Learning my Lines: Throne of the Crescent Moon

by Dan Stout in ,


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One of the most powerful tools available to writers is to read and study the work of those who have gone before. For me, hand copying and examination can reveal the techniques of another author and help me advance my own craft. I've written up some of these observations to share with other readers & writers.

 

There's a lot to love in Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon. But one thing I took away was his nimble shuffling of POV chapters, each jumping to the character who is most logical to follow without becoming confusing. 

He does this a few times in the course of the narrative, and each time it was clear what was happening, who was involved, and when everything was taking place. That's not something I can say about every book I read.

The best example -- and the one that really made me sit up and take notice -- happens just over 25% of the way into the story.

At this point in the story the protagonists are arguing, and tempers flare enough for them to stomp off and give themselves (and each other) some breathing room. The next two chapters each follow a different character in the wake of the fight, jumping back to start a few seconds later after the argument ends, as if they're all tree limbs extending from a broad trunk.

The "trunk" chapter is written from the point of view of a character named Litasz. She and four other people are in a room, and as the chapter comes to a climax, Litasz's old friend Adoulla  ends an argument by storming out of the house. 

"Some fresh air," he blurted, and bolted for the door, slamming it behind him.

After this comes four brief paragraphs establishing how the roomful of people react to Adoulla's departure. The next chapter begins:

Adoulla slammed the heavy wooden door to his friends' shop behind him. 

So we're slid back in time, prior to the last four paragraphs of the previous chapter. But look at what Ahmed's done here: he's hanging his time shift on the strong physical act of slamming the door. That's an action that all readers will relate to. We know what it looks like, what it sounds like. Hell, we've probably done it ourselves a time or two. 

Even better, the door slam is a turning point in in the trunk chapter, and it happened only a couple pages ago. Further, Ahmed uses the same verb, "slammed," reinforcing the connection. Even a casual reader will remember it when the next chapter begins. 

So with this new starting point, we follow Adoulla as he storms off from the argument and collects himself. Clever enough, but what blew my mind was that the following chapter begins like this:

Raseed bas Raseed watched the Doctor storm out of the shop and slam the front door. 

We're back in time, but as a reader I still knew exactly where we were!  Ahmed's use of the door slam in the trunk chapter marked it in memory. The use of it in the following chapter underlined it. And now, many pages after the original event, I slipped back into the time stream with no trouble at all. 

Note the recurrence of "slam" yet again, and that this POV shift is happening immediately after the chapter following Adoulla. If we'd stayed in his POV for multiple chapters, I suspect that I'd have had a harder time returning to the door slam, but as it's written I found it easy, even natural to do so.

The new chapter follows Raseed as he travels into the city. While we're in his POV, our experience is enriched by knowing what is happening to Adoulla simultaneously. 

 

Throne of the Crescent Moon is great fun, but it also displays some pretty skillful handling of reader expectations. Reading it helped me learn how to lodge a moment in a reader's mind, and then use that later, like a rock climber setting a piton. 

by Dan Stout