In Doubt? Try a New POV

BinocularsI got stuck this week.

I’m revising one of my earlier novels, trying to speed up the beginning, but I couldn’t get chapter two to work correctly.

The story is told in the alternating points of view of two characters, and chapter two is the all-important introduction of one of them. I had written it and re-written it so many times, but none had the oomph this commercial science-fiction middle-grade novel needs.

What to do? Break out the chocolate? Punch a pillow? Try another re-write and question my writing skills?

All were tempting, but instead, I took my dog out for a walk. When in doubt, a walk is always good for clearing your head.

During that walk, I let the character play around in my head and he started talking to me — first person. Hmm. When in doubt, try a new POV?

The other side of my brain was screaming NO!!!!! This story is a third-person story. Everything about it works in third person. First-person will not work, not with the dual-POV in middle-grade. No! Third person.

But at this point, what did I have to lose?

At the SCBWI Summer Conference a few years ago, I heard some advice that has always stuck with me: Try it! If you have an idea, no matter how crazy, try it. Even if it doesn’t work, it might lead to other ideas. And if not, you now know it won’t work and can try something else. The important thing is to try it!

So, I tried it. I tried the first-person, sure that it wouldn’t work.

And guess what? It worked. The character jumped onto the page and ran around shouting to me what was happening in the scene. I couldn’t type fast enough.

But here’s the interesting part: After about five paragraphs, the words shifted. The scene was still working, but the voice moved from first-person to third! Yes!

The copy editor in me quickly went back and changed all the Is to make them third person, then I continued on in the scene. The whole chapter came out with oomph, character, humor and everything else this book needs.

A change of point of view can help you discover new options in your story. First change your point of view and get out and walk around. Then change your character’s point of view and see what happens. It doesn’t mean you have to stick with it, just try it. You never know what it’ll lead to.

Have you had any enlightening moments with a POV change?

Present tense first person

First off, Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Hope you get your fill of green beer today.

Next, manuscript update: I’m midway in chapter 8 or 30 chapters. So far, this polish is pretty much what I suspected, which is good. I’ve caught a few bad word choices and a few typos, but nothing major that I can see. Fingers crossed for the rest.

Catching Fire book coverBrowsing through my Google Reader this morning, I came across Deb Markanton’s What Are You Reading post, and although I commented on her blog, I thought I’d put more on here.

My answer to that question is Suzanne CollinsCatching Fire.

I’m an avid Suzanne Collins fan, since her Overlander series. When I finished that, I read Hunger Games and was hooked from the first few pages … much like everyone else who read it. 🙂

But as much as I was hooked, I think I enjoyed reading the Overlander series more because of the third-person point of view.

In Hunger Games, and now Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins uses present tense first person, and it seems awkward to me, makes me feel uncomfortable. I feel much more at ease reading something in third person.

Why is that? Is it the immediacy of the present tense? I think it’s because it’s not how we would tell stories to each other. We wouldn’t say, “I go to the meeting and fix all the problems.” We’d say, “I went to the meeting and fixed all the problems.” That seems so much more comfortable to me. Present tense seems unnatural, forced.

And yet, I can’t stop reading.

It’s also the story, the characters and the way Suzanne Collins sneaks up the cliffhangers so wonderfully. But maybe, despite my uncomfortable feeling with present tense, maybe it’s also the tense choice. I’m really curious to know if I’d be as interested in this story if it was in past tense or third person.

What do you think? Can present tense pull a reader into a story more? Can character and story do it just as well? Maybe it depends on the story, depends on the characters. Ultimately, I guess it’s the whole package that makes a book great, but what is it that makes us choose a different tense?

What do you think?

Write On!

First person vs. third person limited

Current word count: 29,056

New words written: 541

Words til goal: 10,944 / 332 words a day til the end of September

Writing was a bit slow this morning, and just when I was getting somewhere, my hour was up. But I’ve put in notes so I can get started more quickly tomorrow.

I caught up on some blog reading yesterday and found Brittany Lary’s  Point of View post on the Four Corners Writer’s Group blog. She ponders first person and third person and asks how readers decided which format to use for their books. Like most of the commentors on her post, I think the story and characters dictate which to write in. Both my first novel and my current novel are in third person limited, but that’s how the stories came to me. I do have a story idea — for down the road — that feels as though it has to be told in first person, but other than that one, my ideas tend to lend themselves to third person.

