Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Plot #3: The Limitations of POV

Back during the last post, Janet left a fascinating comment.

I tried to create a character who'd subconsciously trained himself not to show his emotions. He feels emotion but shies away from revealing his feelings to others. (The heroine never has a clue what he's really thinking and often jumps to the wrong conclusion thinking he's indifferent to issues that matter to her) Then I got stuck because I couldn't work out why he'd believe that letting people see inside you brought pain.

He'd lost a brother and his mother when he was a young teen. I thought maybe his father had been the sort who believed in keeping a stiff upper lip and had refused to discuss the deaths and his and the hero's feelings.

But I'm struggling to see why the hero would think revealing your emotions brought pain.

Would the father have had to be the sort of man who made the hero feel ashamed of revealing his emotions (the sort of man who derided any show of emotion and made the boy fear appearing weak?)

Would I need other core events for the adult hero to come believe so strongly that he must keep a lid on his emotions? He hides a rush of pleasure too not just painful emotions.


Although it appears to be one question—how do I motivate a desired trait? It’s actually a statement of limitations in addition to a question.

There are a lot of things I can’t do—write code, fix my car—and I don’t understand people who go to spectator sports because I can’t imagine sitting still long enough to watch a bunch of guys chase a ball around. I see it and know it happens, but if there’s some kind of motivation involved, it takes serious effort for me to wrap my mind around it.

I suspect it’s a value statement and a part of my—not cultural upbringing, because my parents are huge fans despite being Asian-Americans, but personal upbringing. No one cared if I went to a game so there are a lot of things I “still” don’t know. How many men are on a team, how the leagues are broken down. Why you’d invite people to your house to watch a game on your tv, eat your food and drink your beer. Does it make the experience better? Is it a group thing? Can you watch by yourself or is that a no-no?

It could also be a statement of personality type, because I’m so far to the left on the introvert scale the idea of inviting relatives to my house is beyond me, much less people I barely know. Which means going to someone’s house to watch the game is something I know “happens”, but I don’t understand on a very fundamental level.

Janet understands the trait and how it works, but because of the way she grew up, her values, cultural mores, and personality type, can’t figure out “why” someone could be like her hero, although she can follow the logic.

These two sentences >

Then I got stuck because I couldn't work out why he'd believe that letting people see inside you brought pain.

But I'm struggling to see why the hero would think revealing your emotions brought pain.


…are windows into her soul. She's a good person, who has never been hurt because she showed emotions. And the people around her—her environment—is also good. It’s difficult for her to imagine a scenario outside logical progression.

This >

He'd lost a brother and his mother when he was a young teen. I thought maybe his father had been the sort who believed in keeping a stiff upper lip and had refused to discuss the deaths and his and the hero's feelings.

Would the father have had to be the sort of man who made the hero feel ashamed of revealing his emotions (the sort of man who derided any show of emotion and made the boy fear appearing weak?)


...is good. There’s a cause—the deaths. And reasoned effect—the father is a silent, manly kind of guy who isn’t into emotion and works the psychological angle.

…derided any show of emotion and made the boy fear appearing weak?

But, the kid is in his teens, and I’m guessing he had a fairly normal life until that point. The kind of walls that prevent someone from showing pleasure in addition to other kinds of emotions need a serious core event and probably a layering event to twist it. Mind games work to an extent, but if the kid had a normal personality it would simply mess with that particular relationship. In other words, you’d get damage, but not the right amount.

This isn’t just about the kid, but his dad. His dad is in pain. His wife and son died. Some people have the kind of personality where instead of turning inward (which would manifest in a psychological attack)—they explode outward, smashing things, screaming, finding fault and a target.

Even if his wife and son died when their car hit a patch of black ice and slid off the road into a really deep lake, it’s not the dad’s fault for sending his wife out because there was a game on television that he wanted to watch—it’s the hero’s fault. “He” should have died in their place. “He” should have seen the ice. It’s all his fault.

The first blow is easy; the second blow, even easier.

If you traumatize the hero by killing his mom and brother, then have his dad beat him bloody for crying and “keep” beating him, you’ve created an abused child. Abused children don’t show a lot of emotion, because emotion is a trigger to start another round of abuse. Every time the dad feels guilty, or sorry for himself, he’s going to be looking for an excuse. When you’re walking on eggshells you want to be a ghost.

