Thursday, 1 October 2020

If You Think It, You Can Write It: Act Two

 

Chapter 9: Act Two

The second act is the longest section in a novel, and it's where your protagonist, having passed the first plot point and entered into a new situation, meets increasingly difficult challenges. There is one important point during act two which is crucial to moving your narrative forward: the midpoint. 

The Midpoint

Depending on the length of your first act (longer or shorter), the midpoint will occur somewhere around the middle of act two. Up till now, events have been happening to the protagonist, causing a shift in their lives, but the midpoint is where they begin to fight back, take control and become proactive.

The midpoint in The Martian comes when Mark Watney finds out the supplies he’s expecting are delayed, forcing him to take responsibility for staying alive until his provisions arrive.

In Ender’s Game, the midpoint change comes when Ender finishes his training and finds himself in charge of a group of low-achieving students. Instead of being told what to do, he has to take charge, command and train them. 

Instead of ducking and diving to avoid the threats coming their way, these characters stand up and decide they will take charge of resolving their dilemma. 

The Saggy Middle 

When we open a novel and step out of our own lives into the fictional life of another, I’m sure that you, like me, have certain expectations. However, if after a great beginning, that fictional life becomes monotonous, we close the book and find a new one that fires our imagination. 

Act two, where your plot builds, subplots weave in and out, writers can find themselves bogged down in those selfsame subplots or following plot threads that lead nowhere. This is known as the saggy middle. One way to stop readers falling asleep during this section is to use variety. 

Although the dramatic arc is depicted as a line of rising tension, varying the pace in your scenes and chapters increases the drama. Instead of running straight up the mountain, you can rachet up the reader’s involvement by taking two steps up, then one step back, or one step forward and pause to catch your breath. Each forward movement takes you higher than before, but dashing up a mountain not only leaves you exhausted but you miss what’s around you as you climb. By creating variety in the pacing of your scenes you allow your reader to catch up with where you’re taking them. 

A scene is a prolonged moment, resembling real time on the page, and scenes are divided into two basic categories—dramatic and static. Yet this isn’t as simple as alternating car chase/fight/screaming argument scenes with writing shopping lists or lazing on a beach.

There are multiple ways to create drama in a scene that on the surface appears calm but which is actually filled with conflict. If your heroine is sipping tea with the wife of the man she’s having an affair with, a writer can find plenty of opportunity for drama. Does the wife know? How much inner conflict will be revealed? Two elegantly attired women, false smiles for the benefit of onlookers, yet talking in low voices as one confronts the other doesn't have active phsycial movement but is filled with tension. Make them best friends or sisters and you have the potential for a real battle. Static scenes can be used to delve into suppressed emotions or hidden conflicts, and they’re excellent opportunities to show, rather than tell, the reader what’s happening.

However, these apparently quieter scenes aren’t merely gap fillers between the dramatic action. They provide contrast and prevent a spill into the melodrama that non-stop action presents. Characters and readers alike need to catch their breath. Static scenes offer respite, a change of pace and a chance to provide details that would be difficult to place elsewhere; they also provide space for conflicts to build. Nevertheless, they’re not frozen tableaux and shouldn’t stall the forward momentum of the narrative.

When you combine a series of increasingly intense actions with more private moments of equally important revelations, you can approach and pass the midpoint, bringing your audience with you. The end of act two takes you to the second plot point, which signifies the beginning of act three—the climax and the resolution of your story. 

Homework 

Exercise 1. Using the book you’re currently reading or another you finished recently, figure out the midpoint, its effect on the protagonist and how it changes the story going forward.

Exercise 2. Using your own story, think about the midpoint: have you created a situation for your main character that will result in a different attitude toward his situation, one where she/he must now take responsibility for how they will deal with the problems facing them? If not, spend some time figuring out how you can adapt what you've written 
(or write a new scene) to give your story a midpoint transformation. 

Exercise 3. Consider what kind of scene you prefer to read
—one where action takes place or where the tension is less tangible and more descriptive. Examine your own work and see if there’s a dominance of one or the other. 

