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Posts from the ‘point of veiw’ Category

The Unreliable Narrator

 

 

 

I’m quite fond of this device, though I admit that in its simplest form (“and then I woke up and it was all a dream”) it has been done to death. No, I didn’t think Agatha Christie was cheating in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and I enjoyed the double-impostor twist of Mary Stewart’s The Ivy Tree with its narrator who misleads us delightfully by telling the truth… just, not all the truth. So I was pleased to see a new twist on this in one of the fantasy novels I’ve been reading via Kindle Unlimited, and I’ve made a note of the author for further reading.

In W.B. McKay’s Bound by Faerie the narrator is hired to retrieve a magical artifact. She’s warned in advance:

Today, however, we’d gotten word that Lou was in possession of a heavily enchanted necklace. I hadn’t been given any particulars about its power, just a strict warning not to put it on and a description.

 Of course she puts it on – what do you think? It’s part of the rules of the game, isn’t it? Psyche brings in a lamp to gaze on Cupid, Beauty picks up the only remaining spindle in the kingdom, and McKay’s Sophie Morrigan puts on the necklace, part of whose enchantment is the power to lure her into doing exactly that. Read more

It’s all in how you look at it

Point of View

How many of you here have started something in first person, only to go back and redraft it as third? Or third person redrafted to first?

Or figured out you were in the wrong person’s head, and had to restart in a different head?

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Unreliable witnesses

“It’s all a question of point of view.”

Back in the dark ages – 1980’s in South Africa the BBC Radio News reported on a labor dispute/picket protest led by the ANC aligned organizers in a fishing town up the West Coast of the Cape. The picket line had been savagely broken up by the police with dogs (the BBC reporter of the time was a passionate promoter of the anti-apartheid cause, and as his media was not within the country could report whatever he liked without any form of censorship.) The local Afrikaans press reported on the incident too. There wasn’t a lot to report on from one horse towns on the West Coast, and the Cape Town Riot squad dispersing a protest with dogs was news, if not big news. The one set of media carried it from their point of view as a bad thing, and the other as a good thing. Read more

Person Problems

What do you do when a new character starts talking to you?

You transcribe, of course, and thank the Muse politely and hope this state of affairs will continue.

However, when the character starts by telling you her name – and it happens to be the name of the Greek Muse of Comedy – don’t be too surprised if she finds it screamingly funny to get you five chapters deep into a story told in first person and then to point out that she didn’t actually witness certain crucial scenes and what are you going to do about that?

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The Weather Abides

I was working on my next Kin Wars Saga novel and got to thinking: we use the weather to set the mood, sure, but why? Everybody knows that if you have a funeral it’s supposed to rain, and a happy ending is a bright sunny day. Depressive days are flat, dull, grey and cold, while snowy days are typically for celebrating holidays.

Is this a learned writing technique or do we instinctively do it?

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Incens(or)ed

There was an amusing bit of fallout after my post last week. You would think that calling for recommendations of books for a pair of young ladies would hardly be controversial, yes? I mean, I don’t know about you, but there are few things I like more than a chance to talk about books I have known and loved since I was a girl. I was just comparing notes last night on social media with a friend about how nice it is to go wayback into memories and read authors like Grace Livingston Hill, LM Montgomery, Georgette Heyer, and others for sweetness and happiness in what seems to be an ever-more bitter world.

But I digress a little. I had occasion, after an angry accusation was made, to look up what the word censorship meant. I thought I knew what it meant, after all, but I wanted to be sure, because what it was being used about wasn’t what I’d have defined as censorship…

Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information that may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by governments, media outlets, authorities or other groups or institutions.

So why was I being accused of being a censor by an incensed reader? because I and others were including warnings about books containing graphic and potentially inappropriate content, in a discussion about books for preteen children. So parents who want to know what is in their children’s books are guilty, according to this person, of censorship. It’s not the first time I’ve been accused of censoring content for my children’s sakes. When I wrote about the prevalence of what can only be called victim worship, or torture porn, in YA books, I was blasted for my stance against the graphic portrayal of abuse. I responded to that with science, laying out the fact that children need tools to cope, yes, but glorifying pain (and suicide, as in the recent Netflix hit 13 Reasons) is not a good thing for those who are trying to crawl out of the abyss. So why do I take this unpopular stance?

Perhaps because as a culture we now embrace pop stars who writhe all but naked on the stage, books that advocate ephebephilia and incest, but reject values, morals, and chivalry? I am not a perfect person, but I do believe that there should be personal responsibility in this world, a duty to protect the children, and the honor to stand up to bullies in any form or age.

