Blind Spots

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I was inspired to write this post after reading Nannus’ Turning the Other Way which explains what blind spots are and how they apply to all thinking. It’s directed toward everyone, artists and non-artists alike. It’s beautifully written and a quick read, so please check it out first. It might inspire you to take a stroll down an oft-neglected path.

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I thought I might apply his insights to writing and its connection to our sphere of attention in everyday life.

I’ve become aware of systemic problems in my fiction writing through my writing group. These friends constantly and unanimously tell me that I need to include more visual descriptions. Not only that, but I have a tendency to mess up time in such a way that one would have to posit parallel universes in order to make sense of what I’ve written. (And I don’t write Sci-Fi, so this is truly problematic.)

Now that I’m working on the second draft of my novel, I’m forced to face these annoying details head on.

But wait. Are these just annoying details? Or is there a greater problem here?

It wasn’t until recently that I realized why I keep having these same problems over and over:

Your blind spots in writing are your blind spots in real life.

They say you should write what you know, but if you’re not a great observer, your writing is going to reflect that.

I am not a great observer. I don’t pay a lot of attention to visual details like what the room looks like, etc. Not unless something really strikes me as out of place.

For example, I get annoyed when people interrupt a conversation to point out some object in the background, or something someone is wearing, or whatever, and I think, “Are you listening to me?” It’s because I don’t pay great attention to those things I can’t imagine such a detail trumping the words that come out of their mouths. I usually come away from such people feeling like a very boring person. Maybe I am, or—and I hope this is true—maybe I’m just not as attuned to these things as other people are.

Which explains why dialogue is the easiest for me to write. It’s what I pay attention to in life. Other people find describing a room or a landscape very easy, but have a hard time coming up with “things to say” for their characters.

Of course, I would object that you can’t just tack on dialogue. It has to be integrated into the story and the character. You don’t just make up filler because you know your character should probably say something at some point.

Yet what have I been doing with visual descriptions? Tacking them on. So imagine:

So and so has blue eyes and brown hair.

I hope I’m not the only one who finds this boring. This is the kind of stuff I gloss over when I’m reading a novel. Too many of those kinds of lines will make me stop reading.

No more tacking on. I have to go out into the world and pay attention, I have to force myself to focus on things I’m not used to. That means I have to select the appropriate and relevant details, and see their meaning. I need to clue myself into visual details that in themselves tell a story.

What stories am I missing in life? Is life really a Platonic dialogue? No, this is just the way I’ve been seeing it—and this excludes of a lot of potentially interesting things.

I have to learn to pay attention to my real life blind spots or else my writing will not feel true. This requires expanding my horizon of attention, and I don’t suspect this will be an easy feat.

(Not unless I find myself stuck at a dinner party chatting with someone boring.)

Are you aware of your blind spots? What are they?

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58 thoughts on “Blind Spots

  1. Would you consider putting a draft chapter or two up here for us blog subscribers to view Tina? You could take it down after 24 hrs. as we would have email copies. Are you quite certain that these ‘systemic problems’ are not in part some reflection of the group which claims them to be yours alone? I’m sure you respect their views, though as I recall, you did not experience such feedback with your earlier writings which were lauded. It seems an impossible task for you to, in effect, rewrite yourself in order for you to continue writing as yourself. Whilst we do all have blind spots, in a sense they shape our character I think. If we saw everything more or less fully as it was, might we not be very dull? I know quite a few professional artists – painters, sculptors, musicians – and they all have pretty obvious and rather large blind spots.

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    • Quite true about our blind spots reflecting our character. I’ve been told that I have my head in the clouds ever since I was a little kid. I doubt I’ll really change myself, but I do hope to be able to focus more—consciously—on those things that I’m very likely to miss unless I force myself to pay attention.

