In “The Alchemist of Paris”, my current work in progress, our intrepid young heroine is summoned to work as a maid for a mysterious master in Paris in 1820. As she arrives at the darkened house, she is filled with amazement as she gazes upon the baroque facade, the carved lintel over the door and the ornate cornices in the rooms…
I know a lot about architecture, but does my eighteen-year-old heroine? I realised I’d unwittingly broken an important rule of POV. The great literary agent Evan Marshall in his Writing Tip 12, said “describe people, places and things in the vernacular of the viewpoint character”.
I went back to the drawing board.
My heroine has been raised in a convent in rural France in the early 1800s. She is observant but she has never seen a well-to-do townhouse before. What would she notice?
- the grandeur (but not the architectural period!)
- the dazzling colours,
- the fine rugs,
- the warmth,
- the vastness of the rooms,
- framed paintings (but not the artist or the medium oil/pastel),
- and the scent of the house.
The character’s vocabulary should be in line with her life experience. You don’t want a character spouting technical words out of the blue! If they do have special knowledge, explain how this came about and work it into the plot.
- Our heroine has helped the nuns and monks to gather herbs and prepare medicines while she was growing up.
- She’ll therefore be able to name plants and compounds.
- Although she can read and write, her perspective nevertheless is still shaped by the sheltered, almost medieval world of the convent, and will collide with what she sees in 1820s Paris, so her personal reaction to what she sees is as important as the descriptions.
Do you ever find yourself slipping out of viewpoint character? Do you have any tips?