Finding Your Voice

voices.jpgPoint of view is a basic building block of writing a story.  It’s the vantage point from which a story is told.  When done well, it can really make your story pop.  First person is obvious; you are in the head of the main character and stay there.  2nd person is a little strange, and rarely used in story form, but puts the reader into the story, referring to “you” instead of the “I” of 1st person.   3rd person is the most commonly used form for narratives and has many forms, from Omniscient, where you see into everyone’s head, to Objective, where you see into nobody’s head, to Subjective, where you have the point of view of a particular character.  Subjective seems to be coming into vogue, and to me, it gives you, the writer, a lot more options to do interesting things.   Limited 3rd person POV falls in this category and I’m using it for my current WIP.  I started with the story in 1st person, but I decided to bring in a second main character, so I needed to change up how I was writing it.

Limited 3rd person POV gives you the flexibility to change points of view and stay in the head of the narrator for that section.   It is very similar to first person, but allows you to tell the story from more than one character, and if there are parts of the story that your main character won’t see but you want to share this can really add a lot to your narrative.  Or maybe you just want to bring in a different view point to see something from a different angle.

Another subcategory is the unreliable narrator, which adds another flavor to the story.  This from Ask.com:

The opposite of a reliable narrator, an unreliable narrator typically displays characteristics or tendencies that indicate a lack of credibility or understanding of the story. Whether due to age, mental disability or personal involvement, an unreliable narrator provides the reader with either incomplete or inaccurate information as a result of these conditions.

Done well it will really draw in and perhaps down a path that may be misleading, as you can’t be sure what you are experiencing is reality or just how the character perceives it.

I do have a pet peeve though and nothing bothers me more as a reader than when the author jumps from one person to another in successive paragraphs without so much as a breath, especially if they are very similar in perspective and style.  I really dislike it, so I’m switching chapters for each change, at least until my main characters come together in the story.  I may switch those to chapter changes as well after I finished reading a book by one of my favorite writers.

I just finished William Gibson’s latest novel, zero history, and it’s a work of literary art in my opinion.   His best work I think and I’ve read all of his novels.   It is a study in character development and the use of limited 3rd person POV and a well done unreliable narrator in the character of Milgrim, a recovering addict.  There is one particular scene that really stood out as a great example of how to differentiate your voice when looking through the eyes of a different character.  In this setting each character climbs a stairway in the Salon du Vintage in Paris separately.

Hollis Henry — She went with them, up a minimalist stairway of pale Scandinavian wood,…

Milgrim — …he climbed a handsomely renovated stairway to the second floor.

 

In these short sentence fragments you can see how the world looks differently and how Gibson shows it.  She notices the type of wood used and the architectural design.  Milgrim just sees a newly renovated stairwell that he is favorably impressed with and little other detail, because he just doesn’t know architecture or materials.  It’s a very small piece in a novel filled with details like this.  But this is the stuff that sets the really great writers apart from the average.

Every character should have a distinct voice that the reader should be able to pick up without you having to put up a neon sign.  It can be tricky.  You don’t want to start overdoing the speech idiosyncrasies; a little goes a long way.  Men and women are different, but not so different that you turn them into caricatures.  They should see the world differently, as they bring their prejudices and expertise, or lack thereof, to their viewpoint, but it’s little things.  As the example shows, in the long view, many little things add up to a nice tally at the bottom of the balance sheet.

Good luck in your writing!

 

Clear Ether!

Do Genres Hurt or Help?

Genre derives from the French around 1770 referring to independent style.  It is useful when looking for similar types of literary work, but it can be very limiting.  In Science Fiction alone there are 10 sub-genres listed in Wikipedia plus one for other, which covers a lot of ground left untouched.  Then there’s mixing genres, like fantasy and science fiction or romance and horror, referred to as paranormal romance.  Romance is very popular in most genres it seems and there is even a new sub-genre for science fiction called Science Fiction Romance.

I understand the desire to be able to pigeon-hole a story into a neat little genre so the retailers know how to market the novel.  I also understand that people tend to read in one or two genres and tend not to drift too much from their favorites, and being able to label something as a specific genre helps the reader knows where to look.

Genre can be a good thing for an author if they fit neatly into one; their readers know right where to find them.  But it can be an albatross as well, if a writer wants to write in a different genre.  I’ve heard stories of writers being shunned because they wrote a book in another genre.  Personally I think that just plain sucks.  Writers should be able to write whatever they want.  I know several that write comfortably in more than one and I think it helps keep the creative juices flowing.

What if your story doesn’t fit neatly into a well-defined genre?  The current work-in-progress crosses several genres and I’m not sure how I am going to market it.  Even coming up with a good tag line for it is difficult.  It’s parts Space Opera, Military SF, and Paranormal Romance.  I’m not even sure which one would garner the most traffic.  No matter which way I go I’m bound to turn off someone.  Some people don’t like vampires or romance or science fiction.  I guess I am looking for people just like me, but I haven’t met very many that share the same likes and dislikes exactly like mine.  I don’t want to be stuck writing the same stuff over and over either.  I like fantasy.  I like adventure stories.  I like historical fiction.  Maybe I want to write in all of those areas.  I guess that is another check in the plus column for self-publishing.  But, I’m still undecided on that front.