      Now my writing group is very critical, but we all accept that under a background of respect and appreciation for each other’s writing. I do notice that we all have different styles, and certain patterns keep cropping up that reveal our strengths and weaknesses. Luckily, we are very specific with each other, so these things I’m describing here are not useless general commentary. They might say, “I wish I knew what Sarah looked like” or “Where exactly are these people? You start off at x place and suddenly they’re in a different place.” Things like that.

      Very true that if we saw things as they really are, we would be boring. Actually impossible, I would think. What I’m hoping for are stories given through visual details, like how various people move when they speak, what their belongings have to say about them, what the environment does to them and the story, etc. I generally dive into people’s thoughts, but this can often have a floating mind, stream of consciousness effect. (Not always what I’m going for!)

      I’d be happy to show you my writing…I’d be grateful! I will email it to you and I’d love to hear your comments.

      I don’t want to publish it on my blog because I’ve been warned that blog publishing is publishing, and this can cause problems. I don’t know how true that is, but I’d rather not find out.

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      • That all makes good sense, and I greatly appreciate you sharing some draft of your work. I am being defensive about your stated dearth of visual descriptions as I share your stance – and blind spot! Nothing bores me quite so much as having to read a paragraph all about the pattern on a carpet.

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        • Ha! I wondered about that. Maybe that’s why we like each other?

          Well I’m eager to hear what you think of the writing. I’ve reworked that first chapter many times, so you might find it not really lacking in visual descriptions. But we’ll see. The first version of that chapter had no forward movement, no sense of place…it was sort of a floating monologue.

          The bridge metaphor that comes later in the chapter was the thing that kickstarted the whole book. I was hiking one day and I imagined this surreal scene with a professor giving that lecture (in his own head, of course). I originally had that come first, but people found it boring because nothing happens, there’s no action. A bad start for a novel. And since the general reader doesn’t care about the plight of philosophy, it was double boring.

          So now I have him driving too fast down the mountain while he’s imagining this—grounded in scene—and that mountain will come back later symbolically in a chapter I didn’t give you.

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      • I have printed the whole PDF and carefully read for a little while before lunch. Having done so, I couldn’t understand the point you make in the article above. Frankly Tina, and it seems wrong to say this, I was rather taken aback at the exceptional quality of your words, the interlacing of your irrepressible wit with deeply perceptive and very subtle observations. I don’t read much fiction these days, though I’ve not read anything of such a standard since my last Ian McEwan novel – I think that’s not an unreasonable comparison to make; the two of you blend dry wit and perspicacity in similarly understated ways. That’s all for now, save to say that I mean what I say.

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        • Wow! Thank you! You know, though, feel free to comment on any details you think are off…really. Really, really.

          Also, I should point out that I’ve reworked those chapters quite a bit. I’ve made efforts to include those sensory details and get the continuity and flow right. I even combined two chapters—just sort of smashed them together and stitched them up—to get more action going right off the bat. If you read some of the later chapters or if you saw those chapters as they were originally, you’d see what I mean.

          I LOVE Ian McEwan. He’s one of my favorite contemporary writers. To be compared to him is, well, ego swelling. I’m beating it down, but the ego just keeps fighting me. I’d bet on the ego winning. 🙂

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      • Yes Tina, I am making notes and highlighting as I go. So far there has been only one thing that made me wonder momentarily – it was when Dr. F. felt ‘nauseated’ – all the other notes are positive, and I may well be off the mark myself with that minor note of hesitancy.

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        • Oh good…I don’t remember that part, but I probably just threw it in there. I can’t wait to read your notes.

          Question: With the syllogisms, do you feel that you have to analyze them in order to get the story? I tried to write them so that those who want to geek out and check their validity can do so by looking at the footnote, but others who don’t care can just read along and take it as a little mystery. My husband saw those and he said, “Oh Tina, this is terrible, you’re making me think.” I don’t want the general reader to feel that way. My husband of course had to check them and boy did he whine about that.

