Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Third Person POV--Part 5

Finished the track changes for Violet Dawn last night. Here is the fate of various “unusual” words. (Rather a subjective thing, I still argue. I don’t think any of them are that unusual).

Obdurate: replaced with stubborn. This was a POV issue, as we discussed last week. The character probably wouldn’t think the word obdurate, so at the editor’s suggestion, I changed it.

Flexuous: allowed to stay. Even though the editor admitted she had to look it up. I think it’s understandable through context (“. . . flexuous road,” already described as winding, snaking.)

Umbra—deleted merely to tighten writing. Didn’t need the word or a replacement. I’ve always really liked this word.

Viscous: I really don’t think this is unusual. At any rate, it stays. Understandable through context, I believe.

Enervated: Stays. Understandable through context (I hope). (This isn’t all that unusual a word either, is it?)

Sisyphean: Stays. Understandable through context. But really, is this all that strange a word? You sit through Greek lit, you know what Sisyphean is.

And now, back to Third Person POV. Today—Omniscient. That removed voice, that camera up above, looking down upon all.

To illustrate this voice from the classics, I’m going to run one of my favorite scenes from A Tale of Two Cities. As you read, pay attention to where the voice is. Is it ever close enough to be in a character’s head? Is it removed equally from all characters? How is this voice different and/or the same from today’s “head-hopping?” Leave your feedback, and we’ll discuss these questions and answers tomorrow.

Setting – 1775, in Saint Antoine, an impoverished district in Paris, near the beginning of the French Revolution. For years the common people’s anger has been building against the French aristocracy, who stuff themselves with delicacies and the best things in life while sneering with contempt at the villagers, who must scrabble for a mere bit of bread. Wine-shop owners Ernest Defarge and his wife are leaders of the revolutionists. They and their followers have already swept through Paris, forcing their way into the Bastille and releasing its prisoners. But the mob’s anger against individuals who have persecuted them is still not vented. A week has passed since the storming of the Bastille.

Madame Defarge, with her arms folded, sat in the morning light and heat, contemplating the wine-shop and the street. In both, there were several knots of loungers, squalid and miserable, but now with a manifest sense of power enthroned on their distress. The raggedest nightcap, awry on the wretchedest head, had this crooked significance in it: ‘I know how hard it has grown for me, the wearer of this, to support life in myself; but do you know how easy it has grown for me, the wearer of this, to destroy life in you?’ Every lean bare arm, that had been without work before, had this work always ready for it now, that it could strike. The fingers of the knitting women were vicious, with the experience that they could tear. There was a change in the appearance of Saint Antoine; the image had been hammering into this for hundreds of years, and the last finishing blows had told mightily on the expression.

Madame Defarge sat observing it, with such suppressed approval as was to be desired in the leader of the Saint Antoine women. One of her sisterhood knitted beside her. The short, rather plump wife of a starved grocer, and the mother of two children withal, this lieutenant had already earned the complimentary name of The Vengeance.

‘Hark!’ said The Vengeance. ‘Listen, then! Who comes?’

As if a trail of powder laid from the outermost bound of the Saint Antoine Quarter to the wine-shop door, had been suddenly fired, a fast-spreading murmur came rushing along.

‘It is Defarge,’ said madame. ‘Silence, patriots.’

Defarge came in breathless, pulled off a red cap he wore, and looked round him! ‘Listen, everywhere!’ said madame again. ‘Listen to him!’ Defarge stood, panting, against a background of eager eyes and open mouths, formed outside the door; all those within the wine-shop had sprung to their feet.

‘Say then, my husband. What is it?’

‘News from the other world!’

‘How, then?’ cried madame, contemptuously. ‘The other world?’

‘Does everybody here recall old Foulon, who told the famished people that they might eat grass, and who died, and went to Hell?’

‘Everybody!’ from all throats.

‘The news is of him. He is among us!’

‘Among us!’ from the universal throat again. ‘And dead?’

‘Not dead! He feared us so much – and with much reason – that he caused himself to be represented as dead, and had a grand, mock-funeral. But they have found him alive, hiding in the country, and have brought him in. I have seen him but now, on his way to the Hotel de Ville, a prisoner. I have said that he had reason to fear us. Say all! Had he reason?’

Wretched old sinner of more than threescore years and then, if he had never known it yet, he would have known it in his heart of hearts if he could have heard the answering cry.

A moment of profound silence followed. Defarge and his wife looked steadfastly at one another. The Vengeance stooped, and the jar of a drum was heard as she moved it at her feet behind the counter.

‘Patriots!’ said Defarge, in a determined voice, ‘are we ready?’

