. little bitty essays about writing

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

View Point

Because I write for kids and young adults, I "grew up" in genres that almost always feature a single, intimate, View Point.  YA (young adult) books are traditionally all about the intimacy and connection with the character and the character's voice. The father of the genre is J.D. Salinger/Catcher in the Rye. S.E. Hinton is the mother/The Outsiders. Chris Crutcher and Norma Mazer, Robert Comier and many others contributed to the scope and vision of YA literature. Their ground breaking has bloomed into an astoundingly broad and interesting genre.

YA has grown to include a zillion variations over the past decade. It has embraced dark urban fantasy, twisty mash-ups of other genres, wild and interesting re-tellings of classic tales, biting humor, fiercely current coming-of-age tales, SF and fantasy books, supernatural and paranormal stories---anything anyone can think of that involves protagonists in their teens or early twenties. The genre increasingly encourages structural experimentation. There are verse novels and novels with graphic elements. Brian Selznic's Hugo Cabre is a wonder that crosses age (and many other) boundaries  My own trilogy is two stories, two voices, two hundred years apart. The first story causes the second one. Experimentation is in the air.
(((anyone interested in SF/Fantasy/ Horror for YA or adults should be aware of Locus Magazine: http://www.locusmag.com/ It serves the fan community and bookstores rely on its reviews to guide their buyers)))

 I think learning how to write a genuine character's voice (as apposed to an distanced authorial description of what the character is feeling) can help anyone writing any kind of fiction for any age group.

View Point means, literally, where one stands while looking at something. Simply put, in books, this standing place is the mind of a character, or the mind of the author. Being in the mind of the character is nearly always more engaging and more "real" for the reader.

It is tricky, but possible, to separate these two. The following examples are from an article I wrote (and revised just now because I am compulsive) for the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market—an offspring of the Writer’s Market publication.

Author’s voice
Sanders' sophomore year of high school was going to be better than his freshman year. Much better. Thomas Pain had finally moved away. He had been the classic bully from fourth grade on, consistently mean, always alert for opportunities to humiliate Sanders. Thomas had been especially fond of the trash-can-dunk, but the hallway-trip was a favorite, along with the ever popular “sharing” of cookies and sandwiches at lunch. Now, on the first day of school, knowing Thomas wouldn't be there, Sanders leaned against the wall, waiting for the bell. He smiled.

Character’s voice
Sanders leaned against the cold bricks, watching the jocks maneuver around the geeks sitting on the steps. The tat-and-pierce-tribe was staking out their usual oak tree on the far edge of the lawn. The band kids were circled, glancing at each other, barely talking. Sophomore year was about to begin. Sanders took a long breath. He felt odd, too light, like gravity wasn’t quite working this morning.
For the first time since fourth grade, he would be free to eat his own lunch. He wouldn’t have bruises to hide from his parents tonight. Thomas Pain was in Cincinnati, far, far away, at his new school, shoving new victims into trash cans. Sanders felt himself smile. That felt odd, too. Really odd. But good.

VP includes what the character would see, hear, feel, taste, think –and here’s the more subtle thing I have realized that takes it a bit farther—**logically notice. ** A long description of a home interior is rarely pure VP. Unless we trip over our coffee tables, or have some reason to stare at a sunset or are an author trying to get the reader to know/notice something....we never notice our everyday surroundings at all. In  my own work, I am striving to include only (or nearly only) what the character would actually notice, colored by his/her present mood and preocupations,  and am trying to imply the rest through that. I am liking the realism/focus/immediacy it lends.