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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Seeing through a drunk character's eyes

   
Author Topic: Seeing through a drunk character's eyes
Smaug
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I have an opening scene in which the main character, a western sheriff, is drunk. He's so drunk that he's slurring his speech. My problem is, I have to be inside his head to set up the story situation--and yet I also need to describe in detail the action that is taking place inside the saloon. I'm not sure that a drunk would be able to focus enough on the detail to have him be the viewpoint character here, yet if I don't have him as the viewpoint character, I lose the thoughts that are going through his mind, and as I said, those thoughts are essential to the plot.

Any ideas or suggestions?


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JmariC
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This seems to me like this is an issue of either staying true to the POV character you've chose (and the sacrifices that come with it) or choosing a different POV to get the details you want.

If a person tries to put a lot of details that don't belong to the POV the scene rings false and the character suffers loss of realism.


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D_James_Larkin
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I may not have the big picture here, but is there any reason you couldn't narrate the action in the saloon, and give glimpses of thought and dialogue by your main-char to attain your POV?

In fact, maybe a fun twist would be to describe what is actually there while mentioning the skewed view of the Sheriff through his eyes and muddled brain.

Just some thoughts.


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pantros
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Well, you don't want to actually write drunk. You can flavor his thoughts with adverbs and his actions with adjectives to get the drunken feel and slur his speech. There is no reason why the 3rd person limited PoV has to reflect the alcoholic effects.

If you wrote it in first person, it would reflect the effects or, more likely, would reflect the lack of cohesive memories.

EDIT: You can, use actual thoughts to really add flavor. Drunken thoughts are simple, repetitive and distractable.

Ah, there's Jim, he thought He's a good guy. He owes me money. Or do I owe him? Where's my bottle?

[This message has been edited by pantros (edited November 18, 2005).]


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ChrisOwens
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I've never been intoxicated nor do I drink. However, in watching specials about it, I've garnered that many drunk people don't realize how bad off they are. They believe they can drive, but when put to the test in a driving sim, they wouldn've killed quiet a few pedestrains without even knowing it.

It could be that the sherif doesn't notice that he's acting like a lout or that his speech is slurred. He'd notice some effects, but may think he is handling himself great, though other people wouldn't be able to in the same state.

I've a story where the viewpoint character's mother is drunk. When I tried spelling out the slurred speech I was soundly told to write it plane and just note in the narritive that her speech is slurred.


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Robyn_Hood
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I'll second Pantros. Unless you are writing in first person, there shouldn't be as much of an impact as you may be thinking.

Try writing it both ways: from sherrif's viewpoint and from an outside viewpoint.

How are they the same?
How are they different?
Can you bring the two versions together?
If you can't bring them together to form one viewpoint, will it work to have an "establishing shot" from the outside POV and then move inside the sherrif's head? i.e. Character A is sitting in a corner watching the goings on. Trouble is brewing across the room. Two big Mexicans, a Texan, and a Yankee are playing poker and it looks like the Mexans are losing -- and they don't like it. And there's the sherrif, oblivious and drunk, sitting at the bar. # Change to sherrif's viewpoint.

Just some thoughts.


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sojoyful
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OSC mentioned this in a writing class response: http://www.hatrack.com/writingclass/lessons/1998-08-14-2.shtml
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JOHN
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quote:
Any ideas or suggestions?

Yeah, go get a 12-pack of Sam Adams, and do three shots of Jagermeister. Then fire up the computer and write the scene.


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azure_galaxie
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two ideas. one, take a different approach and tell the opening from the POV of a limited omniscient narrator, who can observe everything but not get inside anyone's head. the sheriff can reveal their personality through dialogue and action.

another idea, narrate from the POV of the sheriff but cheat and have dialogue by others interspersed through his internal monologue even if the sheriff wouldn't notice the dialogue, nessecarily.


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pantros
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Limited Omniscienct traditionally means we get to see inside one and only one character's head.