          In other words, I don’t want people to feel like they HAVE to take those too seriously. That’s why I made them all valid so that the reader only needs to think about soundness—whether or not the premises are true. Even there, I hope no one feels too worried about that.

          Also, later, Dr. Fischelson writes back to The Philosopher and interprets the syllogisms for the reader.

          I just don’t want it all to feel like a stumbling block…it’s supposed to be sort of funny and ridiculous, especially the content of the syllogisms, which will soon devolve into utter absurdity and break out of the syllogistic form completely.

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      • I wasn’t going to read what you sent until Sunday Tina, but after I printed the PDF I was too excited not to read on straight away. Still, I only read the first 20 pages (making remarks to myself in the margins), so it’s far too early to tell whether these syllogisms would get in the way for me. There are only the three from The Philosopher in the first 20 pages (the mysterious letter), and their appearance within the main text body is altogether necessary as they are central to the narrative so far. Given that he (The Philosopher), is necessarily being a bit cryptic, then that needs to be conveyed somehow, and the syllogisms don’t seem overly taxing – though maybe further ones will be for me personally (not that bright!). Incidentally, had I read the mysterious syllogistic letter as its recipient, I would have questioned whether this ‘friend’ of mine was perhaps borderline psychopathic: the 3rd. syllogism [Notwithstanding the gender ambiguity of the referent.] Just getting such a letter would make me feel a bit paranoid; and I would discount the ‘friend’ thing given the opening salutation. Anyway, it’s a privilege for me to get an early peep at your fabulous work Tina. Others here would be far better placed to give you appraisals, though I must reiterate how wonderfully absorbing, amusing and subtly observant I am so far finding it. Many sincere congratulations!

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        • Your feedback is great! I’m glad it felt a bit cryptic…I was hoping the syllogisms would add tension. Really only a psychopath would do such a thing…or a very neurotic individual anyways. It took me three days just to write the syllogisms! (Maybe I’m the one who needs to get my head checked.) 🙂

          Thanks for reading! And no rush…read at your leisure, when you want, if you want.

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  2. This is very illuminating. I think I’m in the same boat with you. I enjoy writing dialogue, and I skimp on the descriptions, because they seem like boring filler. My stories end up sounding more like plays than novellas. My spouse likes to point out that I am not very observant. But yes, other people experience the world very differently and they want to know what the environment and the people LOOK like. Perhaps it would help to expand the senses beyond the visual, to include sounds and textures, too.

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    • Yes, exactly! Your point about using the other senses is what my writer’s group also points out. Even those people who are very observant sometimes need a reminder to bring in the other senses.

      The part of my novel that takes place in Greece has a lot of all senses. This I didn’t have to think about, because all these details simply stood out to me. It was just as Nannus says in his post, when you are a foreigner, you see everything equally, so are more likely to spot something new.

      I’m really fortunate to have Greece in my novel, and to have had the opportunity to go there. A lot of details that I simply couldn’t have made up went into my novel and everything fit just perfectly with my themes. I don’t know whether I was looking for these details or whether I just got lucky. In any case, it feels sort of like a miracle.

      For instance, the dichotomy of this beautiful glowing Acropolis towering above streets covered in graffiti and litter, stray cats and homeless people…I even have a photograph of the Parthenon from this angle. This dichotomy works well for the themes in my novel. There are countless other details that just magically fell into place for me. My writer friends were so surprised to find all these sensory details appearing all of a sudden, and they praised that to the skies, but then there was still the time and continuity issues. 🙂

      I think it would be really great to have some kind of program that makes a little video of your novel as your writing it, so you can just hit play and watch it all unfold as it’s written. Then you could easily spot coffee cups disappearing, people appearing out of thin air or walking into walls, that sort of thing. 🙂

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      • Very interesting Tina. I’ve started a post climate change story set in my local area where the river Tyne has flooded and made thousands homeless. I had fun describing all the local landmarks being submerged and so on. Its for my local writing group and we are limited to 500words. I’ve used smell, sight, sound but not taste so far. Yes, you’ve guessed: I have no idea yet where I could go with this basic idea! Has anyone else read David Brin? I’ve just discovered his work in Existence (SF) and am impressed with his virtuosic writing – a collage of disparate ideas/subjects. He worked at NASA. I’m rambling; I shd stop!

