Tag Archives: developing writing craft

#amwriting: creating intimacy: Point of View

Narration is the use of a written or spoken commentary to convey a story to an audience. Wikipedia explains that a narrative consists of three components:

  • Narrative point of view: the perspective (or type of personal or non-personal “lens”) through which a story is communicated.

  • Narrative voice: the format (or type presentational form) through which a story is communicated.

  • Narrative time: the grammatical placement of the story’s time-frame in the past, the present, or the future.

We want to create a sense of intimacy, of being in the character’s head. One way to do that is to use stream of consciousness, a narrative mode that offers a first-person perspective by attempting to replicate the thought processes as well as the actions and spoken words of the narrative character.

This device incorporates interior monologues and inner desires or motivations, as well as pieces of incomplete thoughts that are expressed to the audience but not necessarily to other characters. Consider this passage from James Joyce’s Ulysses:

“A dwarf’s face, mauve and wrinkled like little Rudy’s was. Dwarf’s body, weak as putty, in a whitelined deal box. Burial friendly society pays. Penny a week for a sod of turf. Our. Little. Beggar. Baby. Meant nothing. Mistake of nature. If it’s healthy it’s from the mother. If not from the man. Better luck next time.

—Poor little thing, Mr Dedalus said. It’s well out of it.

The carriage climbed more slowly the hill of Rutland square. Rattle his bones. Over the stones. Only a pauper. Nobody owns.”

In this narrative mode, we see the POV character’s rambling thoughts, as well as witness their conversations and actions. This is a tricky device to do well, and the only time I have employed it was in a writing class.

When they want to tell a story though the protagonist’s eyes, many authors employ the first-person point of view to convey intimacy. With the first-person point of view, a story is revealed through the thoughts and actions of the protagonist within his or her own story.  The waves carried me, and I fell upon the shore, a drowning man, clutching at the stones with a desperation I had never before known.

I have used first-person, and find it easy to write. I prefer to read a third-person narrative so that is what I write in most often.

If you prefer, as I do, to write in an omniscient voice, the story is told from an outside, overarching point of view. The narrator sees and knows everything that happens within the world of the story, including what each of the characters is thinking and feeling. A way to convey intimacy when writing in third person omniscient is to use the third-person subjective.

Again, Wikipedia says, “The third-person subjective is when the narrator conveys the thoughts, feelings, opinions, etc. of one or more characters. If there is just one character, it can be termed third-person limited, in which the reader is “limited” to the thoughts of some particular character (often the protagonist) as in the first-person mode, except still giving personal descriptions using “he”, “she”, “it”, and “they”, but not “I”. This is almost always the main character (e.g., Gabriel in Joyce’s The Dead, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown, or Santiago in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea). Certain third-person omniscient modes are also classifiable as “third person, subjective” modes that switch between the thoughts, feelings, etc. of all the characters.”

This mode is also referred to as close 3rd person. I like this mode and frequently use it. At its narrowest and most subjective, the story reads as though the viewpoint character were narrating it. This is comparable to the first person, in that it allows an in-depth revelation of the protagonist’s personality, but differs as it always uses third-person grammar. Because it is always told in the third person, this is an omniscient mode. I like reading works written in this mode as it is easy for me as reader to form a deep attachment to the protagonist.

Some writers will shift perspective from one viewpoint character to another, such as George R. R. Martin does. I admit I don’t care for that but occasionally find myself falling into it. I then have to stop and make hard scene breaks, because it’s easy to fall into head-hopping, which is a serious no-no.

Head-hopping occurs when an author switches point-of-view characters within a single scene and happens most frequently when using a Third-Person Omniscient narrative because the thoughts of every character are open to the reader.

Experiment with POV. Write a scene from one of your works in progress using a different narrative mode. You might be surprised what insights you will gain in regard to your own work.


Sources and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Narration,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Narration&oldid=777375141 (accessed May 7, 2017).

Quote from Ulysses, by James Joyce, published 1922 by Sylvia Beach

Wikipedia contributors, “Ulysses (novel),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ulysses_(novel)&oldid=777540958 (accessed May 7, 2017).

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#amwriting: The External Eye

Quill_pen smallI’m in the depths of revisions on two manuscripts. Both are set in the same world. Both manuscripts had flaws that were caught by my friend Dave, who reads my work before I bother an editor with it. Addressing these flaws was not a problem, as I had someone to help me brainstorm it.

Dave has great ideas, but his mind doesn’t work the way mine does. While they are excellent, his fixes usually don’t fit what I envision my story to be. However, his suggestions fire my own inspiration and show me the way I need to go to quickly resolve these issues. Without his insight, I wouldn’t have thought of the right fix.

