Who is Talking? Trouble with POV

Don't Write LIke We TalkWarning

This blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a compilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest.   

POV, Who to Blame?

Point of view is the relative identification of the narrator with the character.  Point of view is the story as seen through the eyes of the narrator.  The most common narrator is Third Person Limited, (not his real name), followed by Third Person Unreliable, which was someone I once dated.   Third person POV is the simplest way to tell a story.  But writers can still get it wrong.

We are reasonably intelligent, even talented people. Why the confusion over point of view?

Film and Video games are part of the confusion; they are hell on   POV.

Film gives you the long shot, shows other people that the main character cannot possibly know or see.  Film gives you zooming perspectives close-ups ups.  Film mixes it up.  Film shows us who and what is around the corner.  Film gives us the character motivation visually.  We are used to knowing everything.

Video games are even better at violating POV.

You already know the cast of characters and their motivation and strengths because you reviewed them all before starting the game. When they pop up, you already know stories, motivation, and moves.

Great for a game.  Great for a film

Crappy for a novel.

If we already know everything, what is the point of the journey?  So how do we keep the point of view clear in our novel?

Here are some ideas:

Cleaning up POV

  • Does your character suddenly know what the other character is thinking?
  • Are you creating scenes of action or explaining motivation?
  • Is there action that accompanies the dialogue?
  • If the view from above a little mixed up?
  • Have you decided on who is filtering the story and sticking to it? Readers will forgive a great deal, but not an author who violates his or her own world.
  • In reviewing your second draft, ask the question, how does character A know that about Character B?

Solutions in the first draft

  • Write the action from one point of view, all the way to the end of the story.
  • Then write the same story from the other character. Now put them together. Sometimes all it takes is for us to be clear in our own heads who is talking to whom.
  • If each character has a secret, and a history, that helps keep each one clear in the reader’s mind.
  • Also if the other characters do not know the secret, then that will help notify you as you write if you’ve overstepped the POV and suddenly switched to mind-reading.
  • Be clear. Stay in the right head, stay with the right character. And everything will be okay.

First, let’s confuse the whole issue.  In her great book – Shoot Your Novel, CS Lakin advocates that writers behave more like directors and “shoot” scenes in your books.

One, because it will help make for a more interesting book and two because your readers are quite familiar with the jump cut, the fade out, the high point of view, the close-up.  We are steeped in visual storytelling, so if you can capture some of that essence in your book, you will be well served, and we hope, well read.

To summarize:  Is the scene a fully formed scene?  Can you clearly “see” the action or is there something lacking?  Did you mention the right things that will pop up in later scenes?  Is the heroine described well enough, is the villain described well enough?  And of course, in the second and third edits, did you write it all down or did you assume a few things because they are so embedded in your head?

That said, as you view your work with the eye of a director, what are the pitfalls of this approach? One of the pitfalls is point of view confusion.

Point of view is the relative identification of the narrator with the character.  Point of view is the story as seen through the eyes of the narrator.  The most common narrator is Third Person Limited, (not his real name).  Followed by Third Person Unreliable, which was someone I once dated.   It is one of the easiest ways to tell a story.  But writers can still get it wrong.

The third person view “sees” all the actin and knows what each character thinks and feels.  The trick is to make sure the thinking and feeling happen in different paragraphs.

So the problem becomes:  Glen opened the door, oops, there was Melissa, awake, fully dressed and angry that he was once again, late.

How does Glen really know what Melissa is thinking?

Glen opened the door, there was Melissa, still fully dressed, clutching an empty glass.  She lifted it as if to throw it, but changed her mind.  “Late again.”  She spits out.

Third person limited is akin to Third person omniscient, which, just as the label indicates, means that you, the reader along with your handy God-like narrator, know everything.

Glen knew that Melissa would be angry, he had of late, made it a habit of arriving home at all hours, this could be because of his growing ambivalence about the relationship, this was clearly his way of rebelling against Melissa’s controlling nature.

Mellissa waited at home, frantic because Glen was late. Why did she always take up with unreliable men?  There must have been some issue in her early childhood.

But First Person Unreliable is the most fun.  The story is told by an idiot signifying . . . sorry.  The story is told by a character deeply entrenched in the story itself.  The only views the reader knows are those of the narrator. The narrator cannot read minds, he or she can only respond to what they think they see and what they observe.  This helps build characters and keeps the plot on track.

I was late.  I’ve been late a lot, but Melissa didn’t need to take it so personally, I just like being out with my mates.