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        • 500 words! Oh my, that’s hard. I can’t even a write a blog post that short. If I were you, I’d probably just write and write until the subject felt exhausted. Such a subject sounds too big for 500 words, but you might find you get two nice pieces out of it, perhaps with entirely different points. Might be worth a try, I dunno. But even if you decide to keep it just one 500 word piece, I wouldn’t even think about that until you get it all out first. You might find your theme at the very end of a long storm of writing. That tends to be the case, at least for me.

          I haven’t read David Brin. He sounds interesting. He worked for NASA then started a writing career? That’s quite a leap!

          BTW, you can ramble here any time you want. It’s totally allowed. I do it all the time. 🙂

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          • OK- contuinuing to ramble! No, I meant I’d just read the first 500 words to my group but want to develop it to something longer! Existence was published just last year but its got me wanting to look at his earlier stuff. Mind you Existence is over 600 pages!

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      • That is a great point about being a visitor, which causes you to become much more open to environmental details. But beyond that, there is something sublime (in the physical and spiritual senses) about the Acropolis. I remember sitting in the roof garden of our hotel, very jet lagged, drinking retsina and looking at the Parthenon, all lit up at night. That is a sight one can never forget. And yes, the contrast with the pollution and poverty and other less uplifting aspects of the city also leaves an indelible impression.
        Continuity IS tricky. And with a novel like yours, if some little detail like that was off, I would assume it had meaning!!

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        • I had the same experience on our rooftop terrace! In fact, that terrace makes it into the novel. From there the views were spectacular. I could see all the way to the Piraeus. It was magical.

          My friends in the writer’s group notice things like that all the time, and you’re right, they think it means something! (Unless it’s really obvious that I didn’t intend to do it.)

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  3. I have such complicated feelings about physical descriptions of characters. I love knowing things about the characters I read, but I also love imagining them the way I’d like to imagine them. I love reading about their descriptions (if it’s done in a useful, expository way) but I also hate having the story interrupted. I love the children’s literature convention of having the physical description be the way we get to know a character at the start, but I also feel like it’s trite.

    It’s all very complicated, and thus, comes down to execution. I think you can get away with not having this kind of description if you establish the right mood!

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    • Yes, it’s a very tricky thing. There’s a lot that must be left to the imagination, I agree. That’s part of what makes fiction so wonderful.

      I’m learning that I do best to rely on POV to tell the story of physical traits. That way you’re saying something about two characters at the same time—what your POV character would notice and the other person being noticed. It’s harder to do this when your POV character is oblivious to this sort of thing…that’s my predicament with my professor protagonist. With him, I’ve been able to draw a little sketch of the people he notices by relying on the fact that he wouldn’t remember their names (they aren’t his students), so he makes up nicknames in his head that descriptively identify them. Later, these descriptive identifiers get dropped and real names take their place as he gets to know these people.

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  4. My blind spots often have to do with myself. It’s often unnerving to confront these, as even when they come to my attention, I still don’t see them. Therefore, I try to adhere to the maxim “if everyone around you is a problem, this means YOU are the problem.” This means if multiple people criticize me, I’ll take it seriously, even if I still don’t see the foundation for the criticism.

    I really like the analogy of a mirror. I cannot see my body. However, if I have a mirror, I can see a reflection of my body. I use the reactions of others as a “mirror” in which to view myself, although one must tread carefully here.

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    • Yes, this is an interesting way to look at oneself. Have you ever noticed that certain people tend to bring drama with them wherever they go? Yet these people don’t seem to notice. They go on complaining about things that happen to them without once stopping to ask themselves if they could be the cause of these constant disasters. Of course, it’s possible that they could just be very unlucky, but I find that hard to believe.

