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Posts tagged with: POV

Challenging POV

There are a lot of “rules” when it comes to point of view. There is first person, often used in young adult and mysteries, and often either loved or hated by readers. There is third person, often used in romance. This is the basis for deep third person POV, which has been particularly popular for the last few years. The “rules” say you can only have two, the hero and heroine, or three, the hero, heroine, and villain. There is omniscient POV, once popular and now guaranteed to gain you a low score in any contest if a POV purist is judging.

Any POV needs to be handled clearly and competently by the author. That’s one rule that should always be kept. And as authors, we need to remember that different readers like different styles of POV.

Being a mystery writer, I thought I was one who preferred first person until I read Louise Penny. Bury Your Dead is a Chief Inspector Gamache mystery and uses a large number of points of view with dexterity and clarity. At one point, after a police interview with an English speaking witness who can read French fluently but struggles with spoken French, there is one paragraph in the POV of a police constable taking notes. The policeman is never named, but the story would have been poorer if  a POV purist editor had removed this paragraph. This same man gets another paragraph in his POV many pages later as another witness is interviewed. Again, it enriches the story.

And then a page or two later, the POV changes from the chief investigator to a witness for four paragraphs before it returns back to the chief investigator.

The next chapter changes POV to a different investigator in another town. This frequent changing continues on for the entire book. I was never confused, but I was fascinated. I’d never read a book with so many POV shifts, or if I had, it was probably thrown at the wall. The story drew me in to such a degree I didn’t notice until I was well into the story. By then, I didn’t care about anything but the story.

And that taught me something. It’s not the POV, it’s not the rules, it’s all about the story. And if it works, that’s all that matters.

 

Kate Parker continues to write both the Victorian Bookshop Mysteries and the Deadly series in first person. Her entries into the Christmas Revels anthology series are in third person, but without the flair with which Louise Penny uses POV. 

 

Three Perspectives on Your Writing

Hello, everyone!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog on the RSS and I’m happy to be back. Late 2016/early 2017 was rough for me, but I made it. Right? That’s the perspective you must take sometimes when you drive through the rain.

Hey, I’m going to talk about perspective today. This month I’ll be doing a workshop at RWA with Winnie Griggs called Through the Lens which will deal with POV. In talking about POV with Winnie (as we fervently scribbled notes on what exactly we needed to cover), Winnie said, “I’d like to tackle perspective.” To which I said, “That will be good. Like what do you mean?” She went on to talk about two areas of perspective, to which I added a third. So let’s look at those:

Writer’s Perspective – This is the lens the writer uses in writing her/his stories. This includes world views, cultural mores, beliefs, region, etc. Essentially, who you are comes out in your writing. And it’s not necessarily your voice. Voice can be learned (to a degree). Say, I want to write funny, vampy, comedy but I’m a more serious kinda gal. Well, I can learn to apply a tone/mood to my writing and create a voice that is light, fun, and comedic. But who I am as a person will come through in the way I write characters, the way they handle situations, even the verbiage used in telling the story. This definitely shades voice. I mean, who you are, what you believe, your social conscience, your values, etc, will often leak into your story. Is this bad? Not really. It makes your storytelling individualistic. But it can have a negative effect if you use your story as a platform. How many times have you read a story and felt preached at? Raise your hand.

Now, put it down.

Hands holding a digital SLR camera with zoom digital lens. BW

LOL. See? We’ve all read something where we thought, “Is she trying to get something across here?”

In my opinion (yeah, I know you’re not supposed to write that because it’s understood) in commercial fiction, you want to be VERY careful doing this. If you don’t mind alienating half of your audience, by all means, write on with the intent of making your point. Just know before you go…uh, there.

