Back when I first started writing Unbinding the Stone, I had no idea what I was doing. I had read a great many books, of course, done well in my English classes and almost qualified for the National Spelling Bee for my state ('risque', if you're interested). I had even taken one class in creative writing at college. But I was not moved to write anything until long after, when I was a grad student in Philosophy. I had a dream one night, told my wife about it, and she prompted me to think about writing a story. My Hero became the embodiment of a concept I heard about in a Philosophy class, a man who did the right thing because it was the right thing to do. At some point a first sentence appeared in my head and I wrote it down.
What to do after that?
In the books I'd read, there would be a lot of decription, perhaps, details about the environment my hero lived in, the people, the country, etc. I had one sentence and I'd just written it. The only thing I had left was the information from my dreams, where he was going and what he wanted. So that's what I wrote. He was going into the forest to get a particular piece of wood for a particular purpose. Did I want to describe the forest, or the wood? No, I did not. I didn't know a lot about trees or woods, but more important, they weren't important to the story. Perhaps thatwas just my lazy cowardice talking, since I didn't want to go to the trouble of learning about trees and woods, but I put the focus on my hero, Tarkas. Did he care about the woods? No, he'd lived in them all his life. He wouldn't care about them unless they were part of his immediate purpose. Similarly the village he'd just left. The carnivorous plant between him and his goal mattered, but only a little, since he avoided it. The path mattered, in so far as it took him to his goal.
Already I had gotten far away from any lessons the books I'd read might have taught me. I wasn't writing in first person, but I wasn't exactly writing in third person either. I was writing third person as if it was first person. Everything was seen from Tarkas' perspective, using Tarkas' words and concepts, as if the reader (me, in this case, even though I was the author as well) was in Tarkas' place but was not Tarkas. I the author was invisible. The side effect of this was that it applied to all characters, not just Tarkas, head hopping as a built-in feature. The usual technique of scene breaks when POV changed wasn't going to work here. I wasn't writing scenes, I was writing characters and what they saw and did. When Tarkas was the focus, everything was from his perspective. When the focus changed the perspective changed, and the focus could shift from one paragraph to the next.
Similarly the dialog and even vocabulary was subject to perspective shifts. When Tarkas didn't know a word I couldn't use it. It is a sign of change in a character, usually Tarkas, when he starts to use a word he didn't know before. I couldn't use certain syntactic form like contractions when Tarkas was in focus, because Tarkas would not use them. But other characters would. The world itself changed, based on what concepts the character in focus had to describe it with. Tarkas' world grows as Tarkas grows.
And me with him, of course.
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