Sunday, September 14, 2014

Writers as Casualties of Commerce


Since 2009 or so, the so-called midlist at traditional publishing houses has dried up faster than a mud patch in the Serengeti. The bleached bones of writers who did not earn out are scattered around in random configuration. On the parched ground near a scorched femur can be seen a message scratched in the dirt, a last call from a thirsty scribe: Help! My numbers suck!

I've heard from many friends and colleagues about traditionally published writers––some who have had relationships with a house for a decade or more––seeing their advances drop to record lows, or not being offered another contract at all.

And then what? What happens to these foundering careers?

Two writers give us answers. The first is Eileen Goudge, a New York Times bestselling author. She had a soaring career in the 1990s, and even a power marriage to super agent Al
Zuckerman. That's how I became aware of her. Zuckerman wrote a good book on writing blockbusters where he recommended reading Goudge's Garden of Lies. I did and loved it, and read another of hers a bit later on.

So I was gobsmacked last month when I read a post by Goudge about her travails as a casualty of commerce. She describes what happened to her and many other writers this way:

I know from my husband, the aviation geek, that when a plane goes into what’s called a death spiral, as it reaches a certain altitude and succumbs to the pull of gravity, it can’t pull out. The same holds true for authors: fewer orders results in smaller print runs, a smaller marketing budget and lackluster sales, then a smaller advance for your next title, and the vicious cycle continues. In short, you’ve entered the “death spiral.”

The cold, hard truth is this: If the sales figures for your last title weren’t impressive enough to get booksellers to order your next title in sufficient quantities to make an impact, you’re basically screwed. It doesn’t matter if your previous titles sold a combined six million copies worldwide. You’re only as good as your last sell-through.

What’s even more dispiriting is that you’re perceived as a “failure” by publishers when your sales haven’t dropped but aren’t growing. You become a flat line on a graph. The publisher loses interest and drops the ball, then your sales really do tank. Worse, your poor performance, or “track” as it’s known, is like toilet paper stuck to your shoe, following you wherever you go in trying to get a deal with another publisher.

Goudge details some of the things that happened to her, personal and corporate. One of them is fairly common: a key executive or editor who is your champion leaves or gets laid off or moves to another company. You become an "orphan" at the house and your books don't get the attention they used to.

All these things were "crushing" to Goudge. She says she felt like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football. Every time she got close to something good the ball would be snatched away.

A writer friend of hers told Goudge she should go indie. She resisted at first, but the friend simply asked, "What's the alternative?"

So Eileen Goudge jumped into the indie waters, more than a bit nervous about it. But then discovered something wonderful:

My creative wellspring that’d been drying up, due to all the discouragement I’d received over the past few years, was suddenly gushing. An idea for a mystery series, something I’d long dreamed of writing, came to me during a walk on the beach in my hometown of Santa Cruz, California, where I lived before I moved to New York City. Why not set my mystery series in a fictional town resembling Santa Cruz? ... I immediately got to work. I was on fire!

Goudge is pro enough, and has seen enough, to know that nothing is rock-solid certain in a writing career. But she concludes:

Was it worth it? Only time will tell. Meanwhile there it is, beating in my breast: that feathered thing called hope. Something I thought I’d lost, regained. Something to celebrate.

Hope. I like that. Worth celebrating indeed.

Another casualty of commerce is a friend of mine, Lisa Samson. I've known Lisa for fifteen years. She is one of the
most naturally gifted writers I've ever met. She's won numerous awards. She has the respect of critics and a loyal following of fans.

But last month, on or about the same day as Goudge's post, Lisa posted to her Facebook page:

Dear Friends,

All good things must come to an end, the saying goes. I, however, like to think that all good things continue to evolve. For twenty-two years I have been writing for the inspirational (read: evangelical Christian) market, and it has been an honor and a privilege. True, with the artistic strictures and the increasing necessity for a platform, it has had its share of frustrations for a novelist who simply wants to explore an artform, but sharing stories and getting to know readers as friends, hearing how these words have been used to encourage, inspire, affirm, and even challenge, has been a thrill....

