Friday, January 25, 2008

Louder Than Words

A Venetian Bather,
Paul Peel,
oil on canvas, 1889.

One of the standard difficulties in first person POV, is suggesting the mind and motives of other characters, particularly if one is fond of the idea that actions speak louder than words, and particularly when applying that platitude to the male gender.

Do you think Johnnie Thresher has more on his mind than crime?

"Because it was bound to happen sooner or later and another time I might not be there. Now stay where you are until I check out the house."

I stayed. No point in silly argument. Or silly questions designed to uncover personal meaning in his ride-to-the-rescue comment. I was too tired. And I was glad he'd offered. I sat, twisting my bracelets and watching the rain trickle down the windshield in runic patterns.

Just when I realized he'd been gone an inordinate length of time, he opened my door to a gust of wet, sweet wind.

"All clear. Rain's coming on heavy again. Can you run for it?"

"You must be kidding. A stumbling stagger will have to do." I hauled myself out and down from the SUV, ignoring his offered hand.

Johnnie followed me to the porch and into the house. The house had that sense of emptiness, of waiting, that houses have when one has been gone a long time. Within the placid stillness I heard water running.

"I've started a bath. Get out of those clothes, get in it and soak." He picked up a handful of files from the stairs. "I found hard copy membership lists in the file cabinet. Your husband seems to have acquired data from the SOS as well. I need to do some cross-referencing after the riot today. And make sure you eat."

He turned to go.

"Just a minute. Wait," I bleated. "I haven't asked. I meant to ask. Are you all right, yourself? All that punching and pushing. How do you feel?"

"Feel?" He hesitated, turned back and gave my besmudged and bedraggled body another slow up and down survey. He reached out and lifted a straggle of hair from my cheek, examined it, twining it around his fingers before smoothing it back.

"I feel an infinite curiosity," he said, and was gone.


SzélsőFa said...

I see only one paragraph of the seems interesting....but I don't get its relation to gender.
I will wait to see if there's more into this post..

Bernita said...

That's strange, Szelsofa.
I see the entire post.

StarvingWriteNow said...

I get the idea that he's trying to be all business because they are at her husband's house (ex husband? dead husband? alive and he'll kick your ass when he comes home husband?). But he's interested all right.

writtenwyrdd said...

Oh baby, he's got sumpin' sumpin' on his mind all right. Great last line. I love a lot of the small touches you use, such as 'runic patterns' Bernita. Gives a sense of how your Lillie's mind works.

Bernita said...

Dead husband, Starving, in spite of the zombie.

Thank you, Written.
And, I hope, protective, too.

Vesper said...

A beautiful scene, Bernita.
It's a bit hard to tell if he has more on his mind from just one scene. There are details (some gestures, certain sentences) that might hint to it, or it might be just his innate chivalry...

"I feel an infinite curiosity," - oh, I like that!

Bernita said...

Szelsof, what's really strange, is that your comment came through on my gmail with the title of my draft, which I changed.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Vesper.
I did want to suggest that part of his character at the same time.

SzélsőFa said...

I see it in its entirey now. Will be back reading it soon.

BernardL said...

"I feel an infinite curiosity,"

After the seamless setup to that point, I thought he'd say something more plain, like:

"Tired... but curious," he said, and was gone.

December/Stacia said...


Totally wanting Mr. Thresher now.

Bernita said...

"After the seamless setup to that point"
Thank you, Bernard.
He has the habit of not answering direct questions.

He's turning into a cool guy, December.

Savannah Jordan said...

The layers of thought, intent and purpose are all there, and beautifully painted, Bernita. He definitely thinks of more than his intent to care for her. :)

I agree with the difficulties of writing in first person, and the inherent struggles to show (and not tell) what other characters are thinking/feeling. Ironic that I choose first person for almost every story I tell--I must enjoy the difficulties.

Jaye Wells said...

I actually said "oooh" at the end. Nice job.

Charles Gramlich said...

Yes, the last line is full of possibilities. It suggests much, shows little. A perfect cut away line.

Bernita said...

Savannah, thank you.
On the other hand, with first person we avoid the charge of head-hopping.

Thank you, Jaye!

Charles, glad you think so - I don't want things too overt at this point.
Just simmering.

Dave F. said...

Hmm... that works, very well. The POV is preserved.

"A stumbling stagger" doesn't work for me. Sounds too "boozy" and not "tired and worn out."

Also, perhaps because this is only an excerpt, I don't know were they start out from... I was guessing that she's sitting in a car or SUV until I reached the middle of the scene. This might be obvious from the text before this segment.

And to my mind, he might say "Rain's picking up..." or "Rain's getting harder..."

The rest works for me.

raine said...

I guess I could wax poetic about the passage, the "wet, sweet wind" (lovely, that), and how it arouses my curiosity as to what these two have gone through...

Instead, I think I'll just say, "Johnnie baby--yeah!!" :D

I love subtle romance...sigh...

Bernita said...

Thank you, Dave.
I think that Lillie doesn't mind implying that she feels a little punch drunk.
It's definitely clear from previous scenes that she's in a car. The rain on the windshield is just a detail.
Perhaps ways of describing an imminent cloudburst are a regional thing. I did want to avoid use of the word "hard" in this scene.
Maybe I was too delicate.
"Rain's coming on harder" might be more suggestive.

Bernita said...

So glad you like that line, Raine.Thank you.
What they've gone through is a bomb blast and a brawl.

Church Lady said...