I’m a mother who now has three teens and one almost-teen under her roof. Do I say ‘you can’t read that!’ and yank a book out of their bewildered hands? (and how do you confuse hands… oh, never mind) Am I truly a censor, using this blog as my ‘group or other institution’ to suppress information?

Not.

Actually, I think I can successfully argue that rather than censoring those books, I am doing the opposite. I am adding information to them, not blacking the ‘bad bits’ out. It’s no different than the rating systems we use for films and video games. Something meant for mature consumption is possibly acceptable for some who are younger, but that’s something their parents need to make a decision on. Not I, and certainly not the incen(sor)ed reader who was indignant that we were talking smack about books she read as a young girl and didn’t see any harm at all in.

I’ll tell a little story on my girls, here. When my Otaku Princess (who now adores anime and anything DC Comics-related) was a small girl-child with silky copper penny hair, she was absolutely terrified of a G-rated cartoon. It gave her nightmares every time her siblings watched it (we owned it on VHS, to date it) and she would run crying from the room when the gnomes appeared in this made-for-TV animation of Ozma of Oz. On the other hand, my Jr. Mad Scientist was taken to see Batman: The Dark Knight when she was only six years old by a doting great-grandfather who undoubtedly thought he was taking the tiny nut-brown girl to an Adam West show, all Bop! Bam! Biff! and he never even looked to see it was rated R. She didn’t bat an eye at that level of gore and horror.

Every kid is different. But only you, the parents, know which kid is yours and what they are ready for. When you look at a book like Robin McKinley’s Deerskin, you want to know that it has graphic accounts of child abuse, incest, and miscarriage in it. You, the parent, can then determine if that’s a book to be read now, or one that should perhaps wait a few years until the developing mind that is in your care is prepared to grasp that not all bad things end in bad times, they can come out to survival and triumph. Personally, that book shook me to the core and I can’t re-read it. On the other hand, her other earlier stories (I’ve never been able to read her after Deerskin) were brilliant, and I have bought copies to give to my girls. Some censor, I.

Some times a book isn’t right for an age level. I had a book rejected from being added to a school library due to content concerns. I didn’t think once that I was being censored, or cry out “I’m being banned!” to all the media. There is a scene in my YA book The God’s Wolfling that portrays the heroes as they are captured by drug dealers when they stumble into someplace they shouldn’t have been. The elementary school in question explained that they couldn’t have any books in their library that portrayed ‘drug culture’ in any way. As I’d never intended that pair of books for juvenile (under 12 years) readers, I shrugged and went on with life. Have I, an author, been censored? Yes. Did it harm me? No. Would that scene (spoiler: the teen heroes make it out intact and the drug idiots pay dearly) have harmed some young impressionable mind? Well, probably not. But that’s not my call to make. The school has a responsibility to parents, and parents are the ones tasked with raising their children. Not, thank goodness, angry people on the internet.

I don’t think there are many children reading this blog. To be honest, I’d be surprised if that number was greater than one. There are rather a large number of parents and grandparents who read and write here. With all of those, I suspect that a primary goal is for us to raise readers. Not to restrict them, but to guide them and feed them good, tasty books, until they can be weaned and off to a diet of meaty books full of stories that will satisfy them, mystify them, and make them think more until their brains stretch out a size or three. And the best way to accomplish that is to talk about books which are beloved and find ones the children will read all up until they cry out for ‘more! more’! and that’s when you know you can come here, asking for ideas when you’re out, and we’ll tell you about the books we loved. Which includes a word of warning about things you might want to know so you aren’t up in the middle of the night with a case of reading indigestion and a crying child.

The dangers of critiques

Let me start by thanking everyone for their well-wishes and blog ideas last week. Sorry I didn’t get back with a real post but the headache and sinuses laid me low. Since you guys were so great with blog suggestions, I spent a few minutes this morning going over them again and am going to hit on a couple in this post.

As writers, we are going to see our work critiqued, whether we want to or not. Most of the time we don’t want to. Let’s be honest, no one likes hearing that their baby is ugly and that is what we risk when we read a critique. However, before we ever see our work in print, many of us workshop our work in critique groups or we have alpha and beta readers look it over. Then there are the editors. We trust them to tell us what is good about our work and what is bad about it.

But what do we do with that information once we get it?

That is where a number of authors, usually those new to the field, run into trouble. Do they try to incorporate all the changes their critique partners and beta readers suggested? Or do they simply nod, say “thanks” and move on? Or is there something in the middle?

Unfortunately, there is no “right” answer. But there are guidelines. There is also the author’s gut, something the author must learn to listen to.

