Monthly Archives: April 2014

A Quick Word About Point of View, Characters, and Voice (Plus Tense)

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You know how bad things come in threes? They say they do anyway. It’s a superstition, but it persists. Interesting and good things can come in threes too, at least we notice them that way. In this case, the triple whammy I’m referring to is about Chrysanthemum.

First, I have books out there but people persist in not leaving a review. It’s partially my fault, I beg for a review after the ‘See Also’ page at the end of the book, and most people tune out right about there. Sigh. I wasn’t thinking. Anyway, I submitted the book to a review site to at least get something, although it didn’t make it all the way to Amazon. I’ll get back to that.

While I was waiting for that review, I went searching for some files I knew I had from back in 2010 and stumbled across the original rough draft for Chrysanthemum. I mean the really original manuscript, when that wasn’t even her name, and it wasn’t written from her point of view, and boy is it rough.

I went tripping down memory lane. I had completely forgotten about this. It was mostly from Marcus’s point of view – wow. Okay, now there’s nothing wrong with writing from the viewpoint of a hunky master vampire, but I’m glad I changed it.

Quick lesson about writing: in books where you have multiple viewpoints as an option: write the scene from the viewpoint of the character with the most at stake. In a book with one point of view, such as Chrysanthemum, pick the character with the most to lose or gain. That’s the character the reader will become invested in and you want to take the reader on an emotional journey.

There’s no doubt Marcus has a lot at stake. I mean this is his soul mate someone’s trying to kidnap, and it’s probably because of him (not much of a spoiler there, don’t worry). But Chrys still has a lot more going on. Besides, being inside her head is fun. Marcus is all-powerful and hunky and all that, but face it, there are enough vampire books out there to wallpaper the White House ten times over. Being in his head makes this just another vamp book. It’s Chrys’s viewpoint on the situation that makes it unique. And because I wrote it from her point of view and, more importantly, first person, ‘her voice’ comes through which really made her character shine.

And that’s pretty much what the review said. You can read it here. What it also pointed out is that I really need to define my blurb better, and that I don’t like my cover. No, she didn’t say anything about my cover. I decided that on my own. Again. Oddly, this book was pushed back from publication several times and delayed months because I kept not liking the cover. I finally caved and said, “yeah, sure, fine, that’ll work,” and released it. Now I changed my mind again. I’m not sure how this is going to work because I’m not working with that designer anymore. Sigh. Enough about that.

Not sure about point of view, perspective, and voice? Yeah, it can be a mess sometimes. Point of view I sort of covered – write from the point of view aka the eyes of the character who has the most to gain or lose. Unless you have a narrator or other really compelling reason.

Perspective – that’s first person or third person. Second isn’t really used. First person is: “I went to the sink to get a glass of water.” Second person is: “You go to the sink to get a glass of water.” Think of the ‘choose your own adventure’ books, they use this. Third person is: “She went to the sink to get a glass of water.”

Why use one over another? Preference. Some writers can’t write first or third so they really only write one way. That neatly solves that problem. If you’re not trapped in that mindset, look at your book. First person perspective doesn’t completely trap you in the mind of one character like I did in Chrysanthemum. Yes, you’re in her mind the entire book. It’s common. It’s not a requirement. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater is also written in first person perspective, but it switches between two characters – each chapter is from their eyes.

First person means the reader only knows what that character knows, what they see, hear, feel, and think, and they can feel a deeper connection with the character. It means they miss things, and they can be surprised. It also allows you to play with a technique called ‘stream of consciousness’ which is fun. I use it in Chrysanthemum, and Robin McKinley does it beautifully in Sunshine (another vampire book, one of my favorites). Basically, this is where you write as people actually think – not linear and organized as we might talk, but a little more erratic. Our thoughts wander slightly, and it shows. And it’s fun. Don’t get out of hand, obviously.

With third person, you have the option of easily handling point of views of multiple characters. I used this for the Lexi Frost series for this reason. In one scene, you’re in Teri’s head, then Dev’s, then Flynn’s, then back to Teri’s, then jump to Kenny’s viewpoint to see that everyone involved is missing something important, and so on. It lets the reader know things the key characters don’t. The reader knows there’s trouble coming and they’re on the edge of their seat waiting for the shoe to drop.

Past tense vs present tense is a debate I’m probably better not entering. I’m old school. Unless it’s a middle grade book – use past tense. There, I said it. For adult books, when I see present tense, I think “this person reads to their kids a lot, that’s nice,” and then I tend to put it down. It’s really hard to get continuity right with present tense. So many paragraphs tend to read literally impossible. But that’s me. And I’m recovering, my daughter makes me read to her, so yes, I’ve read a lot of the hot YA books that are present tense. I even ground my teeth, shredded my stress ball, and made my way through the 50 Shades of hell and didn’t pick it apart too much. The books, not the ball – it didn’t make it. On the plus side: I enjoyed the sex scenes and learned I will not be writing BDSM.