Lisa talks about the changes in the publishing world, how authors are now expected by their houses to do most of the marketing themselves. And then there is the cold, hard economic part:

I was recently offered a contract that was insufficient for me to support my family. A real step down from the previous one. And that is all I will say about that matter. It wasn’t personal, I realize, but it was severely disappointing to have worked faithfully for two decades only to have your work go down in value to that point. I wish money didn’t matter, but it has to, and that saddens me. I'm still intensely grateful for the time I spent writing for that house and the people there who are, quite simply, wonderful. But traditional publishing is a business and I'm no good for the bottom line no matter how much I'm personally loved, and good feelings don't keep the lights on over here at my house.

Lisa admits to discouragement (as any writer at this point would), but she has a response. She has enrolled in a massage therapy program with the aim of bringing relief to cancer, hospice, and Alzheimer’s patients.

In other words, there is life away from writing. There are other ways to serve in the world. That's a crucial lesson for all writers to learn. Heck, for any professional.

Will Lisa write again? She isn't completely closing the door, and my prediction is yes. She's too good and has too much inside her not to share more stories. But she's not brooding over it. She is too busy giving of herself to others.

Thus it turns out these two writers are not really "casualties" at all. They are strong and resilient and have chosen brave paths.

So can you. When discouragement hits, as it will, know that you are not alone and that life still offers you options.

Grab one, and go for it.

Have you had a similar experience with discouragement in this crazy writing business? How did you handle it?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Thank You for Being Here


I have been thinking this week about all that I have for which I am thankful. One of those things is your presence here, right now. I can speak only for myself, but I am sure my fellow TKZers feel the same way. It’s an honor and a privilege to have you stop by here on an occasional, frequent, or daily basis, particularly when there are so many other things you could be doing. Thank you for being here.

This thought led me to a question: how did you find The Kill Zone? Was it by accident? Did someone recommend us to you? Did you do a search of a favorite author? Were you looking for writing advice? Perhaps were you looking for ways to dispatch an in-law and, though we weren’t quite what you wanted, you decided to stay and to continue visiting. Maybe you don’t remember (that’s fine, and it’s a legitimate answer). I’d love to know, in any event. Please: tell us.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Reader Friday: What is Writing Like to You?


"All good writing is like swimming underwater and holding your breath." - F. Scott Fitzgerald

What is writing like to you? 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Word Traps for Unwary Writers


by Elaine Viets

    Here are more word traps for unwary writers. I’ve found all these examples in books from major publishers. No, I’m not telling you the authors’ names or the books’ titles. It could happen to any of us. Just be on the look out for these snares. Let’s start with how a missing W can make your book X-rated:

x-rated

    Balling/bawling. I was shocked by this sentence in a well-promoted book: “When they announced I was national champ, my mother started balling.”
    Really? In front God and everybody? The simple substitution of a W for one of those Ls would have Mother engaged in public “bawling.” That’s much more socially acceptable.
   
    Colombia/Columbia/pre-Columbian -- a triple threat.

    Colombia – with an O in the middle.  A country in northwest South America, and as any Miami Vice fan knows, the home of violent drug traffickers, including the Cali and Medellin cartels.colomba map

    Columbia – with a U in the middle.  US, the poetic name for the United States. Columbia is also the District of Columbia, better known as Washington, D.C., and a variety of towns and places, including Columbia University, which is currently in a very ugly rape scandal. Poets and headline writers dumped Columbia as the female symbol of the US about 1920 and started carrying a torch for the Statue of Liberty.

