Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Keep Cinematic in the Cinema

Third person is my preferred choice for point of view, but it's not without its problems either. I hate reading what's called cinematic third person. This is when the scene is described - dialogue and actions - but we're told nothing of what is going on in a viewpoint character's head. You get things like...

'Hello Mary,' Janice said, flicking her hair back over her shoulders.
Mary gave a brief smile. 'Hi.' She was dressed as Snow White, right down the the sparkly slippers on her feet. They twinkled as she walked over to the drinks table. 'Damn. They've got no cider.'
'Cider?' Janice echoed, pulling a face. She ran her Freddy Krueger hands over the bottle tops. 'Who on earth would be drinking cider at a party like this?'
'Me,' Mary said, pushing the black wig away from her unnaturally pale face. 'I need to get drunk fast.'

And so it goes on, batting action and dialogue back and forth, but never getting into anyone's head. It's like watching a description of a film - hence the term cinematic. Now, I'm not suggesting for one minute that every bit of dialogue or action should come accompanied with an interior monologue like a perpetual running commentary, but to never go into a character's head is missing a trick.

One of the great advantages prose has over other art forms is that we know what's going on in people's heads. We know what they're thinking. A great actor or dancer can convey some of this, but essentially it's deduction. We don't know. And I for one am really curious about what other people are thinking - because they never really tell you either. I love reading a novel or a short story and discovering a character thinks exactly the same as I do, or understanding why they're behaving in the way they are, even though it's a way I would never behave myself.

Cinematic writers often defend themselves using words like sparse, understated and subtle. Well, yes. And so is beige. Why not be sparse, understated and subtle with emotions and thoughts too?

We read for stories, but I think we also read to know how other people think and feel. Cinematic third person takes that away from the reader. It's like writing with one hand tied behind your back, possible but not necessarily desirable. It's a bit like a Kelly Hoppen interior, copied by hotel rooms all over the world. Acres of subtle beiges and good taste taupes...unless you get the flash of scarlet or contrasting chocolate, it's subtle, understated and - let's face it - just the teensiest bit dull.

Who lives near Birmingham? On 23rd June 6.30 - 8.30 Lucy Diamond, Milly Johnson, Veronica Henry and me will be talking about writing at Birmingham Library. Come and meet us!

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