Tag Archives: Character

So who the hell’s head are we in now?

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Transitions between scenes, between acts, between storylines, are an important part of storytelling. They ease the reader from one place to another without making their eyes stop as they pause to try to puzzle out where the hell they are.

But in multiple POV storytelling, transitions are vital.

Who? What? Where? When?

Those four questions have to be answered at every transition from one POV to another.

Why?

Because transitions orientate the reader. They tell them: WHOSE head they are in, WHAT is going on, WHERE it is happening, and WHEN it is happening.

The biggest problem with Multiple POV storytelling, and the reason why they tend to be longer stories than those using a single POV, is the transitions. You always  have to reset the scene if you are using scene-breaks between POVs.

You can’t just switch and hope the reader keeps up. Clarity, always clarity, who/what/where/when needs to be absolutely clear at all times to the reader.

You don’t really want to confuse your reader with the simple stuff, do you?

If you are using POV shifting or Omniscient-head-hopping  then the Where, When, and What are taken care of by the initial Transition into the scene, but you still have to be absolutely clear about Whose eyes the reader is behind.

Think of it like speech attributions. When writing dialogue you have to attribute the lines to a character. You can sometimes do away with the attribution if it is obvious who is speaking, but it does have to be obvious.

It is the same with POV transitions, you can avoid the attribution of a POV but only if it is obvious and it is rarely that obvious. Err on the side of caution and let your editor tell you if it is unneeded.

Don’t go commando if you’ve forgotten to put your jeans on too.

With the more usual (these days) technique of using scene-breaks between POVs, you have to reset the entire scene, every time.

Even when using fast-cutting techniques, in a battle-sequence for instance, the reader still has to be told where on the battlefield the character stands, what is happening immediately around the character, and when all this is occurring.

There are dodges and tricks you can use to avoid too much set-up. It is a fast cut after all. You can avoid the When portion by having a scene every so often that orientates the reader in time, which avoids having to say, ‘three minutes later’ and other clunky phrases.

But clarity is everything. Clarity is the only real rule in writing. Be clear, don’t leave the reader guessing; unless of course you intend to leave the reader guessing, but don’t be ambiguous by mistake. Readers really don’t like that and your book might well make a nice dent in their wall if you irritate them too much. (Ah eBooks, the joy of throwing a crap book across the room will soon be gone from human experience. Shame that, I think its good for the wallpaper, it’s certainly good for the soul.)

Transitions should ideally take place in the first paragraph of a new scene, or as close as possible to it. And the first thing the reader needs to know is WHO. That is a vital bit of information because it orientates readers to the plot. If they know whose head they are in, then they know the back-story, they know that character’s (apparent) role in the story, and therefore they don’t have to think about this stuff.

They can think about all the other good stuff you are putting into the story scene instead.

After Whose head, the reader needs to know Where and When. If the scene is taking place in the same location as the previous scene then you just have to make sure the reader knows it is the same location. If it is happening immediately after the previous scene then, again, you just have make sure the reader knows this.

But if the location has changed or the time has changed then you have to orientate the reader. You have to tell them Where and When. This is like the establishing shot in a film. Is it a room, a moor, a bridge? Is it dawn or night, or day? This stuff is why multiple POV stories are longer, because this is description and no matter how efficient you are at description it takes up words.

Then there is What. This is not about what happens during the scene, because that is the purpose of the scene. It is about what is happening when the scene opens. Is it in the middle of a fight, a love-scene, somebody having a cup of tea. The scene will play out from there, but there is always an initial What, that helps to set the scene.

The easiest way to do this, and this is about as clunky as it gets because it’s an example, so it is deliberately obvious, is:

 David thought about Mary while he walked across Blackfriars Bridge in the moonlight.

David thought = David’s POV or WhoDavid is thinking about Mary = WhatBlackfriars Bridge = WhereMoonlight = When.