300px-ColumbiaStahrArtwork

    Pre-Columbian – with a U in the middle. That means before Christopher Columbus and his European pals started slaughtering and enslaving the indigenous native people in the New World. Er, I mean, before the noble Caucasians brought civilization to the backward savages. This word really trips up writers who discuss pre-Columbian art, especially when it’s located in Colombia, like these sculptures.

pre-Columbian
     
    Fare-thee-well/Fair-thee-well. Fare-thee-well means “good-bye and good luck” and it’s been used in countless songs and ballads. Here’s a version of the time-honored lyrics:
    Fare thee well my own true love
    And farewell for a while.
     I’m going away, but I’ll be back
    If I go ten thousand miles

Folk-singer-Nic-Jones-in--001
    Sound familiar? You’ve listened to versions recorded by folkie Nic Jones as “Ten Thousand Miles,” as well as by Joan Baez, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Marianne Faithfull and more.
    “Fair-thee-well” is flat-out wrong. Don’t use it.

    Heroine/Heroin. Lately, “heroine addicts” are turning up in way too many novels. These are not readers addicted to the DC Comics heroines.

Dc comics heroines

    But drug users craving China white are “heroin addicts.”

heroin_powder

    Pored/Poured. Way too many people have been “pouring” over books. All that water ruins the pages. It’s easier if you “pore” over your books. 
Fresh stream on water surface   
   Ring/Wring.  “I could just ring her little neck.” Maybe she was wearing jingle bells. But I think he really wanted to “wring” her neck, which would make her bawl. Those Ws are nothing but trouble.

jingle bell necklace

    Rite/Right: “A tattoo is a right of passage,” the author wrote. Wrong. A tattoo is a “rite” of passage. Got that right?
    Good luck, writers. Go and sin no more.

Angel-Tattoo-Incredible-Art

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

14 Questions People Ask Writers

Nancy J. Cohen

As a writer, you might encounter the following questions during the course of your career. Preparing answers ahead of time will prevent you from becoming tongue-tied when hit with one of these verbal arrows. If you feel left out, don’t worry. Once you get published, these people will jump out of the woodwork.

1. At Thanksgiving dinner, your cousin comes up to you, leans forward and speaks in a conspiratorial tone. “I have this great idea for a story. Would you be interested in working with me on it?” Before he launches into a lengthy and convoluted plotline, give this response: “I have more ideas than I can write, thank you, but I know another author who acts as a ghostwriter. He charges $10,000 per book. Shall I put him in touch with you?”

thanksgiving

2. “I have a friend who’s written a book, and she needs someone to edit it. She’s desperate for help. Can I give her your phone number?” Let this person know that your services, if available, are not free. You would require a fee, a contract, and a waiver of liability. Or suggest she gain feedback by joining a critique group or entering a writing contest with score sheets. Another alternative is for her to hire a professional freelance editor, but you still have to make clear it’s a long road ahead. See Question Number 8.

3. You are in the doctor’s office, and he asks your line of work. “Really?” the doctor says after you reply that you’re a writer. “What do you write?”
“I write mystery novels.”
“Are they, you know, published?”
“Yes, I’ve written over twenty books. You can buy them online.”
“That’s impressive. I’ve been thinking about writing a book. How do you get published?”
“You join a professional writing organization, attend meetings and workshops, go to writing conferences, and learn the business aspects of the career along with the craft. I’d love to talk more about it. How about if we exchange an hour of my time for an hour of yours?”

4. “How are your books doing?” is another question you might get from friends and family. Here’s your answer: “They’re doing great, thank you. Have you bought a copy yet?”
Another writer once told me she’d like to say her books had failed, she had entered bankruptcy proceedings, and did anyone want to help her out with some cash?

5. “Where do you get your ideas?” is a common question at book talks. Well, I pull them out of thin air, don’t you? You’d think this one would be a no-brainer, but it’s a question that genuinely baffles people. Ideas are all around. It’s having time to write these stories that’s difficult.

MountDora

6. “Are you making money at it?” I’d really like to reply, “No, I’m starving, and I need a loan.” Many people think published authors are rich and famous. “I guess you earn a good living, right?” is another variation. Some folks will come right out and say, “So how much do you get for each book?” That’s like asking your doctor, “So how much do you make on each patient?” I have a standard response: “I write because I love to tell stories. My advice to new writers: Don’t quit your day job.”

