August 23rd, 2013

A Field Mouse, A Crow, and A Writing Lesson

by Fae Rowen

IMG_0125My living room deck is a lizard freeway. It serves as a form of kitty TV for my Siamese warrior cat. One afternoon this summer I caught movement out of the corner of my eye.

Since I’ve named the lizards that entertain me every afternoon, I walked to the open slider to say hello. Taking a momentary break in the sun wasn’t a lizard, but a field mouse. I wished Shogun wasn’t napping in the garage.

No! My attic has finally been completely rodent free for nine months and there was no way this little furry villain was getting into my house. The mouse sprinted toward the air conditioning vent. I thought about finding my Siamese hunter and turning him loose, but since he’s an indoor cat. I knew I wouldn’t let him engage the mouse in battle.

I slid the screen open, ready to  follow the progress of the mouse as it scurried along the long, straight foundation. Ready to yell at it. But a shadow fell across my garden and I stayed inside. A crow that lives in my neighbor’s eucalyptus trees landed on my deck cover. It had only one focus–the tiny, defenseless mouse.

No! “Run little mouse,” I whispered. There was no cover for the poor creature and it would have to be very fast to make the corner of the house and the safety of the planter there.

The crow launched. I didn’t see what happened. It seemed like an eternity before the black wings appeared, heading for the peak of my neighbor’s roof. The tiny wriggling mouse dangled from its beak.

I turned away, sorry for my original anger upon seeing the cute little thing scrubbing its whiskers in the sunlight.  Sorry that I did nothing.

And I thought about how quickly my perception and feeling about the mouse changed because of the circumstances in that ten second window.

As writers, don’t we want to take our readers through that roller coaster of emotion with a whiplash twist of feeling? Don’t we want our readers to be that engaged with our characters and what life throws at them?

So how do you strap your reader into the thrill ride of emotion?

DEEP POV.

Since the RWA conference, I’ve been doing a final revision on my WIP. It needs more emotion. (Yeah, so what’s new?)

I’ve listened to lectures on deep POV and read articles about it.  But I’m going to share what works for me.

Look at everything through your characters eyes. You may say, “I already do that.” But keep in mind, when you’re looking through your characters eyes, you’re also hearing with your characters ears, feeling with their fingers, muscles, and whatever other body part is engaged in the scene. Your nose smells and your tongue tastes whatever passes your character’s lips.

Sound easy? It didn’t use to be for me, but now it is. The big change for me was moving from above or in the “wings” of the scene thinking about my character’s POV, as opposed to being inside the body of the character with the most to gain or lose in the scene. (You know that’s how you choose the POV character, right?)

Before I write, and when I’m away from home and can’t write, I live the life of my character in the scene I’m going to work on next. I may be driving the freeway, but I was really piloting my one-seater fighter in a desperate battle for my life. (Hmmm, not so different from the freeways of SoCal sometimes.) When I eat my lunch salad I feel what it is like for a character who has survived all their life on only protein bars and powdered protein drinks. A mouthful of crunchy crisp lettuce, the explosion of red bell pepper, and the coolness of cucumber. Working out with my trainer I (on a good day) feel the fluidity and strength of my characters.  Working with my one-legged balance and a kettle bell, I am Athena. My trainer says, “Perfect. Do them all like that.” Would that I could.

An interesting side effect of living this way is that every thing in my daily life is more vibrant, more exciting. Am I actually in my own POV noticing more and participating more in my life? I think so.

When I climb into my character’s body, deep POV is natural. There is so much more going on because instead of writing about the emotions in her head, I feel them in her body. I feel those visceral hits that Margie Lawson talked about at conference. If my character’s solar plexus tightens, I know.

And you can, too, by putting yourself not in your character’s head, but in their body. You know, the body doesn’t lie.

Back to the field mouse. My body was relaxed when I crossed to the slider, expecting to see a lizard. My chest expanded with an inhaled breath of surprise when I saw the mouse. I remembered the joy of nine months with no little footsteps over my computer room, and anger scrambled up my throat. My mind slammed a steel door on the possibility of this mouse lazing in my attic. I wanted to kill it, but I knew I couldn’t get the right tools fast enough, so I envisioned my cat ripping it apart.

When the object to carry out my wrath swooped in, I froze. I didn’t step outside. I felt the stare of the crow as if I were the mouse.  You get the idea.

Rest in peace, little mouse. And thank you for my writing lesson.

How has life supplied you with an unexpected writing lesson in ten seconds? Or more?

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