Point of view is often difficult to write and maintain, especially when, if you are like me, you’re starting out and getting your head around all the sorts of things you have to learn when writing a novel. (I've just finished the first draft of my first YA Sci-fi/fantasy novel).
When done well, deep point of view draws the reader into the story. When done badly, it’s like getting a cold dead fish slapped in your face and you can’t close the book quick enough. Or is that just me? I recently came across this blog post by Peter Summersby, ‘Notice what they Notice,’ about noticing what your character notices and I found it fascinating and decided to conduct a workshop around this idea with my local Writer’s Group, Dribbles and Scribbles.
In Peter’s article, he discusses the fact that men and women will notice different things, as would a thief and a doctor. He acknowledges that writers should use all the senses while writing, but for this demonstration he focuses on just what they see. Peter shows a picture of a female elf laying on a bed of moss with a knife held loosely in her hand. He demonstrates what he means by what two different men observe, and what that may reveal about them and their character.
In the first account the man notice her breasts under the green dress, this could indicate that the man has feelings for her, he might be in love with her. It could also indicate that he is wanton and actively seeks out sexual encounters.
In the second account the man notices her clothing too but instead notices what they are made of. He also notices what the knife is made of but finally he notices the small coin pouch hanging on her belt. This indicates two things he is trying to assess her wealth and steal from her, or notices that she might have rich friends with which he could become friendly with to gain even more money.'
'In both situations the woman hasn’t changed, their view is different, this was done to illustrate that the character has their own values that should differ from character to character. If they all notice the same thing it becomes harder to separate the characters in your readers mind. If the reader is truly invested in your characters this approach is a good way to drop the reader into the characters mind and assists with maintaining deep point of view.’ Peter Summersby, Notice what they Notice.
Writer’s Group Activity
For the activity, we thought of a scene in our current Work In Progress (W.I.P.), we picked two characters, and then we rewrote the scene from the two different perspectives. I've included mine as an example.
The original scene from my novel, The Gateway Chronicles: Keystone Quest. (Working title)
Jake found it mind-numbing sitting at the back following the herd, eating the dust that was kicked up by a couple of hundred head of cattle, and Grandma Andy going on and on about her earthworms.
‘Did you know that there are over 600 species of Earthworm in the world and at least five are giant. We have one here in Australia. The Giant Gippsland Earthworm is one of the few left. They are very special. Even David Attenborough, the naturalist, knew they were special.’ Grandma Andy turned to Jake, ‘I have one of the last known pockets of the GGE’s in Australia on my farm. And I’ve discovered some giant worms around here. New species I reckon!’
Jake rolled his eyes. He’d heard it all before. How they were special and endangered. How they were unique and needed protecting. Seriously, they were worms. How could they be so special?
A sudden disturbance ahead, a shimmer of light against the horizon, and the cattle went from plodding along and having to be harried by whip and dog, to stampeding in every direction. It happened so quickly. Within minutes, he was by himself with only dust and his grandmother’s last words hanging in the air for company.
For this exercise, I've choosen 13 year old Jake, and his 60 year old scientist grandmother, Grandma Andy. I’ve also tried to include the rest of the senses as well to make a more interesting read.
1. ‘I’m sick of eating dust at the back of the herd,’ said Jake, spitting red dust and wiping his mouth while sweat trickled down his face. He had never gotten used to the heat of the Queensland outback and longed for the coolness of Melbourne. Cows mooed to one another. The smell of cow dung was everywhere. He wished he was back home with his Mum playing video games, or with his mates at the skate park.
Jake heard his Grandma Andy speaking but it just sound like, ‘Blah! Blah! Blah! Worms.’ On repeat. He rolled his eyes. Man she was interesting when she talked about her travels, but worms! Seriously. They were so boring. He rolled his eyes, hoping at the same time Gran wouldn't catch him at it. He spat again. And another thing, he couldn’t understand why he was always left at the back of the herd.
‘Why can’t I…’ The words barely had left his mouth when the cows went from quiet mooing and dogs yipping at their heels to keep them moving, to loud bellowing and thundering of hooves as the cattle scattered in every direction. Briefly he glimpsed his grandmother among the chaos, then she disappeared, leaving him. As the swirl of dust settled, only the smell of fresh cow dung hung in the air. Silence fell and Jake was alone.
