A Change in Point-of-View

Music: Judie Tzuke–Blackfurs

Big news: I’ve finished Captain Corelli’s Mandolin!

I’ve learnt so much about Cephalonia, the fiasco of World War Two, and the passage of post-war civilisation. Gated, backward, quirky island culture was portrayed to a T (I should know). The humour was exactly my jam—from the first scene, during which Dr Iannis extracts a fossilised pea from his deaf patient’s ear. The characters were ridiculed without being trivialised, and the prose provoked thought without choking me on philosophy. I loved the recurring gags, such as the doctor’s system of peeing on his herbs in strict rotation.

Louis de Bernières is a master of bathos.

The eponymous character didn’t appear until over a third of the way through—an interesting decision, considering that the blurb gave me the impression of a love triangle. Yet I think it’s a strength of this book, and of many great works of literature. Note that Jane Austen limits even her ficklest characters to one love interest at a time (open to argument). Fact is, Pelagia is one of the greatest women I’ve ever read—she’s strong, honest, clever and unrelenting, admits temptation, admits regret, admits her morality is mostly circumstantial. Oh, yes, de Bernières pays great attention to the circumstantial! He’s not above beginning a chapter with ‘Dr Iannis was in a terrible mood for no reason other than the fact that it was a very hot day’ (or WTTE). It really is true to life.

Dayum, though. It gets dark. So much for a bittersweet, much-belated note of hope at the end: you only have to Google Cephalonia’s history to find out what the climax is plummeting towards.

Really what I want to discuss, though, is narrative perspective.

I often hear writers talking about which POV to use—first person, third, even second, tense. It can be hard to choose. I understand.

So, De Bernières was writing a massive ass hist fic. His solution to the which-perspective problem? ALL OF THEM. Chapter one is close third person on an unqualified, free-thinking Greek doctor. Chapter two is the first person monologue of Benito Mussolini!

There are chapters of letters showing the passage of time, chapters formatted like a dramatic duologue showing the progression of a relationship; it goes on. In the first half of the contents, seven chapters are entitled ‘L’Homosesuale’. It later becomes clear that these chapters are the sections of an Italian soldier’s ‘confession’ of his role in the war. This makes them easy to group and read in order later on, and see how his path crosses with the islanders.

I loved the thought and craft that went into it all—effortlessly, de Bernières sped up his pacing with a constantly surprising POV, incorporating aspects that broadened the story to far more than a mere romance or a tragic war crime. When you’re reading the POV of a goatherd mistaking bombs for fireworks, and an English parachuter for an angel, you know you’re in deft hands!

Now I talk about POV and me (because I’m self-centred like that). Ever since I started writing, it’s been in third person. I call it my ‘natural voice’; that’s where I feel comfortable. For that reason, I may have entertained a snobbish attitude at some point in my past, and for that I now apologise. I’m only just learning what a tool it can be to employ the right perspective. No POV is more valid, more correct or more effective than any other. It’s simply than different systems work for different books, and must be chosen accordingly.

I can’t believe how long it took me to recognise that! My WIP is in first person. It just is. One of my MCs has no physical presence (hard to explain, but it boils down to the word ‘ghost’). As a third person realistic contemporary writer, I’m soooo out my comfort zone it’s not even funny. But I got this. His first person POV feels so right.

Anyway, enough of me.

Check out this post by JA Goodsell, another #PitchWars hopeful, in which she discusses the merits of both first and third person and why it’s so important to think about your choice. 

Speaking of Pitch Wars, I’m so grateful to Brenda Drake and the team for putting together this enormous contest. ❤

I was lucky enough to snag some CPs via #FicFest a few months ago, with whose help I prepared my book for the contest. In submission week I met the Teen Squad (the other underage entrants (oops, that sounded as if PW has an age limit…)), and I’ve read two of their books so far. So. Much. Talent. I just want to squee about how wonderful and supportive this group is, how great it is to spar with GIFs, suss out our male characters’ underwear preferences, blaspheme against dentist appointments. These are real teens with teen worries and teen joys and a seriously good handle of real teen dialogue.

