Saturday, February 25, 2017


When you stop to give the matter serious thought--as opposed to listening to some interior voice you presume to have some literary connection--your preference for your own fiction narrative is multiple point of view. Successive chapters appear through the filter of one character who has some bearing on the entire story. Most likely, you were nudged into this preference thanks to a reading in your late teens of Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone.

Short stories are often another matter. The point of view filter you seem to gravitate toward is the third person, the he or she. Although you're not aware of any personal distaste for the first person I filter, you either avoid it or, having begun with it as a result of some inner prompting, switch to the he or she, mindful that you've enjoyed many a first person narrative written by the him or her author you so admire.

One distinct advantage to the multiple point of view is the opportunity to infuse differing attitudes and vocabulary into the narrative without having them appear to have come from you. Another advantage is the unquestioned addition of ambiguity to an event or behavior. 

Each of us mortals sees through our own filter, even while reporting the same event or experience. Your taste of chocolate is not the same as one or more of your characters. Your politics are not theirs. You voted for Hilary Clinton for the same reason you voted for a number of politicians you did not in fact admire; she was clearly the best qualified candidate. The last candidate you recall voting for with unalloyed regard was George McGovern. Before that, your memory takes you back to Adlai Stevenson. And so, as Kurt Vonnegut might have said, it goes.

Given your recent focus on action versus description, your third person filter for the beginning of a novel or short story could in consequence be: "She saw--" or "He ducked to avoid--" both of these bringing a character onto the page as close to free of any authorial telling as possible. 

At the moment, you have both formats under way, short and longform. In early draft stage each presents its third person protagonist in action. Ben stood. Lew faced. But as the narratives and drafts progressed, you found yourself (and one or more of those interior voices with presumed literary connections) uneasy with the results.


Until you were able to put the critical unease into words. You were starting with your characters in action, but since this was their first appearance out of your imagination and onto the page, mere action was not enough. You wanted a greater hint of interior motive as well as relevant activity. You wanted to start with the characters already in action, in response to a plan or agenda that began before the narrative does.


The best place for the photos would be in a file folder, tucked under his arm, where she’d be sure to see it the moment he arrived. Then she’d say, “What’s that you’ve got there, Little Brother?” 

This takes us directly into the mind and intent of the Ben, cited a few paragraphs earlier, experienced while he stood in line. Now, you have in effect the set-up of a story. A man has some photos with which he plans to confront an older sister. What better response can you give to the question Ben supposes his sister will ask than "Evidence."?

But of course the sister has an agenda of her own, which means a rug, yanked from under Ben within the first few paragraphs.

In the longer work, a private investigator named Lew Lessing enters being irritated by an individual he wishes to become his employer, thus:

GORDON SLOPE HAD a way of irritating Lew Lessing. Air poked for emphasis. And who’d wear a signet ring on his index finger? Gordon Slope is who.

But with a little shifting of the furniture, you've in literal and figurative ways turned the dramatic tables.  Watch:

WHAT GOOD WOULD come from being irritated now? Lew Lessing nodded instead at Gordon Slope's air pokes, meant to emphasize the need for discretion.

Since you were so focused on actions to move the previous story forward, how about in this case:

"A simple yes or no," Gordon Slope said, "as opposed to your noncommittal nod. Are we clear on the need for discretion?"

Son of a bitch wore a signet ring on his index finger. That's a definite no. "Understood," Lessing said.

On this point, you appear to be two for two.

Next point?

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