I to do?

This is a question I ask myself a lot when I’m writing, especially when starting a new project. My long-suffering novel Watching is written in first person switching, so every chapter I had to answer that question: who do I want as a narrator right now? Who is best to tell this story?

I knew that Horatio was going to die, since I was switching the storyline from Hamlet’s death to his. Therefore, he couldn’t be my narrator, at least in first person. Perhaps in third I could have managed it, but I didn’t like the idea.

Hamlet was the obvious choice. I actually started working on it in first person, but I didn’t like it. Despite having studied his every thought for five acts, until I could quote his soliloquies at ease, I didn’t like the idea of trying to write his thoughts. I don’t know what it was, but something put me off that.

Third person was looking like the best bet.

But even when I write in first person, I’m introspective and we see a lot about the characters’ thoughts. Between dialogue, we’ve got little passages in italics showing that they’re really thinking, the things they aren’t saying. That didn’t change, when I was writing this particular piece, though it’s completely different from what I usually write (i.e. original fiction, quite often fantasy of some flavour).

I had to take pieces of dialogue that were Hamlet’s and give them to Horatio, and take phrases from Horatio’s mouth and give them for Hamlet. Yet it wasn’t quite that simple—Hamlet’s pretty long winded, while Horatio just tends to state things and let his friend do all the work. So I also had to make that piece of information sound like them.

And that’s the most important thing about point of view, and voice. If you write in 1st person switching and you decide that you need to change who narrates a chapter, it’s not as simple as switching all the pronouns/names. Sometimes you’re obliged to rewrite the entire thing because one character describes everything, while another only focuses on the people present. Or one continually looks for exits while the other appreciates the beauty of their surroundings.

People think and talk in different ways, so you’re going to have to write in different ways.

(Oh, and the pronouns thing? It’s important. I’ve had chapters where I rewrote them and forgot to change a pronoun or two, and it sounded like two of my characters were kissing each other when they weren’t, and that’s the reason I now ship those two characters… which is really awkward… and should never have happened. Um.)

Before you start, therefore, you need to know whose voice it will be.

Feel like reading said piece of Hamlet fan fic? You can find it here, in all its unedited glory. (Warning: I also ship Hamlet and Horatio, so while it is all completely clean and innocent enough to read in public, if you get offended by Shakespearean characters being in love when it’s not canon, don’t read it.)

19 thoughts on “What Hamlet fan fic taught me about Point of View

      1. That sounds like my kind of play! *should be writing right now but doesn’t really feel like it*

        And actually, that makes me feel more relieved about my NaNovel. I have a big battle planned and it’ll probably take a lot of words and I should start writing it soon… unless I have people die really quickly. >:D

        1. Ehehe, when it doubt, kill them quickly. You can always go back and add more. And remember, 50k is only a minimum. You can keep going after that–into December etc–until the story is finished.

  1. Could you possibly email the fanfic to me as a document? I really really want to read it but the school internet is being horrible, as you know.

    As for this thing about voice, well, that’s a pain whatever you’re writing, and I think you’ve hashed out exactly why up there. Different characters pay attention to different things and phrase and react to those things differently, so working out what’s best for your story is a nightmare if you’ve got lots of options. Or even if you don’t. Certainly my biggest issue anyway, unless I create a character with their narrative in mind from the off, heh heh.

    Fab post!

  2. Very well done, My dear, very well done!

    *grins* And I know who you shipped… and I know how hard it is to cange 1st person PoVs, especially as being ther person to advise it and then to start trying to give suggestions on revising it… *urg* Well eventually Watching shall settle down and find it’s true form… Right? *grins*

      1. You realize, while it hasn’t gone through as many drafts Sarah’s Phoenix is at least 7 years old now (hence the need for an almost complete rewirte – only I”m turning the trilogy into a five book series *grins*) And I suspect you maight be quicker on the baility to publish than I am.

        1. But 3 years is a very large proportion of my life, and an even larger proportion of my writing life. I started writing it two months after I first started writing novels. Like, I’ve been writing this thing MY ENTIRE WRITING LIFE.

      2. Hmm… yes that is true and safe to say Rainbow Island hasn’t gone through nearly as many revisions, or been worked on as consistantly…

        I now bow to you. *grins* But just think of how little time that might be when you get older and look back on it and laugh. :}

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