Friday, May 2, 2014

Learning from the Masters: Orson Scott Card and character perception

building character from within
The variety of ways one can convey a character's viewpoint are many and challenging.  Dialogue, other character's  viewpoint, narrator, info dump and internal thought as a type of dialogue and first person speaker and then imbedded thinking stuck right inside the  narration. I find such character reveals, when done well, a form of magic. The reader makes the shift from impersonal narrator to internal character thought and impressions as easy as changing lanes in light traffic. It is a process I continually work at, a type of writing that lies at the level of mastery I wish to attain. 
Orson Scott Card does this as easy as breathing, nearly all fine writers do.  In Ender's Shadow, Card gives the reader insight into Bean's fears, process of decision making and guilt.  As a writer, I sit back both impressed and fully involved with the story and character.  I love Bean because I understand him so well.  And you don't have to like Card's work to appreciate the skill. 

And as Bean stood there, looking down into the water, he realized: I either have to tell what happened, right now, this minute, to everybody, or I have to decide never to tell anybody, because if Achilles gets any hint that I saw what I saw tonight, he'll kill me and not give it a second thought.  Achilles would simply say: Ulysses strikes again.  Then he can pretend to be avenging two deaths, not one, when he kills Ulysses. 

No, all Bean could do was keep silence. Pretend that he hadn't seen Poke's body floating in the river, her upturned face clearly recognizable in the moonlight. 

She was stupid. Stupid not to see through Achilles plans, stupid to trust him in any way, stupid not to listen to me.  As stupid as I was to walk away instead of calling out a warning, maybe saving her life by giving her a witness that Achilles could not hope to catch and therefore could not silence. 

Card opens this moment of reflection by Bean with a narrative description followed by a simple word realized. The reader is immediately hearing Bean's thoughts. They throughout the rest of the paragraph. A paragraph break brings the narrator back. And a second paragraph break brings Bean in full throttle, deep in his guilt and misery realizing he could have stopped Poke's death, given her a chance at survival. We also hear his anger at her trusting Achilles and not following Bean's advice to kill him in the first place. 

It moves swiftly and smoothly from narrator to character sadness to narrator to full on guilt and rationalization. 

When taken apart, it almost looks clunky, not so amazing after all. But that is how all standout things are. Automotive repair is simple when you know how the carburetor works, but it is astonishing that a little metal shape turned in a slot can cause an engine to rumble and a heap of organized steel to rush forward. 


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