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CoriSCapnSkip
12-02-2011, 10:45 AM
Okay, here is my main writing problem. Besides just making myself write.

It's seeing a story in movie form. This has worked great for some writers. It's been said of Charles Dickens that he could envision a story as a movie before movies were invented, and of Ray Bradbury that he was so influenced by cinematic images that readers can literally see his stories unfolding in front of and around them. True enough.

The main problem I have with this is I see my main character as if I were watching him. Yes, I know what he is thinking, feeling, and experiencing, too--but describing how someone looks while they're doing something if they're all alone is terrible author intrusion, and if another character is present it's a terrible POV violation particularly if that other character would not see the MC the way the author would. Heck, even the MC would not see himself as the author would--particularly if the MC is at all humble and not conceited.

It's a slightly bigger problem in non-fiction than fiction as if I'm not inventing the character and I show (state or imply) how they're thinking or feeling I have to have something solid (their own words, the words of someone who knew them well, or other good evidence) to back it up, but to me that's less of a problem than just the way in which I see any story play out, true or not. I don't think it's a good idea to write a whole book describing action unfolding as if you're watching it on film. Of course you can include other sensory details, but to me something still seems "off" and it is a huge issue.

Can anyone point to good examples of how to overcome this pitfall? Thanks.

sunandshadow
12-02-2011, 10:55 AM
but describing how someone looks while they're doing something if they're all alone is terrible author intrusion
Not necessarily. In first person or close third, yes, but there are other types of third person POV where it's a good thing to have an "intrusive" or rather "strong and flavorful" narrator, or where there isn't a strong narrator but the focus is on the outside of the characters and the characters' thoughts are communicated from an outside perspective through their body language and subtle narratorial interpretation of this for the reader rather than from an interior perspective.

blacbird
12-02-2011, 11:33 AM
describing how someone looks while they're doing something if they're all alone is terrible author intrusion,

So why do it? What does Huckleberry Finn "look like"? Tom Joad? Robert Jordan (the protagonist of For Whom the Bell Tolls, not the fantasy author)?

We think we know what Rhett Butler looks like, on account of Clark Gable in the movie; likewise Atticus Finch, because of Gregory Peck. But you'll be hard pressed to find such descriptions in the novels on which the movies were based.

Unless something in the physical nature of your character has a material influence on the story you're telling, let the readers form their own views about the physical appearance of the character.

caw

gothicangel
12-02-2011, 12:46 PM
I suggest picking up some favourite novels and seeing how the authors tackle the problem.

I would also drop the hint that an authorial intrusion only occurs when the authors voice takes over the character's [look at some Jane Austen or George Eliot for reference.]

CoriSCapnSkip
12-02-2011, 03:27 PM
Unless something in the physical nature of your character has a material influence on the story you're telling, let the readers form their own views about the physical appearance of the character.

caw

Well, obviously there are many examples of movie casting bearing little or no resemblance to a book character's description. The Harry Potter series is an excellent example, where one of the books would come out with a new character described in a certain way, I'd imagine them based on the description, then of course the movie would come out later with someone substantially different in the role and I'd have to reconfigure the character based on the actor. (For a few, I preferred my original choice and just "left" them in the roles while reading the remaining books. For the record, the only case of really terrible casting actually affecting the quality of the movies was Ginny--zero charisma from the actress as opposed to the written character.)

I guess the answer for me would be, you don't watch TV and you don't live real life that way--not seeing the people--unless your viewpoint character is either blind or isolated in some other way so that just voices or other sensory impressions filter through. When I'm reading a book, I have to envision the characters the same as I would see people in a movie or in real life. Even in movies or real life, when people look enough alike I can get confused. I picture my own characters the way I'd look at a real person, even if I also see things through the viewpoint character.

I understand there are some books deliberately not written this way. For instance, there's a Toni Morrison book which starts "They killed the white girl first" and goes through the whole story without describing any of the characters so you don't know till the end which the white girl is. Perhaps an interesting literary device, but how would you film it? The minute someone comes onscreen (with the exception of murder mysteries showing gloved hands committing a crime or something--even the Invisible Man was closely described--) or into view in real life you have a physical impression of that person--whether they are alone, or others see them. I guess that's why the distinction between seeing a story acted out, and describing the action so the reader can live it with the characters, is such a distraction for me. There shouldn't be that much difference, but there is just enough to be a problem at least where the main character is concerned.

As for sunandshadow's description of communicating the character's thoughts from an outside perspective as an observer, there are places in my non-fiction where I'd probably like or even prefer to do both. If possible, going through what's seen on film in cases of filmed incidents, and what the person said they were thinking at the time, in cases where that's available, might even make an extremely effective narrative if handled right.

Thanks for the inputs.

bearilou
12-02-2011, 05:17 PM
Take this with a pound of salt because I am stepping into territory of which I have no knowledge, but wouldn't Omniscient be a good PoV to write these instances you're talking about?

AutumnWrite
12-02-2011, 05:52 PM
Unless something in the physical nature of your character has a material influence on the story you're telling, let the readers form their own views about the physical appearance of the character.

I agree. To an extent, isn't it better for the readers to imagine the character for themselves? Doesn't this act help create a bond with the reader? I think you have to give them some guidance, but ultimately it's sometimes best for them to bring a little of their preferences to the image.

Jamesaritchie
12-02-2011, 07:42 PM
Okay, here is my main writing problem. Besides just making myself write.

