Point of View – How Do You Choose?

Understanding the point of view devices used in fiction writing – even movies and documentaries – is often a confusing process. Terms such as, first person, third person, objective, omniscient, or limited omniscient can give a writer the vapors. Each method has its advantages and drawbacks.

A writer has to make the point of view decision fit into a “trifecta” of good narrative – the plotline/action, the characters (well-developed, of course) in relation to each other, and the perspective from which the journey is revealed to the readers.

The first book I finished was in third person. I presented several characters’ points of view throughout the book. There were many individuals on the protagonist’s “side” so I felt they had a shared experience, although they didn’t all receive the same amount of attention to their part in the story.

I had to be careful to reveal just enough of each character’s thoughts to move the plot forward. I didn’t want me, as the author, to intrude upon the readers’ discovery and involvement in the journey. And that’s why the bad guys’ point of view was never revealed. The antagonist and all his followers were seen only from the good guys’ perspective.

I have just about wrapped up my second book, unrelated to the first. Because I really wanted to concentrate on the main character’s struggle to mature and take on a serious, and seriously dangerous, responsibility, first person was my choice for point of view.

I struggled in the first couple of chapters with the first person past tense and just could not get the rhythm of the story going. I switched to first person present tense, and I immediately felt a real kinship with my character. The hardest part of first person is to not start every other sentence with “I” – difficult sometimes, but not impossible.

The important lesson I learned with both experiences is that a writer must feel comfortable, must honestly see that the point of view contributes to the story’s success.

Here are some sites that discuss the literary point of view conundrum.

Annenberg Learner

The Writer’s Craft

Novel Writing Help

Sheila Larang on Prezi

To Sequel or Not to Sequel

The book is done. You’re ready to move on – but to what?

Perhaps you have two or three storylines plotted out at a high level and you can’t make up your mind which one to choose. You start to flesh out the strongest idea, thinking this will be the easiest path to pursue and quickest way to publish.

But your mind wanders down memory lane, revisiting the characters from the book you just finished. You might ask yourself, “what’re they doing now?” Your characters and world beg you not to shelve them. Yes, I have these conversations with my creations but, so far, only in my head and no one else has heard me yet.

My genre, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, almost requires a minimum of three books. That seems to be a legacy of one of the greatest fantasy adventure writers of all time, J. R. R. Tolkien. (By the way, another of Tolkien’s unpublished works is scheduled for release in May of this year – his translation, with commentary and a short story, of Beowulf.)

Sequels are great, as long as you do more than just rehash what happened in the previous book. Yes, you’re working with the same characters, even the same villain if you want that. But a sequel must stand on its own, have its own conflict, climax, and resolution. Your characters must grow and develop beyond where they ended in the previous book. The best approach is to plan sequels while you write the original book. Envision that arc of new facets of character development across time – decide what that timeline should be. Decide where supporting characters come in and where they leave. Decide if your original villain is the “arch-nemesis” or just the first in a line of challengers.

If readers are as enamored of your characters as you are (well, almost as) then they will look for new challenges and new discoveries.

Readers of sequels want MORE, not the same.

Don’t Write in a Vacuum – Seek Out Writing Resources

As much as we’d like to think that we, as authors, know what we like, know what we want to do, and know just how we want to do it, we’re wrong more often than we think.

I have a bad habit of going for months (and months) without reviewing any other books or authors in my genre. Mostly because I don’t want to risk writing something I think is my great idea but I really copied from so-and-so. Of course, that’s what most of us do anyway, unconsciously, because we mimic what we like. We just need to recognize that we do it, keep it to an innocent minimum, and do not, under any circumstances, PLAGIARIZE.

We also live dangerously when we don’t keep abreast of the trends, good and bad, in the publishing world. We may need to find a publisher, editor, agent, ISBN provider, even understand bits of copyright law, and so much more. Most of the time, our inner circle of writers and friends can be a kind of source, but they’re just not enough.

Accessing other available sources online or in print can prevent a major mistake. All the sources in the world cannot prevent disappointment at one time or another of course, but we know that – at least we should.

Here are some of the resources I try to visit regularly.