Exercise 4. Using different colored highlighter pens (or font color), take a few chapters, color your scenes accordingly (red for dramatic, green for static) to create a visual depiction and study the balance between the two. This exercise lets you know where you might need to make changes to achieve a good rhythm between drama and stasis. 

***
Stay well, stay safe and keep writing—no matter what!
Best wishes,
Teagan.




References:
The Martian by Andy Weir: 2011 (self-published); February 2014 (Crown)

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, 1985, Tor Books.

Photo by Simon Hattinga Verschure, Unsplash.

 

 

 


Tuesday, 1 September 2020

If You Think It, You Can Write It: The First Act

 


There are many things which go into producing a book, irrespective of whether it's a digital or print version, but most important of all is the story itself. The glossiest of covers, the most enticing of book descriptions and the smartest marketing campaigns will not hide the fact there is something lacking inside the covers.

I'm not talking about how to be inspired or how to stimulate your imagination—the universe has an infinite number of sources—but we are getting deeper into the nuts and bolts of the craft side of writing. So, lets get on with it...

Chapter 8: The First Act 

If you think of your novel as dining out at a restaurant (an outing which you may or may not have planned), imagine you have eaten the apéritif (the hook) and you are about to dive into the main course. In terms of writing, you are about to embark on a journey of dramatic incidents that will escalate until you reach the climax and resolution of your book.

The plot is the backbone, the spine of your tale, and is made up of a chain of events, also known as plot points. There are plenty of events going on in a novel, although they are not all equal; some have more impact than others because they alter the forward movement of the narrative.

The first act has two happenings of note: the inciting incident and the first plot point (FPP). The FPP is the more important of the pair.

As you lead your characters through their difficulties and successes, bear in mind that drama comes in different guises: a disgusted look that leaves a woman wondering what she did to upset her lover can be as significant as someone finding out their best friend is having as affair with their wife or the first attack of an invading army.

The Inciting Incident 

You have introduced your heroine/hero, and acquainted readers with their circumstances. The inciting incident is the first chance to up the ante. As a rough guide, the inciting incident occurs around the ten percent mark.

In the fairy tale of Cinderella, the inciting incident is when the Prince sends every eligible young lady in the land an invitation to the ball as he is looking for a wife: everyone in the house, including Cinders, is excited. In The Hunger Games, it is when Katniss’s sister is chosen for the reaping. By the time the inciting incident takes place, we have already learned quite a bit about both these personalities, their background and the daily challenges they face.

The inciting incident has an impact on your character but doesn’t yet change their lives or set them on a fresh path. It’s advisable to give some space between the inciting incident and the FPP to allow both the principal character and the reader to absorb what is happening. People get caught up and wonder what comes next, so you have the opportunity to build on that expectation.

Some writers have the inciting incident happen before the book starts or leave very little space between it and the FPP. The rule for writing is do what works for you, although when you start out, it’s worthwhile to learn the rules before breaking them.

The First Plot Point 

If the chain of events is written in normal print, the plot points are highlighted in bold. The FPP, which happens around the twenty-five percent mark, brings the first act to an end.

The FPP in Cinderella is when her step-mother tells her she can’t go to the ball. Cinders decides she wants to go more than anything she has ever wanted and must overcome a series of obstacles in order to succeed. In The Hunger Games, the FPP occurs when Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place, changing her life and opening up the way to death or victory.

The FPP fulfils several functions apart from initiating a new direction for the protagonist: it introduces the major conflict, indicates the challenges, heightens the investment in winning and mentions the price of failure.

Note the word introduces, because you are showing reasons why people should continue reading by sketching out the general development of your story arc and offering views of challenges (internal and external) they will face. The audience understands and can identify with the central character’s goals and recognize there is a story to be told. As she/he commits to seeing through the challenge, so does the reader.

You can think of the inciting incident as an event that relates to the individual and the FPP as relating to the dramatic arc. The inciting incident touches your protagonist, but the FPP results in a shift from their life before and propels them toward an alternative course of action.

In fiction, action includes thoughts, emotions and observations as well as physical movement. It can be range from remembering something relevant to charging into battle, but it has to transform the status quo.

By now your character is living in your reader’s imagination and they’ll continue to read because, otherwise, they're quitting the table before the end of the meal; and who wants to miss out on dessert?