What do you think?

Clear Ether!

Tearjerker or just Jerky?


I hate crappy endings. It’s a real drag when you’ve invested time and emotional energy into a story and then get slapped in the face at the end when one of the main characters dies. I read books and watch movies for entertainment and to escape the worries that plague us in the real world. I don’t mind a little emotional turmoil, as long as it’s accompanied with some heroic action, or overcoming the odds. That’s the stuff that really gets me. Most of us want to feel something while we are experiencing the story and it’s the authors job to bring that to the table, but sometimes they go for the big hit by killing someone that wasn’t really necessary to kill, but creates a big emotional impact.

I was in 5th grade when Col. Henry Blake was killed at the end of season 3. We used to watch M.A.S.H. together as a family and absolutely loved the show. It was hard to figure out why they did it. It was the talk of class the next day and we had a substitute teacher that day, who was also a big fan of the show. We all wrote letters to the producers of the show complaining about how unnecessary Col. Blake’s death was and how much we loved the character and the show. One of the show’s producers, Larry Gelbart, was gracious enough to write each of us back with a hand-written letter on cool M.A.S. H. letterhead in green felt-tip pen to explain that bad things happen in war. It was debated across the country and upset many fans and even many of the actors, who didn’t know what the producers had in mind until just before the last scene was shot. The letter was beyond cool, but it didn’t mollify my feelings. To this day I think it was a poor use of a beloved characters death just for the grandstanding moment. But many people think it was what brought the show to a new level.

I was reading through some stuff the other day and came across a reference to Romeo and Juliet — quite possibly the worst ending of any story of all time. I mean seriously lame! So why is it so ubiquitous, even today? Is it because of the twisted ending? Would we have cared at all if they ran off and lived happily ever after? It would probably have faded into oblivion. I’m puzzled why it would remain such a popular. Well, I’m not even sure I would call it popular, but it is certainly famous. WHY!? Was it the unexpectedness of the ending? The emotional impact? Or maybe the ‘WTF’ factor?

I won’t be doing any of those kinds of endings…or maybe I just might.

What do you all think about how a book ends? Am I alone in hating crappy endings?

 

Clear Ether!

 

Bring the pain!

I’ve started reading Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, and he has a refreshing take on how to craft your stories. One of his main tenants is you have to have a Theme. The theme is the thing you’re trying to evoke or to relate to real life, something to hang the structure of your story on. It’s really crucial to keep this in mind, especially if you’re a pantser like I am. What is a pantser? It means you write by the seat of your pants. The phrase developed as a reference to pilots at the turn of the century, as flying by the seat of their pants. There were no instruments in those days so they had to rely on their own senses for a lot of navigating and maneuvering, which could be very tricky. It relates well to writing without a strong outline, letting your characters dictate a lot of what happens.  There can be a lot of pitfalls with this approach if you aren’t careful.



I had a very illuminating moment a while back in my current work in progress, where my character was going down a path that was making him question a lot of his feelings and motives and it was making him extremely uncomfortable. He wanted to change the direction of the story on me; it was that uncomfortable for him. Luckily, I realized the ramifications of taking that fork and I didn’t get too far afield before having to backtrack and force my character to man-up! I knew where the story needed to go because I had a strong theme and it kept me on course with only a minor deviation. If I hadn’t had the theme in mind I could have followed that fork to its logical conclusion and my story would have lost a lot of potency. I would likely have had to revise the entire end of the book, and it wouldn’t have been as rich a story in my opinion. We fall in love with our protagonists and sometimes we really want to listen to them and get them out of pain or trouble, but that is the path to a weak story with no Theme, not to mention boring. Theme is the lifeblood to an interesting and perhaps tragic tale, but also allows for those heroic moments that really bring the power to your story.


Good luck with your writing!


Clear Ether!

This and That

Just wanted to get in an update. I’ve started writing again. I’ve decided that I need to write a little to keep the spark alive and to give myself something to look forward to. I am taking my first test next week and I need to bear down and focus. We had a big inspection at work this week and it went very well, but my studying was nearly nonexistent. I’ve decided I need to have a deadline in order to put the pressure on and help hone the focus. I really want to power through these subjects and get past it. I really want to get back to writing regularly, I miss it. There was a time when I knew if I was writing I was doing the right thing. But with this course hanging over my head I feel guilt when I write instead of study. 

These things will pass with time and life continues to march onward. My eldest is about to graduate from high school and we are planning an open house for her. My younger two are starting soccer season, my eldest son is working out with my wife and I, and he is seeing real improvement, unlike his mother and I.

All the horrible storms we’ve had recently really keep the mundane things in perspective. Lots of people are going through a horrible time. Its hard to complain,well, that’s not true, its way too easy to complain but at least it feels cheesy to complain. We’ve had our turn with hard times, and right now things are going well and I thank God every day.

Good luck to all of you fighting the good fight, in whatever endeavor it may be in.


Clear Ether!