      I like your mirror analogy. I do something similar in writing workshops. While in my writing group, I can pretty much take what everyone says at face value, in a large class where I don’t necessarily agree with or trust everyone’s opinions, I take a sort of democratic approach. Usually there are a few paragraphs that everyone comments on. This seems to happen every time, patterns emerge. They might disagree with each other, and some may be right and others wrong, but I simply take note of what everyone’s noticing and revisit that section. In other words, they act as a sort of mirror for locating my problems without necessarily “diagnosing” the problem.

      The same thing can be applied in real life, but as you say, one must tread carefully.

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  5. Pingback: On the Relationship Among Objects, Self, Conceptualization and The Path | bloggingisaresponsibility

  6. Setting is a wonderful tool for psycho-analysis. When Socrates wears combat boots with cut-off jeans, he is telling the world about himself every bit as much as when he talks. When Plato chooses to decorate his living room with a $12,000 crystal chandelier AND the world’s finest taxidermy, he is communicating with the other characters, with the reader and with you.

    Another fun way to think about setting is to try and think about it in purely sensual terms. One of my favorite images I’ve used in my fiction is about a solitary rain-cloud over the ocean, dark grey against a clear blue sky and pouring so hard the rain looked like tentacles. I imagined being under that cloud and how it would sting.

    Then I came up with a metaphor for this sort of cloud, a poison jellyfish dragging its stinging arms across the sea.

    So, I guess what I’m saying is you might want to focus on how the setting feels and what it reveals about character rather than simply making sure you have a catalog of details.

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  7. I’m a little over overawed by all the writing talent contributing to this post but I like your idea of blind spots. I’m an INTJ and for most of my life was very short-sighted, which I think accounts for the fact that like you, I’m verbal but not a great observer. However, we tend to observe what strikes us as unusual, so having plenty of new and exciting experiences might rekindle your observation skills as it has mine.

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  8. I’m not sure I’d agree that you have a problem. All of us value different things in our experiences, and our writing will reflect those values. It sounds to me like your writing group is trying to remake you in their image. I actually have much the same reaction that you do to writing that contains excessive visual detail. If the detail is relevant, then give it to me. If it’s not, I’m fine without it.

    J.R.R. Tolkein’s writing is obsessed with dates, geography, and chronology, but rarely mentions clothing. George R. R. Martin is fascinated by medieval clothing, food, and other details of his world, but not chronology or distance, which he tends to skim over. I doubt anyone would accuse either writer of “doing it wrong”, despite the differences in their emphasis.

    All of which is to say, write your way, emphasize the points you think are important. People with similar orientations will like it. Very detailed oriented people will probably be frustrated, but you and I will likely be frustrated by their writing. You can’t please everyone.

    Of course, I’m not published, so take what I say with a grain of salt 🙂

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    • So true, you can’t please everyone. And good points about other writers. I think in a writing group we tend to be more critical than the general reader is. I try not to think of this, though, because I want them to be critical…now it’s a matter of weeding through the criticisms and taking up the ones that ring true to me.

      Glad to see you’re back! I’ve missed reading your posts.

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      • Thanks. I’m still fighting shoulder problems, and it’s left me somewhat unmotivated to be online, at least in any active capacity. Seeing an orthopedist later this afternoon. Hopefully things will be back to normal soon.

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          • Thanks. Truth is, I could have gone in sooner to see them. Instead I just visited a physical therapist and assumed I could fix it that way. Anyway, the results of today’s visit is that I might have a rotator cuff tear, which would require surgery. Now it’s an MRI on Wednesday and a follow up visit Friday. I’m fine with surgery or whatever if it moves the problem closer to being solved.

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          • Wow, you got in for the MRI fast. That’s great. I imagine you must be in a lot of pain to be wanting to move into surgery and get it over with. I know how you feel in wanting to move things along…I’m there too with the dizziness. Just fix me!