Homework

Exercise 1: Using the book you are currently reading, identify the inciting incident and the first plot point. Choose a fairy tale or another book and do the same.

Exercise 2: Analyze the first act of your novel, scrutinize your inciting incident and FPP, see how you can improve on what you have written and make changes if you need to.

***

Stay well, stay safe and keep writing— no matter what!
Best wishes,
Teagan.



 

 

 

 


 


Sunday, 16 August 2020

Interview with Monica Nash: Narrator of The Serendipity Game Audiobook:


I'm delighted that the audiobook edition of The Serendipity Game is now available to listen to and enjoy!

The Serendipity Game is a romantic comedy and here's the blurb: 
When Casey meets Jake sparks fly. But Casey has no idea that Jake’s soon-to-be ex-wife, Elena, is using her to extract more than the pre-nuptial agreement from Jake. While Jake and Casey spend time together, Elena changes her mind about the divorce and plans to eliminate her competition. A drama-packed, entertaining romcom that will have you rooting for the feisty Casey and praying for her HEA.

The audiobook is available at Audible: https://adbl.co/2XX4tYZ
Also from iBooks at the Apple Store 

Monica Nash is the brilliant actor who narrated and produced The Serendipity Game audiobook. She is a graduate of the prestigious Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Monica is a pleasure to work with and I cannot believe I had the good luck to have one of my books narrated by her. Thank you, Monica! 

Interview with Monica Nash


1. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

I was born in Reading and grew up in Berkshire where my parents taught at a boarding school. I come from a large family and was very fond of climbing trees, cycling and playing endless games with my sister and our large collection of dolls. For the most part I enjoyed school, particularly English, Art and History.

2. Did you always want to be an actress and what drew you to the performing arts as a career?

 I was always in school plays and loved performing in general as a child, but for years my great passion was ballet. I loved the music and the costumes, but most of all I loved the storytelling. It was as a teenager that acting took over as my primary interest. I knew then that I wanted to act professionally, and never seriously considered any other career.

3. When did you first perform and where did you train?

As an undergraduate studying English at the University of Bristol, I was heavily involved in the drama and music scenes. Later, I went to Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, where I studied for two years. My first professional acting jobs were in 2014.

4. Who are your influences? 

I have drawn inspiration from many people over the years, from family members to school teachers. My greatest professional influences have been certain members of staff at drama school, and, more generally, actors ranging from Samantha Morton to Emma Thompson to Joyce Grenfell. I am influenced by any great piece of theatre that I see.

5. What do you do to prepare?

It depends on the project but generally speaking I jump straight in with the script, and do any research that needs to be done as I go along.

6. What are your strengths as an actor and how do they contribute to the style that makes you unique?

I have always been confident with language, and my English degree has been an enormous help to me. I am good at spotting the rhythm of a line and knowing how to deliver it effectively. This is useful in both comedic and serious roles, and I always try to be a performer who can pass seamlessly between comedy and drama at the drop of a hat.

7. What fears/anxieties do you have about your work?

Actors always worry that they are not getting enough auditions, and I am no exception! In this line of work, financial stability is never guaranteed, so that is sometimes a concern. I am also worried about the way this industry has historically treated women, although I do think that it is improving.

8. What has been your greatest accomplishment as an actor and what impact did that success have on you?

My greatest achievement is that I am still working and making my living in this industry six years in! Probably my greatest specific achievement was successfully learning to walk on stilts, from scratch, in only six days, for a theatre role. It definitely made me more confident about learning new skills and gave me more faith in myself that I could rise to a challenge.

9. How does recording an audiobook stretch you as an actor and what was the biggest challenge you faced in recording The Serendipity Game?

Recording audiobooks is unlike any other form of performing since you do it alone without fellow cast members to inspire you and buoy you up. ‘The Serendipity Game’ in particular has a large cast of characters. Flitting seamlessly from one voice to another was probably the greatest challenge.

10. What did you like about Casey in The Serendipity Game?

Casey has had a difficult childhood and has come out of it as a very independent and spirited woman. She is loyal to her friends and stands up for herself. These were all great aspects to bring to her character.

