Writing the Walk, Part 2

Yes, I failed to post yesterday. You appear to have survived. Well done.

The first part of “Writing the Walk” (shielded introspection) is found here: https://strangedavid.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/writing-the-walk-part-1/

Before I launch into the second style, I feel that it’s imperative to point out that from this point on, unless otherwise specified, I am very specifically fictionalizing the account. One of biggest mistakes readers make about any author is assuming that all writing is reflective of the writer’s actual experiences. This would be akin to assuming that because George Clooney played a doctor on the showER that he clearly has a medical background, or that the Beatles really did live on a yellow submarine at some point prior to writing the song.

Instead, like an actor linking his character’s emotion to a real emotion the actor has experienced, as a fiction writer I will take bits and pieces of reality and perception and blend them into something that I hope turns out to be universally recognizable but a completely made-up event.

(Let me put it this way. Very, very few of my characters are based on anyone I know in any way other than maybe by name. The vast majority of my characters are based on a concentrated, distilled amalgamation of everyone I’ve ever known. I’m taking pixels from photos of everyone I know and assembling them into a new image; if I do it well, it will seem photorealistic.)

So. Onward.

When writing fiction, I am generally trying to convey two things: data and context. When I say data, I mean facts without regard to any emotional input. When I say context, I mean everything that isn’t data, but that affects how you perceive the data. To get even more specific, I think of data as anything that you would need to know in order for the story to be logical, and context as anything that I hope states, implies, or allows you to infer elements that make you feel.

Realistically, it’s almost impossible to separate the two elements. Whether you intend to or not, you have your own frame of reference that you bring to everything you read. If I tell you that a character wore a red sweater, that may be me providing you with data — but think about it for a moment. What did that information imply or allow you to infer? Do you have an idea about the temperature? The outfit? Is it fashionable or hopelessly out of date? Does “sweater” make you think Bill Cosby or Lana Turner? Are you picturing a true red, a bold and bright red, something rusty or faded? Hopefully, the rest of what I write around it will provide you with a framework in which your inferences and my implications will match up to the extent that I desire, regardless of the full backdrop I have as writer or you have as reader.

The second method for writing the walk will focus on “data detailing.” (Again, the terms are mine and might not work for professional creative writing teachers, etc.)

In data detailing, the point of view is third person limited; this means that you don’t get to peer into the mindsets of any characters. Instead, the reader is pure observer, as you might be if you were watching a movie. You can infer as much as you like, and as a writer I can still attempt to imply things, but only by providing details that you would be able to sense if you were present.

My favorite example of “data detailing” is in the novel The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett. You never know what the main character is thinking exactly, but you can make some suppositions based on what he does and what he says. (You should totally read it.)

Data detailing can give you the opportunity to leave the readers unsettled by not explaining things at all, which can add to unexpected punches or twists.

Reiterating that I am fictionalizing the walk from here on out unless otherwise specified, here is how I might write the walk using data detailing.

The wheels of the stroller rolled steadily over the fallen seedpods and dead grass, wobbling slightly on the cracks in the old pavement. The man pushing it kept his eyes forward, alternating between the interior of the stroller itself and the road before him. Sounds of traffic rang from nearby streets although no vehicles passed by the man on the warm afternoon. The air was still, and the melange of scents through the residential neighborhood was faint.

The man slowed at corners, turning onto new streets after a cursory glance for non-existent cars, crossing at angles and staying on the left side. The stroller had cupholders, and the man occasionally took a sip from a soda. He neither smiled nor frowned, but instead maintained a steady stream of whispers toward the stroller.

At one intersection, a burly man working an electric saw on fifteen-foot planks wiped sweat from his brow and said, “How about you do this and I push that baby around for a while?”

The thinner man looked up from the stroller and made an indistinguishable sound; one corner of his mouth turned up in an expression that could not be described as a smile. The burly man nodded and returned to his work.

On the next block, the man pushed the stroller past a woman in a track suit pulling weeds, and a man staring motionlessly at a thick crack in his driveway.

He stopped pushing the stroller for a moment when a squirrel crossed his path. He watched silently as the animal studied its environment. It never looked up at him. When it reached the other side, the man started walking and whispering to the stroller again.

On the final block, a woman approached, smiling. “How old?” she asked, her voice squeaking. Her brow wrinkled as she saw that the seat in the stroller carried only a crisp blue blanket and a brightly colored rattle.

“He would have been eight months.”

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This entry was posted in Words, Words, Words, Writing, Writing the Walk and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Writing the Walk, Part 2

  1. Betty Navta says:

    Excellent description and example of Third Person Limited. Thanks!

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