            I don’t know what rotator cuff surgery is like, but I know in other kinds of surgery the recovery times are quite varied, depending on the person and a lot of factors. Hopefully if you have to do surgery, your recovery will be fast, but be prepared to take it easy for a while. It can take some time. And surgeons are not always clear about this or they downplay it.

            In any case, I hope it’s not too difficult to keep us informed on your situation… even if its just a quick one handed post like this with no punctuation id still like to hear how youre doing

            Take care and good luck!

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  9. I will echo the sentiment expressed by others to not take criticism about your supposed lack of description too seriously. It sounds, in part, to me like one of those “rules” for writing, and in my experience the truly great books often break the rules.

    There are authors who are downright florid in their descriptions and others who are incredibly spare and sparse. I tend to like the latter more than the former — nothing crosses my eyes so much reading a book as page after page of filled with long paragraphs of description and no dialog. (Okay, well maybe not “nothing.”)

    It might have some connection with being a “visual” person or not. How acutely do you “see” (in your mind’s eye) your characters and settings? If you’re more a word-based person than a visual one, perhaps visualization is a skill you can practice.

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    • I feel the same way. I get weary of long descriptions with no dialogue.

      I think I must be a word person. Sometimes I don’t visualize what I’m writing, and that can be a problem. It’s especially hard to do on the second draft when a) I’m already bored with my writing and b) I never properly visualized to begin with, because then I’m working in a non-visual mode (not a creative mode) and things easily get overlooked.

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      • Ever since your post I’ve been paying more attention to how authors handle description. The novel I’m reading now, for example, is fairly sparse with description, but uses more in certain scenes where it seems more important or where scenery or objects play a role.

        She (the author) does do something that I noticed another author doing: sometimes when listing things (objects in a dragon’s hoard, for e.g.), the list goes on and on (and on (and on)) long after I’ve stopped really reading the items listed and started skipping to the end.

        Which bothers me because I’m afraid I’ll miss some vital clue the author has buried in the list.

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        • Ah, yes…relevance is important. If I get a long description or list and I can’t immediately see why I should read it, I skip too. Some people really get into those details, even when they aren’t relevant. (Or maybe their sense of what’s relevant is broader than mine.)

          I try to get those action details that say something about my character. This can be very tricky. Sometimes you just have to say, “So and so did x” but other times you can make those details revelatory and pass along basic information all at once. For me, details that are just passing along visual or sensory information are kind of boring. I want to see THROUGH someone to get to know the character’s thoughts. It’s like the window is just as important as what’s outside.

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          • I like the window metaphor! It took me a long time, as a young reader, to fully understand the distorting nature of character. Well-written characters never see the world any more clearly than any human does. I’ve found stories where even the narrative itself is distorted (let alone what the characters report) and needs untangling to really see what the author is saying. I was actually kind of shocked when it sank in that fiction — unlike non-fiction — isn’t always transparent but is sometimes a “dark glass.”

            There is the concept of signal-to-noise ratio, but what’s interesting about writing is that properly done “noise” (here defined as ‘information not required by the signal’) provides a texture that some folks love in their fiction and others still see as mostly noise. I tend to be more interested in the signal than in the pretty noise, but that’s definitely a personal preference.

            And as has been touched on, sometimes that noise actually is signal in providing depth information on the characters. Perhaps not fully required signal, but without it the story isn’t what the author meant. It’s, as you say, a different sense of what’s relevant.

            I suppose, to be honest, being more interesting in action and dialog, I’m a little blind to what authors communicate more symbolically (and I’m always unsure if I’m interpreting the author’s symbolism correctly or just reading into an “ink blot” of imagery). (But then I’m usually not a very analytical reader — I get lost in the story too easily.)

            You mentioned problems with timelines. It’s been something I’ve noticed a lot in TV and movies. Just last night, on an NCIS:Los Angeles (which is a rather silly show very unlike its two sisters), two characters went from being in Tijuana to being in a military base in San Diego… in seconds.