Character’s Perspective – This is the lens the writer uses in portraying a character. It’s pretty much the most important of the perspectives because it’s the heart of your story. A good story is only as good as its characters? True? I think so. Creating believable, multi-dimensional characters is, well, a must. But your characters have to have different perspectives, right? They can’t all think and operate the same. So it makes sense that you do some legwork when it comes to character perspective. First, you have to know your characters. For many writers, that doesn’t occur until they are well into writing the book (I’m raising my hand here). Other writers carefully prepare background information on their characters. They analyze, question (hello, character interview), mull and muse over who their characters are before they even write the first word in Chapter One. There’s no right or wrong…as long as you intentionally make sure you have given your characters fleshed-out perspective. Some things to consider:

  • background – family history, events that have molded your character
  • origin – where your character is from says a lot about him/her
  • tragedy/events/nonevents
  • relationships
  • profession
  • personality
  • goals, motivations, conflicts (I ALWAYS do this chart after chapter three – it’s my spirit guide)

Once you consider a character’s perspective (essentially all the parts that make your character your character), you can more easily navigate your story and create authenticity in your characters’ actions and thoughts.

Reader’s Perspective – Ah, here’s the thing you can’t control – the way your reader reacts to your story. This has been the biggest hurdle for me as a people pleaser. I want people to like my book and my characters. But the thing is, you can’t control what the reader brings to the table. You can’t anticipate his or her perspective. He or she may have triggers that your book pulls inside them. Your characters may have a name, profession, hair color that they don’t like. The reader’s personal experiences color their perspective when they read your book. They can’t help it. It’s who they are, and you darn sure ain’t changing that. So you will have people who will say absurd things about your writing. You will have people misunderstand your intent. You will have people cast aspersions on your character based on how you write a fictional character. Crazy, right? I mean, according to one reviewer I wrote a misogynist man so bad that I (the writer) must be a man…or not understand men at all. And let me tell you, friends, I’m surrounded by testosterone (It’s me and my mama against a force of Southern redneck men). But to this reviewer, I didn’t get men. Or at least, I didn’t get her version of what a man should be. 

On the other hand, I’ve had readers bring their perspective and totally “get” my characters because they’ve lived through whatever my characters are going through. One of the best things you can get is a note from a reader who identified so much with your character that he/she LOVES the book. I can’t tell you how many people have reached out to say “thank you” for writing a character who says that or does this or goes through this, all because the reader could relate to the character. They felt they were validated because a character I wrote “was them.”

One thing I would like to note regards writing with unbarred authenticity. Writing “real” characters means oftentimes including the realness (or ugliness) of life. This leaves an author open to being accused of misogyny, racism, “slut shaming” or intolerance. If you’re dealing with sensitive topics like race, religion, politics, etc, it would be wise to get some beta reads or hire a sensitivity reader as suggested by Lizzie Shane in this post. At least be aware that readers bring a vast array of beliefs with them. You have to decide whether you ignore those sensibilities and write your characters completely flawed, or whether you temper your character’s actions, thoughts or speech to reflect a more tolerant leaning. 

Just prepare yourself for readers bringing their own baggage to your story. Have luggage tags ready 🙂 

Now you have three perspectives to consider as you write. Some you can control; others you can’t. So I’m interested in your thoughts about perspective. Do you think about your character’s perspectives? Do you find you bleed yourself into your character’s too much? Have some good stories about readers who hated your stories because of a character’s (or your) perspective didn’t match up with theirs?

Ruby Reprise: Deep Third, Demonstrated

I have a confession to make. I keep a red pen on my bedside table. Oh, I don’t actually USE it. It’s strictly a prop. When I find the occasional typo, grammar error,  misspelling or the like while I’m reading in bed, I glance at the pen. I imagine picking it up, circling the error, and then moving on.

But I recently read a best-seller that made me seriously consider scrawling bloody deletion marks through dozens of occurrences of “she/he thought.” (The only thing that stopped me? It was a library book – and as the philosopher Mr. Spock once said, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.) The usage was correct, per se, but honestly, the author’s stylistic choice drove me bananacakes. “Of course ‘she thought!'” I shrieked after encountering the fourth “she thought” on a single page. “WE’RE IN HER POINT OF VIEW!”

Ahem.

Yeah, I have very strong feelings about POV. Which leads me to recall this post I wrote in Aug. 2011, about writing in deep third point of view.

Enjoy!