Writer Beware/SFWA.org

Writers Market

Writer’s Digest

Poets & Writers

Kindle Direct Publishing

U.S. Copyright Office

I know there are so many more sources, so take advantage of them and never rely on only one. A vacuum (a void, nothingness) is not our friend.

When Does Editing Stop and Calling It Done Begin?

This is one of the biggest problems for many authors when completing a creative writing project.

I make several editing passes just for grammar (delete all those unnecessary “-ly” words; change passive verbs to action verbs), consistency (oops – the age I refer to on page 10 doesn’t match the age mentioned on page 124), and format (I created a style for chapter title, why didn’t I use it here?).

For those of us without a professional editor, we also follow the editing by friends and fellow aspiring authors routine. When the fourth go-round results in something like the following exchange we should probably let our friends off the hook.

“Looks good to go.”

“Did you see that edit on page 38?”

“Um…”

“You know, the one where I completely changed the description.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s fine.”

“So it’s definitely better than the first one?”

“I don’t remember exactly what the first one said.”

“Then how can you say this one is better?”

“Because it didn’t jump off of the page and stab me in the eye!”

Then there’s the editing for perfection passes, typically done by the author alone. We (okay, read “I”) find ourselves modifying SOMETHING everything 10-15 pages or so, just because a conversation, a tone, a description, even a character,  isn’t flawless. And, isn’t that an exercise in futility? In my opinion, perfection on every page just is not achievable in the art of creative fiction. If that’s what we strive for, then we all lose.

Perfection is found in the truth of the character arc, the precision with which you have built your world. Perfection is found in the rightness of the conflict resolution of your storyline – and that includes all the strengths and weaknesses, the imperfections of your characters.

Truth, precision, rightness…when you find that, you are DONE.

No Problem – I Can Do My Own Cover Art…

I’ve just about finished my book. I don’t want to expend the time and money for an artist to render a cover that may involve several drafts and additional costs and then maybe end up with something I’m not quite sure I really like. I used to draw all the time when I was young – all through grade school and high school, but lost interest in college. I helped my niece develop an interest in drawing when she was only three years old – and she’s now a very talented anime artist. It should be like riding a bike, just get back on, fall down a time or two, but pretty soon you’re back to racing down the street! Not so much, as it turns out.

I purchased an inexpensive graphic tablet and zipped through the tutorial, anxious to get on with my project. Controlling the applied pressure using the pen was a bit tricky, but I finally got the hang of it. Then I practiced using the actual drawing area of the tablet. I found out that I tend toward broad, large strokes that disappear from the screen unexpectedly. I’ve gained enough control over my wayward wrist action to get on with the cover idea.

And here’s where I get to the root problem…I can’t draw anymore! I never would have imagined that old saying “use it or lose it” would apply to me. After all, if I can still write backwards like I did in high school, why can’t I still draw what I see?

Yeah, there are many psychological theories about artistic abilities. But I lean more toward another old saying, “practice makes perfect.” I believe I can, eventually, regain some of my ability – but do I want to wait two or three months for that day?

Nope. Spring break is next week. I’ve called my niece.

Enjoy the Discovery in Writing – and Seek Direction When You Need It

While struggling to make my protagonist believable and to strengthen my plot, I often find myself going back to books I purchased long ago. One book on my go-to list is Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s JourneyMythic Structure for Writers. Going back to reread chapters can get you through your stalled out periods.

I was introduced to this book several years ago by someone in a writers’ group – best recommendation ever. Understanding the archetypes, either as additional characters in your story or as different aspects of the main character, helps you create a multi-dimensional protagonist, or hero, as identified in this book. I choose the dimensions I feel will best highlight my character’s personality and how he or she deals with, and grows as a result of, conflict.

The diagrams are a nice quick reference – AFTER you have read the appropriate chapters. I use them to spot check my progress in my plot and to make sure I’ve hit the highlights of the character growth arc.

Don’t get me wrong, this book doesn’t provide a shortcut or blueprint for writing, although some people may think so. The author’s epilogue (I own the 2nd edition) stresses that very strongly. Vogler states, “The needs of the story dictate its structure.”

