Did I Blush?

Point of view is a huge area of discussion for fiction writers. It’s a complicated topic, one that goes beyond who is telling the story. Within each kind of narrative—first person, second person, third person, and omniscient—there are different rules to be followed. Then when you decide whose point of view you’re going to write from, there are additional rules to apply.

One of the things to keep in mind is a character’s self-awareness. What I mean by that is, how much would a person realistically see and observe about herself? The most obvious problem that writers encounter is how to describe a character physically when the story is being told by that character. Many writers employ the old character-looking-in-the-mirror trick, which can work if you can find a clever way of doing it.

But unless a character IS looking in a mirror, there are certain physical observations that she simply wouldn’t/couldn’t make about herself. And I just read the perfect example.

I’m reading a novel by a New York Times bestselling author. In one scene, the main character (female), who is narrating the story, is talking to a love interest (male) and says, “I could barely contain the blush that colored my cheeks.”

What’s wrong with that sentence? I’ll tell you.

How does she know that her cheeks colored? One could argue that she knew that whenever she’s around this guy, she blushes. Or that she felt her cheeks flush. But that’s not what she said. She described how her cheeks changed color, which she could not possibly have known unless she was looking in a mirror.

How the author could have gotten around that was to simply reword it: “I felt my cheeks flush,” or “My cheeks became hot.” Or even “I’ve been told that whenever I’m around him, my cheeks look like beets.” Maybe those don’t sound as good as the original, but you should never sacrifice “correctness” for “prettiness.”

I doubt very much that the author in question would give a flying squirrel’s butt about what I’m saying because, hey, she’s a NYT bestselling author and I’m not. But, most likely, she’s not going to read this blog, anyway. I don’t care about her, but I do care about YOU.

So, there you go.

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12 thoughts on “Did I Blush?

  1. Your blogs are intelligent and enjoyable, RG, and thank you for them. As one who cares very much indeed about refining and polishing a piece (the editing process begins as the pixels hit the screen, and continues non-stop from there), I am constantly astonished by the sub-standard work which wriggles past the editors and which the book-buying public pays for; your example being a case in point. My own bugbears are anachronisms and continuity issues, and bad grammar and clunky phrasing, and… oh, everything, really! Of course, “It’s the story, stupid”, but I do love to read a piece which appears to have gone through a final edit!

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  2. Pretty sure “flying squirrel’s butt” would make a good name for a high school garage band.

    POV is tough. Something you have to watch all the time. I still screw it up, too. But head-hopping our of your own head, I think, is most noticeable in 1st person.

    “My blue eyes filled with tears.”

    Okay, fine. You’re about to cry. Why the heck would you think about the color of your eyes as you did that? I mean, I have never started to cry and thought about the color of my eyes until after the fact, when they were all red and I was in the bathroom trying to get it together.

    “My long brown hair blew in the breeze.”

    It must look lovely. Why are you thinking about what color it is as it’s doing that? “Look, people over there on the bluff! I have LONG BROWN HAIR! Do you see it? Blowing in the breeze?”

    “My long, athletic legs carried me farther and farther away from the demon spawn.”

    Well, thank GODDESS you got away. Why are you thinking about what your legs look like as you’re running for your life?

    Anyway. Thanks, R.G.!

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  3. Well said. Thanks, RG. I do hope the squirrel and its butt fly fast enough to escape the demon spawn.

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  4. A very good point. Remembering what a character would see/know fro a certain POV is something I always try to keep in mind. For me, it’s important to get it right, even though some things the average reader might no even notice – they might! And that’s enough for me. 🙂

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  5. Well said. And I personally find that sentence strange from another aspect. The character probably can’t “contain the blush” (how does one contain the blush, anyway?) because it’s pretty much an involuntary reaction. That’s why people hate blushing anyway – because they can’t control it.

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    1. Yes, Anna (and Elaine). I thought of that, too, as I was reading it, but I wanted to focus on the other issue. But I’m glad you brought that up because that’s important as well.

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