One of the most valuable things I’ll take away from this year is the free-indirect technique. It’s allowed me to continue using the third person perspective I prefer, while adopting the first person flavour I feel I’m missing out on.
I’m having my cake, and eating it too.
The technique aligns well with stream of consciousness, by the narrator adopting a character’s thoughts, and going off on a tangent. Damien Wilkins’ book Dad Art does this masterfully. It runs with two layers – the external and the internal. While things are going on around the protagonist, he is also lapsing into his own thoughts and memories. This allows the story to stay present and immediate with those external actions, while developing the character and painting his world, with the internal thoughts.
What I’m interested in is that spark. That prompt. That external thing that sends the character off on their internal tangent. Instead of a jarring transition, the spark works as a segue. For example, a character may be jogging through the park, when a guy bikes past. Seeing the bike might remind him that he needs to pick his own bike up from the shop, that it’s going to cost more than he realised, that his wife will be upset at that, that he and his wife are on the verge of a divorce. Suddenly we know an intimate detail of his life, all thanks to some stranger biking passed.
Or it could be even simpler than that. Let’s say that same character is listening to music as he jogs, and a line sends him off thinking about how much he likes big butts and he cannot lie. That might be all we learn – sure it’s not quite as profound as a character contemplating divorce, but it’s still something, some characterisation, and it still came from that spark.
Or perhaps it’s simpler yet, and the tangent comes out of nowhere. Perhaps that is how humans really work – we just erratically ponder our adoration for plump backsides, to the point where dishonesty regarding the fact is not even a consideration.
So does the mind go, without prompts, without a spark, off into its own wilderness, or is it a combination? I can’t decide if, with this technique, I’m trying to accurately replicate the mind, or simply wanting to write a seamless segue. Either way, sparks seem to make the writing/reading more fluid, and in the world of the novel, that is more important.
Other times I’ll go outside and feel like a giant camera, where the world is being lit by a chain smoking cinematographer from some experimental 1970s Eastern European film who believes everything needs to look just a little like your mind is toppling over the edge.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robert Taylor recently completed an MA in Creative Writing at the IIML. He spends his time between Wellington and Hamilton.