Sunday, December 11, 2011

On Narcissism: The Close Third

Ever received beta feedback like this?
"But what is your MC feeling??? Where is the EMOTION????"
Img courtesy of Christina Rowsell Blog
Sometimes, especially with active scenes in genre fiction, we get so caught up in story that we forget the story is coming from somewhere.

In the close 3rd POV, the story is coming directly from our main character. Who probably is (since God help us, aren't we all) a tad narcissistic.

Everything in our MC's world filters through her eyes.

That's where emotion comes from. Beyond direct or indirect thought, we have a pair of eyeballs, a set of five senses, a goal, a milieu of wants and desires and fears and agendas. This ripe interior architecture can provide the fodder for steeping a story's very narration in emotion.

Consider Anna. She's proceeding down a low-lit tunnel carrying a stuffed manila folder. In Scene 1, Anna's going for a job interview she really wants. In Scene 2, Anna's escaping a villain after stealing incriminating evidence.

 Scene 1:
Anna strode through the tunnel, mindful not to hurry too much, break a sweat, and ruin her pristine button-down. She blanched at her reflection in a silvery pool of water on the tunnel floor, illuminated by one of the few overhead lights. God, her hair. She nestled the folder in the curve of her arm, reached up to smooth the stray lock, and moved on.
Scene 2:
Anna slipped along the narrow tunnel, clutching the folder to her sweat-slick shirt. She choked on a gasp as movement fractured the darkness ahead. Under the glare one of those treacherous sparsely-spaced lights, she panted her relief. Only another pipe leaking. The movement had been her own reflection in a puddle of water. She crushed the folder in the crook of her arm and hurried on.
"Screaming Tunnel" by SweetlySick 
This isn't a case of muscular prose versus tepid prose. In the first scene, even the cliched "break a sweat" is intentionally mundane but excited. Job-hunting Anna sees everything in her world differently than in the second scene, and the narrative reflects that.

Moreover, characters notice different things in different mind states. If we'd tried a third scene in which Anna's walking home carrying a folder stuffed full of wedding prep info in a delirious ecstasy because her wedding is tomorrow, I bet you she wouldn't notice the low light or even the puddle/pool of water.

Sometimes, when a reader wants more emotion, it might be a good idea to step back and reenter the story through the eyes of the MC. What is she actually seeing? And how does she see it?

How can a narrative's very word choice -- not just verbs and adverbs, either -- reflect interior landscape?

Happy writing!