Then you can slot all the descriptions and so forth into the scene as usual. The reason that Multiple POV takes up space is because you have to describe it all as the POV character sees them. You can’t go on what another POV character has seen because the reader doesn’t know if this POV character has seen the same thing.

Another reason multiple POVs take up room is because you can’t keep using lines like the one above. Some writers do, some successful writers do, but I’d hardly call it craft. That’s like nailing four roughly equal lengths of wood to another wider piece of wood and calling it a table. It’ll do the job, but it is hardly crafted with loving care.

 The glimmer of the moonlight shone into David’s eyes, reflected from the surface of the Thames, but he hardly noticed. Mary. What should he do about Mary? He turned right onto Blackfriars, the steel cold beneath his hands, when he stopped and stared out over the glimmering river. Did he have the right? Should he do this? Mary. What was he to do about Mary?

Neither is that to be honest, I just knocked it up for this blog. But after an editor has got hold of it, after I have revised it a few times, then it will be crafted with loving care and then — if I’m lucky — it will sing.

Transitions are incredibly important, so make them sing from the page, make the reader barely notice that they are reading a scene-shift.

Because another thing about scene-breaks is that they are where a reader will put the book down and go off to do something else before returning to the book. Scene-breaks and chapter-breaks are like opening lines, so make them sing, but make them into transitions too.

(If you are writing in the Literary Genre, where stories are supposed to be ‘difficult’ and hard to read, just ignore all this. This ain’t art; this is craft. Leaving the reader constantly guessing about all this stuff might well win you a Booker, so go for it — just don’t think writing crafted novels is easy in comparison, it’s the exact opposite.)

 PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

  Image attribution: every stock Photo

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Filed under Narrative Modes and POV, Storytelling, Art, and Craft

Fan Fiction and World Building

I’ve had a couple of revelations recently or the heading might have read: Fan Fiction. Why?

The first revelation came in the comments over on the Passive Voice blog. My standard ‘why’ question was being debated, and I was sticking to my standard ‘I don’t understand the impulse’ position, when  I remembered writing a Dr Who story in my teens. Bang goes my ‘not understanding the impulse’.

The second revelation came when talking my nephew, who does like his fan fiction. I understood the impulse now, but I still didn’t understand ‘why’ people chose to invest so much energy into something they can’t sell. He was adamant that some fan fiction was better than the original fiction. You still can’t sell them, was my response to which he agreed, albeit a tad reluctantly. [EDIT: Kindle Worlds seems to be allowing people to sell fan fiction now, not sure how that is going to work out. A watching brief seems to be in order.]

However, this blog post is more about an insidious problem for writers of fan fiction rather than the legal and ethical concerns. I’m just mentioning them to get them out of the way—and to nail apologists for plagiarists hides to the wall (see below).

The final revelation came from an argument on another blog—I’m not sure which one—where the whole ‘nothing is original and therefore I can plagiarise to my heart’s content’ argument came up. That argument is bogus, bullshit, and should be thrust back down whichever throat it issues from whenever it is spoken, typed, or in any other way preached to the hard-of-thinking.

Philosophical bullshit based on a grain of truth (no story is truly original, but all creative stories are unique to the author) is still bullshit. If you don’t have any ideas of your own then don’t go stealing mine and asserting your rights to do so with sophistry and pedantry.

So, taking all three revelations as read, that pretty much everybody who writes will at some point write some form of fan fiction, that some fan fiction is extremely well written, and that it is still technically plagiarism and expect to see the inside of a courthouse if you try to steal another writer’s work and sell it without their consent, why do I still have a bit of a problem with fan fiction?

It’s to do with the fan fiction writer themselves. The most common reason people give for writing fan fiction (in my experience) beyond sheer love of the world and characters, is that it allows the writer to explore character and plot without them having to explore world building at the same time. In short, it’s easier for the tyro writer to focus on these aspects of writing rather than have to deal with the whole thing.

So what’s the problem with this?

Well.

