Friday, January 23, 2009

Point of View

Finished Val McDermid's Beneath the Bleeding. I love her characters. I love her caginess. But I have a technical bone to pick. This is not a whodoneit, since we know from the get-go who did the murders, but rather a whydoneit. Even so, you can't write from the killer's point of view and not spill the beans; unless it's some kind of epistolary artifact, like a written confession, a letter, a diary, or a blog, lol. But if you're just walking around inside the guy, inhabiting his head, then you can't simply omit telling the reader the answer to the central mystery--in this case--his motive.

Point of view is a delicate and fragile thing. It establishes trust, a contract with the reader--and when used well it enhances willing suspension of disbelief. You can't abuse it.

On the other hand, the question of the poisoner's motive is left unanswered--and is masterfully handled in the white space. The footballer's body shows evidence of anal abuse. The young policeman, subdued by the poisoner with a Micky Finn of roofie-laden OJ has his pants undone. The poisoner, when caught, argues "I'm NOT a pouffe." McDermid doesn't have to spell it out. It's there--in the white space. Absolutely masterful. She doesn't have to be explicit. Tony Hill knows, though he doesn't articulate it. We know--even though it isn't articulated. Throughout the book Tony keeps trying to profile the poisoner and is non-plussed by the seeming lack of a sexual motive. And in the end, of course, there is one. Brilliant.

So technically, what's the difference? Val McDermid never writes from the poisoner's point of view.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Reputation, reputation, reputation! O! I have lost my reputation. I have lost
the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago,
my reputation!

-Shakespeare, Othello, Act II Scene iii

Wikipedia states that "reputation" is an ego construct which exists as a mechanism of social control. (My emphasis)

This past week I watched a co-contributor's rep go down in fiery flames due to a perverse and disastrous email exchange with a third party. Emotions ran white-hot, and in the rare and strange medium of email and the internet, unconscionable and irretractable things were written. And thus the escalating war of words was spread throughout the blogosphere and my fellow writer's rep is now dust in a box.

Personally, I am not involved beyond having a story published in the same anthology, however, I feel for the guy. There but for many, many years of subjecting my work to critique groups, lots of therapy and 12-step groups, go I. I am also a very hypersensitive individual. My work means a lot to me, as everyone's does.

But here's the truth: The only opinion that matters is that of the editor who buys your work. You submit and submit and submit, and eventually, you'll find someone who resonates emotionally with your work. Don't pay any attention to those who don't. As my great writing teacher and mentor Pam Goodfellow says, "just smile and nod." It's a bobble-headed response to bad reviews. Don't waste any time trying to change anyone's opinion, let your work speak for itself. You'll cultivate mystery and dignity that way.

Now that I've blogged about this I can hopefully stop obsessing about it and let it go. My life seems to be a continuous string of serial obsessions...