Monday, April 21, 2008

Two "she," one scene

Dave offers this as an example of narrating the action/interaction of two women or two men in the same scene:
"She was about to pivot to face Podgorny squarely again when Podgorny attacked, swinging her right fist in a controlled strike at Sally's left kidney."

Hmm... using Podgorny's name twice shows how hard this is! Is there another way to do it? "She was about to pivot when ..."
That is, go with the motion but figure that the reader will understand why (to face the adversary squarely). But then we lose that sense of action/interaction.... How about starting with Sally, and then "her".... Sally was about to pivot to face her squarely again when Podgorny attacked..."
And then I can see ... "swinging her right fist in a controlled strike at the left kidney."

Not perfect at all, but I think we can figure that P is hitting Sally's kidney, not her own.

This NEVER gets easy! And Dave has the additional challenge that this is an action scene, high action, in fact, where both are moving simultaneously -- so it's not like he can put each's action in a separate paragraph.

Another issue is keeping the action sequential. I might suggest putting P first: "When Podgorny attacked, Sally was about..." But that puts Sally's aborted action (pivoting) after an action it really precedes-- that is, P's attacking is what stops Sally's action, so you want Sally's first.

So here would be my imperfect alternative:
Sally was about to pivot to face her squarely again when Podgorny attacked, swinging her right fist in a controlled strike at the left kidney.


Maybe "to face her opponent?"
But notice a slight POV issue arising with this version... this is Sally's POV, and yet, referring to P as "her" first in the sentence hints that it's P's POV. I think probably if the section starts clearly in Sally's POV, this won't be such a problem, but I did notice, re-reading it, that in Dave's version, I didn't have any doubt that it was Sally's POV, and in the alternative, I had a moment of confusion.

clg suggests identifying characters with alternate descriptors (like my "her opponent" above), and use those instead of the names or pronouns:
I've used that template in my own manuscript, which deals with military men. For example: Jeb Stuart in a scene with Robert E. Lee can be indentified as "Stuart," "Jeb," "Lee's young lieutenant general," "the young man," or "his cavalry leader." I may even employ Stuart's habit of tugging on his long beard when in thought, or his cheerful personality.


I tend to use just a few of these, because a friend of mine, Lynn Kerstan, wrote an article where she excerpted something she'd written as a young writer, where in one scene she referred to one male character as the duke, and the older man, and William, and Dartmer, and the silver-haired man, and finally she realized it sounded like there were 12 people in the room, and there were only the duke and his confidante. So ever since then, I remember that when I use a descriptor rather than a name or pronoun. However, I do use "the other man" and "the younger man," and neutral descriptors like those when necessary. And I'd probably use only one alternate, just to keep confusion at bay.

Anyway, I like the idea of identifying with something associated with that character. After all, we want the dialogue of a character to be recognizably hers, so that we don't need a "Sarah said" with each line. So maybe the same should be done with those minor actions. I think this would be most effective if these were established earlier, so we already know that Jenny has glasses and Sarah doesn't, so when we see "She shoved her glasses up on her nose and glared at the other woman," we know "she" is Jenny, and the other woman must be Sarah.


Ian offers: He's hunting his father's killer, and in a roundabout way makes him responsible for almost every ill that has befallen him:

That's a REAL toughie, because there are actually three "he" possibles in there (the killer could be male or female, but the father is male :). I'd think about taking that "him" into a noun... like "makes that crime responsible..." But I think that might mess up the meaning, that the protagonist is making HIM, a person, responsible. Maybe "makes that man responsible..." except maybe the pro doesn't know for sure the killer is a man.
The last part I'd probably recast... for most ills since the murder. I'd probably look for a replacement for "ills," actually, as it sounds a bit prissy for the situation.
So often what I'd suggest might lose something essential in the meaning. Like...
He wants revenge, as he blames his father's killer for every problem that has occurred since the murder.
Well, that might well lose the meaning!