Characters and plots are intimately linked to setting. If a writer creates a character, that is not the main protagonist of the story they are fanning (is that a term?—it’s a good one, because fan fiction does fan the flames that can lift a story or a series to a higher level. I’m not against fan fiction, I’m just against people thinking they should be ‘paid’ for writing fan fiction and that the original author should not get a cut—a big cut) then that character is linked to that world. Even if you file off the serial numbers and publish that work as being set in a different world, it will still bear the imprimatur of the original world being fanned.

The world you are born into, that you grow into, defines who you are. If I wrote a novel based in the… um… yeah that’ll do… the Star Wars universe and the story went so well that I decided to file off the serial numbers and release it as an original work then no matter how deep I go with the cutting and the editing, no matter how hard I try to create a different world, the character will still bear the marks of being born into a Star Wars world. Otherwise, it won’t be the same character.

So the story will be lesser for that reason. It’ll be a copy of a world run through photoshop. Jedi becomes some other warrior monkish order, the Empire becomes some other overpowering enemy, droids become some other semblance of AI. But all have the creative DNA of Star Wars running through them like “bloody prequels” through a stick of Blackpool rock.

(And yes I am well aware that people will start yelping about how Star Wars took this from here and that from there and then mashed them all together to make this amalgam of stuff that they called a universe. I’ve got news for you, that’s called World Building. If you take a whole bunch of stuff from a whole bunch of sources and create a world that works without looking like any other world that some other writer created using the same sources then you have committed World Building. It’s a skill, a craft, and in the hands of a master like Frank Herbert or Iain M. Banks [EDIT: RIP. Damn, I hate writing that, one of the finest writers of his generation] or Terry Pratchett, it is an art form. And I’m not talking about the gross level of this is a Space Opera world, or this is a Medieval European Fantasy world, or this is a Cyberpunk world. Those are genres and tropes. Not excuses for plagiarism using the NIO—nothing is original—defence.)

Plots are slightly different, this is where the NIO bullshit comes from, because plots really can be grouped into strands of creation running back to the dawn of time. So much so that modern writers of original works have to takes this into account when storytelling. “Look look, it’s a love story, oh… she died… look, look it’s a revenge story… oh he died… look, look it’s a legal story…” And so on.

You don’t actually have to kill off your characters, but you do have to point one way (the way everybody expects the plot to go) and go another. Unless of course you are so good at this writing malarkey that you can keep the readers on board because they love the characters so much that the plot is just what needs to happen to show the characters off (that is my favoured approach by the way: it is the most fun and the most difficult to pull off, which are my prime motivations for writing stuff in the first place. Though you do still need a strong storyline for them to follow. You don’t get anywhere with characters just wafting around with nothing to do).

But plots are constrained by the world. The byzantine politicking of Dune is entirely different from the more direct politics of the Hyperion Age. And, just as with characters, you can grind off the serial numbers to your heart’s content, but the story will still bear the faded marks of the world it was originally set in.

So what’s my problem with this?

When you are learning to write (particularly in the field of SF&F). You are essentially learning to balance character against plot against setting against idea and/or theme (I throw that last in because some people seem to think it’s important. It is, but I never think about it myself. To my mind, theme is a critic’s bread and butter. I’m a writer not a critic…snobby? Yup, you betcha, after all ‘snobby’ should be part of the definition of the word critic, so sod ’em.)

So you are only learning to balance character against plot when writing fan fiction. The world is already there, it’s set in stone, if you’re writing fan fiction then you have probably read it so many times that it is more real to you than the world you actually live in. You are not learning how to balance the character and plot against the setting (the theme/idea really will just take care of itself—really, stop thinking about that nonsense right now. Unless of course you like writer’s block because you get a lie in).

And you only have so many stories inside you. There are only so many characters and plots you can utilise. As time wears on you may find more, but they will still—essentially—derive from your earliest work. That’s just a fact of creative life. The thread of your thematic concerns, your characters, the plots you develop, can be traced all the way back to the first thing you wrote.