Rant over. It’s cool. I hope I’ll stay in touch with everyone I’ve swapped MSs with over the past three months, because what with my critique group and the #teensquad, I’ve finally found my people.

But hey, always room for more. Do comment your thoughts on de Bernières and/or narrative POV!

Music in YA

Perhaps my last post till August. Four trips are lined up for July, and the ten days I’m at home are all schooldays. Fortunately I’m feeling fairly organised about it all (except the financial side!).

So, without further ado, Alex once again gave me a great post topic. Here’s her tweet:

 musicstoriestweet

Anyone keeping up with the big YA Contemps of recent years might guess, like me, that this trend is at least in part caused by Gayle Forman’s fabulous If I Stay, due for cinema release this summer. As a sidenote, I don’t follow the American bestseller lists, but somehow I snagged a copy of this great book early after its release before many people in the UK had heard of it, so in a way I feel connected to its fate.

ifistay

Anyhow, as a musician myself I watch this trend with equal pleasure and trepidation. Music is such a wide aspect of culture that often I see it abused, generally out of ignorance. It’s good to see the participation in the act of making music recognised (fun fact: musicians on average live eight years longer than non-musicians, so it’s not like you’re wasting time!).

You don’t have to be famous to make music; all you need is dedication. I’m not musical myself, besides adoring the mathematics behind it, but I passed my Grade 8 last week. I’ve practiced an hour a night for months, gone to school for aural lessons at half eight in the morning on Saturdays for a year, spent two years learning these pieces, spent eight years learning the instrument…you can see how huge this is for me.

However, also due to being a musician, it worries me to see non-musicians writing about music, either misusing terminology, overusing what’s commonly-known, or not using any of it. Had I never played an instrument there’s no way I’d appreciate music as I do now: I wouldn’t hear harmonies, or criticise the sound balance at concerts, or know a good song from a mediocre one—even now, I’m doubtful I could do any of these things properly. Playing in a band is especially valuable: for four years I’ve spent ten hours a week playing in ensemble, and I can pick out and accord my own part to individual parts in an orchestral piece.

Now, I’m not saying a non-musician can’t write a good book about musician-ing, and I’m not making prejudicial assumptions. Yet the very lack of brass fandom in writing suggests exactly what I fear. Carnegie Hall is bandied about as if only genius musicians are worth writing about with reference to music. ‘The bow was like an extension of her arm’ is the worst string-player cliché out there, and you’d certainly never catch a musician saying it in but the cheapest of sarcasm. Always it is strings, or clarinet or flute!

Our family collection, predominantly brass. (since added a ukulele)

Our family collection, predominantly brass. (since added a ukulele)

The brass are rowdy and lively, and I freely admit my bias, but I feel we have the most distinct section identity. We are the smallest (except the percussion, who are too busy tuning timpanis to socialise) but the most tightly-knit, with pub-nights and unmatched banter. We can also do the coolest things with our instruments. Just about everything you say about the trombone sounds dirty, we put the mark in marcato, we put the issimo in fff. I am convinced that every other musician cherishes a secret wish they became a brass player (Freudian penis envy, as I think of it). Sure, maybe all this buoyancy doesn’t suit your character or your story, but in my opinion the brass are the most versatile section of them all. We can do soaring tear-jerking solos – that’s what euphoniums are for, even! We can be warm and raucous, bad-ass or gentle. All we want is recognition!

That’s truly all I have time for. Live the good life till I get back to ya on the 9th!

 

Four Learning Styles

Another interesting branch of interpersonal psychological differences. This time it isn’t MBTI, but learning styles (though there’s nothing to say the two theories aren’t related).

Up until about a month ago, I’d thought there were three recognised learning styles: Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic. They’re pretty self-explanatory, but for purposes of completion and self-satisfaction, I’ll explain anyway.

