Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Lines of Sight and Out of Shot: N M Browne


One of the elements of writing that often causes the most trouble for students (and for me) is, what everyone now calls: 'point of
Cover: Marina Esmeraldo
view.' I mean, I’ve been doing this a while now so I don’t usually switch between character perspectives accidentally. I do, however, still struggle to enter the mind and milieu of my protagonist as completely as I need to. I find my own characteristic verbal tics turn up whether I’m supposed to be a wolf, a Saxon warrior or a teenage time traveller none of whom should sound like a middle aged white woman.  It takes considerable effort on my part to imagine being ‘other’ and to enter the linguistic and perceptual world of this ‘other’ mind. I have no tips to offer. Sorry. I approach it in my usual bumbling irrational way, working it out by trial and error. Sometimes I never get there and I have at least two unpublished novels on my hard drive which are narrated by entirely the wrong person in completely the wrong way. 
      Often, it helps to think about  the  sight line of my character. I’m an irritating half inch shy of five foot five, but my characters are taller (if they are a person as a kind of form of personal wish fulfilment) or shorter (if they are an animal) so they see things from  a physically different perspective as well as understanding things from an intellectually and emotionally different perspective. I find this most challenging when the characters belong to a different age, and interpret the world through a lens that I have  to research, re-envisage and then realise realistically on the page. It’s no wonder I got it wrong so often: moreover the result cannot just be a theoretical  exercise in empathy and imagination, it absolutely has to engage and entertain the reader too. 
    Knowing how hard it is, it is  a joy to come across a writer who pulls off this most demanding of tricks with apparent ease.  So I am going to recommend the novels of my friend the talented Christina Koning. She is  an award winner writer, journalist and academic who is just publishing the fourth book, ‘Out of Shot’ in her series of detective stories set in the thirties (writing as A C Koning.) 
     I was blown away with the subtlety and skill with which she introduces her  detective Frederick Rowlands in the fist book ‘Line of Sight’. It appeals because, blinded by shrapnel in 1917, he no longer has that all important sight-line, yet he arrives on the page fully formed, credibly endowed with the attitudes of his time, struggling to apprehend his new virtually sight less world, straining every sense. Consequently,  the reader sees and hear his vivid world with unusual clarity. This new volume, set in the Germany in 1933, just as Hitler has become Chancellor, allows Koning to combine a mystery set within the glamorous film industry of the period with a terrifying search for a lost boy. The reader’s knowledge of the historical record only heightens the tension, but Rowlands himself remains firmly rooted in his own time, dealing only with what he perceives and that, in itself, is tense enough. 

   I urge would-be writers to read the series as a lesson in the clever use of a third person limited viewpoint where the protagonist has very clear limitations. I urge everyone else to read it because all the books are cracking stories, well told. 

1 comment:

Dot Schwarz said...

I will do that becasue i have just finished jo waltons fairy tale Amongst others which captivated this grumpy old woman totally.