Thursday, December 23, 2010

Don't Miss This One!

Hope you'll hop over to Suzanne Fisher's blog to catch the interview with award-winning author Debora M. Coty!

Suzanne Woods Fisher -

And have a happy and holy Christmas!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Head Hunting

So you're thinking of writing a book. You've got the storyline whirling in your head, your character profiles finished, and you're still toying with the ending. But that's okay. Many writers write organically and allow the story to bud and bloom as it grows, rather than following a strict outline.

What's your next major decision?

Simple yet oh, so important. Which voice are you going to use?

When I started my historical novel, The Distant Shore, I began writing in first person. After about six chapters, I realized it wasn't working - there were just too many details that couldn't feasibly be voiced through the eyes of my 6-year-old protagonist. A child that young wouldn't be able to perceive or compute all that I needed perceived and computed to bring the reader along on the journey.

So I did two things (at the suggestion of several editors): I went back and changed the story to third person, and I upped Emma Lee's age to nine, although the real life protagonist was indeed six when the story took place in 1904. Three years makes a world of difference in maturity level at that age, and enabled me to include deeper insights and more knowledge of how the world works for my character.

We're all pretty well acquainted with first person narrative voice. It has strong emotional connection with readers (they become the "I" in the story) and a level of intimacy not included as much in other POV's (points of view).  The format of tellling the story directly to the reader enables the writer to use quirky speech, idiosyncrasies, and share "secrets" unique to the first person voice.

On the flip side, the vocabulary is limited by the narrator's own vocabulary and life experience. In other words, a galley slave couldn't expound on the "detested inadequacies of the existing penal system," because he wouldn't normally use such words or lofty thoughts. Not could my Emma-Lee understand or describe the symptoms of familial abuse in her family as a 6-year-old.

In first person, the entire story is colored by only what is within the character's scope of knowledge and experience. Thus, the story may not be entirely objective, a quality some authors use as a literary tool to lead the reader in one direction throughout the book and then spring a surprise (objective) climax on them they didn't see coming until the protagonist's subjected bent becomes apparent at the end.

 Second person POV is rare in novels, although it's used more often in non-fiction. I frequently use second-person in my self-help books such as Mom NEEDS Chocolate and my upcoming Too Blessed to Stay Stressed. In these types of inspirational, humorous books, speaking directly to the reader lends an atmosphere of girl talk across a table while sipping mocha lattes.

Are you gettin' me, girlfriend?

Third person POV can be approached several different ways. Third person omniscient is a distant, overall perspective, as if viewing life on earth from an astronaut's viewpoint in outer space. Or God's perspective, which is, of course, all knowing, all seeing. The narrative moves freely in and out of character's minds. This POV isn't used as often as it was in, say, Dickins day, but it can work well with broad sagas of multiple characters and events.

Limited third person is a kind of compromise between first person and third person omnicient.Although the story is told about another person as in "he" or "she," the storytelling remains in the consciousness of a single character. It doesn't have to be the same character; in fact it makes for a rather boring book if the entire story is told in one POV. It makes for a more interesting plot and more thorough coverage if the POV shifts between 3-4 characters, but attention must be paid to smooth flow.

Above all, you must take care not to confuse the reader. That would create what I call an "eyeball wall" and you're in deep dung-doo if you do too much of that. They'll simply close the book and walk away.

Most creative writing programs teach that you shouldn't hop heads - shift POV from character to character - within the same scene. POV changes should occur naturally at chapter changes or with line spaces within chapters. However, I've noticed a growing trend to shift POV from paragraph to paragraph in some modern fiction, although I personally find it bamboozling at times. You begin to wonder, "Now who's thinking this?" and you have to go back and re-read to figure it out. Many editors would consider this poor craft or lazy writing.

Well, I hope this little head hunt is helpful in your publishing quest. Write on!