Visual Learners:

  • Are often good at visual art forms and enjoy excursions to art galleries
  • Remember things by picturing or visualising them
  • Perceive others’ meanings through their gestures, body language and facial expressions
  • Are distracted by sights
  • Are likely to take notes, draw mind-maps and ‘obsess’ over colour coordination
  • Are likely to dress for fashion and take pleasure in aesthetic ‘perfection’
  • May visualise the worst-case scenario in case of a misfortune
  • You like my emboldenings and italicisings? I’m doin’ that for you, Visuals!
Pretty picture? Well, it's certainly colourful.

Pretty picture? Well, it’s certainly colourful.

This is a common type, probably the most common. We many of us rely very heavily upon our sight, so that’s not surprising.

You might be able to perceive from my style of writing that I am not a Visual. No, sir; I am not. Not to say I don’t like pretty vistas et cetera.

Auditory Learners:

  • Are often good at speaking, debating and have a high appreciation of music
  • Remember verbal instructions and may have the ability to repeat speeches word for word
  • Perceive others’ meanings through their diction, articulation, dynamic and tone of voice
  • Are distracted by noise
  • Are likely to sing, whistle or hum…a lot
  • Are likely to enjoy talking on the phone
  • Easily perceive subtleties of voice and music
Yup, an ear.

Yup, an ear.

We all tick boxes in other categories. Meself, I can whistle the ‘Sailor’s Hornpipe’ at full speed. And so can all my protagonists 🙂

(By the way, if this sounds like you, go and listen to Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony. I am at the moment, and I’d forgotten how much I love it. Probably the nostalgia—the soundtrack of Barbie Rapunzel is basically Dvorak. Anyway…)

(Is it just an inconsequential theory of mine that many Visual and Auditory learners are also MB Sensing types? Okay, forget that.)

Kinaesthetic Learners:

  • Are often good at practical tasks such as crafts, mechanics and sports
  • Remember things by acting out and trying for themselves
  • Communicate through ‘touchy-feely’ gestures such as hugging for affection or a firm handshake for respect
  • Mostly buy clothes for comfort
  • Must often endure a traditional school learning environment favouring Visual and Auditory learning styles (let’s have a big loud ‘awww’)
  • According to one source, they have high intuition (hm, interesting, though I’d like to know exactly where such a conclusion came from)
Yes, he's pushing a chess piece. *shrug* Well, if it helps him learn how to play chess, what are you looking at?

Yes, he’s pushing a chess piece. *shrug* Well, if it helps him learn how to play chess, what are you looking at?

Okay, I was always awful at Science practicals. But whenever someone touches me—say, they tweak my elbow or measure the circumference of my wrist (yeah, seems pretty meaningless)—I feel automatically better about myself. I don’t know why. Perhaps I’m just starved of physical contact because I pretend to be detached and independent.

But no, I don’t believe I’m a Kinaesthetic learner, either. I just discovered the fourth learning style.

Auditory Digital Learners:

  • Can be difficult to identify (is that why I’d never even heard of the type before?)
  • Work best with information and data
  • Remember things by creating steps and procedures
  • May struggle with social interaction
  • Apparently the Socratic-debate style of question-and-answer might help with learning
  • I don’t know where the name comes from

Well, how else was I supposed to illustrate it? Nothing like a good tunnel of binary.

This is brilliant for characterisation. Understanding a character’s learning style is just as vital as nailing their personality—one might even argue that learning style is an integral part of character personalisation. Probably is. All these tests, we do them for ourselves because we’re interested in who we are and how we operate–and how we operate in relation to others who don’t necessarily understand or relate to us. Is it not just as vital to understand our characters, since we conceive every part of them ourselves, and set ourselves the task of determining all their goals, motives and methods?

