Friday, April 30, 2010

How a good host is like a good narrator

My in-laws finally made it from Paris last Thursday and arrived back in the US last night. So it was a shorter trip than anticipated, and we didn't get to visit Dublin as originally planned. But despite all that we had a good time sight-seeing around Bristol, eating well, and enjoying their company. Really. Love my in-laws.

So, needless to say, most of my energy this past week was focused on being a good host. At one point I was helping my father-in-law get on to the internet on my computer, and it occurred to me: being a good host is a lot like writing different points of view.

A good host anticipates a guest's needs before he asks. Basic things, like laying out towels and making the bed, but also noticing when a guest might be tired, or ready for breakfast, or need another cup of coffee. It's basic courtesy, but requires a host to pay attention to the feelings of those around her.

And isn't that what we do when we write characters? We put ourselves inside another person's head, wonder what they could be thinking, how they might react to an averse situation, try to figure out their innermost secrets and needs.

Course, anytime more than one character is in a scene, this gets exponentially harder (like running a hotel!). Recently I've been working on a scene set at dinner. My main character is angry no one will listen to her, but also horrified by her actions in the past scene. However I also have to incorporate her aunt and uncle, her brother and two cousins. What do they think about what just happened? Her aunt feels overwhelmed, her uncle disappointed and sad. Her older cousin is teasing her, her younger relatives are trying to eat lots of carrots so they can see in the dark. But her brother is also terrified of confrontation and wishes his sister would just be quiet and good. When I'm working on this scene, I'm juggling all of these thoughts and emotions in my description and dialogue. And unlike a good host, I don't need to keep them all happy. But I do need to anticipate everything they feel.

3 comments:

  1. What a fun analogy! I love how you liken scenes with multiple characters to running a hotel. It certainly can feel that way sometimes, and some characters can be very demanding guests!

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  2. Hmmm. Nice "lesson" from a week away! I wonder if this means you can now deduct the miscellaneous expenses of taking the in-laws sightseeing?

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  3. Thanks, Anna! Though I started thinking more about the hotel thing... the major difference as I see it is that if I forget about characters, it's hard to tell, because they stay awfully silent and in the shadows. Whereas if I forgot about a hotel guest, hopefully they'd let me know. =)

    Oh, love the idea, Anne! Getting out my pencil and calculator now! Naw, actually, I must say, very generous in-laws.

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