This is a great article about children who kill their abusive parents.

Let’s take the hero’s scenario a little farther. What would make him deny pleasure?

Give him something to care about.
Maybe a dog or a cat—something he feels pleasure in, and give the dad a beer.

The dad isn’t going to care about some animal that’s been around for years. But “if” he’s drunk and guilty and feeling sorry for himself, that cat and the pleasure the hero takes in petting him is a trigger. Why does the hero get to keep something he loves when the dad has lost his loved ones? People kill pets all the time. Next thing you know there’s blood on the floor, a dead cat, and a hero with serious issues. Letting people see inside you brings pain. If I hadn’t let my dad see how much the cat meant to me, it’d still be alive. Control means less pain. If you love someone, (or something) they’ll die.

It’s a jump from the death of the hero’s mom and brother to becoming an abused child, because—like me and football—it’s not who you are. Writing is the most intimate form of expression in the world. If you have issues, you might not touch on them in your writing, but people can always see “your” themes and personality matrix. If you're a really nice person it colors your writing.

The key to writing stuff you aren’t familiar with is self-knowledge. Know your blind spots and fill them in. GI Joe said it best, “Knowing is half the battle.”

12 comments:

Janet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Janet said...

Thank you too, for the link to that article.

This bit was especially interesting:

"...these kids are abused! Their expressions are neutral because, when around their parents they don’t want to scowl or smile too broadly or do anything to draw attention to themselves, to give their abuser any ammunition to begin a tirade or a beating or to take out their frustrations of the day on the child.

Often the mark of an abused child will be an unusually soft voice, as well. Don’t want to appear threatening in any way. Furthermore, after a short lifetime of stuffing their emotions in order to survive, a lot of these kids don’t have feelings, or don’t know how to express them."

Janet said...

(Deleted first post because I didn't preview it first and ended up with a great load of typos again!)


"Letting people see inside you brings pain. If I hadn’t let my dad see how much the cat meant to me, it’d still be alive. Control means less pain."

Thank you Jodi. What a great core event. I just couldn't think of anything that would make the hero believe that letting people see inside you brings pain. This psychological stuff is so intriguing. It's changing the way I plan my stories.

jodi said...

lol, Janet. I've always been a people watcher, something my parents never could understand. Being at football games and all. :)

Psychology has changed my writing too. Whenever I get stuck, I "know" it's because I haven't thought things through or something in my worldview is stopping me from figuring out an answer. Love your questions, btw.

Kaige said...

You know... people watching at sporting events is more interesting than the main attraction. Oh wait.. did I just seat myself over in the far left section of introvert too?

Great questions, Janet! Learning lots reading this series/thread too.

jodi said...

Kaige, if we opened a people watching section for writers, we'd make a lot of money. :) I always end up on a bench somewhere watching the people go by. :)

Hailey Edwards said...

That progression of logic has given me something to ponder. I have an excess of sexually abused heroes. Dealing with how they each work through those issues, and making the experiences individual, is hard. I think this post gave me the answer I was looking for.

jodi said...

That's a good thing. :)

I have a lot of emotionally detached characters. One of the reasons I found the question so fascinating. Part of the reason for my blog is to help me figure out the "why"s :) "Why am I drawn to these people?" "What is it about them that I find fascinating enough to spend hundreds of hours with them?" "Does something in my worldview stress this particular kind of personality?" and "Why can't I write normal people?"

drives me nuts sometimes :(

JulieD said...

ah jodi... always so much to chew on with your posts!

i've a lot of mistaken/secret identity plots. i'm not entirely why.. lol well, maybe because i'm always fascinated by how many times assumptions make a mess of things?

i love this: "if you're a really nice person it colors your writing."

so. true. it takes a lot of work for me to get into that dark place when i'm writing the bad stuff.

thank you for this mini-workshop! i'm off to think about why my characters don't get together after the initial misunderstanding is cleared up. i'm determined to break that mistake-plot cycle!

eagerly awaiting more...

liana laverentz said...

I can't write *normal* people, either, and Kaige, I'll be sitting next to you in the introvert section!

Vicky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jodi said...

Hi Julie! Thanks for dropping by. I'm hoping to be done with the series before Nationals (fingers crossed) :)

Hi Liana! ((hugs))