Camera Lens or Mind’s Eye?

“Mindfulness” is such an ubiquitous word, such a high concept. Go about your life fully aware of what is happening within and without. Wait, are we talking about modern folks? Hmmm, have you noticed many people waiting for a bus, waiting for a table at a restaurant, or for heaven’s sake walking down the hall at school or work, practicing mindfulness? I challenge you to observe what most people are doing in these situations, be mindful of this one thing.

Is it not a true statement that in modern life, we have perfected the art of tuning out and finding our own comfy bubble at the end of ear buds or in the reflection of our faces in a screen full of emoji? We are so self deceived. Priding ourselves with peaceful, intelligent sounding narratives promoted by melodramatic advertisements and of course apps on our phones. I know. I know. If we didn’t have the safety net of imagination, the weight of existence would crush us. I of all people can attest to that, preferring at times to be lost in a fictional world more than connecting with the real one. But alas, I am only making an observation and here’s the connection to writing fiction (it wasn’t my confession above):

Mindfulness in characters translates well in setting a scene. The character’s focus on her feelings, the temperature of the air, noting expressions on other’s faces, color, sound, can be presented in a natural way. It’s the classic ‘show don’t tell’. Our brains are so amazing with how much information we process in just glancing around a room. Writing that room from a character’s point of view with their unique spin makes the reader feel they are seeing through the character’s eyes. Two examples of the same room:

  1. The room was a typical suburban family room with a comfy sectional couch of wear easy fabric , a modern glass coffee table, a muted patterned wool rug of grey and blue. The two young couples sat on each half of the couch, one with feet planted on the floor, the other entwined with each other as though separating would cause them to asphyxiate. Lara did not want to be with Malcolm’s cousin. But her sister Kim arranged the night by tricking her into thinking it was going to be a bunch of friends. Everyone mysteriously cancelled except Kim’s boyfriend and his visiting cousin. Lara reached for the remote and pressed the television on.

Can you see the room? Are you there in it? Are you feeling the atmosphere?

Now, from the mind of one of the characters in the room:

2. It wasn’t Lara’s plan to hang out on the tired sectional couch, the same one her parents had in the family room since she was eight. It didn’t even go with the newer glass coffee table and don’t even get Lara started on what was wrong with an itchy, not soft rug on the floor. It had no color, just a drab grey, blue pattern. If Lara could decorate the room it would be bright colors and bean bag chairs. Of course, then Kim and Malcom would not be able to wrap themselves together like two snakes. Kim was a snake that much she knew, tricking Lara into entertaining Malcom’s visiting cousin when she said it would be a bunch of friends. Well there would be no forked tongues touching on this end of the couch, not even shoulders making contact, her feet were firmly planted on the floor. If that didn’t make it clear how she felt about the arrangement, pressing the remote on the television would.

Can you see the room? Can you feel the atmosphere in the room? Do you have the sense that something is about to happen? One view is from an impersonal, disconnected camera lens, panning the scene. The other is from the eye of a person emoting feeling and context.

Consider in your current work, where you can take general description of a setting, maybe eloquently written and present it through the character’s state of mind and personality instead. See if it doesn’t breath fresh life into a scene that for all its descriptive glory, could be easily skipped over without the actual story missing a beat.

Write on! Think on!

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