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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You Are Not Alone – because you can’t be.

We all know the legend of Jack London the adventurer and prodigious writer.  He is held up to authors as the epitome of the writer’s work ethic, publishing 50 fiction and non-fiction books and hundreds of articles.  He made his living by writing and always, always writing at least a 1,000 words a day.  That is an impressive output not only for the number but for the consistency.  1,000 words!

Many people help bring a book to lifeOn first glance, London represents impossible goals. Fifty books!  But how could anyone match that?  You can.     

Recycle

Both Jack and his wife re-purposed their adventures into many version of essentially the same book.  The travels of the Snark inspired a number of related books all covering the same material including Charmaine London’s version provocatively titled:  Woman among the Head Hunters.  Like so many best-selling authors, London created many books from a single theme.

But still, he wrote and he sailed the adventures, he had the ideas.  All deserving of praise and acclaim.  I love his work, no question.  But I also don’t want any author to think that Jack woke up each morning at Beauty Ranch and simply created his literary success all by himself.

He did not.

Let’s begin with that 1,000 words a day.

Clear the Decks

No matter the guest count that week, no matter what the crisis at the ranch, no matter what was for breakfast, Jack wrote.

His work supported the whole enterprise of course, and writing was his job.  But do consider who made those 1,000 words a day possible:

His ranch manager.

The Staff

The ranch workers and their families

His wife.

The cook.

Someone took care of all the daily challenges that arise on a working ranch.  Someone make breakfast and cleaned up afterward.  His wife protected his time and entertained the weekend guests until Jack was finished.

Use a Typist

Jack could write, but not fast enough. He worked out his books long hand.  It was his wife, Charmaine who typed up the drafts of the manuscripts, editing along the way.   She was involved in his work from the start and wrote her own stories after his death.   

Even in the creation of his books, Jack was not working alone.

Now that I’ve thrown poor London under the bus, here are more people nestled in the anonymity of the acknowledgments page of most books.

Researchers

Research comes from volunteers, helpers, or paid professionals.  For authors, everyone and anyone is a resource.  Jack discovered those stories on the islands of the  South Pacific, and the bars in Alaska.  Some authors who write multiple books a year,  hire profession researchers.    If you are very lucky, you can exploit your own high school children as research assistants and pretend it’s an educational experience.

Room Of Your Own

Behind every great writer is a spouse keeping the children quiet, or a beloved aunt who left them enough cash to live on while they worked.   I have a husband who supports the arts.  We all have some kind of help.  Don’t think authors are doing this all on their own.   

Editors

There could be up to three people involved in the editorial process.  Authors need editors. From Beta Readers to Copy editors,  these wonderful people are critical.

Promotors/PR

A group or an individual needs to promote the author.  An author often does this work herself, but again, if you are published consistently enough, or are lucky to have a team at your disposal, a PR expert is key to the success of the book.

Social Media

First, you need to start up the social media projects, then if you are lucky and I mean that – lucky – you will collect rabid fans in the thousands who will spread the word about your project or book.  These fans are unsung and unacknowledged and increasingly, critical.

Agent

In Jack’s day, literary agents were more like a personal manager.  Agents protected the author, negotiated for better royalties, negotiated with the publishers and the press, sometimes advanced the author funds out of the agent’s own pocket and helped the author decide on the next book.   It’s different now, but also the same, successful authors have that team member.

Publisher

All authors need a delivery system for their books.   It can be done through one of the big New York publishers or the largest one of all – Amazon –  but again, people behind the scenes are assembling your book and shipping it out and sending you money.

Booksellers   

If your book is featured in a bricks and mortar store, the owner and staff of that store will help sell your book.  Smart authors do not forget this.   In Powells (Portland), there was a note tacked onto the end of a bookshelf –   a  card from Sue Grafton.  T is for Thank You.

Artists

Can you design your own book cover?  Canva options aside, no you can’t.  Get help.  Those beautiful book covers illuminating pages of Amazon offerings?  All professionally done.