A fan fiction writer chooses to constrain those formative writing experiences in another writer’s world.

I’m just not sure that is very wise at all.

[EDIT: Since writing this, I have become aware of Mash-Ups… they do sound like fun :grin:]

 

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘of Altered States’: http://www.ofalteredstates.com/blog/

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Filed under Character, Character Dynamics, and Character Interactions., Fan Fiction, Storytelling, Art, and Craft, World Building

The Value of Retyping

There’s a danger with word processors. They allow you to fiddle around forever: change a word, go back and change another one, go back change the punctuation, take this story beat from this scene and cut and paste it in to this one. Constant messing around at the margins of the story.

And in the process, you kill the flow of the words. It is no longer this smooth, well-paced, linear flow from one idea to the next, from one scene to the next. You mess around so much that you lose the rhythm of the work. I should imagine pretty much every writer has done this and then spent hours, days, weeks, months, messing around trying to get back what they have lost.

Stop. Print it out. Type it back in. (Using the print out, lets not go crazy and try to remember every word).

That’s my advice.

Make all the changes you need to make for structure, pacing, character development, plot — whatever you need to fix. Make the changes as rough or as fine as you want. You need to change that bit of dialogue, change it. You need to cut and paste that story beat from that scene to that scene so the sequence works, move it. You need to make that sentence work better because it’s bugging the hell out of you, make it work.

Then print it out and type it all back in. The real hard core method is to print it out, delete the original, and then type it back in. The reason to delete is so you are forced to retype even the scenes that work with no cutting and pasting them over; the reason why you retype the scenes that work is because the flow goes straight through them and you need to follow the flow.

I came by this method while reading an old interview with one of the greats of the SF Golden Age (I forget which one, which is unfortunate but it took a while for the message to sink in). He used to type his first drafts on the back of old bills, envelopes, scrap bits of paper, anything. The idea being that he could not possibly submit that to an editor, so he forced himself to retype the second draft.

We have word processors now, so what constitutes a second draft these days? A complete start at the beginning revision, where you fix all these things on the screen. I don’t think so. That’s revision not a draft. That can lead you down the ‘ten years writing the same damn story’ syndrome, because you’re not seeing the story as a whole anymore. You’re seeing it as separate scenes, sentences, punctuation marks. You can drive yourself crazy doing that sort of thing.

A complete retyping of the entire story, the way most writers had to do it before the advent of word processors, that’s a second draft.

Obviously,  people will say that it’ll take too long to retype the entire thing, that it’s quicker to just revise. If you have a good strong first draft, then you’re probably right. Not much point retyping the whole thing if all you need to do is clean up a couple of sentences. But if you have to do anything structural, anything major, retyping takes less time than fiddling and will produce a better story.

You decide (or discover for pantsers like me) that this character is in love with this other character, for instance. You can go back and drop in stuff, work out beats within scenes, play the foreshadow card for all it is worth, but the interactions of every other character will be off too. This sort of emotional involvement affects everybody around the two people engaged in the flirting, moon-eyed glances, sighs and all the other things that people falling in love do.

It affects all the dynamics, all of them. It might even affect the dynamics (at a story-telling level) of characters who never even meet the moon calves.

You can of course go through the whole thing, shifting, adjusting, making decisions, altering this word here, and that word there, and so forth. But it doesn’t alter the fact that, when you wrote the original draft, you didn’t know about the lovers. If you retype it with the full knowledge of this plot point then you automatically adjust everything as you go and as a bonus you smooth out all the bumps in the flow caused by pratting about word-fiddling.

And it takes less time because you are writing free and easy again. You know the story, you know the characters, you have the first draft in front of you and you are reading it. You don’t have to remember anything, you just have to type it in. No better way to spot a truly dodgy bit of writing than when you type it back in again. The damn things leap off the page at you.

