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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » POV missing a sense

   
Author Topic: POV missing a sense
enigmaticuser
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I'm writing a cat, 3rd person limited omniscent. Now I've heard, cats can't see color . . . this presents a challenge in how to describe over his shoulder . . .

I either go with telling in black and white, or I take the road that the narrator being not actually 1st person can see color and relays internal dialogue as black and white. I think I'm leaning towards that, but I thought it would be interesting to discuss.

Doesn't have to be color, could be something else like how the Buggers don't "know" sound. Or how Agent Smith says "It's the smell. If there is such a thing . . . "

Thoughts? Stories?

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redux
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Cats can see in some colors. They are not condemned to a black and white world. What's most interesting about the way cats see is that they are a lot better than humans at distinguishing contrasts. If I remember correctly, cats can see in 1/6th the illumination humans need. So while at night all cats are grey to us lowly humans, not so for cats.

Cats perceive the world very differently from us. They have highly mobile ears and can detect the faintest sounds. Also, using their whiskers they can sense changes in air currents and navigate through their environment.

Am I sounding like a cat person yet?

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Merlion-Emrys
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They still can't pee standing up.
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extrinsic
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I see subtext potentials with profound ramifications from how sensory experiences shape existence. Limited color perception, for instance, like a human sees color under a full Moon.

Tuesday was the Full Bone Moon, by the way. The thirteenth Moon signaling the lunar calendar month's arrival at year's end, when it's coldest, the larders are empty, the game depleted, the hunger beast claws at the stomach. Next Moon, the Wind Moon is the first Moon of the year, when strong winds blow down the dead wood and clear debris and decay from the Earth for the renewal of Spring.

Also, lacking color perception: Nature gives as well as holds back, substituting other sensory gifts for those held away. A potential imagery or other sensory motifs or symbolism for signaling meaning and message of intangibles through concrete comparatives. I'm thinking how shades of gray perception might signal parallels with poetic justice: a 256 hue gray scale of right and wrong, good and evil, not merely binary either-or black and white.

Human sensory priorities are, in order of significance for writing, viusal, aural, olfactory, tactile, gustatory. Powers of memory evocation for audience reactions reverse that order. Taste is strong for evoking memory, touch, smell, sound to lessening degrees, and visual lesser still.

What might a cat's sensory priorities be? And how and what might those signifiy for human existence, for readers?

[ February 08, 2012, 11:57 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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redux
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@Merlion - hah!

I've owned both cats and dogs but only cats have ever made me feel like their servant.

extrinsic - Regarding taste, cats have very few taste buds. Humans have around 10,000 taste buds but cats have less than 1,000. The sense of smell is stronger in cats. They have a Jacobson's organ that helps them detect pheromones. If you've ever seen a cat with its mouth open looking like it smelled something particularly stinky it's probably sensing something through that olfactory organ.

One of their main form of communication is through the tail. Like maritime signal flags, a cat's tail can tell you a lot about what they're thinking/feeling.

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extrinsic
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Sure, cats scent mark territory. I imagine they take umbrage at intruders and interlopers' stinkiness, to the point of frustration, jealousy, anger.

That they have comparatively few taste buds suggests they tolerate foods humans cannot stomach. Carrion that's a little off, for instance.

I wonder, though, fewer taste buds, might that mean their range of taste is a little more discriminating than the basic human four of sweet, sour, bitter, and savory (or salt). What other flavors might they taste, say discriminate herbal bouquets or lipid oils' punky tastes, that we cannot know.

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enigmaticuser
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I guess though I'm a cat person, I'm not as well versed in more than their personalities.

I'll have to re-educate myself. I'd also heard with a few exceptional breeds cats don't taste sweet. I know I've never met a cat that liked citrus or any fruit for that matter.

Btw, did anyone have thoughts about the actual mechanics of narrating a character with different senses?

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extrinsic
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Do you mean like bats and cetaceans echo locate? And pisces species electro locate? Then there's the varieties that are sensitive to subtle barometric pressure changes. Those are different from human sensory perceptions.

Narrating different senses to me means how sense incites causes and effects related to behaviors, thus character traits and personalities. A being sensitve to, say, temperature like a pit viper, might find cold comforting for its similarity to sanctuary and sleeping dreams, and hot related to food and danger, a clash of desires. Does it find delight in the idle in betweens, or fear, thus taking, reepectively, an approving and disapproving attitude. It's in the noun, verb, adjective, and adverb parts of speech that attitude is expressed, causal based on sensory stimuli.

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redux
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Expanding on what extrinsic said... I think a cat would probably express itself a lot in terms of up and down. It would seek out perches, climb trees just to get a better vantage point. And in terms of relationship would probably express themselves in a similar manner - of who is sitting higher - who has the higher ground. Also, if they could speak, I would imagine their language would be full of similes and metaphors about sound and smells.
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Jess
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I'd say just spend some time observing cats. Yeah you might not be able to see all the colors that we do, but they have so much going on for them. There is so much communication in their tale movements and the way they explore. Cats are funny because they can be laying on the floor perfectly still except for their tail and that means so much in cat speak. The great thing about cats is even if you don't own one or are allergic, there are a ton of videos of them on youtube. (My personal favorite is maru the cat--if you want a chuckle watch his videos).
Seeing how they view the world might help so you don't need to necessarily worry about colors. With vision and cats I'd say movement is the key.
And ps. LAZY cats can in fact pee standing up. That's why they invented covered litter boxes. [Big Grin]

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redux
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One of my favorites from Star Trek:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auHXg1H0bAQ

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Foste
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@Merlion

Now I want a cat that can do that.

