Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Red Pen Returns...

A further post in an exercise in self-abuse.

I let my eyes drift speculatively around the room.
Two chairs away sat a young man named MacDonald in his usual state of monk-like meditation. Dr. Sinclair peevishly referred to him on occasion as "another of those academic refugees from Upper Canada."
On Dr. Sinclair's right sat Tom Carew who had translated with elegance and precision the entire fragment of the beautiful "Dream of the Rood."
Right now his face was twitching with wholly malicious amusement as he listened to Dermott murder the music of Saxon speech. On catching my glance, his face went bland and one eye closed slowly. I gave a faint smile of appreciation.
Tom resembled the conventional woodcut of William Shakespeare, down to the scraggly beard and receeding hairline and had the habitual air of one playing a bit part in one of his own productions.
My eyes paused on the next figure. I was definitely aware of what his selection had been - "Defeat of the Vikings" - just as I was minutely aware of his every action.
He had joined the class a couple of months ago. There had been some mix-up over transfer of his university credits from England, according to gossip, so he was sitting in on the class and going through the formality of the exam in order to qualiy for admission to the PhD course.
It was confusing, but then the Registrar's Ofice was always that. When I first saw him and took in his hard expression, I wondered frankly how they had dared.
He, of course, was the twenty-eight years and six broad feet of very determined male that went under the name of Michael Randall.
He had an interesting face, even a good-looking face - if you liked your men tough and slightly hard-case.
Anna Hammond obviously did.

Comments: Ow. Ow. Ouch. Cover your eyes.
According to some, impervious to claims of trope, one's eyes may never, ever, detach themselves and wander about the environment.
Second, it is unusual to find a hero - fictional or other wise - who is six feet wide.
However, setting aside the indisputable point that this is not the most exciting or sympathetic setting one could choose, we could say that the introduction of characters is natural and consistent with it.
One can get very irritated flipping back and forth in a novel trying to figure out where a plunked-in character came from, why they are there and whyinhell you should care.
On the other hand, the above characters had better appear later, have something to do with the plot and are not there simply as decor.

16 comments:

Tsavo Leone said...

There was a wrestler in the late '90's who went by the ring-name of Yokozuna (which is a rank within the Sumo community if memory serves) who was of Samoan heritage. The running joke was that he was taller lying down than he was standing up.

When he passed away he weighed in at a mind-blowing 800lbs...

Robyn said...

I love your description of Carew, though. That saucy wink and the "bit player in one of his own productions" was good. Maybe instead of past-tense description of the hunk, the lecture can get interrupted by him coming in. Some action always helps.

Bernita said...

Robyn,of course you're right about a little movement, (though interrupting an exam is not allowed) but I'm not sure this (very)old ms. is really worth saving ie. re-working.
So far, there's a number of ..ahem...problems...besides a certain passivity.
What I can't understand looking at it now, is how it got a nibble. First person was not admired back then, either.
Tsavo, yes, however, we usually prefer our heroes in certain genres to be not more than an axe handle wide.

Gabriele C. said...

Hm, well, all this Saxon stuff is nice enough, and maybe some of the people will become important later on, but, you know, well *cough*, when does the story actually start?

:-)

M. G. Tarquini said...

Love the detail about the one eye closing, but I'm with Gabriele on the story starting. Lots of great sounding character descriptions, despite the disembodied eyes, but my ADD self won't remember them by the next paragraph unless I have some definitive action to tie them to...like aliens landing or something.

Bernita said...

Hoot!
Seems to me the next section wanders into a short bit of back story...
That, my darlings, is one of the points of this exercise in self-abasement.
A style of opening which was quite acceptable 25 years ago is not at all fashionable today.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Couldn't your eyes float around the room if you were an alien? That's what I was thinking. This is some wacked-out intergalactic species where parts of their face detach like Mr. Potato Head.

Now, you could get into a real 'point-of-view' debate over this piece of writing. Not to mention a 'show not tell' discussion. But I think there can be a time and place for breaking almost any rule, if you do it properly. That's the trick. Doing it properly.

Can you get houses with entries big enough for someone 6 feet wide? Is he really disproportionate, or just how tall is Mr. Strapping-Wide-Giant?

M. G. Tarquini said...

In this sci-fi farce, floating eyes works beautifully, Sandra. All architecture accommodates 6 foot wide physiques. I'll toss in Charley and the Alien Congressman for free and Bernita will have an edgy piece of pulp fiction to peddle.

Bernita said...

And they're off!
POV? Sandra, it's first person, or have I missed something (probably).
We do agree the scene is ..er..somewhat static...because a seminar room in the middle of an exam of an ancient language is a dumb place to start the story.
The action, or lack of it is perfectly logical - unfortunately.
At least, she does not describe the room.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Not standard POV as in flitting from head to head, but there are things the narrator states about what's going on in other people's heads and what they're thinking.

Now, I'm one who believes most rules can be broken under the right context. But it has been pointed out to me routinely under editing that my POV character can't presume to know what's going on in the head of another character. "Right now his face was twitching with wholly malicious amusement as he listened to Dermott murder the music of Saxon speech." That's one of those assumptions. That's the protagonist's interpretation of his look, but he's said nothing to confirm it, so our protagonist can only, technically say his face seemed to be twitching with wholly malicious amusement. It could have really been wholly delighted amusement. Or some gas pains were mimicking a look of amusement to conceal his distress at trying to control his bodily functions with a lady present.

Personally, I think extreme POV purists suck. I don't mind a transfer of POV (in third person narrative, of course) as long as it's clear who's head I'm in now, but having to paraphrase everything with 'it seemed to me' or 'it looked like' is annoying. ANd yet, technically, I can see some editor starting a riot over yet another mind-reading excursion in a manuscript.

I interrupted an exam once. Quite rightly so, in fact, because two people were knocking a box back and forth right in front of me. I told them to stop because the teacher didn't do anything. He ripped up the first two pages of my exam paper. But the French teacher was on contract and when the principal found out what he did, not only did the teacher have to make it up to me for my grades, but he didn't get his contract renewed. Sucker.

Pays to be a good student, occasionally. I was such a virtuous little darling my principal couldn't imagine me doing anything wrong.

Oh, and in what I said about 'discussion' I did not mean rip-apart-criticism. I think there has to be real balance between show & tell writing, because you can't show everything. If you did, your book would be a bazillion words long and nobody would publish it.

Bernita said...

Point taken, Sandra, and purists would call it so very likely.
However, in defense, since the main character has spent about 8 months or so in class with the opposite character, it's fair to assume she can interpret his expressions, if nothing else on the basis of how he has habitually reacted before.

Sandra Ruttan said...

You truly have my agreement on her ability to assess his expressions! Believe me, my own face is one wide-open book most of the time and there'd be little doubt to observers about exactly what I was thinking! Sometimes I think editors expect writers to go a bit to far to clarify. But once you're selling as much as Anne Perry nobody will care.

Bernita said...

That'll be the day! Snork!
It was a good point, though, Sandra, and one to watch out for.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Well-ll...I don't know about disembodied eyes, but I have seen a head or two, spin around, split open and spew pea-soup...but I don't think you were exactly going for the Exorcist look.

The six-foot wide comment did make me lurch.

But to sum it all up, "...a style of opening which was quite acceptable 25 years ago is not fashionable today" I say AMEN.

I'm a seamstress by trade and 25 years ago those god-aweful butt bows were the rage...Thank God that style bit the dust too!

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