Monday, October 14, 2013

Stay in your Character's Head

Growing up, I was a fairly naïve person.  I never understood sarcasm.  In fact, my friends and family used a made up hand motion to let me know when they weren’t being serious.  And sometimes they still have to use it.

Not only was I naïve, but I was also fairly unobservant.  And I never realize how much my naivety and unobservant nature affected my worldview until I went looking for apartments in Spain.  My boyfriend (now husband) went with me because he wanted to be sure I chose a safe neighborhood.

We went to a specific apartment in an area known as ‘Gran Via.’  Literally known as the Great Way.  It was a bustling main street full of theatres, ballet companies, plazas, restaurants – anything to keep a person occupied.  The apartment I was looking at was rented by a family I met at church and it was on one of the side road connecting to this main street.  They had an extra room available for me to stay in.

Me in Gran Via

I remember walking down the alleyway.  My first impression was that there was a lot of construction being done.  Part of the street had been torn up, and it had rained the night before, spreading mud all over everything.  When we got to the apartment, the room was on the 5th floor, and there wasn’t an elevator.
“Okay,” I thought, “So I have to walk a little extra.  Exercise isn’t bad.”

Then we got into the apartment itself.  The room was small, but I had my own clothesline.  Definitely a plus from where I’d been staying before.  There were a few cons to the situation (one being the very energetic ten year old that ran around the main room screaming) but I definitely saw more positives than negatives.  It was in a central location, I got along with the family and the room was decent for the price.

When I told my boyfriend that I was considering accepting their offer, I was surprised by his response.

“Even with the prostitutes downstairs?”

Prostitutes?  What prostitutes?

You see, while I was noticing the construction and the mud, he was noticing the scantily clad women handing out condoms.  Where I saw my own clothesline, he was noticing the bright flashing light outside the window welcoming clients.

We were in the same place and we saw the same exact things.  But what we noticed very different things.  I was looking at comfort while he was looking for safety.  He knew I often came home late at night, and he didn’t want me to get myself into a dangerous situation.  And for those of you wondering, I decided to live somewhere else.

With that in mind, I try to always write a scene within a character’s point of view.  Would they pay attention to majestic buildings of the flies buzzing around the road kill in front of it?  Would they admire the cleanliness of the kitchen or notice the smell of pie coming from the oven?  What small details are important to your character?  When focusing on voice, it’s important to remember that it’s the character telling the story, and we need to stay within their head to remain consistent.