Monday, February 8, 2010

Day 23 - 1489 Words, and Thoughts on Omniscient

Since she is a best selling author, I presume it would not hurt Catherine Coulter to confess that I could not get through her book Tailspin. I will make another attempt, because the beginning is a real killer and it looks like the kind of book I might like a lot. However....

When the hero and heroine get together, Coulter utterly killed the scene with the use of omniscient. It bugged me a lot because it seemed to me that omniscient ought to have worked. I myself would love to do successfully what she tried to do, but I'm not sure that it was her fault. I had all sorts of ideas to make it better but I don't know if they would have really worked. (I think maybe, this spring when I do some short fiction, I might play around with that style.)

So here is the problem (from memory of a reading a year ago - so my apologies to Ms. Coulter if I misrepresent. This is for educational purposes only. I am definitely exaggerating the flaws):

Heroine is on the lam, hero is a Fed who doesn't know she's on the lam. They are dealing with an accident, and they are discussing how to find a phone or a mechanic or something. As they talk, we get to see inside both of their heads. She keeps thinking "I hope he doesn't get suspicious of me." And he thinks "Hmm, there is something suspicious about her, but I'm too busy to worry about that just now." And she thinks something like "I think he is suspicious, but he hasn't done anything yet." And he thinks "she has pretty hair."

No. Tension.

Knowing what both characters are thinking at all times just kills the tension. And it makes the scene really repetitive. Really really repetitive.

So why would I WANT to write a scene like this? Well ... Comedy. And Romantic Tension.

What if the scene went like this? "I hope he doesn't get suspicious of me," she thinks. "Oh, my god, those are the most gorgeous eyes I've ever seen," he thinks as he tries to keep his manly cop detachment. "He's looking right through me. He put on his cop-voice. He's going to arrest me." "Uh oh, she thinks I'm staring. Stop being creepy and look away."

Comedy is about tension too, but it's a different kind of tension, very finely tuned. But it also changes the whole tone and style of the story - making it much more romance and much less suspense. These elements can work together, but it's hard, and in the end, genre has to dictate the choice. If you need suspense and paranoia, you can't know everything. You have to know enough to scare you, but not enough to reassure you.

Now let's look at the options in regular "tight third" when we only get one person's point of view at a time.

We take her point of view, because she has the most at stake. So she chats casually while she worries about him becoming suspicious. She observes his body language, alert to every clue....

And that's the other thing that was missing from the original scene - because we were inside their heads at the key moments we didn't get to actually see how they were reacting physically. If we can see him change his voice, look more closely at her, or react in any way, we get to worry and interpret with her.

And after that, you can have the best of both worlds, when you jump to his point of view in the next scene. There we can find out that she was wrong about why he was staring at her (which is amusing and revealing of character and also makes us like him) but we can raise the tension back up, because her nervousness has indeed raised his suspicions. And since we already know what her plans are from the previous scene, we can still anticipate a clash when we find out that his plans are definitely in opposition.

In suspense, point of view choice is about raising tension. It's about revealing the problems, but not the solutions. Which means you probably shouldn't jump around like you do in a comedy, for instance.

(I wanted to say something about the interesting point of view in the TV show Burn Notice. Perhaps tomorrow...)

Running Total: 24424 Words.

24424 / 70000 words. 35% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla is very very hungry. George is very very patient.

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