In the process of rewriting certain events to remove  fatal plot-holes, and then going through and altering later scenes to make them match, I found several places where I meant to change the wording of a scene, so it reflected what I wanted for my protagonist(s). I had noticed these places earlier but was sidetracked, and the intended alterations were never made. Thus, their motivations were murky and didn’t ring true.

Now I am also making these changes, and checking the manuscripts to make sure I have removed any inconsistencies.

My original view of my protagonist, Billy Ninefingers, was more callous, more of a pirate than he is today. His story was begun in 2010, but I ran out of steam on it, and nothing seemed to make sense. I decided to scrap it and move on to writing Huw the Bard, which was set in that world, with many of the same characters, but which was a more intriguing story to me at the time. (I’m still in love with Huw.) Billy appears toward the end, much as he is today. But, instead of going back to Billy, I wrote three more novels in the Tower of Bones series, and many short stories, both contemporary and fantasy.

In the back of my mind, I always intended to get back to Billy Ninefingers, but never really did until just this last year. Over the course of six years  I used him as a character in several other works set in his world, which set him and his circumstances more clearly in my mind. Through that process, my protagonist became less two-dimensional, less of a cartoon. Four years after writing the first draft of Billy’s story, a short story featuring him was published. It was written for a themed anthology, and adhering to that theme changed Billy and his motives for the better. The short story for the anthology fired me up, gave me ideas as to what had to happen to make the real story be what I knew it could be.

I went back and pulled the original manuscript out of storage and rediscovered a character I had always loved, but didn’t know well. With a new goal in mind, I began rewriting it.

Thus, some of what I had already written didn’t dovetail with the story as I now see it, and Dave pointed that out. Having a trusted reader who will tell me where I have gone off the rails is critical to my writing process.

In my experience, when I read my work after having written it, if there is something that doesn’t ring true, a reliable first reader will be able to identify it for me.

Every Tuesday morning I meet with a group of published authors, and we talk about everything, from what we are writing to how our children are coping with the slings and arrows of modern life. These authors give me support when I need it most. I regularly Google-chat about life, the universe, and writing with Dave, who lives in another state far from me. Dave and I have never met in person, but we’ve become close friends through the wonders of the internet.

Talking with fellow authors, both in my area and from around the world, is the most important thing I do for me—it’s a “spa treatment” for my writing craft.

Writing is a lonely craft. I recommend you go to Writers’ Conferences and Workshops. The networking is important, as are the workshops, but I have made lifelong friends through the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference, and also the Southwest Washington Writers Conference.

If you need feedback but don’t know where to turn, sit in on local critique groups to see if they might be a good fit for you. You don’t have to share anything until you feel you can trust them to be fair and honest with you. If the group you are visiting doesn’t seem like a good fit, you’re under no obligation to return, and you can move on to a different group. You can find these groups usually through the local newspaper, Google, or even find their public pages through Facebook by searching for your town’s name and adding the word “writers.”

My Coffee Cup © cjjasp 2013One of the surest ways to find these local groups is by joining NaNoWiMo, and searching out your local region. Look at the threads of conversation, or message your local Municipal Liaison to ask where these groups might be.

Having an external eye to help me see my work with a less jaundiced view is the most exhilarating part of writing. It never fails to rekindle the fire I have for a particular story. Right now, thanks to my friends, I wake up every morning, chafing to get started writing.


Attributions:

Quill Pen, PD|by its author, BWCNY at English Wikipedia.

My Favorite Cup, Author’s Own Photo

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#amwriting: the craft of Indie Publishing: the manuscript

Book- onstruction-sign copyIn every manuscript, there will be inconsistencies, and no matter how hard you and your friends comb it, some will slip through.

You are about to publish your first book. The manuscript is as pristine as human eyes can make it. However, to ensure this, the wise indie will follow these steps, in this order:

First, as they are writing the manuscript, they will create a list of made-up words and usages that are unique to their manuscript. This is called a style-sheet, or in some circles, a Bible. The author will refer back to it and update it. They will supply the editor with it, who will also refer back to it and update it, which will ensure that fewer inconsistencies make it through to the final product. Once the manuscript is submission ready, the wise author will:

  1. Have it professionally line-edited (yes, this does cost, but it is SO worth it)
  2. Have it beta read by people who read in the genre you write in
  3. Have the final manuscript proofread by a professional (again, this has a cost attached to it)
  4. After it is proofed, the wise indie author will make use of the narrator app that comes with MS Word or use a free app such as Natural Reader. Read along with it, and you will spot the inconsistencies.

I made use of all these steps for my most recent manuscript, The Wayward Son, and still, the narrator app helped me locate several small inconsistencies, one of which (lighting versus lightning) could have thrown a reader out of the narrative. (There is no such thing as a lighting-mage in my books, although I do have lightning-mages.)