A section in Poets and Writers magazine lists new and noteworthy books.  The listing includes the first line of the book, then the top people involved in bringing that book to readers:   Publisher – Author – Agent – Editor – Publicist.  It takes a team, or even in some cases, a village.

London had a village.  Virginia Woolf had a village.

It takes a rather large population to bring a book to market.  We think of writing as a solitary affair and the American myth of complete self-sufficiency is still very powerful particularly when it comes to writing.  But the myth is wrong.  Authors not only need to be competent at their work, careful in their craft but also able to coordinate the multitude it will take to bring a book to market.

It’s daunting but nice to know we are not alone.

This first appeared in Writer’s Fun Zone.

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Scrivener for NaNoWriMo

Don’t Write Like You Talk
What I learned from agents & authors, publishers & poets

How do you organize a book?  I am a Scrivener fan, so I’ll tell you what I told the Sierra writers club this October.  Specifically, how do you organize a book when you are writing furiously for NaNoWriMo?

There are books and blogs devoted to Scrivener and I recommend looking those up.  However, I also know how easy it is to spend your days mastering  a system for writing instead of actually writing.  So here are the basics for Scrivener. I recommend just starting and worrying about the advanced mechanics after you’ve finished your November Novel.keep your novel organized

What I like:

Cork board

You can create that iconic novel system – the 3 by 5 cards scribbled with plot points, right on your computer.   Write down the summary of your plot or just a few random note that will best remind you of what you want to say and better, what the character has to say.  You can arrange the cards any way you’d like and the full notes and material will follow.  Like magic.  Bonus, you can actually print out these cards into real 3 by 5 cards if you want to shuffle them and lay them out on the floor which I did for Future Sky because I didn’t know what the heck I was doing.

It worked.

Document notes

These are notes you make on the right hand side of your manuscript.  It’s space to yes, make notes on your document and they also stay attached to the main work.  I put photos in here, notes for later and sometimes deleted scenes that don’t work but are relevant to the story.

Sections in the binder

These are discrete essay spaces to place scenes, descriptions, everything that goes into a novel.  These are linked to those 3 by 5 cards so don’t  your sections Chapter One, Chapter Two.  You’ll never know what the pages are about.  Name them as descriptively as you can so you can easily find them and move them around.

Keep the action and characters to their own individual sections, that way it’s easier to re-order and shuffle.

Research

Use the research section to capture characters and setting and research notes.   Uncheck the box to the right under General – Include in Compile so when you select Compile or Project statistics to see how many wonderful words you have written – you won’t fool yourself by counting the lengthy research you dropped into the project – that’s cheating.   Yes I know what I said last week.

Project

Use project statistics to track your word count.  Easy and you can stay in the program as you track your progress.

That’s just the basics because we all should be writing.  But in December, explore this program more, it’s one of the best tools I’ve experienced for writers.

To learn more.
Visit us on iTunes – Newbie Writers Podcast – new episodes start again in January 2017
Check out our upcoming book Don’t Write Like We Talk that will be published eventually. All you need to do is wait . . . Like us.
Subscribe to this blog
Or just follow me on Newbie Writers Group on Facebook
And Instagram #catharineBramkampWriter
And Pinterest Catharine Bramkamp
The theme is, Catharine Bramkamp

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First Step towards Writing a Book

Don’t Write Like You Talk
What I learned from agents & authors, publishers & poets

Clients often ask, what are the steps to writing a book?

There are steps and there are steps.  Writing is personal and interesting and quirky. That is why there are so many books about writing, that is why there are so many suggestions, that is why I’m part of the problem.Article on the first step to writing a book

When you are stuck writing – and if you’re reading this, you are, mosey over to Pinterest.  There are countless Pinterest boards devoted to writing – from pithy quotes to fabulous infographics on how, what, who, colors, better words that “said”, better words that “you”.  A nice selection of information and help.  I have Pinterest Boards on writing so you can check them out. But I’m not the only writer on Pinterest.

In case those  nifty infographics do not inspire –  here is the first basic writing step.

(Just to continue the metaphor – no one learns to walk without falling down. A lot.

Remember that as you take those steps towards your writing project.)