“Where have you been?”  She shrieked as soon as I opened the door.  I ducked as a scotch glass hurled by my head.  It crashed on the far wall.

“Not that late.”  I protested.

She dropped her hand and looked at me with what?  Pain?  Disgust. Sex, she definitely wanted sex, I could tell.

See?  How much more fun, especially when the narrator is so very, very wrong.

Seems pretty straightforward.  Why all the confusion?  Just pick a character and stick with him or her.

Ah, the reason we have such a difficult time with POV – Point of View, is movies.

Film gives you the long shot, shows other people that the main character cannot possibly know or see.  Film gives you zooming perspectives and close ups.  Film mixes it up.

And so we reasonably try the same in our novels and stories.

Doesn’t work as well – the grammar police, our editors call us on it every time – if we are lucky.

Newbie

I think that just about covers it.

Prompt

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.”

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

What do you write for publication?  What do you write for the heck of it?  Are they two different activities?

Give yourself a couple minutes and write exactly what you want.

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon
Like us on Facebook – Newbie Writers Group

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What Sells? Genre

Warning

This blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a compilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest. 

  

Genre sells Don't Write LIke We Talk

Non-fiction/ how-to sells.

How to make money sells.

Non-Fiction books on how to write genre books and make lots of money  sell the best.

We don’t get many questions about genre, and the essence is covered in the price of a best seller. I think because I write genre fiction, both mystery and science fiction and, if you will, YA – Young Adult, I assume that since I know and write the material of the genre, most of my readers are familiar with the types, the rules and how to do it.
There are more books than is probably prudent to shelve on the subject of genre. How to write a killer mystery, For Love and Money, etc. Follow the writing advice of CS Lakin in the Twelve Pillars of Fiction or Beth Barany’s Adventures of Writing, or Elizabeth Sims Writing a Book is Easy and you’ll be covered in the genre field as well.

Genre fiction falls into the same category as Doritos Nacho tortilla chips. Compelling, delicious and addictive. You must eat until the bag is empty. A well-written genre book is exactly the same. And who wouldn’t want to produce an established addictive product? It worked for Starbucks, it can work for you.
Genre fiction is not famous for its insights or erudite comments on the human condition. These books are not novels in the way we understand literary fiction. Genre books are plot driven. The characters are big and beautiful. The story is fairly straightforward. The narrative is linear, there are few tricks or sleight of hand. Tell us a good story. Tell us again and again.
Women are the readers of genre fiction. Some read 3 or 4 books a day (many are reading romance at this rate). They love the books, they are loyal fans, they show up at conferences and cheer their authors on to write more and more.
These fans are online. They will talk with you and deliver feedback. It’s all beautiful and it can be overwhelming.
The secret to genre writing is you must love the genre. You must read the genre yourself and know your favorites and know your competition.
You must be absolutely sincere and entrenched in your genre both to create a decent book and to create a decent existence. If you are not prepared to troop down to Comic Con in San Diego dressed as your lead character in order to hand sell your latest book, don’t write in the genre.
Reading the genre also allows you to absorb the tropes and conventions of that genre. Ideally, you know, in your very bones, what a good romance or horror novel entails. It should come naturally and it’s a deep knowledge that is difficult to fake, difficult to follow along in a how-to book. Dare we suggest that it should be fun?

I tried writing romance. I tried it for all the wrong reasons, it was supposed to be easy, it was selling, it was a way to break into publication.  I bought a couple of how -to books. I followed the formula.  What could be easier?
Winning a monkey knife fight would have been easier.
Giving birth to large-headed children was easier.
It was a total failure. Because I did not believe in the redemptive and total triumph of love over common sense. I did not believe that the strong, silent, misunderstood hunk of a man could be changed by the lovely, spunky girl. I did not believe in sincere dialogue and wet weepy eyes.
It did not work for me at all.
But finding a dead body in the bathroom of an empty house? No problem at all. I realized, after many starts and stops that I should write what I love to read. And I loved mysteries and science fiction books.
I knew the rules of those games. And played them much better.
Know the rules, know the styles, then rush out and invent your own twist on an established genre.
For writers, genre is an easier format to attract an agent.
It’s easier to find an indie publisher.
It’s easier to publish yourself and still get the attention you need.
It’s easier to sell.
It’s easier to find the conferences to attend
It’s easier, much easier, to find your audience.

You just gotta love it or your everyday writing will be a bore and a chore. And since that is what you are really doing all day, make it worth your time. Make it enjoyable. Be proud of what you write.

