Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Limited Assumptions

I've had the privilege of reading through ricardo's latest chapter and, once again, the boy has succeeded in raising interesting literary predicaments and enigmas.
Here's a pov issue that has caused me to launch a full-scale investigation (I looked on wikipedia and had a little think on the bus):
Without breaching copyright or jeapordizing ricardo's trust, I can demonstrate the issue with a single line:

There was no way out.

In a chapter written in third-person limited, my reaction to this line (and a couple of successive lines) was to leave pov (entering an omniscient third-person).
Well it's a question of knowledge.
Mister Omniscient knows all! But Mister Limited's greatest asset is his ability to bond the reader to any given character, sharing that character's emotions and perspective.
As such, some bit of my brain presumably went 'Hold up: How can this character be sure that there is no way out?'
Ricardo and I discussed this a little and I can see his thinking:
The pov remains limited to the protagonist because it adheres to his personal perspective - his assumptions. Protag assumes that there is no way out. Protag knows that he assumes there is no way out.
I'd be interested in any examples of pros using this limited assumption technique. On many occasions I have read something along the lines of 'He could see no way out.'

Regardless, ricardo and I concurred that this sentence was a 'tell' and the information could have been imparted in a better manner. The one blot on a flawless piece of work, and a fascinating discussion point.


esruel said...

Not having read this full chapter - and I probably shouldn't as too many cooks will get in the way of solvey's safe and knowledgeable eyes - if Rich has said 'There was no way out' it's probably a subconscius attempt at ramping up the tension. No harm in saying that statement, but probably it has to come at the very end of some futile attempts by the protag at escaping. A show before the tell. A statement of exasperation afterwards. I hope this is the 'book' story...

R1X said...

It is the "book" story :) Erm, a tell after a show... unfortunately not. I literally was, as Solvey says, thinking I could get away with stating something "obvious" because I , as writer, thought I could and everyone would assume: "Charles thought," or "Charles could see," or "Charles rugby tackled the book but,"

Here's the closest example I could find, guys: from King's The Gunslinger:

"They walked, and now he looked at his feet, crossing from tie to tie. When he looked up again, the glow ahead had grown to a hole, and it was not just light but a way out. They were almost there.

Thirty yards now. No more than that. Ninety short feet. It could be done. Perhaps they would have the man in black yet. Perhaps, in the bright sunlight the evil flowers in his mind would shrivel and anything would be possible."

Though, we clearly have the first paragraph to frame our pov don't we?

Let's face it, I goofed. ;)

solv said...

There's the rub Esy:
If ricardo were to make the 'no way out' statement 'at the very end of some futile attempts by the protag at escaping', we could then well believe that the protag might better 'know' that there is no escape, and I imagine that I wouldn't automagically leave pov.

In the Gunslinger example, King, as ricardo rightly observes, defines the pov and then is very careful not to suggest anything that would betray the pov character's knowledge:
Compare the line 'Thirty yards now' with the alternative line 'Thirty-seven and two thirds yards now'. It's easy to assume that this person could approximately guage thirty yards. And, if the reader is in any doubt, King supports this with the words 'could' and 'perhaps'.
However, I don't believe that a schoolboy, on finding himself in an unfamiliar and dimly-lit chamber filled with books and pillars, could instantaneously assess that there is 'no way out' (not least given that he is a bibliophobe!).

Either way, I'd suggest that this info (protag is trapped) could be imparted more emotionally and effectively with shows. (Ironically, ricardo does move from the ambiguous pov tells into straight limited shows: clearly the guy knows his stuff!)

Ricardo and I discussed the scene structure a short while back and he has refined a wonderfully tight emotional topography. As such, this line was very much a CONSCIOUS attempt at ramping up the tension. One of the many benefits of this kind of structuring is that it reveals safe spots for exposition (and no-go areas too).

Rule of thumb then:
Use shows over tells;
You can remain in a third-person limited pov forever provided that you don't present as fact a statement that the pov character is unlikely to know (as understood by the reader).

Great stuff guys!