11. If you had the chance to perform any role in any play or film, who would you choose and why?

There are far too many to choose from, but it’s probably a toss up between Eliza Doolittle in ‘My Fair Lady’ and Cruella de Vil in ‘101 Dalmatians’. Eliza is a richly comic part but also a nuanced character who goes on an incredible character journey, of a kind which is hugely rewarding to play. Cruella is a straightforward, larger than life, insane, bloodthirsty villain (with fantastic costumes) – who doesn’t love playing one of those?

12. Who do you look up to?

I love the work of directors like Josie Rourke, Emma Rice and Vicky Featherstone. The actor I most look up to, in terms of her range, emotional clarity and career choices, is Lesley Manville.

13. What is your next project?

I am working on another audiobook called ‘Hello’, a psychological thriller, and I am in rehearsals for an outdoor concert performance of Sondheim’s musical ‘Into the Woods’, playing Cinderella.

14. Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?

Still acting! Hopefully with a rich and varied CV, having made many more wonderful friends.

15. What do you do when you’re not performing or recording audiobooks?

I have done various other non-acting jobs over the years. At the moment I am doing some online tutoring, as well as writing and performing some comedy pieces for a podcast. Outside of work, I sing with a chamber choir called Vivamus, spend time with my family and friends, drink copious amounts of tea, and see as much great theatre as I can.

16. What does your perfect Sunday afternoon look like?

Probably a longish walk ending up at the pub followed by watching a movie on the sofa with friends.

If you want to find out more about Monica you can contact her via her website: https://www.monicanashactor.com/








Saturday, 1 August 2020

If You Think It, You Can Write It!: The Hook


When I decided at the beginning of the year to share what I've learned about writing and publishing a first novel, I wasn't sure I'd be able to keep to the schedule I gave myself. But I have and I'm really pleased to poston time, which surprises me even morea chapter that can be one of the most challenging, apart from your characters, plot and setting that is. This being the case, I invite you to read on...

Chapter 7: The Hook

The start of a story where you introduce the protagonist and the setting, referred to as the exposition, is the door you open for readers to step through and sample what kind of world you’re taking them to. You have a few minutes to tempt them if you don’t want them to leave and move on to the next author. The hook is a challenging event, an appealing description, a compelling character, something that grabs the reader’s interest, inviting them to continue. As the first act can take up to 15 to 25 percent of your narrative, you will also have space to provide some relevant background information and key events from their past.

When a reader begins a book, she/he puts aside their normal understanding of the world—known as suspension of belief—and you want them to know where they are without delay, so the initial sentences should plant clear clues for the reader to orient themselves in the world they’ve entered. You present the protagonist, showing the audience a glimpse of who they are and a problem they encounter in their day-to-day existence.

Examples:
Eight-year old Jimmy kicked his heels against the wall behind him and chewed his lip as he took in the chaos erupting around him. The first recess in a new school was never fun.
The first sentence tells us Jimmy is nervous. The second lets us know this isn’t the first time he’s been in this situation and his expectations are low.

The train picks up speed as it leaves Stuttgart. He grew up here, amid long shady streets footed in ancient cobblestones and gardens bright-spotted with afternoon light, but it is no longer the place Anton knew when he was young. (1)
The location and mood—reflective and melancholy—is clear as the character remembers the past and compares it to the present. The chapter heading, Fatherland, September 1942, lets us know this is Nazi Germany.

My working relationship with Lucifer began on a rainy Monday. I’d just settled down to a long afternoon of watching the holovid soaps and doing a little divination, spreading the cards and runes out on the hank of blue silk I’d laid out, when there was a bashing on my door that shook the walls
. (2)
Here the speaker is at home, relaxing when an ominous (door bashing and walls shaking) visitor arrives. Although a bright sunshiny day might have given a greater contrast to the action taking place, the choice of ‘rainy’ (gray, overcast) foreshadows the trouble that’s arrived on the doorstep.

All three indicate mood and describe the setting, and we are well equipped to venture farther into this new dimension as we know who, where and when.

In Medias Res

Another method of pulling people in is to start in medias res, (from the Latin) which literally means ‘into the middle of things’. This term comes from the Roman writer Horace who, when defining the perfect poet in Poetic Arts, stated: Nor does he begin the Trojan War from the egg, but always he hurries to the action, and snatches the listener into the middle of things.