2. Andy looked over at Jake and could see boredom written on his face. Every so often he would smile, nod politely, and then spit the dust from his mouth, wipe the grit from his eyes and slap at the flies buzzing around his face.
Andy turned her face to the sun and let the warmth penetrate the coldness of southern Victoria that seemed to settle in her bones and only the warmth of the Queensland sun would chase it away. The gentle lowing of the cattle, the cracking of whips, the yips of the working dogs, and the feel of her horse beneath her were like a balm to her soul.
Andy turned to Jake and could see him slump further in the saddle, ‘I have one of the last known pockets of the GGE’s in Australia on my farm. And I’ve discovered some giant worms around here. New species I reckon!’
‘Why can’t I…’ said Jake, rolling his eyes. But, his words were cut off. Andy caught a glimpse of a familiar flash of light up ahead in a clearing. ‘No! It can’t be. Not here,’ she said more to herself than anyone else.
Andy urged her horse into a gallop, just as the usually docile cattle started bellowing panic. Whatever it was up head, sent the cattle stampeding in all directions, kicking up a dust cloud which obliterated the view. Glancing behind Andy saw Jake sitting like a sack on Dodger, who stood docile among the bedlam. What? Did Dodger just wink at her? And then they were gone from sight.
Through this exercise I discovered that in the first draft, though I have tried to write third person close point of view, I have really just been looking over my various characters shoulders and noticing what I would notice if I was looking at the same scene, experiencing the same activity.
This exercise was an eye opener for me. I found I had really get into my characters’ skin, so to speak, in order to pay close attention to what they would notice, what my character would be feeling, thinking, smelling. The smells in themselves would be different for different people, depending on past experiences and what they would associate those smells with. This means I really have to know and understand my characters.
I have a lot of rewriting to do, but I know my stories from now on will be written differently. Two recently released books that I have read, and I highly recommend, does this very thing of noticing what your character notices in deep point of view: Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr, and The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon.
Let me know how you go with your own stories and if this post helped you in any way.
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I recently had the privilege of meeting Leigh at a recent visit not far from where I live. He was on his whirl wind tour of the various schools and libraries across Australia, as well as overseas. He delighted the audience with his tales of being an art teacher, and pursuing children’s book illustration, as well as other artistic pursuits.
Today, I welcome Leigh to my blog.
You’ve been asked this a lot, but how did you get started in illustrating and writing your own books?
Around 1992, when I’d been illustrating other people’s stories for a couple of years, I began to lose interest. Primarily because I felt disengaged from the characters I was being asked to illustrate. Then an editor suggested that I create my own character which turned out to be Old Tom. He’d been hanging round and taking shape in my head subconsciously for a while. Originally, he looked like a gangster but I toned him down a tad, without making him look too goody – two – shoes. Naughty rather than nasty. Four publishers rejected Old Tom before an eagle-eyed editor at Penguin nabbed him.
You say your stories are character driven. Who are they inspired by?
I don’t think my characters are inspired by any person or ‘persons’ in particular. They’re a mixture of characters who I’ve met, or taught, even aspects of my family. There’s a bit of me in each one I suspect.
How do you road test any new characters you create?
I showed a couple to my mother earlier on. She was appalled, particularly when it came to Mr Chicken. I knew at that point I was on to something. I have an aversion to ‘cute’. I’m simply not interested in cute books, not that I pay too much attention to children’s books in any case. However, I admit I am a bit of a romantic at heart, hence the underlying good heartedness of my characters and the relationships between them…. or most of them. I never road test characters with kids. Every kid is different and ultimately a writer or artist needs to rely on their instincts. Well I do anyway.
I had the privilege to attend one of your talks at my local library in Gippsland. During your talk, you said that you write from the heart. Does what come out ever surprise you? If yes, can you give an example?
Yes. I’ve surprised myself on a few occasions. The first time was when, about twenty years ago I was asked to give a lecture to fine art and graphic art students at my old art school (Caulfield Tech. now Monash University) I’d only written a couple of books at that point and some students asked me to select a few pages and read them from my first book ‘Old Tom’. My voice cracked at a certain spot and I realised that I’d strayed into autobiography. The students picked it up as well.
Your illustrations are so loose and immediate. What do you do to create that effect?