It's seeing a story in movie form. This has worked great for some writers. It's been said of Charles Dickens that he could envision a story as a movie before movies were invented, and of Ray Bradbury that he was so influenced by cinematic images that readers can literally see his stories unfolding in front of and around them. True enough.

The main problem I have with this is I see my main character as if I were watching him. Yes, I know what he is thinking, feeling, and experiencing, too--but describing how someone looks while they're doing something if they're all alone is terrible author intrusion, and if another character is present it's a terrible POV violation particularly if that other character would not see the MC the way the author would. Heck, even the MC would not see himself as the author would--particularly if the MC is at all humble and not conceited.

It's a slightly bigger problem in non-fiction than fiction as if I'm not inventing the character and I show (state or imply) how they're thinking or feeling I have to have something solid (their own words, the words of someone who knew them well, or other good evidence) to back it up, but to me that's less of a problem than just the way in which I see any story play out, true or not. I don't think it's a good idea to write a whole book describing action unfolding as if you're watching it on film. Of course you can include other sensory details, but to me something still seems "off" and it is a huge issue.

Can anyone point to good examples of how to overcome this pitfall? Thanks.

If there was anything wrong with describing a character who's all alone, half the books out there wouldn't exist. Doing so certainly is not authorial intrusion.

Even in third person limited, the narrator is free to describe anything the character sees or knows, and a character knows how he looks. In omniscient, you're free to describe anything, even if the character doesn't see it or know . Neither has anything to do with authorial intrusion. The narrator does the description, not the author, and as long as the narrator stays true to the particular POV, be it first person, second person, third person, or omniscient, you're fine.

I can't imaging writing a word of fiction if I didn't see the story as a movie, and wouldn't dream of not writing an entire book this way. It's not only a good idea, I haven't talked to many writers who don't see the story unfold as a movie.

The only real difference is that in a movie you have to use dialogue of voice over to let the viewer know what the character is thinking or feeling or smelling, etc., but in a book you can get inside the character's head and tell the reader.

But describing a character, while often necessary to an extent, doesn't always mean a detailed description, though it certain can.

I do my best to describe the protagonist through action, rather than by how he looks. If he's tall, have him pull something from a high shelf, or look down into someone else's eyes. If he's muscular, have him lift something heavy. If he's handsome, have woman he passe son the street turn to watch him. On and on.

But secondary characters often do need describing, even if they're all alone, and having them look into a mirror is both unnecessary and silly. Just describe when a description is needed.

The real answer to your question, of course, is to read a lot of novels and see how those writers handle your problem. They all do.

Brukaviador
12-02-2011, 11:49 PM
Unless something in the physical nature of your character has a material influence on the story you're telling, let the readers form their own views about the physical appearance of the character.

caw

I agree. To an extent, isn't it better for the readers to imagine the character for themselves? Doesn't this act help create a bond with the reader? I think you have to give them some guidance, but ultimately it's sometimes best for them to bring a little of their preferences to the image.


I do my best to describe the protagonist through action, rather than by how he looks. If he's tall, have him pull something from a high shelf, or look down into someone else's eyes. If he's muscular, have him lift something heavy. If he's handsome, have woman he passe son the street turn to watch him. On and on.


Excellent advice. I'm going to have to keep these things in mind with my next project.

CoriSCapnSkip
12-03-2011, 05:47 AM
Just thought of a whole book written as if the main character is being observed rather than through his POV. Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli, shows the story almost entirely through Jeffrey's actions, though the reader gets his personality and thoughts as well.

jjdebenedictis
12-03-2011, 07:06 AM
Have you considered writing scripts instead of novels? It's a whoooole different art form, but you might find you're very well-suited to writing stories that communicate through visuals and dialogue alone.

Eleanor Rigby
12-03-2011, 08:46 AM
CoriSCapnSkip, I see my story in my head as you do, but it's never been a problem, for me. I can't imagine writing any other way. But if it bothers you then I think this is a great suggestion:


Have you considered writing scripts instead of novels? It's a whoooole different art form, but you might find you're very well-suited to writing stories that communicate through visuals and dialogue alone.

CoriSCapnSkip
12-03-2011, 09:40 AM
Have you considered writing scripts instead of novels? It's a whoooole different art form, but you might find you're very well-suited to writing stories that communicate through visuals and dialogue alone.

Actually I was told dialogue is my strongest suit, and I did try writing scripts for awhile, but didn't get into it deeply after being told it is pretty much required to live in California, whereas writing novels you can live anywhere. I started with fact-based fiction thinking I'd transition entirely to fiction, but now I am thinking of transitioning the other way, to non-fiction in somewhat narrative form. I haven't ruled out fiction, but I'd rather write in novel form and see it adapted to scripts when and if that time comes.

Satsya
12-03-2011, 12:28 PM
Actually I was told dialogue is my strongest suit, and I did try writing scripts for awhile, but didn't get into it deeply after being told it is pretty much required to live in California, <snip>

I would be surprised if that's true anymore. You might want to look into it again.

Email and VoIP make it pretty easy to communicate no matter where you are. I think scripts get tossed back and forth across the country as a regular practice.

CoriSCapnSkip
12-03-2011, 02:11 PM
That's interesting. I had not checked in awhile, not just because of that but for the last twenty years no one has been making shows I'd be interested to even watch let alone write for.