In medias res sidesteps exposition which is later given in another way, generally through straightforward accounts of the past or flashbacks or dialogue. With in medias res you open with a bang but slow down afterward to fill in the blanks. Instead of 1, 2, 3 you do 3, 1, 2 or 3, 2, 1—whatever works in your particular tale. Movies often open with an action scene as film directors aim to grab the audience’s notice straightaway.

Examples:
None of the heat and bright luster of the mid-afternoon sun bathing the city of Tropolis reached Lower Level Park Four of the multi-storied downtown parking lot. The erratic flickering of the fluorescent light bulbs created uneasy shadows, and the air was rank with the stink of old seaweed, rotten cabbage and sewage stirred into the mix. It was a stench that slunk along the ground like a dense November fog off the river—the stench of goblin.
       As the elevator door slid shut behind them, JB turned first to Nikki, indicating she should go to the right and block the exit ramp. He signed he would head in a diagonal line toward their quarry before sending Gemma straight ahead. They padded off with guns raised, making little noise as they eased closer to their objective. A dark indistinct shape blurred across the back wall.
This is the opening scene of Sorcerous Deeds, the second in my Adept Solutions series of urban fantasy novellas about a private detective agency. Here JB and his team are tackling a bounty hunting job.

They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time. No need to hurry out here. They are seventeen miles from a town which has ninety miles between it and any other. Hiding places will be plentiful in the Convent, but there is time and the day has just begun.
(3)
Although we haven’t yet met the ‘they’ in question, the introductory sentence grabs attention, making it impossible not to read on further to find out what occurs next. This is the opening paragraph of Toni Morrison’s Paradise and a masterclass example of in medias res.

‘It’s official,’ Harley said. ‘They killed the Berliner two nights ago. You’re the last.’ Thereafter a pause: ‘I’m sorry.’
     Yesterday evening this was. We were in the upstairs library of his Earl’s Court house, him standing at a tense tilt between stone hearth and oxblood couch, me in the window seat with a tumbler of forty-five-year-old Macallan and Camel Filter, staring out at dark London’s fast-falling snow. The room smelled of tangerines and leather and the fire’s pine logs. Forty-eight hours on I was still sluggish from the Curse. Wolf drains from the wrists and shoulders last. In spite of what I’d just heard I thought: Madeline can give me a massage later, warm jasmine oil and the long-nailed magnolia hands I don’t love and never will. 
     “What are you going to do?” Harley said. (4)
This opening is from Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf where we learn of Jacob Marlowe’s dramatic situation at the same time he does. We’re also made aware of his world-weary character as despite this shocking news his thoughts turn to easing the aftereffects of his recent werewolf shift rather than how to combat his upcoming demise.

Learning point: Chekhov’s Gun
Chekhov’s gun refers to an example the writer Anton Chekhov gave where there is a gun on the mantelpiece. However, if no one ever uses this gun, it misleads the reader into giving it importance it doesn’t possess, and a sense of confusion when it’s never used. Everything you include should relate to the story you are telling.
For example, don’t let little Jimmy go up to Mabel and ask can he join in her game if, later on, she has no relevant role to play. Readers become invested in what happens to your character(s). Chekhov's message is, don’t lead people down dead-ends.

Whichever way you choose, if you’ve done your work, your audience is connecting with your character, you’ve drawn them into the world you’ve created and they will continue to follow your hero’s journey.

Homework
Exercise 1: Think about how you can improve your opening sentences. Whether you start with exposition or in medias res, write an alternative opening to the method you already used.
Exercise 2: Look at the book you’re currently reading and analyze what choice the author made. If you have an ereader, go through half a dozen books or so doing the same. Think about your reaction to what you read, what you like, what impresses you and and what you can learn.
https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/in-medias-res has a good list of books starting in media res. You can check out any that interest you by going to Amazon and using the ‘Look inside’ feature.

Stay well, stay safe and keep writing—no matter what!
Best wishes,

Teagan.