***********************************

Dungeon ColchesterI write in deep third person point of view – fathoms deep, dungeon deep third person point of view. A couple of weeks ago, while doing an author chat for a friend’s book club,  someone asked, “Okay, what exactly does that mean?”  (Lesson Infinity +1 in how readers and writers sometimes don’t share vocabulary, or care about the same things.)

It occurred to me that some of our blog readers might not know what this means either, or that maybe our readers might find it interesting to see how one author – me! – achieves her personal, preferred point of view. As always, your mileage may vary.

A couple of (overly-simplistic) definitions to start:

Point of view (POV) – the narrative voice or mode that an author uses to convey what happens in their story.  Examples are first person, second person, and third person.

Third person point of view – a mode in which the narrator conveys the thoughts, feelings or opinions of one or more characters, using ”he/she” rather than “I” language.  Comes in subjective, objective, and omniscient flavors.

I see “deep third person” POV and “third person subjective” POV as being analogous.

As both a romance reader and a romance author, I have a strong preference for deep third person point of view because I want very intimate access to the physical and emotional layers of the story. (Romances are about feelings, right?) The more viscerally I experience a characters’ feelings, reactions, and dilemmas, the more engaged with the story I’ll become.

With the rest of this post, I’d like to demonstrate how I expose that saturated physical and emotional layer using some simple revision techniques.  Consider the following two (quick ‘n dirty) sentences:

Will’s ankle was swollen and he was getting more and more concerned about his diminishing supply of medication. It was almost exhausted, and he knew that unless he found help soon, he would not be able to continue. 

((shrug)) An OK early draft that gets the point across. But it could be stronger. Let’s first omit some extraneous words, and simplify the language:

Will’s ankle was swollen and he was concerned about his medication supply. Unless he found help soon, he wouldn’t be able to continue.

Better. Next, let’s raise the stakes by layering in some specific details:

Will’s ankle was broken and he was out of pain medication. Unless he found help soon, he’d be in real trouble. 

Next, eliminating Will’s name from the narrative when we’re in his point of view brings us closer yet. (Will wouldn’t think of himself as “Will”, right?)

His ankle was broken and he was out of pain medication. Unless he found help soon, he’d be in real trouble. 

Better. I feel there’s less narrative distance than there was in the previous example.  Next, I’ll layer in some additional details for authenticity – namely, swearing. 🙂

His broken ankle throbbed like a mother and he was out of morphine. If he didn’t find help soon, he’d be up shit creek.  

Now we’re in both his head and his body. His ankle hurts – badly – and naming the medication fleshes out characterization. (How does this guy have access to morphine?)

Next, showing a character’s thoughts brings us deeper:

His broken ankle throbbed like a mother and he was out of morphine. “If I don’t find help soon,” he thought, “I’ll be up shit creek.”  

Hmm. Can I show Will thinking, without using the word ”thought” in the narrative? Why, yes, of course I can – by using italics and first person POV to indicate thoughts!

His broken ankle throbbed like a mother and he was out of morphine. If I don’t find help soon, I’ll be up shit creek. 

He’s in pain, he’s out of meds, he’s in trouble, and he knows it. Yet…he’s still looking for help, not waiting for it to come to him, which was a conscious characterization choice on my part. I could easily have written him having a different sort of thought.

And deepest of the deep – 100% interior monologue:

My ankle throbs like a mother, and I’m out of morphine. If I don’t find help soon, I’ll be up shit creek.

I would argue that this last example is slightly less successful than the ones immediately preceding it, but I wanted to take the POV progression to its deepest logical conclusion.  (Note that if you remove the italics, you’re writing in first person POV.)

So in this example, I used simple revision techniques and careful word choice to dive ever deeper into Will, exposing more and more of his physical reactions, his thoughts, and aspects of his character as the examples progress. Through each revision, the two sentences became leaner, meaner, more specific…until Will is exposed, right down to the bone. And I find the unanswered questions raised by these two sentences equally intriguing: Who is this guy? Where is this guy? How did he break his ankle, and how did he get his hands on morphine in the first place?