Let’s have some characteristic words for each type: (Yes, I lifted these straight off http://mymindcoach.com.au/communicate-better/, which has frankly proved the basis for most of my observations. So, yeah, thanks for that.)

Visual: see, looks, appear, view, show me, dawn, reveal, imagine, illuminate, crystal clear

Auditory: can you hear, that sounds good, listen, make music, tune in, be all ears, that rings a bell, it resonates

Kinaesthetic: feel, touch, grasp, get a hold of, slips through, catch on, tap into, concrete, solid

Auditory Digital: sense, understand, think, learn, process, decide, consider, change, perceive, insensitive, conceive, distinct, know (each of these words I would probably use at an average of five or six times a day, depending on the conversation, whereas those in the other lists no more than twice or thrice at the very most)

Yes, we all use these terms all the time. But perhaps one particular person will pop into mind when you read each list. Or, even better—a character.

My thoughts linking to MBTI: we live in a Sensing world. We also live in a world of predominantly Visual and Auditory learners. Draw your own conclusions. I don’t mean to generalise.

My good friend dictionary.com details ‘learning’ as ‘the act or process of acquiring knowledge or skill’ (definition two).

My definition of the second MB dimension according to my first post on the subject claims it relates to the ‘methods we use to intake information’. (Yes, that was poorly worded. I should’ve edited that better. …Is this my Auditory Digital side asserting itself—feeling uncomfortable when something isn’t done to its best effect?)

In any case, I don’t think anyone will disagree that learning style and method of information intake are closely related.

That’s right. Have fun thinking about that a bit more. I’m going to bed.

___

Visual learner picture: http://www.wallcoo.net/paint/Jean-Marc_Janiaczyk_Painting_1600x1200/wallpapers/1600×1200/Jean-Marc_Janiaczyk_Art_Painting_cabanon%20aux%20lavandes.jpg

Auditory learner picture: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-c_c4pr3yvsk/Tx8a6xCVbuI/AAAAAAAAAKA/CZKl-ftNdIw/s1600/Ear_14439206.jpg

Kinaesthetic learner picture: http://members.tripod.com/teaching_is_reaching/images/j0078744.gif

Auditory digital learner picture: http://doktorspinn.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/digital-tunnel-wallpaper1.jpg

Too many tags? D:

A Terrifying Thought

The writing front hasn’t been very productive the past three days.

The start of the week went off with a bang, but on Wednesday evening some switch got turned off. I’ve completed perhaps twenty novels and novellas in the past seven or eight years, but not one of them has a clever or exciting plot. Not one worthy of editing for such an aspiration as publication.

I thought I could do characters and imagery, and that would suffice—but no. Oh, no! On Wednesday I tackled another chapter…and the deficiencies of prose, dialogue, themes…gah, everything, overwhelmed me.

I’ve no heart to edit, no desire to write, no inclination to have anything to do with either my work or anyone else’s. We all have bad spells, but I’m closer to giving up today than I have been in many months.

Is it a lack of inspiration? I sit in front of my blank page, pen in hand, willing myself to begin a new project, to have a wonderful plot idea just begging to be set down on paper.

Nothing comes. Nothing! And I scarcely even care if the page is emptier than before I first saw it.

It’s not true writer’s block, if such a thing exists. It’s a complete antipathy towards anything creative. Instead I have filled my hours with equations and formulae, such as can usually be applied to in times of annoyance. And even they don’t cheer me up, for my misery isn’t so much to do with writing at all:

My characters have stopped talking to me. Since I first started writing, at the age of six or seven, my fictional people, their lives, voices, traits, grievances, have filled my thoughts day and night. Always there has been a cast of characters buzzing in my thoughts, effervescing over onto paper. Even when I’ve contended with ‘block’ before, the people in my mind have never left me alone.

Today I haven’t thought of them at all, unless reminded by the plethora of papers, notebooks, family trees, favourites tables and red-inked printouts littering my bedroom. And for a writer, that is a terrifying thought.