References:
(1) The Ragged Edge of Night by Olivia Hawkins, 2018, Lake Union Publishing, Seattle.
(2) Working for the Devil by Lilith Saintcrow, 2005, Hachette Digital, London.
(3) Paradise by Toni Morrison, 1997, Vintage Books, New York.
(4) The Last Werewolf by Duncan Glen, 2011, Cannongate Books, Edinburgh.

Photo: Eric Ding on Unsplash.







Monday, 1 June 2020

If You Think It, You Can Write It!: Pantster or Planner


Before I begin Part Two, where the focus will be on structure, I’m taking a brief step to the side, so to speak, because how you approach this endeavor is something that needs consideration. Hence a chapter about this topic before going any further seems appropriate.
Pantster* or Planner
Knowledge of your protagonist's strengths and flaws has grown and you have given some thought to the antagonist and supporting cast. So what next? Maybe you have an idea of how your story starts—someone is falling out of an airplane/off a mountain, looking over their shoulder at the sound of footsteps behind them—you’re having flashes about the storyline, perhaps even the ending? Various scenes are popping into your brain, and you’re itching to be off. Not everything is clear but you’re ready to dive in because the excitement you’re experiencing demands you put what is in your head down on the page/screen now!

Press pause for a second.
The Pantster
For the pantster the journey is writing the novel, and the destination is a complete first draft.
Think of it like this: you decide to go for a day trip to a beach you’ve not visited before. You’re going via the scenic route because, while you have a goal and a rough notion of the route, you’ve also resolved to enjoy the trip. Grabbing your purse/wallet, phone, off you go; you can pull in at a service station for snacks and gas and at any place you choose to appreciate the view. You have no idea of the exact route or how long the voyage will be, but that doesn’t bother you.
The pantster doesn’t use a structured framework, and there are many successful novelists who write using this technique because it allows them to run with ideas as they arise. They relish not knowing where the adventure will take them, the freedom and sense of being connected to their creativity. They can change direction and go where inspiration leads them. The process is spontaneous and they feel closely in touch with their imagination.

The Planner:
In this context planning is preparation, but writing the story is the destination.
Having decided to make your trip, you’re excited but delay it until the next day because you want to find the shortest route and prepare a picnic for lunch. The goal is to have more time at the destination.
Outlining chapters and scenes is a path into the narrative that enables planners to know their characters and their history in more depth. An outline is a tool that maps out the main character’s journey, helps identify weak spots in the storyline and gives a comprehensive overview.
When planners begin their novel, having scrutinized character motivations and plot points, making sure they work, they can devote themselves to writing without having to stop or backtrack (there’ll be enough of that in the editing!). Once the inventive wheels are turning, a map can provide as much detail as you choose, freeing you to concentrate on writing because you already know what will happen.
Nevertheless, simply because you have a blueprint, nothing, other than your own reluctance, prevents a change in direction whenever you feel a character or the plot requires it. Nothing is set in concrete.
   
Conclusion
IMHO the difference between the approaches are not as dissimilar as they initially appear. I see the two styles as short-term and long-term planning. Both methods require patience: pantsters because they may discover they haven’t figured out all the angles of getting from point A to point B and can spend time with characters, storylines and scenes that, ultimately, contribute nothing significant; planners because taking the time to outline means restraining the impulse to immerse themselves in the thrill of writing that first draft for a while longer.

***

When I started my first novel, I pounded out the version I had in my head, but arrived at a place when I could see where I wanted to get to, yet it was as if I had to cross a fast-flowing river but no bridge existed. I had to pause and figure out how to bridge that gap then went on to the finish. These days, I plan from the beginning to the end, defining chapters, scenes and emotions. But that doesn’t mean I don’t change my opinion about some aspects once I'm writinghowever, I generally find the major plot points and the protagonist's journey are sorted. 

Ideas for stories can appear fully formed or as small seeds which need nourishment, and we either seize hold of them or let them go. Writing is a process which brings ideas to life through the creation of characters and events, and no creative activity can be reduced to one all-encompassing formula. 

An excellent motto is do whatever works for you. The more you write, the more you learn what suits you and, whether that’s pantsing, planning or a combination of both in varying degrees, that is absolutely fine. 

***

This month’s homework is reading (and thinking about the pros and cons of each method). 

