Saturday, September 15, 2012

Eye of the Beholder

WINNERS! If these lovely people would contact me at ellis at ellisvidler dot com, Polly and Rebecca will get back to you about the books: Laura Thomas, Linda Lovely, Darla, Malena, Eclairre.

Narrative, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Unless you use your author voice as a narrator in your story, the narrative should be written in the voice and through the eyes of the viewpoint character.
If Tom is a mariner who’s lived most of his life at sea, he’s unlikely to visit a small town in Kentucky and identify the plants in Sally’s garden.
He pushed open the low wooden gate, wincing as the hinges screeched. Not much on maintenance, was she? Before him stretched a winding stone path, bordered by liriope. Hostas, their lavender flowers dancing in the breeze, filled the shady corner below the trees. A wide trellis laced with purple clematis sheltered a pair of Adirondack chairs and a small table. He imagined spending an afternoon there, with a book and a pitcher of tea.
What do you think? Sound like Tom? After maintenance on the gate, it lost me. Maybe I’d give him the stone path, but the rest takes me right out of Tom’s head. Let me try again, through Tom’s eyes.
He pushed open the low wooden gate, wincing as the hinges screeched. Not much on maintenance, was she? He shortened his steps to match stones in the path. All the green gave the garden a restful feeling, and a couple of comfortable chairs made a nice place to read. Pretty, with the flowers. But he’d miss the water. If it were his, he’d add a fountain or something so he could hear water.
I’m more comfortable with the second one. I can believe that’s how Tom saw the garden. But if I wanted to show Tom being familiar with the plants and landscape features, I’d give him some background to explain it. Maybe he kept a worn book on gardening in his cabin on the ship and dreamed of solid ground and an English cottage garden. Or his mother was a gardener and he remembered helping her plant similar flowers.
There are many ways to do it; just keep in mind who the beholder is and how the scene will look to him. What will be important or stand out? Tie the scene to the character.
Can you think of any examples where the narrative didn’t fit the character describing it? Do you do it? I have to go back and check, and often I have to make changes. I find I was the beholder, not the character.
As Nathaniel Hawthorne said, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” 


Sheila Webster Boneham said...

Excellent post, Ellis. I'm sharing on my Facebook author page. We often hear that a writer has "a voice," but in fact we have many voices. We're rather like Oracles -the characters or the piece itself speak through us, not as us. (I may quote myself on that! :-)

Ellis Vidler said...

Sheila, I need to post that line on my computer. So many things can slip by. I see my stories like movies, and write what I see and hear. Sometimes, especially if I’m away from the story for a while, it can lead to problems.

Polly Iyer said...

I have a cop who's turned into an art enthusiast. Must change that because it fit me not the cop. Great post, Ellis. Back to the rewrites.

Darla said...

Yikes. I think I have some instances of 'me' and not my protagonist ... better make note to check that - thanks! And I love that we are like Oracles -- I can remember that! LOL