Thursday, May 09, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

More thoughts hatched from Nesting Instinct ...

We live in a visual world, where the majority of the meaning communicated to us is through imagery - from things as complex as a movie to as simple (but vital) as the colors of a stoplight.  What happens when a writer tries to remove these details from a story - in my case, because my first person narrator is blind?

... a lot of headaches.

I'm not even talking about description primarily, because I've been able to get around that.  My narrator has an assistant / guide who describes places and things for her; she also hasn't always been blind (though it's been almost half her lifetime), so she has some dim visual memories, especially for the character she knew (and almost married) before she was blinded ... and of course, she has a projected idea of what his daughter looks like.  We also get an idea for what the narrator looks like indirectly, through comparisons and by her description of her ethnic type while trying to visualize a new friend of the same nationality.  Are these accurate images?  Does it really matter?

I also had fun playing with readers' ideas of attractiveness:  while I have some limited description of two characters, you see mainly through the assistant's perceptions that one is plain, even homely, and the other quite beautiful.

But I digress - what I've found most difficult with this story is dialogue, specifically interspersing it with action and human movement.  How can you describe what your character's conversational partner is doing if you can't mention the smile, the frown, the restless pacing?

Of course, I can mention some of these things to some extent, but the language is complicated:  you can hear the first two in the voice and the rap of feet on stone (or grass, or ... more cues as to the visual nature of the surroundings).  I've had to get clever with ways to show the action without coming off contrived, and sometimes it comes down to picking moments and observations that a visual person might not even necessarily register.  In this, I often go back to my favorite friend, scent cues.

This is not the first time I've tackled a sightless character, but the first time was a flash fiction piece.  Sustaining this in a longer work has proved a challenge.  I'm most concerned about not leaving the readers feeling as if they're in a void, without compromising my character's point of view.  Right now, I'm working on a longer section where her assistant has stormed out in a fit of pique, and ...

... well, you'll have to wait to read it.

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