And lastly, voice. This is a vague concept. The voice is the personality of your book, your writing, showing through. If you’re naturally snarky, your writing might reflect that even if you didn’t design any of your characters to be snarky. Personally, I think voice shows through a lot more when you’re either in first person point of view, or third person limited – meaning you’re not hopping around between eight different characters. The fewer the characters the reader has to get to know, the more they can get to know them, and you – and your voice. If you have a good voice, this is a good strategy. A good story helps, obviously, but readers like writers who draw them in and showing a good voice is a way to do it.

 

 

 

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How Far Do You Take Character Development?

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How far do you take character development? There are classes on just this. The writers out there know there are classes on everything. Every little aspect of writing – there’s a class for that. And a seminar. And a dozen books, at least. Writing about how to write is a big industry. Would-be authors spend more money learning their trade than most will ever make on their books. But most authors know money isn’t really the point. Writing is an art, and artists aren’t really reasonable people.

So, back to the question: How far do you take character development?

I took a class that touched on this. Actually a couple of classes that touched on this. RWA has monthly meetings/classes thing and it came up more than once when I could still go. Ideas such as interviewing your character like a talk show host, questionnaires, lists of things you should know about your character were bantered around. I understand this, and oppose it.

Here’s the thing: you’re the writer, these are your characters. All of these are just (mostly ridiculous) tools to help you connect with your characters. You have to connect with them to write their story. I bet you thought it was your story, didn’t you? Only in as much as your characters are in your head. If you take a step back in the world you’ve created, you’ll see it’s their story and you’re just discovering it and writing it down for everyone else to read. Hopefully you’ll do them justice.

Not that the character development tools are all bad, they’re just generalized and not made for you and your book. Why ask a blind character their favorite color? Or an immortal angel their birthdate? You have to pick and choose what questions are relevant.

In some cases, I know some character’s birthdays and favorite colors, but not all. I don’t feel bad about it. I have one character that doesn’t know his own birthday, so there. Of all the characters I’ve developed, even works in progress, I’ve pinpointed five birthdays. One is for a minor character. Oddly, of those characters that have a specific birthday, one was assigned years ago but hasn’t been written into a book yet. In the Lexi Frost series, Flynn’s In, I say Dev’s birthday is in April and Teri’s is the following week. Dev’s is April 22, I’ve known that a long time. Other characters have a birth month, or season, or just a note that they’re so many years younger or older than someone else. Dev has that particular birthday for a reason – I’m a little twisted. No, it’s not because I’m extraordinarily in to Jack Nicholson. It’s Oppenheimer’s birthday. Somehow that just really suits Dev. It’s also the original pinup, Bettie Page’s birthday – which is deliciously ironic.

I do keep a book and series bible for every book I write. For those not familiar with it, that’s a list of characters and their characteristics and traits, events, a timeline if needed, anything you need to know to keep things straight in the book, then the series if there is one. If a character has a favorite color (two do) I make a note of it in the series bible.

More important than the details in my series bibles for really getting to know my characters are the extra scenes I write. I write an event from their point of view. Many of these scenes get cut from the books, but that’s not the point of them. It helps me develop those characters, to bond with them. Then, when I do a revision on the book, I add depth to that character because I understand them better.

I think the best thing I’ve ever taken away from a class or book on character development is this: Every character, even the minor ones, even the villains, believe they’re the starring role of their story. From their point of view, they’re not minor, and they’re not evil or wrong. I find that if I remember that, I can remember the motive of the characters. Knowing your characters is all about understanding them so you understand their motives and their actions. That’s it right there. Even the minor characters have a goal. Just because I’m writing the story from one point of view doesn’t mean they’re living it from that same point of view, they’re not.

If you want to write a great character, slip inside their head. Every one of them. See what motivates them, what dictates their actions, then write it. Who cares about their birthday or favorite color unless it’s relevant?

 

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Of Wookiees and Tribbles

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The Girl took Darth Jingles, AKA The Cat, for a walk on Saturday. It wasn’t a nice day for it, but she needed time to think. When a newly minted sixteen-year-old says she needs time to think, it’s never good. I didn’t realize my particular newly minted sixteen-year-old was quite so damaged until she got back.

Plopping down beside me as soon as she returned, she announced that she’s pretty sure Wookiees and Tribbles are somehow related. They’re both furry and make similar noises, if you take into account their relative size.

This is what comes of teaching teenage geeks evolutionary science. Fine. I can play that game.

“That’s a great observation, honey, but they’re from different universes.”

She paused and I heard the steampunk wheels turning: Star Wars – Star Trek. Yes, different universes.

“Crossovers happen. Doctor Who has a comic book series with Star Trek Next Generation. This isn’t any weirder than that.”

A fair point. Deep breath. “Time line.”

Again wheels turn. I thought I even smelled a faint whiff of steam this time. Coffee-scented, which was curious.

“Star Trek is in the future, Star Wars is in the past. Clearly Wookiees de-evolved over time to become Tribbles. What’s more, given their ancestry, it’s not so surprising that Tribbles can decapacitate their enemies in such a short time. It’s the only thing that makes sense when you consider the Klingons considered them such a dangerous creature in The Original Series. The Klingons? Tribbles? They have to be Wookiee descendants.”

Face it, she wins.

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