Anyway, just a thought. It works for me, it might well work for you too.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

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If the Story Requires It

As  a writer I have no real problem with heading straight for the dark-side. I’ll write a torture scene or a bloody fight scene or some nasty vicious bit of political chicanery without a qualm if the story requires it. But that’s the important bit, If the story requires it. I do not write torture porn because I don’t really see the point. A story with the single purpose of showing people being treated abominably is a story I really don’t want to read.

It’s writers missing the point. The point of blood and gore is not the blood and gore, it’s the story and the story can’t just be, ‘Here’s some blood and gore, aren’t my characters nasty pieces of work?’ It’s like they read Elric and identified with Stormbringer.

SF&F is my bailiwick, but you see it in thrillers and other genres too.

The important thing about brutality in a story is consequences. It’s always about the consequences. If something bad happens then it reverberates, it throws out ripples of cause and effect. Should bad guys always get their comeuppance? Not always. That sort of morality play is also boring because it takes away the tension. Should they lose something because of their vicious behaviour? Yes.

This isn’t the real world. This is fiction. If, as a writer, somebody decides (and it is a decision) that a brutal character should be written as somebody to admire, then I wonder about that writer’s morality. Not religious morality, not philosophical morality, but their common decency. There is nothing admirable about rape, or torture, or mass-murder. Characters who do this are not anti-heroes, they are villains.

And don’t tell me (in the case of fantasy) that this was the way it was back in the Middle-Ages, because you ain’t writing about the Middle-Ages. You’re writing about a world that you made-up; this is your world, your rules, your choice.

Besides, the strong-men of history, the nobles who went on Crusades and slaughtered entire cities, the Mongols who gave cities a choice, surrender or die, the Spartans who created a society based completely on war, and all others of that ilk. Yeah, they were the bad guys. They were not heroes.

They may have done heroic things on times, but they did that stuff by accident. If you have a society based on might is right, death before dishonour, and unthinking obedience to a leader, every so often you are going to find yourself doing something seemingly heroic because you can’t back down. Does that make you a hero? Well, if the rest of the time you are raping, pillaging, and slaughtering people by the gross, not so much.

This holds true at smaller scales too.

Bullies are weaklings. Always. If somebody has to damage somebody else either physically or emotionally to make themselves feel stronger, then they are by definition not strong. Unless of course they are psychopaths, who do things simply because they can, because they have no empathy. Psychopaths aren’t strong either, they are sick and lacking in humanity.

Therefore, there are consequences for bullies. They are weak and will break easily. And there are consequences for psychopaths. They will never know the simple joy of a smile reciprocated.

If a character is neither a bully or a psychopath, but are damaged by their upbringing, then they’re damaged. That’s a pretty big consequence and something worth exploring.

As far as I am concerned, morality is not about how you fight but why you fight. Once the gloves come off there are no rules, but there are rules about why the gloves come off. A character who uses violence simply to get their own way is weak.

There are of course a lot of nuances here. Is a soldier ordered into an immoral war, immoral? Is a law-keeper upholding an immoral law, immoral?  Is somebody raised in an immoral society, immoral? And so on. These are the juicy bits that every writer should want to sink their teeth into. And please remember when I talk about morality, I’m not talking about religious morality, but the morality of decency, fairness, and doing the right thing.

The nuances are the tension in a story and there should always be consequences.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘Firedance Blogs’: http://firedancebooks.com/blog/

 

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Filed under Character, Character Dynamics, and Character Interactions., Storytelling, Art, and Craft, Structure and Plot

Mainstream Fantasy: There’s Craft in Them There Words.

There are so many sub-genres of Fantasy Fiction now that it is sometimes difficult to know where to place a particular work. So let’s look at just one major sub-genre.

Mainstream Fantasy, at least to me, is straight Fantasy. It may be epic or it may be heroic, but it isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel or trying to capture the lightning of somebody else’s ideas; it’s just straightforward fantasy.

