Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Near and Far

Astute readers will have noticed that in my retelling of Juan's story (previous post), I changed tenses towards the end. It's a reversal of the technique I used for my last ss:
When the reader is in the moment with the protag - up close and personal - they are swaddled in the events. When the reader is pulled away, they become a friend, helplessly watching from the sidelines; a private place where they might laugh or hurl insults or weep uncontrollably in solitude without being heard.
For my ss, I bound the reader to Bina, holding the two together until the climax, at which point I pulled the reader away so that they could witness the intimacy and the sadness of Bina and Kov's last moments.
In Juan's tale, the reader is held at distance, free of all responsibility. By dragging them into the moment for the climax, at the point of entering Beardy's flat, I attempted to lock the reader in that smelly flat with a potential psycho, thereby intensifying the cliffhanger.

I found this on wikipedia and, whilst it refers to the limited omniscient pov, the concept of distance is still prevalent:
Henry James, who used the third person limited omniscient narrative in his novel 'The Ambassadors' and coined the phrase 'effaced narration' to describe it, believed this could create high art, and contemporary literary writers seem to agree. The effaced narrator dominates contemporary literary art. James pointed out that in effaced narration, the art consisted of varying the reader's psychological distance from the action, bringing the reader in close for high drama, and further out for ordinary events.


esruel said...

As you know, solvey, my latest work was to be in the first person, but I discovered that some of the people in the tale had their own lives and povs going on. Third person was really the only way.
Looking at the wikipedia example for validation, or confirmation, (I do these first person asides or thoughts all of the time)I had a thought: I would have corrected that, putting in a 'he thought' after the first sentence.
Hmmm. I did wonder whether a new writer would get away with not doing that, say, with a lit. consultant, or an editor? Not sure. Has it been accepted as a convention? Seems a worthwhile point to ponder.

R1X said...

I thought about this recently too - covered it on my blog - regarding Jim Crace's use of asides to tell the reader something the character won't know for a very long time... which is something that you were arguing with yourself over quite some time ago, wasn't it Solvey?

solv said...

Very very interesting thoughts!
Thank you both!
@Es: In the wikipedia example, to my mind the 'he thought' is clearly implied. As such, the 'he thought' would be redundant and would strike me as bad writing.
There was a line in your Sword excerpt that made me wonder if you are maybe experimenting with unusual povs, or if you simply read something else into povs (something that I am not receiving). Here's the bit I mean:

Morning broke with a rush of light to Tom’s eyes. A small fire crackled in the hearth and Tom sat up, listening in the warmth to the sounds that came from outside. Already, people were hurrying about; and, now and then, a wagon or cart would roll by, perhaps laden with gifts for the wedding, or bearing travellers who had journeyed from afar.

My take is that Tom can't see outside. I understand this primarily because you are focusing on the sounds. In this way, if I were to understand that Tom is looking through a window or doorway, I would need you to mention this. I am reading this in third person limited (third person bound to Tom).
When you describe the contents of the carts, I understand that the pov is now a free-roaming third person omniscient (bound to noone in particular). This might be different if I understood wedding gifts to make sounds, but that's too much of a stretch for me.
What throws me is the word 'perhaps'. A third person omniscient would know.
The only way I can perceive this, other than you've introduced a tiny wee inconsistency, is that you're playing with a variation on afourth person pov (which is a very exciting idea): In this way, only the driver of the cart knows what his cargo actually is!

@ricardo: I think you're referring to those strange first-person prophecies that I was playing with:

He is not a regular on Pam’s bus, but his face is familiar to me. I cannot place it yet, but I will soon. Boy, am I going to be surprised.

Don't think I was ever conclusively happy with these. They are unnatural. But if the reader fits them to the character's pov, they work fine and play an important role in creating suspense. That said, I did have enormous difficulties bonding the reader to Corus, and these difficulties were the result of my choice of introducing him (as unnatural :o)

esruel said...

Good stuff, solvey! I kind of guessed you had been reading my post and that was a comment on it. These are Tom's thoughts. He is imagining through sounds. And as there is a wedding and the cart sounds are there, the 'perhaps' is part of his imagination. His are implied thoughts.
I believe my piece reads the same as the wikipedia example.
The difference being that Tom is the only one present.
I do experiment with povs, and in this instance there seemed no other 'good way' to say what Tom was thinking. Implied thought: you are in the presence of the thinker alone.
I do these 'thought' things all of the time, switching from saying who thought, to just allowing the reflection as it would be redundant to say so.
But I did wonder if it might have been the milkman shouting across the street in the wikipedia example, lol :-) It seemed such an odd thing to have done, writing-wise. Perhaps not.
The 'he thought' reference, may I add, is not a literal one - there are many ways of saying who was thinking, or why, or how to lead up to it, without it being classed as bad writing.

solv said...

Ah, now that makes sense: Did you read the Primary Representational Systems post? You are an aural creature, and that is where you and I collide! From what you say, and taking into account that your extract stands outside of context, I think you expect your reader to make the associations that you make (and this has been my bugbear for eons!).
Always dangerous pushing these boundaries my friend, and I wish you well indeed! Good words Esy.