I read a lot where people say they love first person because they feel as though they’re really inside the character’s head. But for me, first person limited does the same thing. The book is telling the story through one character’s eyes and thoughts, and if the character doesn’t see it, or wouldn’t think it, it doesn’t get in the book. It’s not like omniscient, where the book is narrated by an all-seeing being that reveals all action and all the thoughts. To me, that style is distracting and makes it difficult to be really pulled into a book.

But with third-person limited, the reader is just as much inside the head of the character as in first person. The only difference is, with third-person limited, you’re like in Being John Malkovich, you’re still yourself but looking through their eyes — and better than the movie, hearing their thoughts. But in first person, you are that person. Everything is I, so the reader has to become that character. For me as a reader, that can be distracting sometimes, because if the character does something I wouldn’t do, it immediately takes me out of the story. With third-person limited, if the character does something I wouldn’t do, I can still enjoy it because I’m seeing their life, not living it.

Does that make sense?

Just my two cents on it. What’s yours?

Write On!

Writing is like acting

Current word count: 26,471

New words written: 897

Words til goal: 13,529 / 366 words a day til the end of September

Another good writing morning.

Looking at my word count, and where I am in the story, I think I’m going to overshoot my 40K goal, but that’s ok. What is it Stephen King says? Your final draft is your first draft minus 10 percent, or something like that. And I know this book will need tightening.

My two main characters, the two point of views I’ve been writing in, have come together, and will be together for most of the rest of the book now. I had to make a choice as to which POV to stick with, and I’ve chosen the kid mainly because of the book’s audience. But I was thinking that I might later write the same chapters in the alternate POV just to see what I can discover about the characters and action. I might find new things that I want to incorporate.

Writing is a lot like acting, except you get to play every single role.

When I took theater in college (I have a degree in theater arts and mass communications), one of the aspects I really loved about acting was creating the characters, reading between the lines of the dialog to figure out the backstory, what made the characters tick, how they acted and why, their motivations. The why is the biggie, of course. When I wrote plays in college, I had to do the same for every character, but I could only show what I knew through the dialog and occasional stage direction.

Now, writing novels, I can explore the characters more fully on the page, but, unlike in playwriting, where you’re actively playing every role to produce the dialog, with a third-person limited novel, you’re only actively playing the role of the main character, but you still need to know what’s going on in the heads of the others to make their actions and dialog realistic.

Switching back and forth between the POVs of my two main characters has been interesting, and I found that when I wrote in one character’s POV for a while, before I switched, I had to scroll back to the earlier chapters to get back into the head of the other character so I could write in his point of view. Now that the two of them are having a conversation, it’s a little odd for me, as I try to actively play just one of the roles, because I’ve been actively playing both.

When I was at the SCBWI summer conference a couple of years ago, an author suggested we write a scene through a different POV as a great way to get to know our characters and to find new and different things to add into the story, the wonderful details that bring a story to life. Writing in the two POVs as I have been, I can see how that would be a really interesting exercise, because each character will look at a scene differently depending on their circumstances, and their view will prompt their actions.

Take my novel, for example, the 11-year-old protagonist will see his backgarden as somewhere safe and normal. He won’t describe it much, because he knows it so well. But, taken from the POV of someone who has never seen it, they’ll notice where the trees are, what kinds of flowers are growing, whether the lawn is green or brown. Seeing it just from my protagonist’s view, I might not see all the little details, but seeing it from the alternate POV, I can see so much more because I’m looking at it through his more innocent eyes.

So for us writers, it can be good to see each scene through different POVs, so we can get a complete picture of the story in our novel.

How’s your writing going?

Write On!

Excellent post on point of view

What I’m referring to in the name of this post is not actually this post but another I just found on eHarlequin. Author Michelle Styles writes about POV in a really great way, I think, in her blog post Switching Point of View v Head Hopping.

I went in search of a good article about this because I needed a kind of kick in the pants that says, “Go on, try it. It could work. It’s ok to break the rules.” Michelle gave me just the right way of thinking about it. Although switching point of view isn’t, shall we say, encouraged, especially with middle-grade books, if the writing isn’t confusing (i.e. the reader always knows whose head he’s in), then switching POV is fine as long as it works for the story. Besides, as Michelle points out, Terry Prachett does it brilliantly, and he’s one of my favorite authors.