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JOHN
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Honestly, telling a story through a story through a drunk character’s POV would be just like telling one through a sober character’s POV. As someone mentioned drunk people tend to not know they’re drunk or just how drunk they are. They may feel a little wobbly, and noticed they stumbled over a word here or there, but not to the same degree someone sober looking at them would notice. I always have to be told I’m slurring my words when I get drunk--I never notice. Basically, you acknowledge you’re drunk, but just not how drunk you are. That you don’t realize until the next morning. Well, that’s true unless you’ve really sauced it up. I suggest using another character’s POV observing the drunk character.

JOHN!

[This message has been edited by JOHN (edited November 18, 2005).]


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Robyn_Hood
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Something else to consider about drunks, is that they tend to fixate on things. They have to actively focus on people, objects and surroundings (again, sort of like what pantros mentioned with his example in his first post, "Ah, there's Jim, he thought He's a good guy. He owes me money. Or do I owe him? Where's my bottle?").

If you are in the sheriff's POV, you do have opportunity to describe things in detail as he looks/fixates around the room.


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Robert Nowall
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Yup, I've got to agree that, from the inside of the head of a drunk, the drunk's not going to realize he's drunk. He might be slurring his speech or missing his target, but he won't *know,* and he won't relate it to the bottle of whatever he guzzled down the hour before. Afterwards, no doubt he will...or it might slowly dawn on him that he's dead drunk...but during the "during" it won't come up.

You'll have to do all that slurring and missing and making mistakes of judgement and slowed down reaction times without referring it back to the alcohol.

I can't vouch for this from personal experience, though, not being a drinking man. The last (and only) time I was remotely drunk I was twelve (long story, not relevant here), and I remember vaguely being kind of more outgoing, followed later by being sick.

(Funny, though, that this came up in my thoughts over the last couple of days before I saw this post. A while ago, "The Simpsons" had a brief bit in one show about "Beer Goggles: See the World Through the Eyes of a Drunk!" Then, a couple of days ago, I turned on my car radio, and heard some country singer singing about how "I've got my beer goggles on...")


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azure_galaxie
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yes, got it wrong. I meant limited third person, not limited third person omniscient narrator.

[This message has been edited by azure_galaxie (edited November 18, 2005).]


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pantros
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How to show the drunkeness:

1) Have him drink, preferably something strong in a large glass, and he's near the bottom.

2) Things not in his immediate center field of vision will surprise him, by their very existance, if they do something to draw attention to them.

3) He will comment on everything he notices, not always appropriately.

4) He will lean towards whoever he is talking to.

5) He will bump into people and it will be their fault. Alternatively he will push his way through a sparse crowd that a sober person could walk around.

6) People far away will hear him over the crowd even though he thinks he is talking at a normal volume.

"No need to yell there, sheriff, I got your fresh drink right here."
"I wasn't yelling, you'd know if I was yelling"


just some ideas


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KatFeete
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Ditto on what pantros and Robyn said. The best drunken scenes (and the ones most related to my own infrequent intoxicated experiences) are not those where the characters talk funny, but where they act in a confused and often inappropriate manner. The problem, when you're drunk, is that the world suddenly becomes a much more confusing and, if you're drunk enough, difficult-to-navigate place. Most people's response is to fixate very hard on one specific task they have to accomplish or on one thing that's caught their eye.

In a tight POV scene it's also possible to tell the *reader* what's going on without the narrator necessarily knowing. So, for example, the sheriff can fixate on something inappropriate and inconsequential while the important stuff happens in the background. Like paying more attention to how a woman's mouth moves when she speaks than what she's saying, or staring at a ring on someone's finger, trying to place where you've seen that design, while the hand in question is drawing a gun....

Another weirdness about being drunk: certain very innate activities, like walking and talking, become very difficult, but others don't. I have been too drunk to walk straight (three times, I think) but never too drunk to dance. I know people drunk enough to do the slurring of words thing who could still sing note-perfect. So it's perfectly possible for some things to trigger nearly-sober trains of thought or actions in someone even when they're very drunk, especially if the thought or action is something they've trained a lot in.

[This message has been edited by KatFeete (edited November 19, 2005).]


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