7. “I want to write a book, but I don’t have time to learn the ropes. Can I pay you to write it for me?” See answer to Number One. Add a bit on the publishing biz and how writers are expected to spend time promoting their novel. Even if someone else writes the book for them and it sells, are they willing to put the time into marketing?

8. “Can you recommend a book doctor?” My answer: “If you’re serious about becoming a writer, you’ll learn how to edit your own work. All careers require practice and training, and writing books is no different. The only magic bullet is persistence. But you can hire a freelance editor to help you in the right direction. This still won’t guarantee a sale. Plus, publishers expect more books than one work. You’ll need to start on book number two right away, and be prepared to do your own marketing.”

9. “Can I find your book in the library?” Librarians order books, so we want patrons to request them. But this question could be a good opportunity to launch into an explanation about the sources of distribution and the different formats for books today. You could counter with, “Do you like to read your books in print or on ebook?” And even if the person gets your book at the library, encourage him to write an online customer review.

10. “Where can I find an agent?” Hello, anyone hear of the Guide to Literary Agents? The AAR site online? Attending professional conferences? Entering writing contests? Let this person know about local writers organizations, classes, and seminars. They need to do their homework. And no, I am not going to introduce them to my agent.

SFAugustBlogs

11. “Is your book on the bestseller list?” This one is easy to answer: “Not yet, but if you buy a copy and tell all your friends about it, that will help me get there.”

12. “Have you been on any talk shows?” The line is blurred here between the concept of an Author and a Celebrity. Becoming a published author may take years of learning, rejections, submissions, and rewrites. Celebrity equates to stardom. Serious writers work at the craft because they love to write. They know it is not an easy road to follow, and they’re willing to put in the effort, suffer the indignities, and keep going regardless of whether fame or fortune come their way.Your answer: Repeat the one from Number 11.

13. “I’ve never heard of you. Are your books in the bookstore?” Again, this is a good opportunity to mention the various platforms for distribution.

14. “Any chance of getting your book made into a movie?” Realistic answer: “Unfortunately, it’s not up to the author. The publisher may [or may not, depending on your circumstances] own the film rights. An agent might be approached by a studio or interested party who pays a fee to option the book. But even then, that might go nowhere. So the chances are slim for most authors.”

Many of your answers will be individual based on your preferences. Consider every encounter an opportunity to educate the public about the publishing industry and what they, as readers, can do to help authors.

What we write comes from the heart. It’s our personal expression, not ideas we pluck from someone else’s consciousness or can teach in a quick lesson. Each person’s journey is his own. We get where we are through hard work, grit, a thick skin, and persistence.Yes, we can offer tips and point wannabe writers in the right direction, but they have to be prepared to do the work. And they have to love telling stories.

So how would you answer some of these questions above?


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Listening to Your Characters


"I hear voices in my head, and if I remember correctly, I always did." -- Stephen King

By P.J. Parrish

So I’ve got my protagonist Clay Buchanan at a critical point in the story. He’s just done something awful, faced his “mirror moment” as James Bell calls it. And now he’s sitting in a dive bar, two sheets to the wind, thinking about what has brought him to this crisis.

My fingers are poised over the keys, waiting...

Waiting for him to tell me what is on his mind.

((((Silence))))

Clay? You there, buddy?

(((Cickets)))

Dude, I really need you to talk to me.

(((Goin’ dark)))

Oh man, is there anything worse than characters who won’t talk to you? It doesn’t often happen to me but when it does, it brings my writing momentum to a screeching halt. It is something I can’t just “write through” and hope I can go back and fix it later. Because when a character refuses to reveal himself to me, refuses to let me inside to hear his thoughts, I lose the heartbeat of my story.

Most writers, I think, hear voices in their heads. Yes, we visualize our stories, seeing the action unreeling in our heads like movies. But we also hear the speech and thoughts of our characters, as if we are mere conduits for voices that seem to have lives of their own. Writing is, after all, just "a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia,” according to E.L. Doctorow.