I love this last part of Michelle’s post:

There is NO hard and fast rule. The only rule is the story. If the story flows and the tension is high, you can shift as the story dictates. If the tension is low, not even slavish devotion to one point of view will save it.

Techniques are there to be mastered, rather than followed blindly.

(But the whole post is great, so click here and read it.)

Once again, story is king!

I wrote about switching POV a couple days ago and got some fabulous, encouraging comments about it. What I really need to do next is start typing and try it, but I was kinda busy today. It was always on my mind, though, and I decided to do a little research and flip through the books on my shelves and remind myself of how they handled their POVs.

I just finished the fourth book in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series (fantastic, if you haven’t tried them), but they’re all first person, and I’m not feeling that style for me as a writer. I’m currently reading the second book in Suzanne Collins’ Underland Chronicles (also fantastic), and that’s solely in the third-person protagonist’s POV, like my first book. Both of these styles work really well to bring the reader totally into the character’s world.

A book I read a while ago, Peter Pan in Scarlett, is in omniscient narrative, and although the book is very entertaining and has some delightful throwbacks to the original classic, I must admit it was a bit of a struggle for me in the first half. I never really felt like I was in the head of Peter, Wendy or any of the characters. I really was just kind of floating above and didn’t feel as though I was in the story, part of the story.

In the Eragon books, Christopher Paolini deftly switches pov every chapter or so (especially in the third book), but he does something interesting: His characters are given a sort of heirarchy, with Eragon at the top. Whenever Eragon is in a scene, it’s in his POV and we see the other characters through his eyes. But when there’s a scene with one of the lesser characters when Eragon isn’t around, Paolini chooses which character has the most to gain (storywise) from the scene and that’s whose POV it’s told in. Again, it works very well. There’s no switching within scenes, and each scene begins with some action, thought, something from the character whose POV we’re seeing through, so no confusion.

Then I spied the last Harry Potter book and something told me to go back and read the opening of the first book, Sorcerer’s Stone. Wow! I hadn’t remembered (and when I read this book I wasn’t dissecting it like I am now), but J.K. Rowling begins the initial scene in Mr. Dursley’s head, then when he goes to sleep, the POV switches to McGonagall as the cat, then to Dumbledore, and finally baby Harry. There are some narratory sentences (“How very wrong he was”), but it doesn’t read like omniscient narrative. It reads like third person switching from head to head, but it’s written so well that as a reader, you’re never confused about who you’re following, who’s head you’re in. And ultimately, it tells the story very well, which is exactly what Michelle was talking about in her excellent post on POV.

Ok, now I know what you’re thinking: Stop analyzing it and go write it! And you’re right. I will. But first, I must get some sleep. I’ll set the alarm for early, even on a Saturday — shudder.

How are you guys coming along?

Write On!

P.S. No word count from me today because all I managed to have time for was 11 words, but lots of research. I’ll post a word count tomorrow.

Writing point of view

Current word count: 8,453

Words written today: 710

Words to goal: 41,547/462 per day til end of September

I woke up too late to write yesterday, so had two days of no writing. It made me determined to get up early this morning, and I rolled out of bed a little after 5. Ugg! I’m now really tired, but I did 710 words, so that makes it worth it.

So far, the story is still swimming along. In this book, my POV will be shifting from time to time between two different characters, and up til now, I have just been writing in one of the character’s POV. Tomorrow morning, I’ll be switching to the other’s POV, and I’m a little intimidated. I don’t know that character as well as yet. But I’ll get to know him during the writing.

A few years ago, I was told at a writers retreat that children’s books are usually single POV and that’s what I should be writing. I agree that most books are in single POV, but there are exceptions, and they work fine. I don’t know yet how successful mine will be, but it’s a necessity for the story, I think, at least the way the story is going now. It’s either that or have none of it in the kid’s POV, which I don’t want.

The best part is, this is just the first draft. This is where I can try out different things. The final draft might not be in split POV. I don’t know. But the important thing is to try doing your story in different ways and see what works best. For now, I’m doing split POV.

Anyone else writing in split POV?

How are your word counts coming?

Write On!