Instantly Madame Defarge’s knife was in her girdle; the drum was beating in the streets, as if it and a drummer had flown together by magic; and The Vengeance, uttering terrific shrieks, and flinging her arms about her head like all the forty Furies at once, was tearing from house to house, rousing the women.

The men were terrible, in the bloody-minded anger with which they looked from windows, caught up what arms they had, and came pouring down into the streets; but, the women were a sight to chill the boldest. From such household occupations as their bare poverty yielded, from their children, from their aged and their sick crouching on the bare ground, famished and naked, they ran out with streaming hair, urging one another, and themselves, to madness with the wildest cries and actions. Villain Foulon taken, my sister! Old Foulon taken, my mother! Miscreant Foulon taken, my daughter! Then, a score of others ran into the midst of these, beating their breasts, tearing their hair, and screaming, Foulon alive! Foulon who told the starving people they might eat grass! Foulon who told my old father that he might eat grass, when I had no bread to give him! Foulon who told my baby it might suck grass, when these breasts were dry with want! O mother of God, this Foulon! O Heaven, our suffering! Hear me, my dead baby and my withered father: I swear on my knees, on these stones, to avenge you on Foulon! Husbands, and brothers, and young men, Give us the blood of Foulon, Give us the body and soul of Foulon, Rip Foulon to pieces, and dig him into the ground, that grass may grow from him! With these cries, numbers of the women, lashed into blind frenzy, whirled about, striking and tearing at their own friends until they dropped into a passionate swoon, and were only saved by the men belonging to them from being trampled under foot.

Nevertheless, not a moment was lost; not a moment! This Foulon was at the Hotel de Ville, and might be loosed. Never, if Saint Antoine knew its own sufferings, insults, and wrongs! Armed men and women flocked out of the Quarter so fast, and drew even these last dregs after them with such a force of suction, that within a quarter of an hour there was not a human creature in Saint Antoine’s bosom but a few old crones and the wailing children.

No. They were all by that time choking the Hall of Examination where this old man, ugly and wicked, was, and overflowing into the adjacent open space and streets. The Defarges, husband and wife, The Vengeance, and Jacques Three, were in the first press, and at no great distance from him in the Hall.

‘See!’ cried madame pointing with her knife. ‘See the old villain bound with ropes. That was well done to tie a bunch of grass upon his back. Ha, ha! That was well done. Let him eat it now!’ Madame put her knife under her arm, and clapped her hands as at a play.

The people immediately behind Madame Defarge, explaining the cause of her satisfaction to those behind them, and those again explaining to others, and those to others, the neighbouring streets resounded with the clapping of hands. Similarly, during two or three hours of brawl, and the winnowing of many bushels of words, Madame Defarge’s frequent expressions of impatience were taken up, with marvellous quickness, at a distance: the more readily, because certain men who had by some wonderful exercise of agility climbed up the external architecture to look in from the windows, knew Madame Defarge well, and acted as a telegraph between her and the crowd outside the building.

At length the sun rose so high that it struck a kindly ray as of hope or protection, directly down upon the old prisoner’s head. The favour was too much to bear; in an instant the barrier of dust and chaff that had stood surprisingly long, went to the winds, and Saint Antoine had got him!

It was known directly, to the furthest confines of the crowd. Defarge had but sprung over a railing and a table, and folded the miserable wretch in a deadly embrace – Madame Defarge had but followed and turned her hand in one of the ropes with which he was tied – The Vengeance and Jacques Three were not yet up with them, and the men at the windows had not yet swooped into the Hall, like birds of prey from their high perches – when the cry seemed to go up, all over the city, ‘Bring him out! Bring him to the lamp!’

Down, and up, and head foremost on the steps of the building; now, on his knees; now, on his feet; now, on his back; dragged, and struck at, and stifled by the bunches of grass and straw that were thrust into his face by hundreds of hands; torn, bruised, panting, bleeding, yet always entreating and beseeching for mercy; now full of vehement agony of action, with a small clear space about him as the people drew one another back that they might see; now, a log of dead wood drawn through a forest of legs; he was hauled to the nearest street corner where one of the fatal lamps swung, and there Madame Defarge let him go – as a cat might have done to a mouse – and silently and composedly looked at him while they made ready, and while he besought her: the women passionately screeching at him all the time, and the men sternly calling out to have him killed with grass in his mouth. Once, he went aloft, and the rope broke, and they caught him, shrieking; twice, he went aloft, and the rope broke, and they caught him shrieking; then, the rope was merciful, and held him, and his head was soon upon a pike, with grass enough in the mouth for all saint Antoine to dance at the sight of.