When I first started getting serious about writing as a profession, Sarah offered me a bit of advice when I was lamenting about how I didn’t understand what someone in a critique group had said. It’s been long enough now I don’t remember exactly what the comment was. What I do remember is that what they wanted me to do would result in basically breaking the character. But this person, who had more experience than I did — or so I thought at the time because of the way they conducted themselves in the group — was adamant that I do what they said.

So, after anguishing over it, I talked with Sarah. She was silent for a moment and then she asked if anyone else had voiced the same concerns about my work. No. Then she wanted to know if, after this person voiced their opinion, anyone else chimed in with an agreement. Again, no. That’s when she told me about the Rule of Three. Unless three people tell you basically the same thing, do NOT automatically decide you need to make the suggested changes. After all, people are different. They read differently, have different tastes and, let’s be honest, they can make mistakes.

Then she went on to tell me that even if three people say the same thing, that doesn’t mean you have to instantly make the change.  But it does mean you need to consider what they said, and do so dispassionately.

Here is an example from my current critique group. My critique partner is a very good writer, very serious about her craft and open to critique. She wants to do whatever she can to make her work better. In a recent meeting she talked about how, in another group, someone had suggested she redo her current WIP so that she was alternating POVs of her main characters. Their reason was because they did not feel like they were learning enough about one of the POV characters and felt having scenes from his point of view might help.

Now, we have all read books where there are different POV characters. Some of those books are written in 3rd person omniscient and some 3rd person limited. Others are written in 1st person. So my crit partner knew it could be done but her question was should it?

Our group discussed the options, as well as the pros and cons of doing it.

So here’s the thing, whether my crit partner needed to do as suggested — and, in my opinion and the opinions of the others in our group, she did not — there were issues with doing it. The biggest is, if you switch points of view, you have to be ready to have a distinct “voice” for each POV character. This is especially true if you are writing in 1st person. There are writers out there who can do that without problem. But it is difficult and not something to do if you, the author, don’t have that second voice firmly in your head.

Sure, there are easy ways to cue your reader that you have switched points of view when in first person. You can make sure each chapter or scene change is tagged in such a way that you actually give the POV character’s name. Or you can have another character call the POV character by name in the first paragraph or so and making it clear it is your POV character responding.

In this particular case, however, the author didn’t need to go back and rewrite a good chunk of her book. The one thing we agreed with the person wanting another POV character on was that we wanted more of a feel for the other main character in the book. So we brainstormed ways to do so. The suggestions we came up with meant a little rewriting, but it was more along the line of a sentence here and a paragraph there. Letting us more into the mind of the POV character and her reactions to him, especially at the beginning of the book.

Now, was the original critique wrong?

Not necessarily but it wasn’t necessarily right either. However, what that person did was offer a concern with a solution and not offer any other ways to address the concern. By raising that person’s concern with our group, our critique partner wound up with a discussion of not only some minor weaknesses we saw in her work but also different ways to address them. What solution she finally chooses is up to her, as it should be. She is the one who knows her book the best and who will be able to determine the best way to fix the concerns, if they really need fixing when the entire book is looked at, without breaking the book or the characters.

Here is another point we, as authors, need to keep in mind when we workshop a book in a critique group. More often than not, our critique partners are seeing only a chapter or two at a time and it may be weeks or months or even years before they critique that last chapter. That means critiques tend to be centered only on the chapter or scene they are currently working on in the group, not on the work as a whole. It means details from previous chapters can and will be forgotten. The flow of the book won’t be there. So, when someone says you need to do something that impacts the entire book, you have to ask yourself if they made the comment with the entire book in mind or just the current chapter and maybe the previous one or two in mind.

This is where your writer’s gut has to come into play. If what the critique partner says feels wrong, ask yourself why. If it feels right, examine that as well. Don’t be afraid to ask that person if they had the same concerns about earlier chapters they had seen.

If I have to point out one rule when it comes to critique groups/alpha and beta readers it would be this: do NOT try to make everyone happy. If you try to insert every change that every person suggests, you will probably wind up causing yourself more headaches and problems than you find solutions. This is, to repeat myself, where you fall back on the Rule of Three. If three folks say basically the same thing, consider what they said and why. If not, make a note, think about it but remind yourself that others did not have the same problem or suggestion.

Most of all, learn to trust your writer’s gut — and when to realize you really shouldn’t have had that three-day-old slice of pizza that hadn’t been refrigerated. Now go forth and write and, if you aren’t a writer, read.

Oh, in case you are wondering what to give your favorite authors for Christmas, here’s something every author would appreciate. Write a review for their work on Amazon. It doesn’t have to be long or detailed. Just enough to let folks know you read the book and what you thought about it. The number of reviews a title gets impacts its visibility. It also helps other readers decide if they want to try an author they might not have read before.