POV with an impaired character

Last year, I started writing a short story about a woman facing a life or death situation as a result of a natural disaster. The premise, which would only be revealed in the end, was that this woman was actually enduring her daily commute to work and that the natural disaster was a crippling anxiety.

After a few drafts, the story changed so that the woman was alone in her apartment (with heat, power and water shut off) and was trapped there in the grip of her rock-bottom alcoholism.

Eventually, I realized that I didn’t yet have the chops to pull that particular story together and changed the setting again so that the woman is lost in the woods. I wrote a couple of drafts, got some input and decided to change the way the story was told. I wrote a new beginning, made some notes and put the story aside for a while.

I was having trouble communicating what is sometimes called “alcoholic haze.” I don’t see it as a haze, but more like walking underwater: vision isn’t impeded, but rather wavy; focus is impossible and every action requires significant effort. I didn’t know how to translate the image in my head to words on the page.

The last two books I have read feature characters who have had their mental faculties impaired, in one case by narcotics and in the other by alcohol. I was struck by the difference in approaches that the respective authors took and the effects that they had on me as the reader.

One writer used a very close 3rd person POV to show the effects of drugs used in the interrogation of his detective protagonist. The confusion, hallucinations and physical effects were all that the reader experienced, without anything to indicate that the character was drugged. I actually found myself shaking my head trying to clear the cobwebs and get a clear picture of what the hell was going on. It was cool to be feeling what the protagonist was feeling, but it really disrupted the flow and made for a herky-jerky, difficult, reading experience that pulled me right out of the story.

The other writer used a little more distance in the POV and wrote rather clearly about her alcoholic protagonist. Actions, rather than descriptions, conveyed the impairment. It made for a less visceral experience, but still managed to twist me up in the guttyworks. Perhaps more importantly, I was still in the story.

I am currently writing my short in the first person (which is a lot harder than I expected it to be) and am not sure if I can make that POV work, even over the short span of 2,500 words. I like the connection that the reader gets with first person, but am struggling with my skillset and the overwhelming urge to write the way I would tell the story aloud (lots of description, not enough action).

I am still not sure how to communicate my “walking underwater” sensation, but was inspired to fire up Scrivener and have another go.

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