Which version do you like the best, and why? What do you think happened to Will? (I’ll share the scenario I had in mind later in the day.)

TamaraHogan_TouchMe_200pxPssst. The Kindle version of TOUCH ME, my Underbelly Chronicles novella,TamaraHogan_TemptMe_200px is free today and tomorrow! If you download a copy, I’d appreciate your honest review.

And watch for TEMPT ME, Bailey and Rafe’s full-length book, in October 2013! (Read an excerpt.)

 

 

Can’t He Just Say Wow?

Words. There are millions to choose from as a writer. Yet the wrong word, or the right word said by the wrong person, can completely throw your reader out of the amazing world you’ve created. Nooo! If they pop out of your story and suddenly remember that they should be doing laundry they might put your book down. And heaven forbid, they might not pick it back up. So you must choose your words wisely.

The word “wow” was first used in the 1510’s. It was a Scottish exclamation to show astonishment and has apparently stood the test of time. So in my 16th century Scottish romance, it would be historically accurate for me to have my Highland hero saying “wow, lass, yer skin is so soft.” But how many of you would stop and wonder whether he would really say “wow”? That word could completely throw my reader out of the scene.

In my Young Adult romance I wanted to describe a character as a “love them and leave them” type of guy. This terminology is now dated. My teenager informed me that the term is now a “hit it and quit it” guy.

Correct word usage is important not only in dialogue but also in the rest of the book. Keep in mind whose point of view (POV) you are writing in. My Highland hero was anticipating sleeping with the heroine. I wrote him as thinking the hoped for interlude would be “fabulous.” Luckily my editor pointed out that she could not see my low-slung-kilted, rugged, warrior describing his sexual prowess as fabulous. She was right. Incredible or earth-shattering, maybe, but not fabulous.

Even writing from different POVs in contemporary romance needs watching. Soda is called pop in the Midwest. Shopping carts are called buggies in Florida. Whenever you are writing in another’ s POV, it is important to think and speak like that character would. I choose preferred historically used curse words and favorite exclamations for each of my characters and keep fairly consistent throughout the book. Sometimes you can tell who is thinking or speaking just by the way they curse.

There are great resources for writers when trying to choose the perfect word. My go-to web site for my historical writing is http://www.etymonline.com/ where I can find the year words or phrases began to be used in all their varying contexts. Richard Spears’s Slang and Euphemism book is a wonderful dictionary of oaths, curses, insults, slurs, sexual metaphors, etc. and the approximate time periods the words came into popular use.

There are many other resources, but the important message is that you need to consider your words carefully. If you are unsure if a word sounds too modern or out of place, look it up, but then use common sense. Don’t make your hero say “wow” just because he can.

Have you run into words that have thrown you out of a story (no titles/authors please)?

Thanks and happy writing!

The Internist: Letting Your Reader Inside Your Protagonist

A few years ago, my dad wrote a non-fiction manuscript (all about science and politics and the manipulation of data and public perception) and asked me if I would take a look at it.  It was a fascinating read and my reaction was largely positive, but his reaction to my feedback was more or less “Well, crap, you called me out on all the places I was cutting corners. I have work to do.”

There are a lot of different ways we can be lazy writers.  We can fail to get our butts into the chair to write the book in the first place.  We can try to take short-cuts and cut-corners, looking for the writing equivalent of the easy way out when it comes to the hard parts of our manuscript.  Or we can fail to put our butts back into the chair and do the work necessary to fix our POS first draft when we’ve realized our short cuts aren’t going to fly.

Don’t be a lazy writer.  As has become a Ruby mantra: WRITE FEROCIOUSLY.  And revise ferociously too.  Decimate those short cuts.

Obviously fiction short cuts and non-fiction short cuts look different.  Today I want to talk about what I find to be some of the most common cut corners when it comes to romance manuscripts – glossing-over-the-good-stuff writing.  Shallow POV & generic characterization. That skating-over-the-surface style – which can be expedient in a first draft when you have plots to figure out – can be downright lazy in a final work.  (And I’m not just pointing fingers here, I’m just as guilty of lazy writing as the next scribbler.  But if we are aware of the areas we short-shrifted the reader, we are better able to add an extra level of shine to our finished works.)