            It’s almost like stories (at least in media) are becoming even more dream-like with time and space limitations being discarded. (And perhaps recognizing a lack of critical thinking in viewers.)

            Maybe two exercises for you involve a type of homework for your writing. Some authors create detailed timelines for their stories (largely to ensure they get that stuff right). Others write detailed descriptions of places (or work from photos of real places).

            Rogar Zelazney once said he writes entire scenes never intended to be in the book solely to give his characters specific events to refer to (but which are never directly experienced by the reader). I always thought that sounded like an outstanding idea. It “opens” the reality of the narrative (which often feel very closed and self-contained). It’s like a photo without borders — there’s a stronger sense of extension into reality. The characters seem to have lives outside the narrative.

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          • It’s so funny that you mention writing those external chapters. I did the same thing with my novel, writing from the POV of the bad girl who wasn’t supposed to be in the actual story (I just wanted to get a sense of what the story WAS objectively). I turned it in to my writing group and they all loved it. They begged me to put it into the novel. So now it’s there. I still don’t know how I feel about her, but I have to admit her voice is shocking and provides a nice relief from the professorial voice. She’s a very crude and broken person with lots of layers. It did help me with the timeline of events too. Still, I just find her so horrible I can’t imagine anyone sympathizing with her. But I’ve learned I’m not the best judge of that.

            I like the idea of writing detailed descriptions. I might have to try that. I did start mapping out rooms, but I quickly abandoned the maps for some reason. I will give you description idea a try though! That will help me by giving me a pot to choose from while I’m writing…I can sort of reach in and grab whatever looks relevant!

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          • I’m constantly surprised how much people like anti-heroes and even terribly non-heroic characters. I’m probably once again an outlier here, but I have a need to like and respect the protagonists. Outstanding — and it does need to be outstanding — writing can engage me if I dislike the characters — Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant novels being a good example (or, for that matter, Seinfeld) — but generally I need to like them (all my favorite TV shows involved characters I’d love to hang out with).

            It does seem that, the more clearly you visualize and plot the reality you’re reporting, the more “organic” things will feel, the more it will read like something real.

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          • I’m not sure I see Hamlet as an anti-hero so much as a tragic figure. His heart was in the right place, and his goals were good (justice for his dad). He was such a tortured soul — his two big speeches (“Too, too solid flesh” and “To be or not to be” are about suicide and how to handle his tragedy).

            Even if he is, Hamlet certainly falls under the “brilliant writing” umbrella. I’ve always been impressed by how many common phrases and ideas come from that play (“What a piece of work is man…”).

            It does bring up an interesting question: what — exactly — comprises an “anti-hero”? I can’t say I’ve really ever given it much thought. It has something (at least for me) to do with the amount of “blackness” in their heart, but I find I don’t have a precise definition.

            As to the Greeks… there’s an old joke about the college prof complaining that, “Every time I think I’ve had an original thought, I find some damned Greek thought of it first!” 😀

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          • Ha ha! to the last quote. 😉 I think Christopher Brooker in The Seven Basic Plots, talks about the Dark Protaganist After Ophelis drowns he say ‘Hamlet has lost his soul.’ He sees Laertes as Hamlet’s ‘Lighter alter ego.’ Booker asks why does Shakespeare deliberately break with the revenge tradedy mould? His conclusion is that he shows everyone in Hamlet (apart from Horatio and perhaps Ophelia) as being controlled and destroyed by their egocentric selves! I can go along with this as I regard everyone apart from those two exceptions as being dysfunctional. Anti- hero? I looked in Booker’s index and its not there.

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          • Heh, I’m not sure I’d consider Ophelia functional, but Horatio does seem the “sanity anchor” of the piece. It’s interesting that he appears in the very first scene and in the very last. He’s a kind of thread that runs throughout.

