Saturday, July 10, 2010

Perception and Reality - Five Blind Men and an Elephant

We’ve been talking about voices over the past week, and Peter brought up a good point. There is the narrative voice, and there are the characters’ voices. Of course, both the characters’ voices and the narrative voice are actually the author’s voice.

I don’t remember where I learned to do it, but I do write character biographies. After writing several Alafair Tucker novels, I know my series characters quite well as independent human beings, each with his own way of looking at the world and of expressing himself. I don’t have to ask myself if Alafair or Shaw would do this. I know in my bones what they will do. But every novel is populated with many one-off characters, and it’s very helpful for the author to know that character’s story in order to write in his true voice. Once you know him, you don’t have to make up a “voice” for him. You just have to let him speak.

When preparing this entry, I first intended to expound on the concept of voice in a great deal more detail than I have. But giving a character a voice creates a point of view, and when I think of point of view, I think of Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet.

Durrell wrote the quartet of novels, Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, and Clea, in the late 1950s. Each of the books presents a different perspective on the same events, the same characters, over the same time period before and during the Second World War in Alexandria, Egypt. In each book, we get to experience the same sequence of events through several points of view. A brilliant concept, I think. It's a mind-bending experience to read the four books one after the other. Reality changes as it is filtered through each character's point of view.

What skill it must take for an author to experience and describe a single event over and over in such a totally different fashion for each observer, to have your words be like a prism that changes your view of the world depending on which angle you look through it.


Vicki Delany said...

AN Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears does the same thing. There are four sections with four narrators and the difference in their understanding of events is enormous. It's a great book.

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