1: This is an overview of various famous authors’ outlines. Most of these were done before the digital revolution, but the point is having a visual overview serves a purpose. 
http://dailym.ai/3004jlw

2: James Patterson is a master planner. You can watch the video or read the transcript. Whether you read his novels or not, you can learn from this revealing insight into a successful writer’s method.

3.  Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method of Designing a Novel is extremely detailed, but it’s well worth taking the time to read what he has to say.
https://bit.ly/3crSEyl 


Stay well and stay safe.
Sending lots of positive thoughts and prayers your way.
Until next month, best wishes
Teagan.

*Pantster: derived from the phrase ‘flying by the seat of your pants,’ i.e. to decide a course of action as you go along.

Photo: Nordwood-themes-EZSm8xRjnX0-unsplash

Friday, 1 May 2020

If You Think It, You Can Write It!: Point of View


I hope the lockdown sees you all enjoying good health, getting out for your daily exercise and having plenty of time for your writing. Your story will demand dedication, but you may also find the world of your imagination is an addicting one.
 
This month's chapter deals with one of the biggest decisions you'll make about your novel and, as such, is one of the longer chapters. So, let's get started!

Chapter 4: Point of View

The Point-Of-View (POV) you select for your narrator is one of the more important choices you make as a writer because it has a significant impact on how you reveal events, and how readers perceive the people populating your novel.
In literature the term POV refers to the perspective, the lens, through which the story is told and dictates the pronoun. (A point to note is that while you, the author, are doing the writing, the narrator doesn't have to be you, it could be one of your characters.)

There are three POVs: first, second and third person. Let’s have a look at the benefits and complications of these different viewpoints.

First Person 
First-person POV is when the narrator uses the ‘I’ voice. 

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“I cast no shadow. Smoke rests behind me and daylight is stifled. I count sleepers and the numbers rush. I count rivets and bolts. I walk north.” Elmet by Fiona Mozley.
“We were going out to dinner. I won’t say which restaurant because next time it might be full of people who’ve come to see whether we’re there.” The Dinner by Herman Koch.

The advantage of the first-person POV is that it gives an immediacy to what the narrator is telling us because we have intimate access to the character’s emotions and thoughts. If it is done skilfully, we feel everything they feel as they feel it. For a novelist it offers freedom to experiment with characterization and language; the latter is normally restricted to dialogue. In other words, you become the single-minded detective tracking the serial killer, the smart-mouthed witch with extra-potent spells, the fierce computer-hacker who struggles with social skills. Alternatively, you can use a fictional version of yourself .

One drawback of the first-person POV is the overwhelming focus on ‘I’  repeated on every page. One way to reduce this predominance is by alternating with descriptions of actions, other characters and the setting.

Another limitation is the partial vision, the one-sided view of whatever is happening which may turn out to be tedious. Including subtle actions and dialogue which contradict the narrator’s version, which they are is unaware of, offer a counter-narrative that readers pick up on, creating conflict and interest.

NB The first-person POV does not have to be that of the protagonist. They can be someone close to the principal character who is relating the events that took place, and how they were affected.

Second-Person 
The second-person is the least common POV. In a second-person narration, the main character is referred to as ‘you’, a technique which confers the role of passive actor in the tale upon the reader.

“You want to be somebody else. You don’t know who this person might be; all you know is that she should be confident, beautiful, beloved.” The Sweetheart by Angelina Mirabella.
“You are amongst them, of course. Your curiosity got the better of you, as curiosity is wont to do. You stand in the fading light, the scarf around your neck pulled up against the chilly evening breeze, waiting to see for yourself exactly what kind of circus only opens once the sun sets.” The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.
“It’s all yours. Your hands rise, fingers spread, ready to feel the firm scrape of the football, ready to pull it to you, ready to tuck it safely in.” Damage by A.M. Jenkins.

One benefit of the second-person POV is its ability to draw readers in, quickly engaging them in the character and their story. This POV often works for solitary, compulsive personalities who appear to be confiding their accounts to themselves, and for expressing the reality of a condition or circumstance shared by many.

