by wjw on April 25, 2015

The other day, I wrote a few pages.  And when I looked at them, they struck me as mediocre.

They weren’t bad, mind you.  They got the job done, they got my protagonist where she needed to go.  But they didn’t sparkle, they didn’t fizz, and when I read them I didn’t hear the little voice that says, Hey, boss, that’s just about perfect.”  They were just . . . adequate.

Now if the pages were bad, I could have thrown them out and rewritten them, or performed some major corrective surgery and made them better.

But mediocrity is a different problem requiring a different solution.  “Do what you’re already doing, only do it better.”  Now that’s a challenge.

On studying the pages the next day, I realized what was missing.  Let’s call it attitude.  I had described what happened, I moved my character from one well-described place to another well-described place, but what was missing was any involvement from the character herself.  I was describing what was going on, and doing that part well, but I had failed to put anything in the scene that indicated the protagonist’s point of view.  She was perceiving things, but not reacting to them.  It’s as if she was sleepwalking through the scene.

I had a character who was smart and had attitude aplenty, and I failed to make proper use of her.

So the fix was simple.  I revised the scene through my character’s eyes, and had her make a few pungent and characteristic observations about what was going on.  The scene sparkled right up.

Geez, how hard was that?

So, for those of you who want to write, here’s a rather elementary lesson in point of view.  Either you have a point of view, or your character does, and that point of view is what you’re selling to the reader.  It’s not your brilliant ideas, because other writers very likely have the same ideas.  It’s probably not your plot, because other writers will have used the same basic plot.  What you’re selling is the distinct way you— or your character— observe and codify experience.

There’s a difference between “I felt lousy” and “I felt like a short length of chewed string.”  Or (even better) “You can hear those tough old eucalyptus trees across the street whispering to each other,” and “The wind outside nested in each tree, prowled the sidewalks in invisible treads like unseen cats,” because each of those describes the same scene, but gives you a different take on the narrator.

Which endeth the lesson.  It’s time to drag a few of those metaphors down to the current project and set them to work.

Ralf T, Dog April 26, 2015 at 3:55 am

Example from Rodger Z:

Describing the protagonist at a mental institution striking an orderly between the legs with a bedpost,

“____ he said.”

This both expressed the attitude of the protagonist who wanted to get out, his disdain for his captors and perhaps it expressed the attitude of the orderly not wanting much other than the restoration of his private parts and perhaps the ability to breath.

Ralf T, Dog April 26, 2015 at 5:58 am

About my above post, I think I may have been confusing motivation with attitude. How would you describe the difference? (Is attitude an energetic projection of motivation? Is attitude motivation+style? Is the attitude of this post that I am drunk, making a fool of myself and I need to go home and get some sleep?)

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