The Sensual Writer

These past few Sunday evenings, I’ve been running a complicated “chapter” in my role-playing game.  The game’s title is Hostages in the Court of the Faceless Tyrant.  If I was going to give this particular chapter a title, it would be “The Challenge of Fear.”

Who Would You Cast?

Who Would You Cast?

Anyhow, the following morning, Jim and I were both still a bit “buzzed” from the conclusion of this chapter.  We started pretending that the game was actually a show we were watching, creating teasers for each of the three sections we’d already completed.

“What!  Father Beneficius and Pavel are missing?  What’s this about rainbows, mists, and mirrors?  And Damna’s with them?”

“We’ve found them, but it looks like our problems are just beginning.  [Olive voice over] ‘Why skeletons?  I thought the Minosians didn’t allow necromancy!'”

“Fire, rats, and snakes…  Someone knows us too well.  Let’s give it our best!  [Rafael voice over] ‘Damna, does this mean we’re breaking up?'”

I tossed in a teaser for next week’s game.

“Contradictio’s back and it’s time for Persephone’s Big Decision. [Persephone voice over] ‘Oh, no!  What should I do?'”

This made me think about one of the questions I have the hardest time answering as a novelist: “If your book was made into a movie (or television series), who would you want to play…?”

I’m always floored by this question and my usual reply is “Well, I haven’t watched a television series since Xena and Hercules, and we didn’t even finish those.  The last movie we saw in the theater was the final installment of ‘The Lord of the Rings.’  I’m just not up-to-date on actors.”

(Just in case you wonder, we’re not snobs who think any visual media isn’t worth watching.  It’s just that lately we’ve been watching anime or classic movies.)

While my “usual reply” is perfectly true, as Jim and I were constructing the “teasers” for our episodic game, I realized that the reason I have trouble “casting” my books is a lot more complicated.  People often talk about being “visual” writers.  I’m not, at least not in the sense this is usually meant, which implies stepping back and “seeing” the action as if you were directing a movie or play.

I’m more what I’ll term a “sensual writer.”  Especially when I write novels, I rarely use the omniscient point of view.  Whether I’m writing in first person or third person, I stay locked within the point of view of a specific character.  I “see” the action through their eyes, experience it through their senses.  This makes it a lot harder to visualize the characters as one thing or another, because different people see the same person completely differently.

When I was a kid, we had a book – I think it was part of a series on basic psychology – that showed a diagram of how differently the same person was seen by the people in his life.  The center of the picture showed a very average, middle-aged man.  Around the edges, were four pictures showing how this man looked to himself, his wife, his secretary, and his boss.

The man saw himself as younger than he was, his hairline not as receding, with fewer lines on his face.  His wife, by contrast, saw every line and a distinct weariness.  His secretary saw him with a slight leer.  His boss as hangdog.  What fascinated me was that each of these depictions were probably true to a point, reflecting different situations.  The one that was not true was how the man saw himself…

Something similar happens to me with my characters.  I don’t see them as generically “cast,” “Five foot two, eyes of blue…”  I see them through the eyes of the other characters.

Let’s take Adara, one of the main characters in Artemis Awakening.  Both Griffin and Terrell see Adara through the filter of their admiration for her, colored by a very natural sexual attraction.

 In contrast, Bruin’s view of Adara is colored by the fact that he’s known Adara since she was about five years old.   His view of her is a prism cut from the nineteen years that he has effectively served as her father.

 Kipper, Bruin’s newest charge, is young enough that he doesn’t see Adara so much as a woman as a role model.  In his eyes, Adara’s the heroic figure he hopes to be someday.

Adara would see herself completely differently…  And, like the man in the psychology book, her vision would be the least reliable.

I could keep going, with examples from other characters or other books, but I trust you get my point.

The funny thing is that, while I have trouble “casting” my characters, I have no problem at all in knowing when a depiction of one of them is right or somehow off the mark.  If I was working with one of those police sketch artists , I’d have no problem saying things like:  “No, the eyes are too wide.  The hairline isn’t quite that high.  Great cheekbones.  She’s slim, yes, but not that willowy.”

I’ve decided that if the day comes that anyone wants to make a movie or television series based on one of my works, I won’t even try to cast it myself.  I’ll come to my readers and ask them for their opinions.  It would be fun to learn how they see these people I know so well.

6 Responses to “The Sensual Writer”

  1. Tori Says:

    This was a really interesting post because I think it provides a lot of insight into your writing, specifically your writing being “sensual” rather than “visual.” It’s like a light bulb went off in my head.

  2. Nicholas Wells Says:

    Interesting, especially since I’m quite the opposite. I DO play the events in my head, regardless of my POV, as it helps me better imagine what’s going on. That said, I too would have a hard time casting my characters. Even the voices actors would be hard, as I can hear the voice in my head, but I doubt I could reproduce it.

    Though more interesting is that you don’t picture them as much, considering the pictures you invoke anyway. Then again, that’s the point isn’t it? We all have our perceptions of Adora, Firekeeper, probably even relative statics like Sand Shadow or Blind Seer (not all that many variations in pumas). Might almost be fun to see a collection of reader sketches to see how many are even close to being the same, and how many are absolute opposites.

    We all think the authors we read have pictures hung on their wall. I suppose some might. Interesting to hear how wrong we are, yet how exact you could be were you given the chance.

  3. Sally Says:

    Ditto on this being interesting.

    I put together a photo album (cribbed from the American Memory site) for characters and places in Wind Out of Canaan. I found it quite useful–but this is probably in part because I was working in a historical setting. I don’t always do this.

    I don’t usually play events as if I’m watching them. Instead I play many of them from the inside, trying to feel/see/smell/speak them as my POV character. (I could claim that that’s one reason I’m so slow, but I expect it won’t wash.)

  4. Paul Genesse Says:

    Hi Jane, Fascinating stuff. I think Adara could be played by a lot of great actresses. I can’t quite remember the description of her right now. An actress who could pull of her fierceness and more would be Zoe Saldana.

  5. dnprice01 Says:

    A very thought provoking post. It is so crazy to me that a lot of times we considering “seeing” as truth (“I saw it with my own eyes”, or “seeing is believing”). But you are so right Jane, so much of how we interpret the visual is based on the viewer and their own history.

  6. janelindskold Says:

    Pictures on the wall…

    Not really. However, for the “Artemis Awakening” books I did look for photo references. I found a couple male models who could be adapted for Griffin and Terrell, but no Adara — even the high fashion magazines, which go for exotic looks from time to time, didn’t give me anything.

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