My global search list to correct inconsistencies found by Natural Reader narrator app in final MS for TWS:

  1. Andresson/Andreson (found 0)
  2. Lighting/lightning (found 2)
  3. Stefan/Stefyn (found 1)
  4. Abacci/Abbaci (found 0)
  5. Sparing/Sparring (found 0)
  6. Jerika–change name to Erika (found 3)
  7. Johnny/Jonny (found 1)

Despite my best efforts, some of these inconsistencies (those I marked in red) were found in the ARC and have been corrected. I accept that it’s possible that other inconsistencies will still exist in the published book, but not because I haven’t done due diligence and made every effort to eliminate them.

The Wayward Son, a companion book to Forbidden Road, has been uploaded to CreateSpace and is set to launch on September 15th.

Indies who want their work to be looked upon as professional will follow these suggestions. We can’t afford to be less than diligent with our process of preparing the manuscript for publication, as the industry’s reputation rides on our finished products.

Because the publishing industry as a whole holds indies in such low regard, we must ensure what we produce is a book the reader will like or dislike based on our work, our style of writing and the story we are telling. We owe it to our potential readers to give them a well-edited book, written with attention to the craft of writing AND publishing (yes, publishing is a craft) as well as with the passion of an author with something to say.

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#amwriting: em dash; en dash; hyphen

Book- onstruction-sign copyAn em dash (—)   is a versatile punctuation mark. It is the width of an ‘m’, hence the name. An em dash serves as a comma, does the same task as parentheses, and also does the work of the colon. Used in these situations, the em dash creates a slightly less formal effect and is a useful tool in the author’s arsenal.

To insert an em dash in a Word document: type two hyphens next to each other without any space between the words or hyphens:

  • A—B (LetterHyphenHyphenLetter) Once you hit the space key after the second word, the two hyphens will form an em dash.

They can be more emphatic than a comma, and will really set apart any clause bracketed by them. In dialogue, we don’t use semicolons to join short related independent clauses. Instead, we use em dashes. Used sparingly, and not in every paragraph, they can smooth a choppy conversation and make it more normal sounding.

Unfortunately, I have a tendency to use them far too frequently, and in my hands, they lose their effectiveness. When combing a final ms for bloopers, I find them sprinkled through my work, maniacally creating run-on sentences where brevity would be a better choice.

The en dash (–) is the width of an ‘n’, hence the name. It denotes a span or range of numbers, dates, or time. Depending on the context, the en dash signifies “to” or “through.” When keying, type a space between the en dash and the adjacent material and then hit the spacebar.

To insert an en dash in a Word document: type a single hyphen between two words, with a space on either side of it:

  • 1994 – 1996 (1994SpaceHyphenSpace1996) Once you hit the space key after the second word, the hyphen will form an en dash.

Hyphens join certain compound words. Never use a hyphen in the place of an em dash or en dash.

Do not use a hyphen unless it serves a purpose. If a compound adjective is easily understood without a hyphen or its meaning is established, a hyphen is not necessary.

  • An English-speaking country
  • A time-saving device
  • A thirty-floor building

Some compounds are created on the spot to fulfill a specific need (on-the-spot creations). Permanent compounds began as improvised compounds but became so widely accepted they are now included in the dictionary as permanent compounds.

Examples of temporary compounds that have made the transition to permanent compounds are:

  • know-it-all
  • heart-stopping
  • free-for-all
  • down-at-the-heel

Context determines whether or not to hyphenate.  Ask yourself, “How will the words be interpreted by the reader if I don’t hyphenate?”

Wikipedia offers the following examples:

Man-eating shark (as opposed to man eating shark, which could be interpreted as a man eating the meat of a shark)

Wild-goose chase (as opposed to wild goose chase, which could be interpreted as a goose chase that is wild)

Long-term contract (as opposed to long term contract, which could be interpreted as a long contract about a term)

Zero-liability protection (as opposed to zero liability protection, which could be interpreted as there being no liability protection).

Overuse of em dashes and hyphens is a characteristic of lazy writing habits. We are in a hurry to get the story down, and we use the em dash to connect clauses that would be better if left to stand alone, and we hyphenate compound words that don’t require a hyphen.

I see these habits in my work and am forcing myself to be more creative. The em dash has a proper place in my work, but it can work its way into every paragraph. It is like an exclamation point. If I want my em dash to really emphasize a point, I have to only use it when nothing else will have the desired effect.

Only by seeing our work through a critical eye can we grow as authors. By writing every day and striving for growth, the quality of our work improves. Our beta readers will notice this growth and thank us for it.

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