Set in a secondary, or alternate, world, which has its own history and geography and ethnicities, it does not impinged upon our world in any way, shape, or form. It may have impossibly tall mountains, incredibly wide seas, impassable deserts or impenetrable jungles. It may have creatures that strike fear into your heart or wonder into your gaze. It may have other races of humans or other species that are definitely not human. It may have politics and intrigue, dark deeds and brave acts, love and hate and everything in between.

But it will always have magic.

The magic may be filled with rules that make it a system akin to science, with checks and balances, and experiments that always give the same result when repeated, or the magic may be as wild and fickle as the wind, or the sea, or the earth, or the flame, or the world, or the universe itself, impossible to fully comprehend and dangerous to misuse.

There may be gods and monsters and wizards and witches, powerful beings who can interact with the stuff of magic in ways that no mere mortal can. There may be immortal beings or beings who stretched out their lives with magic. There may be wise herbalists and generous healers, wild warlocks and dangerous enchantresses. There may be strange necromancers and stranger spirits: ghosts, and ghouls, and things that stalk the night.

Lands of kings and queens, warriors and poets, harlots and matriarchs. Men and women of worth to be respected or worthless people to be avoided at all costs — and it is not always easy to tell the difference. Magic and humanity, prophesy and fate, weirds and geasa will spill over this land and make it different from ours.

The connection between a secondary world and the world in which we live is a fragile thing for it is based on the willing suspension of disbelief. We, the readers, will believe that a dragon can breathe fire and covert gold, that a ghost can creep through the night and steal your soul, that a wizard can change the weather or make a flower bloom out of season, these things are easy to believe because they are fantastical.

But have a man or a woman with no training pick up a sword and fight off an attack from seasoned warriors, or get up on a horse and jump the high fences, or simply fix a leaky roof first time out, and we will start to doubt. Have people talking like a yokel one moment and a king the next and we will frown. Have a peasant disrespect a king and not lose his head and we will wonder.

All these things can work: if the sword does the fighting instead of the man or the woman wielding it, if the horse is sentient and keeps the rider in the saddle, if the novice roofer is being taught by some sort of telepathy, if the man whose accent changes is a spy about his business, and if the culture is created so that a peasant can disrespect a king: then we will be ready for such things to happen.

If it is part of the magic or the difference of the world, and makes sense, then we will happily believe it, but if it is just sloppy writing then the story will fail.

There are those that disparage Fantasy. They think it is simply fairytales where anything can happen. They are wrong. Only things that work within that world can happen and when you are dealing with the fantastical then the normal has to be pitch-perfect or it will throw the reader out of the story and they will probably never return.

Mainstream Fantasy is Fantasy without any bells and whistles, which makes it the hardest form of Fantasy to do well. There’s craft in them there words.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘Firedance Blogs’: http://firedancebooks.com/blog/

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In Defence of Head-Hopping

My favoured Narrative Mode for novels is Multiple-Subjective-Third in the Past Tense. Or multiple-third-limited/close/deep: or whatever you want to call it when you stick behind one character’s eyes for a scene and then change to another at the scene/chapter break.

Needless to say, I don’t always keep to this for reasons I am about to explain. I sometimes shift POV during the scene and I occasionally head-hop too. The difference between shifting POV and head-hopping is one of degree. (The technical term for Head-Hopping or Shifting POV is Omniscient Third. However, Omniscient Third also includes Multiple Third, Narrator Voice, and a whole host of other techniques, so I’m breaking it down to individual techniques here)

If I just switch the POV from one character to another and then stay in that character’s head for the rest of the scene, then that (to me, the nomenclature for this is personal) is shifting POV.

If, however, I jump between characters, either the same two characters or more than two, and then back again, then that is head-hopping. I am very careful with a head-hopping scene. Doing it only for a specific story-telling purpose, taking great care to make sure the reader knows whose head they are in, and really working at the transitions; otherwise it will appear amateurish and, no matter how much care the writer takes, some people will always say it is wrong, because they think fashion = rules-that-should-never-be-broken.