He encourages the writer to NOT to follow the guidelines in the book too rigidly. “The joy of a journey is not reading or following a map, but exploring unknown places and wandering off the map now and then.”

If you have a strong storyline and you absolutely know who your protagonist is, go for it. Have faith in yourself and enjoy the discovery!

Be Strong Enough to Delete Your Favorite Words or Phrases

This sentiment – instruction/warning/encouragement – was given by a professor during a  writing class many years ago…

I’m on a roll. The words flow so easily. I can’t type fast enough to get them out of my head and into the laptop. Wiping the sweat from my brow, I even use the thesaurus. I add a little touch of humor to ease the lengthy dramatic scene.  Finally, I stop and take a deep breath – yeah – that felt good.

I stand and stretch, take a victory lap into the kitchen for a refill on my coffee (or wine). Then I sit back down and read what I just wrote. As I’m about to go on to the next scene, a niggling little worry prevents forward progress. I read the scene again. It works – sort of…if I don’t pay too much attention to the overwritten bit right there in the middle of the last paragraph.

But the WORDS, that turn of phrase is very CLEVER. True, its not actually needed right here. Try as I might, I can’t bring my finger down on the Delete key. So, I just highlight the content in question and keep going. Two pages later, I go back and read the section again. It’s really not so bad. I read it aloud. Then I read the paragraph without the highlighted content.

Eek. That works much better. No amount of cleverness can make up for the fact that  something just doesn’t work. I have to take it out, I have to. I cut the offending sentences…and then paste the discards into another document so I don’t lose any of my brilliance.

After all, what doesn’t work in one piece might work elsewhere. I can only hope.

When the Climactic Scene Isn’t Quite Right

I’ve been working on this novel for a couple of years now…yes, years. (I let my day job and the DVR get the better of me most days.) I have completed everything but that climactic scene. I just can’t get it right.

All fiction writers find themselves in the same predicament at one time or another. I’ve long since given up on perfection – just not in my game plan. BUT, each scene has to feel right – feel true to my characters’ journey through the storyline.

I’ve built up the tension through several chapters. The “big battle” comes at just the right time and all main characters have their roles to play. My protagonist must be pushed to her limits, must battle internal self doubt and false confidence as well as the external threats, both physical and mental, of the antagonist.

I’ve written the scene, at least in part, four times already. Each time I found something wrong with it, not enough emotional turmoil, not enough spectacle, too many characters involved, it occurs in the wrong location, and so on. Something is just not RIGHT.

I’ve sought inspiration from books of all genres, and many were, indeed, inspiring. Oddly enough, though, I must admit that history, science, and paranormal studies in the form of books and TV shows (love that DVR) have provided quite a bit of fuel this past week for my desperate brain.

I think I’m on to something now. The plan for lunch time all this week is to work on that scene. And I’m going to get it right. Eventually.

Regaining the Passion to Write

For me, that fire to write – write anything, a poem, a short story, play, pages in my novels, even ideas for any creative piece – began to fade over a decade ago. I was devastated and embarrassed after a very bad experience with my first, and only, published work.

For a few years, attending writing classes at a local college and participating in a small writers’ critique group kept me going. I thought I’d rewrite the book – it wasn’t exactly a polished work of art, anyway – or start another book. And I began both tasks. Then, as I stopped attending creative writing classes and the critique group fell apart, so did my drive.

No argument, that was MY choice. I chose not to write more than a few hours a week, sometimes in an entire  month. I used many excuses, some fair, most convenient, to avoid facing the fear of “failure” again. But the need to “succeed” had not been the driving force for my writing in the first place.

I started writing simply for the joy of creating characters and story lines, and seeing those characters come alive. It was FUN. It was exciting to watch a character take over and become much more than I had originally planned.

In later years, the drive came from sharing that hard to define creative spark with other writers. To partake in the incredibly generous act of reading each others’ work aloud, no matter the genre, and of giving and accepting feedback. It is so revealing to hear your words come out of someone else’s mouth!

I recently began talking with a coworker about his goal to write a novel. As the conversations continued, there it was – that shared sense of fun and discovery. It’s just a whisper right now, true, but if I listen…

I have resumed writing and, on a whim, I started this journal to keep track of my voyage back to passion.