Newbie
Please don’t write something based on a genre you think will sell, or make you money. We have had plenty of guests who have written a book because it’s the hottest topic out there. Write a genre you understand and most importantly, a genre you like. I am a firm believer in writing what you are influenced by because the resulting story will be more genuine, it’ll have all the common tropes you have read from other stories and most importantly: it’ll be true to that genre.
I would suggest writing the story that is in your head as the genre will shine through during the writing process. It may end up a mixture of genres, horror and romance, fantasy and westerns… who knows. You’ll find a fit for your story.

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast.

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon

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Writers Conferences How To

Warning

This blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a compilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest. 

   

How to Rock a Writer’s Conference

There are many conferences to choose from. And those wonderful conferences are often held in fabulous exotic locations. Who wouldn’t want to spend two weeks on the beach in Mexico “writing”?   

Don't Write LIke We TalkWriting Conferences are shorter and less expensive than earning a full-blown degree in creative writing.  By a number of years.

But even though they are shorter, some Conferences only less expensive than a low-residence MFA by a $1,000 or so.

I know reasonably famous authors who love to travel and so attend as many conferences as they can be explaining that they “write off” the trip on their taxes. Yes, you can claim a writing conference as a business expense. But you still need to pay for the flight, hotel and food up front with a cold, hard Master Card, so let’s not kid ourselves and call it a savings, or even clever financial planning. Conferences are expensive, both for the speaker and for the attendees.
So choose wisely.
Advantages of attending a conference:

There are many conferences to choose from. And those wonderful conferences are often held in fabulous exotic locations. Who wouldn’t want to spend two weeks on the beach in Mexico “writing”?
Writing Conferences are shorter and less expensive than earning a full-blown degree in creative writing. By a number of years.
But even though they are shorter, some Conferences only less expensive than a low-residence MFA by a $1,000 or so.

Disadvantages:
Writing conferences are not immune to the techniques of the most expensive and obnoxious sales pitches that claim that you can, in no particular
order: Instantly build your business! Learn the techniques of the stars! Double
your income! Double your life! Three days of excellence! Save $100 when you
register now, now, now!
All for the low, low price of $2,000 for the conference, $1,500 for the hotel
room and $16.00 for the glass of indifferent Sauvignon Blanc. Not counting gas.

You don’t care.

Writing conferences should be approached with caution and purpose.
Before you save all that money and sign up for a conference TODAY, SAVE
NOW, consider what you want from the conference first. Do you want to just experience the conference life? Do you want to meet an agent? Do you want to spend a week working with a particular author or poet? What are the takeaways? Or, as my husband insists on asking, what is the ROI?

There are writing conferences, like the San Francisco Writer’s Conference. And there are workshops, like the Squaw Valley Workshop, the Napa Valley Workshop, and a summer of Iowa Workshops.
Workshops are typically focused on writing and craft. You, as a participant are vetted and often need to submit your work in progress before gaining entry to the workshop.
You will stay in a lovely place, meet with a famous author for five or six days in a row. Make new friends, and write. At lot.
Workshops often include dinners and evening lectures.

Conferences focus a little on craft and mostly on promotion and publishing. These conferences have no barriers to entry except time, money and space. The SFWC for instance sells out early due to limited space (the conference is held at the Mark Hopkins in SF, and it’s small, as conference spaces go).
You will have a chance to learn about craft, the writing life, and listen to the popular lecture, I am famous because I was really lucky. Often a version of Agent Speed Dating will be included.
There are lunches and dinners, often at an additional cost. There are often receptions and after-hours activities at no additional cost.
If you are just considering this writer’s life, or life-style, a local conference will do just fine. Look for a writer’s conference close by to reduce the cost. Unless you very much want to experience Iowa in the summer.

Know your goals:
If your goal is to just go and experience the writer’s life, that counts.

However, if you have a purpose, state it. Know what you are going for. Do you long for contact with real literary agents? Look at the list of agents participating in the conference. No agents at this one? Don’t go.

If a favorite author is the keynote speaker and you want to see her (maybe meet her, maybe get a book signed) before she dies. Go.
Make sure she is really on the schedule. Are there words like “possible,”?
“chosen,” “may show,” “they drove by our office and that counts?” If the famous author appearance isn’t guaranteed, stay home.