Hearing voices is on my mind of late not just because of my recalcitrant character Clay. But also because I read about a fascinating project called Hearing The Voice. As part of medical project on auditory hallucinations at Durham University in the UK, researchers are surveying novelists about how they experience their character's voices. They've gathered info from more than 100 authors, including Hilary Mantel, Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens.

And here you thought you were the only "loony" one.

The questions are intriguing: What does inner voice actually "sound" like? What is like to hear your characters or subjects out loud? What do writers do when they can no longer "tune in" to their inner voice? (Hello? Anyone want to interview me?)

Here are some interesting findings:

  • Writers tend to "experience their primary and secondary characters differently.  They have a sense of "inhabiting the interior life" of their protagonist and of looking out at the world through their eyes. But they report that secondary characters tend to be experienced visually.
  • Many writers are unable to "see" the faces of their protagonists. The main character often registers as a blank – or, in one case, pixelated like a censored photograph.
  • Writers' engagement with their inner voice, and the role it plays within the literary-creative process, changes radically over the course of their careers. Early on, they report little separation between their own thoughs and those of characters. Over time, however, writers report that the inner voice becomes more complex, taking on echoes of other voices harvested from life and literature.
Now all this is fun for academic types, but what can we mere writers glean from it that's useful as we face the task of creating full-blooded, idiosyncratic and memorable characters? Let's break it down.

First, I am not talking about "the writer's voice." That is your style, the quality that makes your writing unique to you. It conveys your attitude, personality, and way of looking at the world. I’m talking about your character’s voice. This is the speech and thought patterns of your narrator and others who orbit around him or her. Each character you bring alive on the page must have her own distinct voice. It is one of most vital – and maybe difficult – elements of great fiction. No two characters should sound alike.

You make your characters's voices come alive on the page two ways: through dialogue and through thoughts (sometimes called interior monologue). No two people talk (to others or themselves) the same way. Every person has his own distinct vocabulary, rhythm, dialects and tone. Other things that make voice unique: age, geography, intellect, education level, and -- yes, I'm going there -- gender.

A teenage girl living in the farm town of Morning Sun, Iowa, is not going to sound the same as a elderly Creole dockworker from New Orleans. A British solider in World War I is not going to sound the same as an American Vietnam vet.  If they do, well, you the writer are not listening.

I'm reading a terrific book by Thomas Cook called Sandrine's Case. (It was an Edgar best novel nominee last year but Cook's stuff is always good. His characters live on after you close the book). Here's one dialogue snippet:

“Worked up?” I offered a vaguely contemptuous snort. “I feel like Meursault in The Stranger.
“Be sure you mention that to the press, or better yet, the jury. I’m sure they’re all great fans of postwar existential French literature.”
Which one is the supercilious college professor and which is the lawyer whose wife sends him to work with tuna sandwiches in bags? And here's another:
“My grandfather would have shot you with one of the dueling pistols I still have,” he said. “But I fear I lack the courage required to defend my honor.”
This is another professor but in the legato rhythm, ripe vocabulary, and fey tone, Cook has conveyed volumes about this man's background (genteel Southern) and personality (timid cuckold).

Here's another example, this time from one of my favorite movie scripts:
Crash Davis: After 12 years in the minor leagues, I don't try out. Besides, uh, I don't believe in quantum physics when it comes to matters of the heart.
Annie Savoy: What do you believe in, then?
Crash Davis: Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman's back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days. [pauses then winks and walks away]
Annie Savoy: Oh my. Crash...
Nuke LaLoosh: Hey, Annie, what's all this molecule stuff?
In this exchange, we find out all we need to know about the intellectual level of these two baseball players.

Maybe we should also take a quick look at the mechanics of how we convey character's voices. Dialogue mechanics are pretty straightforward. But I find some inexperienced writers have trouble with interior monologues. Maybe it's because dialogue is SHOWING, but to convey a character's thoughts, you must move into narrative mode, which technically is TELLING. And many writers believe that will slow things down too much. I disagree. A good interior monologue  gives the reader a window into a character's soul. Yes, you can convey what a character is thinking or feeling through speech, facial expressions and movement. But sometimes readers also need to "hear" what is in their heads and hearts. It cements the emotional bond.