I also stumbled on stumbling stagger, but the rest is sublime. Your setting and mood are vivid.

Love the last line! LOVE it!!

Gary Harper said...

OOOOOOOO! My tummy just flipped!

Touching the hair? Yeah, he's interested. Men don't touch women's hair unless they're interested. It's more intimate than a grope.

Travis Erwin said...

As others have said the last line is excellent. His thoughts do come across, but as a man let me say women in wet clothes nearly always stir something within us. So as a male reader I was already thinking that the male character would be ... shall we say stimulated by the situation.

Robyn said...

Actually, gary harper is me! Didn't notice my hubby's id was up instead of mine until I'd hit the button.

Dave F. said...

Leave the rain as is, then. There's no need to change it. It's one of those very human things that we do - we say the obvious. She can see the rain on the windshield and hear it on the car and see it on the ground and most likely feel it as he opens the door and water falls on her.

May I make a suggestion. . . His words and actions and her words - "You must be kidding. A stumbling stagger will have to do."
give you an opening for her to be "affectionate" with him. She might open just a little. His behavior of obviously attentive at this point. It's more than just business. You can reveal a touch more of her realizing he is more than "cop business" protective of her. Of course, if you want his moving her hair to be a complete surprise to her, that works too. This works as it is. It's all there and in good, well written order.

I know you'll tighten and change little bits because we are so similar that way. I'm never satisfied with what I write and I always see changes. I think you do too. I have the feeling that when you read the first printed copy of Stone Child in Weirdly, that you saw changes. I do that all the time. I look back at stuff I wrote for work five years ago that received praise from everyone involved and see changes. It's so maddening to do that to yourself. I'm my own biggest critic.

The Anti-Wife said...

Fanning myself after that last line. Like it very much.

Bernita said...

Hmmm, two of you have had trouble with that line.
Now I'm curious why, especially since it's dialogue and not description.
You don't think Lillie should/would use self-deprecation about her ability to navigate?
Or is it that the simple alliteration strikes a wrong note?

Thank you, Chris.

"Men don't touch women's hair unless they're interested. It's more intimate than a grope."
My experience too, Robyn.
Thank you!

Travis, thank you.
~making note to change line to "rain's coming on hard."

Bernita said...

Dave, that is so true.
Sometimes, I just itch to revise Stone Child. I could make it so much better now.
"I'm my own biggest critic."
Me too.But that's how we improve.
I appreciate these comments you people make on what works/what doesn't so much.That you take the time.

It does raise possibilities,I hope, AW!
Thank you.

Carla said...

Great last line. Yes, I think he certainly has more on his mind than crime, and most of it is Lillie. Is that the idea?

Bernita said...

Carla, thank you. Indeed it is!

cyn said...

fantastic scene. i love all the little things he does to "take care" of her. i love chivalry. the rain coming down in "runic patterns" floored me. so original. something i could never come up with.

StarvingWriteNow said...

Hey, I found the Weird Al song on YouTube and pasted it on my blog! Enjoy!

Bernita said...

Thank you, Cyn.
"something i could never come up with.' - that I don't believe for a single moment!

Glad you found it, Starving! Wasn't sure I had the title correct.

Bailey Stewart said...

Not since "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn" has a last line of a scene held so much. Bravo! And yes, he's interested in more than crime.

But stumbling stagger didn't work for me either. Just doesn't seem to fit with someone who wrote such a beautiful line as "runic patterns".

Bernita said...

That's flattery indeed, Bailey! Thank you.

Obviously, I'll have to change that line.

cyn said...

bernita, tis true! it's something uniquely yours! i've probably coined some cindy phrases in my novel, but the truly original ones are difficult to come by.

yay for orignial writing!

Anonymous said...

Talk about a loaded exit line. Wow. The hair thing is very "melty".


writtenwyrdd said...

I think perhaps the alliteration just calls a teensy too much attention to itself. Perhaps just say "a stagger will have to do." Or, perhaps, "A stagger will have to do. I'm that tired," or some little bit following it? And that last line just makes you say, "Mrrrow." ;)

Chumplet said...

Arrrgggh! What a tease! That was a good segment. Me likey.

ORION said...

I think he's hot.

Bernita said...

Cyn, I'm positive your descriptions, your means of expression, are just as or more original. And I'm sure your crit group have told you so (so there!).

Glad you approve, Asa! Thank you.

It's gone, Written.Thank you.
I suppose all she has to say, really, is "Run? You must be kidding" to convey the idea.

An enigmatic bastard, Sandra! But it's early days.Thank you.

Thank you, Pat! Seems he's shaping up nicely then.

Sam said...

I've always liked first person POV. It is hard to get it right so that the story isn't also all one character.

Bernita said...

This story is very much about one character, Sam, so I'm probably not doing it right.

Scott from Oregon said...

I am glad stumbling stagger is gone.

"besmudged and bedraggled body"

had an element of over the top, to me, mostly because of the first person narrative.

Otherwise, super duper nice.

I like first person because it allows for unique voices to creep out from where ever they reside...

Sid Leavitt said...

Nice work.

Bernita said...

Thank you Sid and Scott.

Scott, do you think she should not be aware that she's dirty and bedraggled ( from rolling around in a parking lot)) - that the description steps outside her pov?

spyscribbler said...


I like. :-)

Bernita said...

Natasha, thank you.

SzélsőFa said...

He seems to be interested in the main character, that comes accross.

Bernita said...

Good, Szelsofa. Thank you.