Head-hopping can be very effective if the writer wants to show both (or more) sides of a conversation or event. It can increase dramatic tension and give the reader information they require.

The alternative is generally either: clumsy expositional dialogue, so the character (other than the POV character in the scene. Remember the writer are rigidly staying behind one pair of eyes because, you know, that’s like a rule innit, guv’nor) can quite literally tell the other character what they are thinking just so the reader can be told; or having to write another scene in the other character’s POV so that the reader can find out what they were really thinking during the conversation.

The first option is appalling and I would rather hand in my keyboard than use it as a general technique (I reserve the right to use any technique at any time if the story requires it).

It could work but only (IMHO) if the character is telling yet another character what they were thinking after the original conversation/event, but that requires the character to be someone who would tell their innermost feelings to somebody else. Not to mention having a somebody else to tell their feelings to in the first place. It can work, but it is liable to be pretty clunky unless it grows out of the character rather than out of the writer’s need to get this info to the reader.

The second option will lead to redundant wordage. One of the biggest problems of writing in Multiple POVs is that every time the writer switches POV they have to reset the scene. It’s the transitions  (even if they are using a scene break or a chapter break a transition is needed — an establishing shot if you will) that ups the wordage in a Multiple POV story.

The reader needs to know, WHO/WHAT/WHERE/WHEN as quickly as possible. Yes, there may be occasions when the writer needs to keep that stuff hidden for dramatic purposes, but usually you need the reader to know WHOse head they are in, WHAT is going on, WHERE they are, and WHEN it is happening within the first couple of paragraphs.

If, however, the writer shifts POV or head-hops, then all they have to worry about is the WHO. The other three Ws have already been established in the original set-up to this scene. The reader knows WHAT is going on, because that is the point of the scene. The reader knows WHERE it is happening, because the location has already been established. And the reader knows WHEN it is happening, because there is no time interval involved.

Over the past few decades novels have tended towards the bloated. The insistence on ‘No Head-hopping’ plus the insistence of ‘Show Don’t Tell’ have, in my humble opinion, led to the novel-you-could-beat-a-bear-to-death-with syndrome. Writers were constantly having to write whole scenes just to show something they could show in a couple of words if they just shifted POV for a moment in the scene.

As a general rule I write in Multiple Third, but I’d rather not take a thousand words to get to the point when a hundred, or even ten, will do the same job.

But maybe that’s just me.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘of Altered States’: http://www.ofalteredstates.com/blog/

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Filed under Narrative Modes and POV

Asking questions via the situation and getting the character to answer them

See, I’m a pantser, a pure unadulterated seat-of-the-pants storyteller. I know some people reading this will snort right about now and think to themselves, ‘No, he’s not’. They’ll either assume I am lying to you, though only they know why, or to myself. Essentially, they automatically assume that I am either a blowhard or deluded.

I, in my turn, assume their assumptions come from being too closed up in the mythology of writing classes to allow the words to run free.

But that is my assumption and, like their assumptions about me, it is based on insufficient evidence to be considered factual. So, unlike their virulent desire to prove that I am not what I say I am, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and let that body lie dead beneath the boughs of the unfruited tree. Me? I head for the tree with fruit on it, pick the low-hanging and then climb up to get the inaccessible, take them all down, mash them all up together, and call it a story.

Somebody  sent me a brief snippet from Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’. Never read the book, heard good things about it, but never had access to a copy. So I’ve only read three paragraphs of Chapter five. I kinda gave up on writing books for lent a decade ago and I haven’t noticed the lack since.

Just like to say, Mr King, what you say in the small snippet of Chapter 5 I’ve read [Quote Stephen King] When, during the course of an interview for The New Yorker, I told the interviewer that I believed stories are found things, like fossils in the ground, he said that he didn’t believe me. I replied that was fine, as long as he believed that I believe it. [Unquote] I hear you, man.