Anonymous said...

Ee-yuck. The very reason I hated English, writing, and all things literary in high school.


C.J. Darlington said...

I want to know, do these words just come to you, or do you read the dictionary for fun? Not that that's a bad thing ...

Becky said...

Brandilyn, I agree with your assessment of most of your words: viscuous and enervated are not words I would have called unusual. Not particularly common in speech, but common enough in writing, I think. Sisyphean? I haven't looked it up yet and don't remember the context from any Greek lit I studied. But that's OK--told you, I think a few of these stretch readers and that's a good thing, in my opinion.

As to the omniscient in the selected passage: I have to say, as horrific as the events were--an evil man who had rubbed famine in the faces of the most needy, about to be dragged out of his prison and executed by the equivalent of a lynch mob--I stopped reading about halfway. I had no character I identified with or cared about. I know that changes when you read a whole book (I'm currently re-reading Fellowship of the Ring--also written in omniscient--and I have no trouble identifying with Frodo).

But your questions: 'Is it (the narrator voice) ever close enough to be in a character’s head? Is it removed equally from all characters? How is this voice different and/or the same from today’s "head-hopping?"'

No, the voice is not close enough to be in the characters' heads, and doesn't need to be because enough is told so that we know (but do not feel) what the character is thinking.

Yes, it is removed equally from all characters.

Head-hopping takes you deeply into one character's mind, then a second, maybe a third--all in the same scene. It becomes disorienting because "overhearing" someone's thoughts generally puts the reader in that person's corner (we "see" things the way that person does). If a writer gives varying, and perhaps conflicting, thoughts, it becomes difficult to follow and impossible to know what to believe.

An example would be something like: John flashed his brightest smile. What a lovely woman--as courteous as she was beautiful. And she was beautiful, a real example of what a Christian woman should be. Good thing Katie was in her fifth grade class. He shifted his gaze to his wife.

Angie glanced at her husband before staring at Miss Snyder once again. That woman had the gall to show up here after her rude comments. How was a mother to teach her daughter in such a classroom environment with such a teacher.

When Miss Snyder noticed Angie's penetrating gaze, she nodded toward the couple. Not that she wanted to. They were the epitome of all she desired--loving, healthy, rich--and seeing them sent twists of jealousy through her. If only she could swallow the biting words that jumped to her mind, but if she approached their table, something vicious might slip out. Then the whole community would know what she already knew about herself. She couldn't risk that and would need to stay clear of their table.

OK, I don't know if that example does anything or not. (Actually I'm getting kind of interested in these characters--hahah.) The point I wanted to make was that this shift from person to person to person keeps readers wondering what really is the case. We have such disparate views and if that went on for long, readers would quickly lose interest because trying to tell which character was seeing things most accurately would be hard and not having one character to cheer for would leave readers unsympathetic to any.


Jennifer Tiszai said...

I liked all your words, Brandilyn. I think they are more uncommon than unusual because I'm sure I've run across them in print fairly recently.

Tale of Two Cities is one of my favorite books, and while the third person omniscient is out of style now, Dickens still uses it to great emotional effect. It is one of the most moving books I've ever read, but I think it's because that emotion builds through out the book, rather than being felt immediately in each scene like it would be if we were in third person close.

Still, it makes me wonder. How would the book be different if it were written in a more modern style, like third person close or removed? Would Dickens still be able to accomplish what he did or would the work suffer?

Something to think about anyhow.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I understood the omniscient POV in the piece, but I don't think I could do that format justice.

I need to be closer to my characters, and for the time being, decidedly less complicated.

I'll stick with third person close until I've got a ton more writing under my belt, or pen, or whatever phrase a writer would use in this instance.

Anonymous said...

personally i think flexuous is kinda obvious. but, hey, just me...

Lynette Sowell said...

Thanks for sharing this. Personally I feel it is beautiful, tactile use of language which gives an entirely different experience than a modern POV purist's work might read. Is there room for this in our 'modern' work? I believe so. I think sometimes we take the idea of being so 'touchy-feely' with our characters too far. We think that unless we're inhaling along with the character it's not good writing. And that's not true.

Erin Valentine said...

I think there's a balance to be achieved. Everything I've read or been told in the past two years denigrates omniscient POV, champions action over narration, and suggests 'unusual' words be deleted.

And yet? Many of the prize-winning books I've read this last year or two, ABA and CBA, are heavy on narration, omniscient POV, and quirky words.

Friends, family and students tell me they love these books. Maybe a majority of people prefer one style of writing over another, but I'm intrigued by the notion that there's room for some books to differ from the multitude.