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Robert Nowall
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We're not looking through their eyes, and can't see what they see...or how they see it. A particular shade of gray might be "orange" or "yellow" to them, if they even think that way.

Food dominates the cat worldview...my parents have a cat right now that, whenever anyone moves towards the kitchen, will go, too, on the chance of getting food...even me, though I've rarely fed him.

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MattLeo
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Isn't "third person limited omniscient" a contradiction in terms? Either you restrict yourself to what is in the experience of the POV character, in which case it's third person limited, or you bring in things outside the POV character's ken, in which case you are third person omniscient. (I suppse *first person* omniscient is a possibility yet to be explored.)

In any case you've picked a corker of a problem, because while color is constructed from the mix of light wavelengths, it is not a *measure* of wavelength; it is a psychological phenomenon. For example different mixes of redish and blueish light are perceived as the same greenish color (or if we're talking pigments rather than light, purple).

Most reptiles and birds [note 1] have *four* primary colors; mammals started with four then lost one or more primary colors in exchange for greater night vision acuity. That means that mammals see better at night, but during the day birds and reptiles see colors that literally are outside human experience.

Cats have taken this process further than primates, having superb night vision but only *two* primary colors (blue and yellow). From that we can confidently deduce that a red rose will appear to be almost the same color as the green foliage on the bush, but we have no idea what the *subjective* experience of that combined red/green color is like.

That is such a profoundly alien experience, I don't think you really have to worry about it, unless you have a character who changes from a primate into a cat and back and has to *compare* his experiences. The differences between primate and feline color vision just doesn't come up in stories I've read with cat POV. That works because readers take human color vision for granted as an objective phenomenon, and don't notice the author ascribing cats powers of vision science tells us they don't have.

But if you're a stickler (and good for you if you are), you just have to edit any colors mentioned in third person limited scenes told through the cat's POV. Make them less vivid, and confound red and green. It's no use trying to describe the subjective experience of color to a cat with two kinds of cone cells or a bird with four. The subjective experience of color in non-primate species is literally indescribable, having no point of reference in human experience.

In third person omniscient, as a stickler you can mention colors cats can't perceive, but then point out the cat is unaware of them.

note 1: owls are an exception to this; they have very few color sensing cones in their eyes and there is some debate whether they perceive color at all. It may be a moot point since they're nocturnal animals.

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Crystal Stevens
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
We're not looking through their eyes, and can't see what they see...or how they see it. A particular shade of gray might be "orange" or "yellow" to them, if they even think that way.

Food dominates the cat worldview...my parents have a cat right now that, whenever anyone moves towards the kitchen, will go, too, on the chance of getting food...even me, though I've rarely fed him.

That might be because that's all the cat has to look forward to. If all an animal does is mope around a house all day with nothing to do, food will definitely get his/her attention. It's something to do and a reason why many house pets are grossly overweight. Somewhat like people who don't do much but sit around watching TV. It's so easy to get a snack and pop it in your mouth. Of course I'm not aiming this at anyone in particular since I know nothing about other members' habits.

Edited to add: An animal like a cat would not know about other colors like the ones we see and as such wouldn't miss them. Just something to think about.

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MattLeo
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quote:
That might be because that's all the cat has to look forward to. If all an animal does is mope around a house all day with nothing to do, food will definitely get his/her attention.
Well said. I remember seeing a documentary about a large community of semi-feral farm cats in the UK. Many of their behaviors in that state are somewhat reminiscent of lions, only in groups with a lot more individuals. You can almost place them on an axis starting with tigers (solitary), lions (small groups), and feral cats (colonies of up to 25 individuals).

Feral cat social behavior is quite interesting. A colony consists of related females and their offspring, with a few tomcats orbiting the colony with varying degrees of contact with the group. The females of course do all the work of cooperatively raising kittens and defending the colony. The colony has a hierarchy with an alpha female at the top, but it's more fluid than that of a dog pack. Certain pairs of cats (of any combination of sexes) bond especially closely, suggesting something like a lifelong friendship.

Altogether, it seems that a housecat in its natural state leads a rather complex and rich life in comparison to a solitary pet that has nothing to do all day but wait for its next meal to be delivered. Unfortunately it's also a rather short, disease-ridden and injury prone life.

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extrinsic
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Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions is in first-person omniscient.

Third-person limited, omniscient is not so much of a stretch. Actually. William Thackeray Makepeace's Vanity Fair is in third-person limited character psychic access, and omniscient narrator. Though, as with all omniscient narrators, omnipotent and omnipresent as well, as is Breakfast of Champions, the omni factors are selective. Not all dramatis personaes all the time in every detail: anyone and everyone, anywhere and everywhere, anytime and every time inclusive.

[ February 10, 2012, 07:20 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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enigmaticuser
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My understanding of the difference between 3rd person and 3rd person limited omniscient is that in true 3rd person the narrator does not know the thoughts of anyone ... but I suppose that's semantics, but that's the way I use it. Seeing over one persons shoulder and seeing both inside and out.

As far as the situation, just by way of sharing (it doesn't really change the discussion), the cat has working understanding of human language and the cat was remarking on color disputes made by humans that to it were "obviously" gray. Though now, I'll have to adjust it to reflect a confusion of red/green etc.

It's been quiet fun to write, and thanks all for the bringing up of smells and sounds, I'm cranking that up to the forefront.

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