Monday, October 20, 2014

Imaginary Friends

I loved Rick's recent postings with the cartoons, particularly the one that said, 'Writer's Block: when your imaginary friends won't talk to you.' I'd never thought of it that way before, but it's an excellent definition.

Just recently when David Nicholls' latest book, Us, was published he described the agonies he went through after the huge success of One Day. It paralysed him to the point where he wasn't writing anything and subscribed to Write or Die, a programme that starts eating the words you've already typed if you don't write at a certainly rate or stop  for any appreciable length of time. (Terrifying, or what?)

The result, he said, was that he managed with the traditional blood, sweat and tears to produce 35,000 words of the new book which he then showed to his agent and a trusted friend, both of whom went very quiet and then suggested he put it aside for a bit and start something else. It was only later that he realised that what was wrong was the Point of View, and it transformed the whole thing.

I  write in the third person but more often than not I will be looking at the scene through the eyes of one of the characters and if I find myself struggling, writing against the grain and getting nowhere, the problem almost invariably isn't the material but the wrong PoV. Change that, and the whole thing will  suddenly start flowing again. I'm then usually kicking myself over all the time I wasted battling with it before I realized this was what was wrong.

At the time I started writing I heard a lecture from someone with the glorious name of Diane Doubtfire ((her real married name) when she told us that we should never allow ourselves to be inside the head of more than one character in a scene, that if it isn't your viewpoint character you can't know what another person is thinking unless an observable action would make it obvious. She said that otherwise, it was like watching a tennis match where your head keeps turning to watch the ball go back and forwards over the net – thoroughly distracting to the reader..

I was very impressed at the time and it's become an ingrained habit. And the advantage of that is that if one of your imaginary friends isn't talking to you, there's a good chance that another will!


Eileen Goudge said...

Great post, Aline. I follow a simple rule with POV. I go with whichever character has the most to gain or lose in any given scene. Makes for more compelling narrative

Aline Templeton said...

Thanks, Eileen. I do what you do, unless I'm tying to misdirect readers over a red herring, and changing the expected PoV is quite effective.