So this is my take on what King says more eloquently in ‘On Writing’. (Oh by the way, reading that snippet. I think he might well be even more of a pantser than I am, I wasn’t sure that was actually possible. )

Character

Characters are real people to me. No, they don’t talk to me. No, I don’t have conversations with them. Hell, I barely know what the buggers look like. But they are real and usually amorphous. From the first moment they appear in a scene they are revealing themselves to me, a bit at a time, piece by piece. Everything they do, every word they utter, every thought that passes through their minds, reveals a little bit more of the puzzle to me.

I really don’t know who they are when they turn up. I don’t know if they are good guys, or bad guys (Okay, sometimes I think, ‘I need a bad guy here’ and create one, but I don’t know what sort of bad guy they are: evil, misunderstood, banal, trapped, whatever) or instigators. I don’t know if they are the love interest, the unrequited love, or the nightmare lover that tears your soul apart. I don’t know if the are the loyal friend, the honourable enemy, or the sneaky little bugger I am going to love to hate.

But that’s fine. I don’t need to know who they are until they show me, which means the reader gets to find out about them at the same time. Very good for pacing that. I’m writing and wondering why-the-hell-did-he-do-that-thing-he-did, which means the reader is wondering it too, and then the question is answered.  For both of us. At the same time. No artificial story beats there, just a ‘Oh right, so that’s what’s going on’ for reader and writer at the same time.

Of course in the second draft there will be rewriting and foreshadowing and adaptations to make the story tighter, but I try very hard to keep the drip, drip, drip, of character revelation to the same beat as in the first draft. I shape it a bit, but I don’t plug it up and place the interaction someplace else, unless I really have to shift the damn scene for story reasons. This is the hard bit of editing for me, not the story stuff, but the character stuff that has to be moved because of the story stuff.

Situation

Situation, setting, where the story takes place, when the story takes place, will lead to the why the story is worth recounting via the how it all plays out.

Unless it is part of an ongoing series (like my Tales of the Shonri  originals to be found over on http://writerlot.net/  and even then I’m creating the setting story by story, which is why some are a bit skimpy on detail) I don’t know what the setting is until I start writing. It is nice to have some sense of place, which may be why King tends to set all his stories in his own backyard, but the sense of place comes from the story-telling process.

The soft touch of the grass beneath his naked feet as he raced down towards the water’s edge, screaming, “Ellie! Ellie! Ellie!”

Just made that up (obviously) so what’s the setting. Grass. Water’s edge. Hmm, okay you don’t get grass running down to the sea, not normally anyway, so it’ll be fresh water. So either a river or a lake then. Some place dangerous probably, because it sounds like somebody is in trouble, mind you it might turn out that he has been away for a bit and is calling out to his love, or maybe he thought she was dead, or maybe she has come back from the dead.

See, situation. Geezer running across grass towards water calling out to somebody female.

From that situation other situations arise. Is she drowning? Does he save her? Does she drown? Does he drown saving her? Do they both drown? Is this a story about the afterlife? Or grief? Or love? Or none of these things? Is she returning from beyond the grave? Is he returning from beyond the grave? Is he returning from a war? Is she now married to somebody else? Is…?

Questions.

Situation is the source of questions. Character is how you answer them. A story is how the answered questions throw up more questions that then need to be answered until there is only a single possible conclusion left. Until you run out of questions that character can answer and are just left with the question of how the character will prevail or endure or not.

I just keep on answering the questions as they come up. I don’t work out what they are going to be ahead of time, because then the characters are answering questions that I already know the answer to, which is a bit like cheating at a test. You ain’t cheating anybody but yourself, or in this case the story.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘of Altered States’: http://www.ofalteredstates.com/blog/

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Filed under Character, Character Dynamics, and Character Interactions., Structure and Plot