Interior monologues can be short or long. Short ones are one- or two-sentence thoughts inserted into an action scene or dialogue. Long interior monologues can go on for paragraphs or pages and because they slow the pace, you have to be careful where you put them.

Another mechanical consideration: Do you use "I thought" or "he thought" or do you simply signpost a thought with italics? I like to use both. Here's a sample from my WIP, the thoughts of my stubborn character Clay:
YOLO. It was a dumb name for a restaurant, he thought. But then when he glanced at the matches he had snagged from the hostess he saw that it stood for You Only Live Once.
He ordered a Martin Mills bourbon. Hundred bucks a shot, but he wasn’t paying. He took a sip, closing his eyes in pleasure at the caramel taste.
Carpe diem, baby.
I used both techniques in the same interior monologue. Why? Clay's thoughts about the restaurant are illuminating but sort of mundane, so I think "he thought" is sufficient. But by setting the "carpe diem, baby" off in itals, I am trying to say something unique about Clay's rather louche personality. It's a grace note, a kicker, an extra beat. If you use this, I recommend you set it off on its own line. And use it only for special moments or emotion, humor or info. By all means, write:
Oh God, what have I done? 
But never:
 I think I’ll have egg salad for lunch.
Some moments call for you the writer to directly “speak” what is on the character’s mind. I call this intimate interior narrator. You don’t use itals or attribution but when well rendered, the reader feels a psychic connection with the character. 
Alex stared at the back of Buchanan’s head, a spasm of disgust moving through him, like that time that rapist had reached through the bars of the Tallahassee jail and grabbed his arm, grinning and saying he had never touched that little girl. Alex had gotten the man off. Two months later, he quit his public defender job and signed on with a small Orlando firm specializing in corporate law. It wasn’t only for the money. He just wanted to feel clean.   
Even though this is me, the writer, in narrative mode, I am deep within my character's psyche as he has a key memory, hence the slightly run-on stream-of-consciousness rhythm. If I were in an action scene, however, the rhythm would be staccato and tense.

And speaking of my characters, Clay decided about a half-hour ago that he was going to start talking to me again. Originally, I  had thought his mirror-moment had left him depressed. Then I thought it had left him angry. Well, I realized it was neither. I was confused about his motivation and well, I wasn't really listening to him.

Now I can't shut him up. So if you'll excuse me, I'm going back to chapter 22 before he decides to clam up again.

 Carpe diem, baby.


Monday, September 8, 2014

POV 102 - How to Avoid Head-Hopping

 by Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker   @JodieRennerEd 

In POV 101 - Get into your protagonist's head and stay there, I discussed the effectiveness of starting out your story in your protagonist’s point of view and staying there for most of the novel. 

But what if you want to show how other people are feeling? If they’re important characters, like the villain, a romantic interest, or a close friend or family member, you can give them their own POV scenes, where you get into their heads and we see their thoughts, emotions, goals, aspirations and fears.

If they’re in the same scene as your main character, you show their thoughts, feelings and attitude only through what your protagonist can perceive—their words, tone of voice, body language and facial expressions. Say you’re writing a romantic suspense or mystery, and you’re in the heroine’s point of view, showing her thoughts, perceptions and reactions. The hero, whom she’s just met under unfortunate circumstances, is angry. You’ll show his thoughts and reactions, not from inside him at that point (What the hell is going on here? he thought. What’s she trying to pull off, anyway?), but by what the heroine is seeing and hearing—his tense posture, hunched shoulders, clenched fists, furrowed brows, set mouth, clipped tone of voice, angry words, etc.

The general rule of thumb is “one scene, one viewpoint.” Or even better, wait for a new chapter to change the point of view to someone else’s. If you change the viewpoint within a scene, it’s best to do it only once, and leave a blank space before you start the next person’s point of view. Ping-ponging back and forth can be jarring and confusing to the reader. This is what’s referred to as “head-hopping.” Some writers go so far as to leave three asterisks (* * *) and spaces above and below to indicate a switch in viewpoint within a scene, but I think that’s too jarring and disruptive to the flow of action, since we’re still in the same scene. Three asterisks, centered, are best reserved to indicate a shift in place and time. 