Do you want to get down and dirty with real editors who will really review your fabulous manuscript? Is there an additional cost to meet with an editor?
Again, check out the conference list and know that often those meetings with editors or agents are by reservation only and may even take place the day before the actual conference, so check that carefully, or you’re into the expensive hotel for another day — and another glass of wine.

Do you want to meet publishers directly? Is there a list of publishers shown on the conference flyer or website and will they be there? Or are they attending just to sell off inventory? Who are the publishers? Do you recognize their companies or are they all from the Author Solutions where they will cheerfully guarantee that, of course, they will publish your book — it’s only $4,500 for the basic package.

There are some fabulous conferences for writers, and most conferences are held during the summer months because they meet at college campuses. You can travel to Iowa, you can travel to Adelaide and all places in between.

What to do once you are there.
Make friends with other attendees. I know you want to meet that famous person, that famous author, that agent! You want to make friends with that agent!
Meet them. Shake their hand. That’s going to be the extent of it.
Who you really should make friends with is that woman sitting next to you. You, the members of the audience, are often in the same boat. Make friends with these people. They can be the first members of your new writing critique group. Or a mutual promotion group (you support each other’s book promotions). You will likely see them again next year if not sooner. This is your chance to create real connections, not with the authors who have already succeeded, but with authors who, like you, are working their way through the process. Meet and greet, this is your tribe.

What not to do
I speak at conferences and I volunteer at conferences. I would like to nip a few bad habits in the bud if I may.
Here is what drives speakers and volunteers crazy:
Conference attendees who march around with their manuscript thrusting it at unsuspecting agents, author and volunteers like a weapon.
Conference attendees who have nothing to say except to complain about the food. It’s banquet food. It’s not gourmet fare and wasn’t advertised that way in the first place. The food will keep you going. It’s the best that can be had for the price. If you are a gourmet chef, you may have something to comment on, otherwise, the cost of your meal is paying for the room, the speaker and the wait staff, not just that chicken breast sprinkled with two olives and some rosemary. If you can cut the chicken with the knife provided, it’s a win – get over it.
Conference attendees who waste valuable networking opportunities bitching about their room or roommate.
Conference attendees who meet a pre- published author and dominate that conversation by bragging about their own agent, their own six-figure advance or their movie deal. If you are that famous and successful, what the hell are you doing at a conference? Move on to a TEDx conference and deliver your ‘I’m- Famous- Because- I- Was-Lucky talk there’.
Name dropping, especially if you’ve only heard the name, not met the actual person.
Not helping. Help people, encourage that young girl to speak to the agent. Help that small elderly lady find the workshop room.
Here’s what I really hate, the author who stands up during the five minutes Q & A and delivers a lengthy autobiography and/or lengthy descriptions of his upcoming book plot that, surprise, people can purchase from him at the end of the lecture. Do you have a question? Is it relevant? Then ask. But this is not the place for grandstanding. It’s an effective way to be remembered. But you will also be stabbing that chicken breast all alone.
Not having a 30-second elevator speech to promote their book. A word about this. The reason you want to have a 30-second summary of your work in project ready to go is to prevent you from wasting 30 minutes explaining the plot to me. Summary is good – blow by blow is bad.
I dislike conference attendees who disrespect the volunteers. First of all, it’s just bad behavior. Second of all, you don’t know who is volunteering. Many of volunteers are also speakers, or agents, or friends of the conference organizers. There is nothing worse than meeting an agent during an agent speed dating session and realizing, with some horror, that fifteen minutes ago you handed them your dirty coffee cup and told them to put it somewhere.
Conference attendees who stalk agents to the point of pushing their manuscript under the stall door in the women’s room.

But even the best conference will not help you if you don’t know what you want. And the best agents and editors can’t help you if you don’t have a completed or mostly completed manuscript to send them.
So before you sign up and buy the plane tickets, get focused. For all the money you spend, make sure there is a purpose to your conference experience. Write down the deliverables and try to full fill them during your two or three days. If you just want to have fun – fly to Hawaii. Or Australia, Australia is very nice.

Newbie
Never been to a writing conference before, certainly not paid for one. From an outsiders’ point of view, it seems like a good way to waste money and valuable time you should be writing. Perhaps this would be classed as “research” by some?
Prompt
Write a dialogue between two of your favorite characters. Snow White and Cinderella, Eloise and Ramona, Batman and Superman. Or think of your childhood favorites, what are they doing now? Write up fan fiction that fills in the grown up life of a character like Pipi Longstockings, Richie Rich, Bart Simpson. Do it well enough and you end up with a block buster like “Wicked”

 

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast.

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon

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