It’s just how I draw. The drawings evolve on the page. I work hard to make it look effortless. I feel I’ve failed if a drawing looks laboured. I’ve always had better eyes than talent. Which means I’m nowhere near as good as I wish I were. My limitations all too often stare back at me from the page.
That can be a healthy thing for an artist. To keep striving for ones own idea of perfection even though you know it’s all too often unattainable. My primal goal when drawing is to get to the essence of the subject, be it a character or a building.
How long does it take you to complete an illustration?
It varies. Sometimes a drawing works straight off and it looks fresh and spontaneous and it’s done. However, there’s usually a spoil sport part or illustration where I have to battle to get it right….and then disguise the considerable effort along the way. Then it might take a day or days to finish. Often in this case I rip it up and start again, in a sort of frenzy because by then the deadline is looming.
I noticed in your books that you include well known buildings in the illustrations. I’m aware that you have a passionate interest in architecture and history. How important is it for illustrators to create from the heart?
I’ve no idea what’s in anyone else’s head, I just know that the enjoyment and satisfaction I get from creating these books comes from creating a genuine sense of place. An authentic sense of the atmosphere in London, Paris, or Rome.
You are working on your art in its various forms all the time. How do you feed your creativity?
I read a lot. Books about architecture, History, Baroque, Georgian, Tudor. English or German architecture interests me most. I read history books often. Biographies too. At the moment, I’m reading David Marr’s biography of Patrick White. As well as a history of London. I travel quite a bit too. I’ve been to London over thirty times.
Horrible Harriet has been made into a stage show. How did that come about?
I was approached by the producers who were, in consultation with me, offered the stage rights by my publishers. I had some input but stepped back after a point. I have learnt not to get too emotionally involved in the translation into other mediums of my books or characters.
What is it like to see your work interpreted in that way?
Unnerving and strange. My ‘children’ have left home. It’s ultimately flattering in spite of a degree of anxiety I inevitably feel.
I’ve watched a lot of interviews of you. Some show you going into schools and talking to the kids, engaging with them, and the students totally engrossed in every word, especially when it comes to the drawing segment where you show them how to draw Old Tom. What do you like most about school visits?
I enjoy engaging kids, especially when I sense that they are loosening up and creating for the pleasure of it. It’s satisfying too when kids who may not be used to drawing or writing creatively end up being completely engaged.
You are the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2016/2017. What does that mean for you?
It’s been a great honour and is and has been a wonderful experience.
What would you like to see change in the schools of Australia, and why?
Every school needs a Library and school Librarian. Misguided schools are, or have already done away with their school Library. I’ve heard dreadful stories about Librarians retiring or being put in excess and the school library, carefully built up over many years completely emptied with books thrown out or delivered to op shops. Libraries, good ones are carefully calibrated to the needs of the students and teachers at the particular school. They are more than just books. And I’d like to see art and music as a ‘definite’ on the primary school curriculum.
What’s next for you?
Mr Chicken’s next adventure: ‘Mr Chicken all over Australia’
Would you tell us ‘Three Fun Facts’ about yourself?
Well, here’s just one…. I’m allergic to cats.
Australian Children’s Laureate 2016-2017
“Leigh Hobbs, best-selling author of more than 20 books, including the iconic Old Tom, Mr Chicken Goes to Paris and Horrible Harriet is the Australian Children's Laureate for 2016 – 2017.
His subversive humour has delighted children for more than two decades.
Leigh Hobbs was born in Melbourne, grew up in Bairnsdale and has lived and worked in Sydney, Sale and London. He is an artist who works across a wide range of mediums, as well as writing and illustrating his children's books.
Many of his cartoons have appeared in the Melbourne Age newspaper. He is best known, though, for his children's books featuring his characters Old Tom, Horrible Harriet and Fiona the Pig and Mr Chicken, as well as the Freaks and their teachers in 4F for Freaks and Freaks Ahoy.
Old Tom has been adapted into an extremely popular TV series. Leigh has three times been shortlisted for the CBCA Picture Book of the Year Award (for Mr Chicken Goes to Paris, Horrible Harriet and Old Tom's Holiday) and his books have won every major children’s choice award in Australia. Leigh’s books are published by Allen & Unwin.” Quote from Children's Laureate website.
You can find more information about Leigh Hobbs on his website, about his role as the 2016-2017 Children's Laureate here, and his books and toys (you can buy Horrible Harriet, and Mr Chicken soft toys) through Allen and Unwin.
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