A downside is that some people find the second-person POV challenging. You’re sad, tears fall, wetting your cheeks. “Nope. It’s a gorgeous day and I’m fine.”
This viewpoint can be demanding to maintain for the duration of the novel and shares the same issue regarding monotony as the ‘I’ in the first-person POV. Many authors who use the second-person POV offer points of view from other characters to provide variation. 

The advice I’ve come across about using the second-person POV is to become accustomed to writing in the first and third POVs before attempting this more distinctive approach. Yet…nothing ventured, nothing gained. 

Third-Person 
The final, and most utilized, option is the third person POV which uses he, she or they. Within this category are three approaches you can employ:

Third Person Omniscient: the narrator knows everything about all the characters, events and places, including knowledge unavailable to those within the story.

“‘Good,’ said the boy, for he had no wish to tell the secret to his playmates, liking to know and do what they knew not and could not.” Further on in the same chapter, the following sentence is about another character. “She had tried not only to gain control of his speech and silence, but to bind him at the same time to her service in the craft of sorcery.” A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin.

The advantage is that we learn the ins and outs of all the relevant characters; appearances, likes, dislikes, history, etc., and the narrator can make observations and asides. This comprehensive point of view enables a writer to bring the reader into every aspect of the story.

Shifting Third-Person aka Third-Person Subjective Viewpoint
This strategy is adopted when a novelist decides to bring multiple viewpoints into play. With a reduced use of the omniscient narrator, this gives us access to the minds of two or more characters, showing their challenges and hopes.

“Later, in bed, he said, ‘Fran, there’s no need to worry. I’ll marry you. I said I would and I will.’
‘You needn’t,’ she said, pressing her hand over the place where the baby was. And he didn’t. Gone before the hair grew back. ‘Gareth, what do you want?’
Gareth’s thinking how ugly she looks, with her great big bulge sticking out. He wonders what the baby will look like.” Another World by Pat Barker.

To avoid confusing the reader, each speaker has to have a distinct voice, because changing viewpoint isn’t enough if the characters sound the same.

Third-Person Limited Omniscience: the narrator has full knowledge about the inner workings of the protagonist’s mind, but only reveals information about other people that the principal character possesses.
This is a popular POV used by many novelists because it enhances investment in the main character by revealing their thoughts and emotions, making it easy to identify with their struggles. All other characters and actions are filtered through the protagonist's perception of them.

“The islands just visible through the mist also looked like teeth, Faith decided. Not fine, clean Dover Teeth, but jaded, broken teeth, jutting crookedly amid the waves of the choppy grey sea.” The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge.

Third-person limited omniscience permits the writer to zoom in and expand someone’s internal monologue and to pan out and describe the world around them. 

Third Person Objective point of view: the narrator knows only what is seen externally and recounts it in a neutral, factual manner without bias and has no way of communicating what is going on inside anyone’s head. Every single thing is revealed through action and dialogue.

“It’s a Friday in early March and nothing has happened yet. Everyone is waiting. Tomorrow the Beartown Ice Hockey Club’s junior team is playing in the semifinal of the biggest youth tournament in the country.” Beartown by Frederik Backman.

This point of view works for those who enjoy a concise, less descriptive style of writing, although the impersonal point of view might result in writing that is spare to the point of clinical. On the other hand, this is an excellent challenge for a writer's ‘show don’t tell’ skills.  

I have great admiration for those who adopt first or second person. My favorite is the third-person limited omniscient POV as I prefer to identify with and reveal one individual’s inner self, yet be able to pull back and describe the surroundings and other people.

One essential point to remember, if you don't want to confuse and lose your reader, is be consistent.

As you write you may develop a favorite viewpoint which you then refine. Or you may decide to do something different next time and try out another POV. In writing, there is no right or wrong. There is only the story you are telling.

Exercise A:
Take a section of your WIP with at least two characters and rewrite it utilizing a different viewpoint from the current one.
Exercise B:
Using the same section of your WIP, rewrite it a second time, using multiple viewpoints.

When you finish, take the three different versions and compare them, consider the benefits of each POV and which works best for the character and the story.

My tip of the day: analyze the books you read and study how other authors tackle this subject—learn from the experts!

Stay well and stay safe.
Sending lots of positive thoughts and prayers your way.
Until next month, best wishes
Teagan.

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