Here are some tips to take your reader deeper:  (as always, these are just my opinions, your mileage may vary)

  1. Bring your reader INTO your character.  We’ve all heard about Show Don’t Tell, but I think truly engrossing writing takes it a step beyond even showing.  Don’t tell.  Don’t show.  Be.  Use language that talks about how it feels to be inside the emotion. To be the one who is happy or sad or lustful.  Not just the actions that demonstrate our emotion, but the sensations that come over us when we are overcome.

    For example, telling would be: She was happy.  Showing: She beamed at him, delighted.  Being: Her cheeks ached from grinning but she couldn’t stop. Those sensations can make your reader remember that feeling, empathize, and connect with your character from point of shared emotion, not just be happy for their happiness from the outside.  I think those characters we feel with are the ones we can’t walk away from – the books we can’t put down.

  2. Have you ever read a book or manuscript where the characters didn’t seem real not because their reactions were wrong, but because they were too right?  Sometimes we can forget that our characters are human (or human-esque aliens/shifters/vampires) with human flaws.  Letting your characters be conflicted (sure they do the right thing, but damn if they don’t secretly wish they could escape that hard choice) can add nuance and reality to the characterization.  The Perfect Pollyanna heroine is lazy writing, IMHO.

    What we do and what we wish we could do don’t always match.  Let your reader in on that dissonance.  Especially if a reaction isn’t a particularly PC one.  We don’t always react to things internally the way we should.  A flicker of spite that the character squelches before doing the right thing.  A tide of sympathy for a villain. Or maybe even relief when something bad happens because the other shoe has finally dropped – all of those can make the reader connect with your character because they are INTERNALLY honest at a time when we are externally PC.  We, as the reader, get to see the real, human side.  Not the tough face our character shows the world.  We connect with that weakness – and then admire the strength to overcome it even more.

  3. One way we can be lazy as writers is by going straight for crying, shouting or laughing.  We want our reader to see the extreme emotion our characters are dealing with, but resistance – trying not to smile, trying not to cry – can be much more powerful.  I am much more likely to cry when a character is doing everything she can to stop herself from crying than I am to cry along when she’s bawling at the drop of a hat.  When she is fighting not to, it’s almost like I have to.  Like oneof us has to let that emotion out and if she resists it’s gonna be me.  It’s the same with laughter.

    Those are the extremes of emotion the character doesn’t want the rest of the world to see, the things that are personal, intimate and internal.  Those moments when the character is trying to hide, trying to suppress what they feel, trying to master their emotions, are when the reader gets to truly see our protagonist.  From the inside.

Whether we employ these techniques to bring a reader deeper or look for other ways to strengthen our writing, we can’t be lazy.  We can’t gloss over and take shortcuts.  Our readers will know.  So get out there, butts in chairs, and revise ferociously.

What are some cut corners and short cuts you find in manuscripts? How do you overcome them?

Deep Third, Demonstrated

I write in deep third person point of view – fathoms deep, dungeon deep third person point of view. A couple of weeks ago, while doing a TASTE ME author chat for a friend’s book club, someone asked, “Okay, what exactly does that mean?”  (Lesson Infinity +1 in how readers and writers sometimes don’t share vocabulary, or care about the same things.)  

It occurred to me that some of our blog readers might not know what this means either, or that maybe our readers might find it interesting to see how one author – me! – achieves her personal, preferred point of view. As always, your mileage may vary.       

A couple of (overly-simplistic) definitions to start: 

Point of view (POV) – the narrative voice or mode that an author uses to convey what happens in their story.  Examples are first person, second person, and third person.

Third person point of view – a mode in which the narrator conveys the thoughts, feelings or opinions of one or more characters, using “he/she” rather than “I” language.  Comes in subjective, objective, and omnicient flavors.   

I see “deep third person” POV and “third person subjective” POV as being analogous.

