Friday, May 25, 2007

psychological aspects of POV

A fiction writer is faced at the outset with the decision of choosing a theme and the POV that will be used to tell the story. Various considerations enter into the choices, including whether a first-person or third-person narrative might achieve the desired closeness with the reader, and whether the POV can adequately dramatize the envisioned scope of story. Often the story theme may be based on a personal life experience. That experience may offer some sort of hidden meaning the writer wants to explore, and then it seems there should be some best POV for the cast of characters and the type of story being considered. However, it may be that the POV choice actually takes over and steers the story into directions and choices that are driven by it, and which more closely relate to the writer’s own psychological makeup than the fictional story he starts out to tell.

In a NY Times article, “This is Your Life, and How You Tell It: In Storytelling, Deep Clues to the Self” (by Benedict Carey, 22May07), some recent research looked at ways people narrated their life stories. Those with mood problems had many good memories, but the scenes were often tainted with some dark detail. By contrast, those individuals who scored more positive, “generative” personalities on psychological tests might recall the same sorts of life problems in a reverse way, as linked by themes of redemption. “They flunked sixth grade but met a wonderful counselor and made honor roll in the seventh.” In other words, their understanding of their life’s story drove their narrative themes. That might be a useful observation to keep in mind when choosing the experience and setting out to write.

The research then seemed to offer other useful insights to the fiction writing process, and the retelling and reinterpreting of experiences from our own life stories. How do we recall the most vivid scenes from our experiences? An important factor was the perspective people in the study were told to take when revisiting a life experience—whether in first-person, or third person. The investigators found that revisiting a bad experience—an argument, say, or a failed exam—was significantly less upsetting when viewed in the third person, as compared to first person; and, a shift in perspective to third-person allowed the storyteller to deepen and even reshape the event instead of being immersed in it.

Which POV is going to create the stronger fiction story? If the event is compelling enough, and focused, total immersion in a first-person narrator might work okay. If the event is still not clearly understood in the author’s own mind, using third-person narration to explore a deepening and reshaping of the personal event might lead to a better fictional story.

Monday, May 14, 2007

vying for a query

Still in revision on the Sci-Fi, but occasionally returning for scans of a YA novel, "Black Crane," that was finished, revised a few times, and laid aside last summer. It seems ready for trying to interest an agent or publisher, but perhaps it will have to wait until after the Sci-Fi effort plays out. Taking into account some of what has been discussed in blogs by literary agents, a query for "Black Crane" might contain the following:

What do you do with all that built up discipline when your army general mom goes off to Iraq, and you’re sent with your siblings to live with your absentee dad?

Sixteen-yr. old Caitlin is ready to break out into her own life, but that’s kind of hard to do when General Rose Su Wei expects her to be the Rock of Gibraltar to her younger sister and older brother. Her dad, Cyrus McCormick, expects life will go on as usual while they’re living with him, but he’s clueless about things like peer pressures, soft drug use, and drinking, that go on at the high school parties. As a new high school newspaper reporter, Caitlin is keen on learning all about these things. Her articles alienate her cryptic editor, and a libertarian, athletic boy named Cody, a karate champ. Caitlin, trained by her mother, is no slouch at karate, either. An intense love-hate relationship between her and Cody leads to the epic battle of The Black Crane vs. The Golden Dragon.

Energies feel divided now, and perhaps the Black Crane effort should have been carried through to the query stage. It was probably a question of confidence.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

plot twists

Just finished reading “Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini. The story opens in Afghanistan just before the Russian invasion in ’78. Amir is a middle-class Afghani boy, about thirteen, and his closest friend is a servant boy, Hassan, a Hazara—a minority ethnic group descended from Asian Mongols--who works in Amir’s household. Amir and his dad are Pashtuns, a majority ethnic group in Afghanistan, and are Sunni, a dominant Islamic sect. Hassan and his dad are Shia, a despised minority sect of Islam, and so Hassan suffers a double burden in the boys’ daily contacts with other Afghani boys. Though Hassan is devoted to Amir, and risks dangers when defending Amir against other boys, Amir remains almost indifferent to him.

In one episode, an Afghani boy rapes Hassan for defending Amir, who cowardly watches from hiding. Our sympathies for Amir take a further plunge when Amir later frames Hassan for stealing his watch. He’s jealous of his own father’s affections for Hassan, and hoped to drive him away from the household. When the Russians invade Afghanistan, Amir and his dad flee to America. There Amir matures as a better person, aspiring to be a writer, and meets a young Afghani woman and marries her. He regrets many of the weaknesses he’d shown in his boyhood, and when news comes after the Russians are driven out of Afghanistan, that the victorious Taliban have slain Hassan along with many other Shia, Amir returns to try and rescue Hassan’s surviving eleven-yr. old son.

In Afghanistan, he learns that Hasan was actually his illegitimate half-brother. In the dangerous search for Hassan’s son, he encounters the same man who once abused Hassan has now bought Hassan's son from an orphanage, and is abusing the boy. A horrible plot twist. In some desperate actions, and after suffering brutal injuries, Amir rescues Sohrab and flees with him back to America. There, Sohrab is a lonely, almost mute boy from his experiences, but Amir and his wife adopt him, and wait patiently for him to heal.

The plot skirts close to having too many coincidences, and takes some brutal turns, but it held a lot of suspense and gave the sense of a very different world. I spent four years in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan, Pashtun country, and traveled to Kabul and other places in Afghanistan. That was '68-'72. The story was an unsettling but riveting revisit to that country.
Creative Commons License
Fiction Writer's Blog by Gaelwriter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.