Sunday, January 9, 2011

Possession power

I was thinking more about how to efficiently establish setting and perspective and all that. One quick way to show more setting is to show ownership or possession of objects around. After all, if this is "John's Maserati" in the garage, the reader will probably think that this is John's garage and John's house (rightly?-- if wrongly, we have more work to do to explain why this is John's car in Jane's garage).

That little possessive has a lot of power to convey setting by identifying the "props" or objects lying around more specifically. But you know, possessives can also aid in my crusade to make narration more vivid and concrete. The enemy of concreteness is vagueness, and "the" and "a" in front of a noun can make even the most vivid noun vague.

He stopped in front of a yellow turbo-charged Maserati.

"Maserati," even minus the adjectives, is pretty vivid, huh? But "a" Maserati? Is it "his" Maserati? Is it "her" Maserati? Is it "the mayor's Maserati?" (Hey, the New York mayor could have a Maserati and not be assumed to be taking bribes.) We should use "a" and "the" generally only if the POV character doesn't know whose Maserati it is.

Those little words in front of nouns can help connect the object with a character (a possessive noun or pronoun), or to a previously indicated point ("This Maserati" or "That Maserati," for example, uses the demonstrative pronoun to connect to something earlier in the scene or paragraph). And just that amount of specification can make the description more useful and clear. I don't have to wonder so much whose garage this is if the car inside is identified as "John's."

It's interesting how little it often takes to make a passage more concrete, more anchored in the reality of the story. Has anyone else been working on that?


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