Thursday, May 17, 2012

Wow, an actual post about writing?

What happened, eh?

While I've been on my little break from writing, I've been doing a lot of thinking about writing.

My writing, specifically.

In the past, I have posted several time about components of *my* voice, (mostly 'cause I have an incurable tendency to over-analyze) because it's our individual differences which makes each writing voice unique. I even posted an extremely nerdy one about the Sanskrit goddess Vac...

Today I also read a blog post by a buddy I met online about her head-hopping problem.

So, now that I've thrown all these seemingly random bits of information at you, let me try to pull them together into one coherent thought.

1) I don't have a habit of head-hopping

2) What I DO have a habit of is "...showing how/why a character is reacting a certain way only through their dialogue and body language, yet always filtering this information through the mindset of another character."

This is one of those things that is both good and bad.

I think, in reality, we spend far more time analyzing/thinking/anticipating/jumping to a conclusion of what's going on in other people's heads than we do our own.

Seriously, I truly think we do this. Especially teenagers.

You can agree or disagree with me (feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below), but I think this is a natural behaviour because emotions are sticky, layered, and mind-bogglingly-complicated and often we don't even know why the heck we're feeling whatever it is we're feeling. Sure, we can recognize the big, surface emotions... but all the stuff churning around underneath?

Often all sorts of little wounds and bad experiences can compound together and you can lose your temper over something incredibly small and stupid you normally would just laugh off. Y'know, those days where you accidentally hit the 'off' button instead of 'sleep' on your alarm, wake up late in a panic, stub your toe, the shirt you want to wear has a loose button that pops off, you can't seem to find the pair of shoes that matches your belt... and all these little things add up and when you get into the kitchen you realize the coffeepot wasn't placed correctly and now there's a river of caffeine trickling down your counter and flooding the over-stuffed utensil drawer your significant other didn't quite close properly the previous night...

...and you blow up. Over something that small and that stupid.

But how quickly do we decide the meaning of other people's emotions/reactions/motivations, and slide them neatly into clean, simple, singular categories?

He did that 'cause he's a jerk.

She said that 'cause she hates me.

She's selfish.

He just wants attention.

She's so lazy, always trying to play the system.

He's always trying to get ahead, no matter who he hurts.

We make judgement calls with the smallest scraps of incomplete information.

...and that's why I like writing the way I do, having the POV character make assumptions about why the people around them are behaving the way that they do. Because so often, that can go wrong.*

Now, back to the good/bad thing.

Yes, this is a trait of *my* voice, yes, I think this is more realistic, yes, I think the characters become more complex, yes, it totally fits with the type of characters I write**, yes, I think it's kind of unique...

...BUT, I wonder if readers don't get as emotionally invested in my main characters because they are more concerned about other character's motivations/etc. It creates an odd kind of narrative-distance, for sure, even when the story is written in 1st person POV.

And, like my friend who had someone point out her head-hopping habit, I wonder if this is the kind of thing I need to correct, or if it's a legitimate (and good) part of my natural writing voice.

...any thoughts?

How much do you think about your own writing voice?

*It's a pet peeve of mine when a character miraculously guesses exactly why another character did something/etc. It's just too perfect/coincidental. In reality, it's darn hard to figure out someone else's motivations unless they tell you straight out, or rent a billboard, and even then, they could be lying, o you, or to themselves.

**The characters I write are usually in survival-of-the-fittest types of situations where their ability to guess the motivations of others is often instrumental to their own survival. Studies do show that kids who grew up in stressful situations, like having an alcoholic parent, become very good at *reading* the situation/mental-state of the people around them. It's a normal, adaptive trait.


  1. lol thanks for the plug...
    I can see blowing up at all that. It’s not the big stuff, it’s the accumulation of all the little things. You’re right (of course) about the judgment calls on other people. Not sure that’s true re: the distance narrative thingy in your writing. I’m pretty invested in Triss though that may be because I have no idea what she’s thinking...or maybe I wouldn’t be so invested if I did know what she’s thinking.

    By the way, my voice is a head hopping omniscient and I may just keep it - cause I’m that stubborn...

    1. Ah, but you see? You're invested in 'Triss', not necessarily the main character, right?

      ...and what the reader knows of Triss is always filtered through the main character's eyes...

      I think that's one of the things I especially loved about 'Room', by Emma Donahue, the fact that the mom/situation/etc is all filtered through the eyes of Jack, the little boy.

      BUT, 'Room' is a book for adults, not YA, which is who I'm trying to write to. SO, perhaps this style works for adult books, but is too removed for YA... anyways, that's just one of my many writing-related-concerns ;)

  2. ah ha - I think of Triss as the MC!! but you're right (by the way I know there's a message from you but not up to it) she's not the MC - or is she? and your MC is just the narrator??

    glad your group didn't string you up. I've been thinking about my kids. The first chapter is omniscent and head hopping....The rest of it will be 3rd limited, but I have to figure out how to do what I want in the first chap without the pogo stick.

    In Room I consider Jack the MC....

    By the way Air and Shadow might raise some of these issues too. We know who the MC is - but- is he?

    1. Yes, Jack is the MC, but what I mean is, his mom and her responses to the situation is completely filtered through his eyes. You never once see things from her perspective, but the author was so skillful at letting the reader know her thoughts/feelings, even when Jack is too immature to grasp those things.

      ...that's the reason why that book just totally blew my mind. I loved it.

      Oh, I finally thought of a YA novel that sort of does this too... 'Imaginary Girls' by Nova Ren Suma. Chloe, the younger sister, is the main character, but her older sister Ruby is way more vibrant/alive and her motivations/etc are mostly puzzled out by Chloe throughout the book.

      Hmmmmm... perhaps this quality is something I really like in general, to read and to write.

    2. I liked Mark Haddon's Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time for doing that. Amusingly, the one novel-thing I'm working on now has an MC who can get into people's heads after a fashion, which he tries to avoid when at all possible.
      Having a fight with someone when you know motivations about them that they might not known themselves makes things very creepy :)

    3. Heh, creepy indeed. But it wouldn't be one of your stories without a significant creep-factor ;)

  3. i tend to have the problem of jumping to other people's conclusions!

    1. Hahahahaha!

      I think we all are guilty of that ;) the way, coffee pot example... I have a long history of battling coffee pots. I swear, there's a coffee pot conspiracy going on. I even wrote a short story about an evil coffee pot in high school (I've been drinking coffee since I was 10, and it never stunted my growth ;p)


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