Step 1 – start small with embarrassingly low stakes, goals and expectations.

I’m not kidding. 

Examples of good first step goals.

  • Today I’m going to think about my writing for ten minutes while standing in the shower
  • This month I will write for 1/2 hour.
  • I will stop talking about my novel (since I suspect my friends are bored with the plot already) and instead write down all the ideas that I like to discuss when well into my fourth handcrafted stout.

You may think, that’s just insane, those aren’t real goals, I have never seen an infographic listing goals like that.

Yes they are. Any activity that gets  words out of your head, out of your summary speech for the academy awards which you know by heart, and onto paper, is a good activity.

Start there – take an initial step, clutch the back of a chair for support.  Then tune in for additional steps right here.

To learn more.
Visit us on iTunes – Newbie Writers Podcast – new episodes start again in January 2017
Check out our upcoming book Don’t Write Like We Talk that will be published eventually. All you need to do is wait . . . Like us.
Subscribe to this blog
Or just follow me on Newbie Writers Group on Facebook
And Instagram #catharineBramkampWriter
And Pinterest Catharine Bramkamp
The theme is, Catharine Bramkamp

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Inspiration for Writers

Writing inspiration Catharine BramkampDon’t Write Like You Talk

What I learned from agents & authors, publishers & poets

Some people work with prompts to start their ten minute write.  Which I think is a wonderful idea, it’s like warming up before a run, or something.  I don’t run.  Don’t listen to me.

In Don’t Write Like We Talk, we include a prompt in every show.  To stream line the process, here are a few writing prompts.  Feel free to print them out, share them, use them.   

  • Writer’s Block:  When your imaginary friends won’t talk to you.
  • Write about writer’s block.  Believe it or not, when you are really stuck in your work, try writing:  I am really stuck, over and over.  Or try writing non-stop for ten minutes.  The act alone can help you break through.
  • I love holiday letters that chronicle perfect families,  wonderful lives, but gloss over some of the rough parts: the latest arrest, another  job loss, the school record for detentions served.
  • What would happen if we sent our friends and family holiday cards that spoke the absolute truth? Would our year look different from what  we post on Facebook?  Would our holiday missives sound  different if they weren’t mailed to elderly aunts and cousins we still want to impress?
  • What does that look like?
  • Write a holiday letter that only tells the truth.
  • Don’t mail it.
  • Have you ever not said something and were later glad you didn’t?
  • Write about the times you wished you kept your mouth shut.
  • If you need to increase the tension in a fiction  chapter or lift a sagging story line, allow your  character to blurt out some inconvenient truth to the wrong person.  It will keep things lively.
  • Ever do that yourself?
  • What is the worst job you’ve ever had? What was the worst job your character ever had. How did it shape her character, how did it shape yours?
  • Write down a memory from your grandparents.  Did they have a story they told and re-told?  And your initial reaction was “not the story about Grandpa and the bear again”.  This time, remember that old story and write it down.  See what happens from there.  I know, maybe nothing.
  • What have you done recently that was memorable but has no accompanying photos?
  • is it possible to experience something and not have a photo of it?
  • Write about an adventure that managed to happen without any photos.
  • Write out your favorite joke. Now write it as if it went horribly wrong.  Wrong set up, wrong punch like,  just wrong.  If that too funny?  Or just horrible?  Write a story about someone telling a joke badly.  Or someone telling a bad joke.
  • What is stored in the garage right now, gathering dust?
  • What part of your life does it represent?
Visit us on iTunes  – Newbie Writers Podcast – new episodes start again in January 2017
Check out our upcoming book Don’t Write Like We Talk that will be published eventually.  All you need to do is wait . . .  Like us.
Subscribe to this blog
Or just follow me on Newbie Writers Group on Facebook
And Instagram #catharineBramkampWriter
And Pinterest Catharine Bramkamp
The theme is, Catharine Bramkamp

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Novelists Get Even

Novelists get evenYou knew that, it’s the one thing that gets us through the night – the idea that the person we hate most may very well be known only by what we wrote about him or her.  That’s why so many evil men are cursed with tiny penises.  It only stands to reason.

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