So why is it so important to avoid switching viewpoints (head-hopping) within scenes?

According to Cynthia VanRooy, “When a reader becomes emotionally engaged in a book, he or she enters into the story. The reader understands the book world isn’t real, but in order to fully enjoy the story, he or she chooses to temporarily pretend otherwise, or to suspend their disbelief. […] 

“Every time you shift the reader from one character to another, they are jarred out of their suspension of disbelief and reminded that they’re only reading a story. Do that often enough and they’ll stop reading your story. Scene changes or new chapters are the best and least disruptive places to change POV.” 

Here’s an example of a viewpoint gaffe, which I made up:

Our heroine, Carole, is stirring the spaghetti sauce on the stove and talking to her husband on the phone. They’re discussing the fact that their son, Colton, is grounded. Suddenly, the author jumps into her son’s head and tells us about Colton sneaking by behind her back (his rap music is playing loudly in his room), and out the front door, then jumping on his bike and racing off. Back to Carole, who continues to stir the spaghetti and talk on the phone.

What’s wrong here? We were in Carole’s POV, and she had her back turned so she wouldn’t know Colton was sneaking past, especially with all that noise coming from his room. And how would she know he’s riding away on his bike? Another jarring POV shift in the same scene would be if we suddenly started seeing her husband waving his secretary away because he’s in an important conversation. We’re in Carole’s POV in this scene, and she can’t see what her husband is doing at his office. 

Here’s another example of ping-ponging point of view, where we the readers jump back and forth over miles, within seconds.

We start out in Steve’s point of view, who’s in trouble and has just picked up the phone and called his wife, Grace:

“Grace, thank god you’re home. This is all too much for me. My life is crumbling around me and I can’t seem to do anything about it,” Steve said, closing his eyes and rubbing his face.

The sadness and despair in his voice brought tears to Grace’s eyes.

“I have to think.” There was long pause before Steve continued. “Luckily, George is right here. I’ll ask if he knows a good attorney who can help with this.”

“That sounds good.” She felt some relief.

“I’ll call you later,” Steve said, then hung up and slumped back in his chair.

“I’ll be waiting,” she said softly. The call ended before she could say I love you.


What’s wrong with how this scene is written?

Choose either Steve or Grace and play the scene from his or her POV. Show us only what he or she can see, hear, and perceive.

A quick way to check whose POV you’re in is to get out the highlighters or colored pens and choose a different color for each of your main characters. Pick your protagonist’s color, then start highlighting or underlining sentences that describe scenes, people, perceptions, and emotions strictly from his or her POV. Do the same for other characters, with their color. When you’re done, you should have paragraphs, and preferably scenes, of only one color. If you have another color creeping into that scene, see if you can rewrite those sentences from the dominating character’s POV. If you have a number of colors within one scene, you’ve got some revisions to do. And as Stephen King says, “Writing is rewriting.”

By the way, my third book, Captivate Your Readers, which will be out in late 2014, gets into a lot of detail on engaging your readers and bringing your story and characters to life by using deep point of view, showing instead of telling, and stepping back as the author to let the characters tell the story in their own voice.

Look for POV 103 - Deep Point of View here on TKZ on Monday, Sept. 22. And check out the handout to my workshop "Engage the Readers with Deep Point of View" on my own blog.

Writers - How do you handle POV in your fiction? What are your thoughts on all this? Let us know in the comments below.

Besides publishing her popular craft-of-writing books under the series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction, the multi-award-winning Fire up Your Fiction and Writing a Killer Thriller  (and the upcoming Captivate Your Readers), Jodie Renner is a sought-after freelance fiction editor. Find Jodie on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Websites: www.JodieRennerEditing.com ;  www.JodieRenner.com.