Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Finding Your Novel's Aesthetic Point of View

This week, I was inspired to read this post at the Enchanted Inkpot on Writing Totems. In particular, the link from site to the blog of R.L. LaFevers, author of the "Theodosia" and "Nathaniel Fludd: Beastologist" books reminded me of something I had read a long time ago - that Robin LaFevers often makes collages and other visual art (including, for instance, a journal in a character's voice) to help her articulate what I can only describe as a novel's aesthetic point of view.

In my mind, a novel's aesthetic point of view is related to authorial voice in that it includes all the history, cultural touchstones, literary references, inspirations, dreams and imaginings that help to inform your voice as a writer. However, it is also specific to the novel itself - and includes as well setting, time period, genre, tone, plot, character, and the like. There are multiple ways to go about articulating this point of view - both for yourself during the writing process, and hopefully, later, for the champions of your book, including agents and editors. Some I've been playing around with this week are collaging, mock-casting my novel's characters, and of course, coming up with my novel's mock-soundtrack. 

So this week, as I've been doing some final tweaks and edits on my Bengali folktale based MG novel for my (drumroll please) brand new, lovely, amazing literary agent, I've also been leafing through old books of Indian pop art and scrolling around websites for images that 'fit' the light hearted, colorful, adventurous Indian-American sensibility I'm going for in my novel.

I've come up with images like the silly one above of "Diwali Barbie." Now, this choice is far from literal. I'm not writing a novel about Barbies (although, I do write occasionally for a great website called Adios, Barbie), nor about anyone who looks particularly like this doll, and what this image does is evoke for me the color scheme, the flair, and yes, even the pop cultural fun of my novel's aesthetic point of view. In addition, the image reminds me of my character's process. In the beginning of my novel, my protagonist struggles against a sensibility that is probably pretty much like the one in this image - she doesn't want to be "dolled up" and must over the course of the plot find an Indian sense femininity that is not plastic, or commercial, or stereotyped - but real, and active and all her own. 

Besides thinking about still images, I've tried to think of films that capture my novel's aesthetic sensibility. In many ways, Gurinder Chadha's "Bend it Like Bekham" hits the mark. Particularly a scene Chadha runs during the credits in which a bunch of dressed up Indian ladies - one young woman in a wedding sari - play soccer on a pitch. (In it, she has the whole cast singing the Hindi lyrics to Hot Hot Hot, you must watch it, it's hilarious)

I've also come up with this great Bollywood cricket film "Dil Bole Hadippa" starring Rani Mukherjee and Shahid Kapoor. (Hm, that makes two Indian sports films, not sure what that's about...) This movie's got the fun, wholesome, joyous, raucous quality that I'm going for in the novel. Now, am I writing a Bollywood novel? No, not at all. But again, we're going for feeling level connections, not literal ones.

Similarly, I've been trying to come up with a mock soundtrack for my novel, and the best I can think of is the same music I was listening to (not on purpose, my kids love this CD) when I initially wrote the novel. It's a CD called "JuJu" by the Bengali group (Bangla Band) "Chondrobindoo."  Check out a silly video I just found of their title song.

 I'm sure there are many more ways to try and capture the aesthetic point of view of a novel, but these are the three that have brought me much joy this week.

How do you explore your novel's aesthetics sensibility?


  1. Since I haven't said it yet, congratulations on your agent! I love the concept of aesthetics in writing, though as an editor rather than a writer I'm not the best person to comment on my own. I'm curious, though; do you consider your aesthetic sensibility specific to each novel, or is it something you're developing for yourself and your broader body of work?

  2. Thanks Rachel! I'm thrilled about my new agent. Re: your question - I think it's both. Undoubtedly, my own cultural context, reference points, etc. are a part of this book's aesthetic sensibility. But I'm also writing a YA based on an Indian epic, and while, yes, it's also Indian, the aesthetic sensibility of that book is much more dark, epic, dramatic - appropriate to the happenings of that plot, those characters, that audience, etc. So I think that an author might have a certain voice/sensibility that translates project to project, but that each novel might also have a unique aesthetic POV...