What do you all think?

Alicia

4 comments:

Clg253 said...

Right... in a scene between Lee and Stuart, I wouldn't employ all those descriptors in a three page scene. I only use one to bring clarity to the he/he tangle or clunkiness of the over use of names.

As for the confusion of descriptors. I do understand how it could confuse the reader, but when reading Vidal's novel (and he employs this tactic often with many of his characters) I never was confused, never once thought that there was a bunch of characters in the scene. I don't know why that is; it just is. Perhaps it is because he's just a wonderful author. LOL!

Thank you for all these wonderful and helpful articles. I'm learning alot, and I do appreciate it.

green_knight said...

Sally was about to pivot to face Podgorny squarely again, when the other woman attacked, swinging her right fist at Sally's left kidney.

I think part of the problem with the original was compounded by the controlled strike, which implies a stronger narrator than I would expect. Sally might notice the strike, but she'd be concerned with evading or blocking it, or minimising damage; she wouldn't worry too much about whether it's controlled. The fact that Podgorny surprises her implies as much.

And, of course, Sally will have a problem in this fight because she keeps allowing the other woman to dominate it. She needs to plan her attack, to press her. She might still get a trouncing, but she *won't* win if she keeps waiting what her opponent will do.

Ian offers:

Oh no he doesn't. It's mine all mine. Even if it was written far too late at night.

(the killer is male, too, and the protag knows who he is - his father's best friend. My protag has got reason to carry a grudge. Unfortunately, whenever I use that phrase, I have to think of a Haegar the Horrible cartoon ;-))

Have I said that I find query letters hard? This is one of the reasons. If I could dramatise this - say, two characters gosspiping about a third - I could pull it apart a bit, name more names, give examples. But when I'm trying to get to the core of the problem, I sooner or later end up with a monstrosity like this, and even though the register isn't what I'd be submitting, (eg, all over the place), I think this illustrates the challenge.

Dave Shaw said...

Thanks for the ideas, Alicia and Green_Knight.

One point regarding one of Green_Knight's comments: And, of course, Sally will have a problem in this fight because she keeps allowing the other woman to dominate it. She needs to plan her attack, to press her. She might still get a trouncing, but she *won't* win if she keeps waiting what her opponent will do.

This might be true if Sally were practicing an offensive martial art, but she's not. Her goal in this scene is to demonstrate that she can defend herself from attacks, not necessarily go on the offensive herself, which is why she's using defensive Aikido-like moves rather than attacking as a karateka or tae kwon do player would probably do. Podgorny doesn't 'dominate' the fight - she merely initiates it.

Did you ever see the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where Data plays a strategy game against an alien who's the acknowledged champion of it? Data wins not by attacking, but by matching his opponent's every move, maintaining parity until the guy finally quits in disgust because neither one can win. That's what Sally's going for in this test. Against Podgorny, it works; it's when Henries substitutes Sgt. Huang, an experienced kung fu stylist twice Sally's size and with greater skill, that Sally gets desperate and begins using her genetically-engineered advantages to try to match him, thus exposing secrets that her crewmates aren't supposed to know about her. (Yes, it's an intricate plot. ;)

Edittorrent said...

Sorry about that, GK! I should learn... read comments BEFORE the first glass of wine, not after. :) I agree that it's the summary that gets us in trouble. It's easier to be accurate when we have a whole passage or scene to work with. But a single line of summary... argh!

clg said:
>I never was confused, never once thought that there was a bunch of characters in the scene. >
I wonder if it matters how deep into the book it is. The first couple scenes, the reader won't be conversant with how many characters are involved in this story, and probably assumes most new terms refer to new characters. But later in the book, the reader has more context.
I'd also suspect that what works in omniscient POV (where the "godlike persona" of the narrator knows all) might be confusing in deep POV (where the narrative reflects only what the POV character knows). Hmmm. So maybe reader confusion comes from context or lack thereof.
Alicia