As both a romance reader and a romance author, I have a strong preference for deep third person point of view because I want very intimate access to the physical and emotional layers of the story. (Romances are about feelings, right?) The more viscerally I experience a characters’ feelings, reactions, and dilemmas, the more engaged with the story I’ll become. 

With the rest of this post, I’d like to demonstrate how I expose that saturated physical and emotional layer using some simple revision techniques.  Consider the following two (quick ‘n dirty) sentences: 

Will’s ankle was swollen and he was getting more and more concerned about his diminishing supply of medication. It was almost exhausted, and he knew that unless he found help soon, he would not be able to continue. 

((shrug)) An OK early draft that gets the point across. But it could be stronger. Let’s  first omit some extraneous words, and simplify the language: 

Will’s ankle was swollen and he was concerned about his medication supply. Unless he found help soon, he wouldn’t be able to continue.

Better. Next, let’s raise the stakes by layering in some specific details:   

Will’s ankle was broken and he was out of pain medication. Unless he found help soon, he’d be in real trouble. 

Next, eliminating Will’s name from the narrative when we’re in his point of view brings us closer yet. (Will wouldn’t think of himself as “Will”, right?)   

His ankle was broken and he was out of pain medication. Unless he found help soon, he’d be in real trouble. 

Better. I feel less narrative distance than I did in the previous example.  Next, I’ll add some gender-specific language for authenticity, and provide additional details that help flesh out the scenario: 

His broken ankle throbbed like a mother and he was out of morphine. If he didn’t find help soon, he’d be up shit creek.  

Now we’re in both his head and his body. His ankle hurts – badly – and naming the medication fleshes out characterization. (Access to morphine?)  Next, showing a character’s thoughts brings us deeper:   

His broken ankle throbbed like a mother and he was out of morphine. “If I don’t find help soon,” he thought, “I’ll be up shit creek.”  

Hmm. Can I show Will thinking, without using the word “thought” in the narrative? Why, yes, of course I can – by using italics and first person POV to indicate thoughts!    

His broken ankle throbbed like a mother and he was out of morphine. If I don’t find help soon, I’ll be up shit creek. 

He’s in pain, he’s out of meds, he’s in trouble, and he knows it. Yet…he’s still looking for help, not waiting for it to come to him, which was a conscious characterization choice on my part. I could easily have written him having a different sort of thought.   

And deepest of the deep – 100% interior monologue: 

Broken ankles throb like a mother, and I’m out of morphine. If I don’t find help soon, I’ll be up shit creek.

I would argue that this last example is less successful than the one immediately above it, but I wanted to take the POV progression to its deepest logical conclusion.  (Note that if you remove the italics, you’re in first person POV.)  

I think providing a judicious balance of external cues, tags and physical detail while accessing the personal, internal layer ratchets up the tension and raises the stakes without exhausting the reader.  Would you agree that we care more about “Later Will” than “Earlier Will?” And using fewer words to boot?

So in this example, I used simple revision techniques and careful word choice to dive ever deeper into Will, exposing more and more of his physical reactions, his thoughts and aspects of his character as the examples progress. Through each revision, the two sentences became leaner, meaner, more specific…until Will is exposed, right down to the bone.    

And I find the unanswered questions raised by these two sentences equally intriguing: Who is this guy? Where is this guy? How did he break his ankle, and how did he get his hands on morphine in the first place?  

Did you find this exercise useful? What do YOU think happened to Will? (I’ll share the scenario I had in mind later in the day.)

Tamara Hogan’s debut urban fantasy romance, TASTE ME, was released earlier this year by Sourcebooks Casablanca. Underbelly Chronicles Book Two, CHASE ME, will be published in June, 2012.

The Latest Comments

  • Bev Pettersen: What great advice and in just three words. Thanks, Addison!
  • Addison Fox: D – I love your positive personality!!! NEVER change!! 🙂 xo
  • Darynda Jones: Such fantastic advice, Addison! Sometimes it’s hard to assume positive intent, but the only one...
  • Addison Fox: It’s true, Tracy. Positive focus really is the best choice! What struck me was how applicable this...
  • Addison Fox: Katie – this one needs a T-shirt!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

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