            I’ve never given Laertes (“Hamlet-lite”? 🙂 ) much thought. He leaves early and returns late to extract revenge for his sister’s death (thus, indeed, echoing the primary plot). Interesting point!

            There’s a line in that first scene that I’ve always considered the keynote line:

            Francisco: For this relief much thanks; ’tis bitter cold, And I am sick at heart.

            Heart-sickness seems to be the main theme of the play!

            The anti-hero (as I mean it) seems a fairly new invention. I see it as a reflection of our own post-modern views rejecting the notion of absolute morality. These days, if someone returns a valuable lost object, they’re often considered “heroic” rather than doing what any decent human ought to do. We don’t seem to talk as much anymore about doing the right thing (as opposed to the expedient or successful or legal thing).

            But that’s a whole other conversation. :\

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          • There could be a character who starts off as the anti-hero that you describe, and then changes to reflect an understanding of the significance of an objective morality. I’m trying to think if there’s anything like that…oh yes, of course. There’s Crime and Punishment!

            Meh. Everything’s been done.

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          • Damned Greeks! 🙂

            The Redemption theme is my favorite, and my favorite character there is old Ebenezer Scrooge. (So canonical a vision as to have entered common language and become a “type.”)

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          • I personally don’t have to like the character (in the sense that I’d want to be friends with him or her) but I do have to care about their fate (whether I wish them ill or good). But two-dimensional characters who are really nice bore the hell out of me. I ended up reading 50 Shades and that protagonist made me want to rip my eyes out. She was such an ordinary girl and I could probably deal with her in real life, but that doesn’t mean I’d want to follow the thoughts of every girl on the U of A campus (which is what she felt like…a sort of composite of every college girl boiled down to their petty thoughts). I suppose others liked her, and being so much like every college girl probably made her more approachable to most people, but not to me.

            On the other hand, my character is so bad and disturbed that I have a hard time finding some redeeming quality. I’m finding that I’m just keeping her POV chapters short so that I can get the plot and a bit of her character across without having to stay in her head for too long.

            That said, I generally get a mixed opinion when it comes to my characters. Some people love them, some hate them. It’s kind of interesting. I started writing a novel a while ago as a “practice novel” just so I could have something to work on for a class. I tried to base my character off of Madame Bovary (the modern equivalent of whom would be an unscrupulous suburban housewife who thinks she’s an artist). I absolutely hated my character as a person. I thought she was horrid and I’d never want to meet her, but she did have some funny lines. Oddly, most of the women in the class loved her and sympathized with her (I hope it’s just because of those funny lines). A few women didn’t like her at all. The men universally hated her.

            You mean you wouldn’t want to hang out with Kramer? 🙂

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          • Kramer! [shudder] 🙂

            People either loving or hating your work is a good sign. It means you’re writing things that affect the reader. Indifference is the killer!

            There definitely is a place for awful characters. Art is an exploration of life, after all, and awful people are part of that. For the span of a novel or movie, especially if karma happens, I find such characters far easier to take. But a TV (or book) series… there I have to want to spend that much time with the people.

            That’s not very literary or art-appreciative of me, I realize, and it’s why I’ve never tried to be a fiction writer. A big role of fiction in my life is escape, so naturally I want to escape to a place that doesn’t piss me off.

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          • I think that escape element is necessary in fiction, actually. A prerequisite. Of course, I personally want more than just escape—it’s got to be a story with meaning and purpose—but it’s definitely got to excite the imagination. And in the best fiction, the two come together seamlessly.

            I’m starting to realize that the protagonist or the POV character who gets the most time should be somewhat relatable…or at least there should be foreshadowings that the character will evolve. Whenever you have a ‘bad’ character, there’s got to be the feeling that the author is going somewhere with this…and that the author isn’t really just a terrible person writing an cloaked autobiography!

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  10. Pingback: Blind Spots and As-If-Constructions | The Bubbling of my Thoughts

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