The Importance of Eyes

A garden, full of sweet basil in the summer, now tall, lean stalks, stand rigid against the wind along the south end of the backyard fence.  The wind, cold, it’s March.  Fuzz in the corner where that south fence meets the edge of the back of the garage, a mixture of pet hair and cotton and insulation wound around grass, torn gum wrappers.  The backyard is part cement, part lawn, unattended to, lazy.  Pieces of concrete lay alongside the seams, irregular shapes balancing on wide faces don’t move with the wind, consistent, and would be frightening if it was fall and the trees were dropping leaves and neighborhoods were getting quiet earlier with the quicker sunset and this wind might howl and find its way through stitching.  The man thinks of this, leaning on the inside of his back door frame, the door open, swinging while it catches the wind, hinges whining.  He remembers Halloween winds, how they felt conjured, part of a enormous outside haunted house, created for effect, controlled and penetrating, encircling and encompassed while lonely all at the same time.

Or,

The man thinks of this, leaning on the inside of his back door frame, the door open, swinging while it catches the wind, hinges whining.  He remembers Long Island from his parents’  photo albums, the ones filled with images taken during the Junes and Julys, how it looked like what he thought vacation ought to look like and, then, feeling almost cheated by the cold tumbling off the water in early spring, his first time there, visiting his father a few years after first seeing those pictures, pictures taken when his parents were visiting that same beach together.

Or…

Well, your choices as a writer are endless.  The key is to not miss the opportunity the utilize your characters’ proximity to an event and how they run that event through their minds, through their own filters in order to help the reader realize how that character, those characters are feeling.  Take a simple situation: A woman sitting on a car hood watching a sunset.  You, as the writer, have a visual and feeling about that sunset.  A reader will, too.  What you have to do, though, to move the story properly, to flesh characters properly, to drive plot well, is to spend time amplifying the impression made on the character who is there.  So think of that sunset and describe it through the eyes of a character that just lost her husband but don’t mention the loss of the husband.  Think of that sunset and describe it through the eyes of a character that just got released from jail but don’t mention the jail release.  It’s tough to be disciplined enough to remove the “you” from the parts of the story where you don’t belong.  It again comes down to practice and then, trust.  As writers we are witnesses and have to bring the news to our readers.  We just have to be sure that we’re reporting the honesty of the moment as the character gives it to us.

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2 thoughts on “The Importance of Eyes

  1. I like taking that perspective you mention — describing what a specific character is feeling, seeing, hearing, smelling, etc. — then take that same scene and describe it from the perspective of someone else. Same scene, same situations, but different personal background for each character. One example of this in a larger form is Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Shadow”, which is essentially a retelling of “Ender’s Game”, but from the perspective of a different character. I came to a whole new appreciation of “Ender’s Game” by reading “Ender’s Shadow”, just from the shift in perspective.

  2. Yes, beautifully put – a writer’s unique experience transformed to the universal.

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