Friday, September 19, 2014
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Swiss psychologist Carl Yung believed our conscious minds possessed four major archetypes: the self, the shadow, the anima, and the persona. Naturally, as a thriller author, the shadow interests me the most.
The shadow holds our repressed ideas and desires, our weaknesses and the darker side of our psyche. Some people it is this shadow side that comes into play when seemingly good people go bad.
But what about the sociopath? I’m not talking about the serial killers we’ve all studied (I refer to those as psychopaths), but those individuals who walk among us every day with their own agenda, no remorse, and a frightening ability to manipulate everyone they come in contact with. Are these people simply more controlled by their shadow side? More importantly, what’s my shadow side like?
In creating my character, Lucy Kendall, I studied sociopaths. Lucy doesn’t believe she’s a bad person and she doesn’t even consider herself a killer. After all, her targets are repeat pedophiles who keep being turned out by the justice system. She’s in the right, and she’s doing society a favor.
Of course, anyone who believes that has to have some kind of sociopathic traits, right? In research for and creating Lucy, I started thinking about my own shadow side and exactly how close I was to the dark side of life.
According to the ICD 10, the following are considered sociopathic traits. Presence of three or more qualifies for a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, aka as sociopathy.
1. Callous unconcern for the feelings of others.
2. Gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility and disregard for social norms, and obligations.
3. Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, though having no difficulty in establishing them.
4. Very low tolerance to frustration, a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence.
5. Incapacity to experience guilt or to profit from experience, particularly punishment.
6. Markedly prone to blame others or to offer plausible rationalization for the behavior that has brought the person into conflict with society.
The DSM IV is another diagnostic tool and defines sociopathic traits as:
1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest
2. Deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure
3. Impulsiveness or failure to plan ahead
4. Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults
5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others
6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations
7. Lack of remorse as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another
A) The individual is at least age 18 years.
B) There is evidence of conduct disorder with onset before age 15 years.
C) The occurrence of antisocial behavior is not exclusively during the course of schizophrenia or a manic episode. SOURCE
So here’s the thing: I don’t fit that list, thankfully. But I’ve certainly had my moments when I realize I’m incredibly callous and most people would consider me a terrible person if they knew what I was really thinking.
Example: my daughter is a competitive swimmer, and she is able to practice in a very new and nice facility our tax dollars paid for. And every practice, when I see swim lesson kids taking up lanes in the pool, I get angry. I see these kids as space fillers who crowd the pool for team kids who need room to move. And I have little compassion for the parents who equally crowd the window space and get excited when little Johnny splashes a few feet and doesn’t drown. It outright annoys me. And even worse, I’m sure most people within my vicinity know I’m irritated because I certainly don’t look friendly.
What a jerk, right? How could I be so unfeeling toward these people who are excited for their kids and have just as much of a right to be there as I do? Thankfully it’s a feeling that subsides as the hour goes on.
Perhaps that’s my shadow side seeping through. The side that’s easily irritated with people and doesn’t have the patience to keep its mouth shut at certain times. The side that has no problem glaring daggers at a strange kid misbehaving in public. The side my husband affectionately refers to as Pissy Stacy. I don’t have the answer, but I bet if you take a moment to look deep inside, you can find something of yourself on this list.
Perhaps we should be afraid of our own shadows after all.
For discussion: Have you ever battled your darker shadow side?
ALL GOOD DEEDS (LUCY KENDALL #1) is now available at Amazon HERE or through more purchase links HERE.
About the author
Born in Indiana and raised in Iowa, Stacy Green earned degrees in journalism and sociology from Drake University. After a successful advertising career, Stacy became a proud stay-at-home mom to her miracle child. Now a full-time author, Stacy juggles her time between her demanding characters and supportive family. She loves reading, cooking, and the occasional gardening excursion. Stacy lives in Marion, Iowa with her husband Rob, their daughter Grace, and the family’s three obnoxious but lovable canine children.
Amazon Author Page
Facebook Stacy Green, Author
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
To prologue or not to prologue? That is the question. The problem with the prologue is it has kind of gotten a bad rap over the years, especially with agents. They generally hate them. Why? In my opinion, it is because far too many writers don’t use prologues properly and that, in itself, has created its own problem.
Because of the steady misuse of prologues, most readers skip them. Thus, the question of whether or not the prologue is even considered the beginning of your novel can become a gray area if the reader just thumbs pages until she sees Chapter One.
So without further ado…
The 7 Deadly Sins of Prologues
Sin #1 If your prologue is really just a vehicle for massive information dump…
This is one of the reasons I recommend writing detailed backgrounds of all main characters before we begin (especially when we are new writers). Get all of that precious backstory out of your system.
This is a useful tactic in that first, it can help us see if a) our characters are psychologically consistent, b) can provide us with a feel for the characters’ psychological motivations, which will help later in plotting.
I have a little formula: background–> motivations –>goals–>a plan–>a detailed plan, which = plot and c) can help us as writers honestly see what details are salient to the plot.
This helps us better fold the key details into the plotting process so that this vital information can be blended expertly into the story real-time.
Many new writers bungle the prologue because they lack a system that allows them to discern key details or keep track of key background details. This makes for clumsy writing, namely a giant “fish head” labeled prologue. What do we do with fish heads? We cut them off and throw them away…unless you are my mother’s Scandinavian family and then they make soup *shivers*.
Sin #2 If your prologue really has nothing to do with the main story.
This point ties into the earlier sin. Do this. Cut off the prologue. Now ask, “Has this integrally affected the story?” If it hasn’t? It’s likely a fish head masquerading as a prologue.
Sin #3 If your prologue’s sole purpose is to “hook” the reader…
If readers have a bad tendency to skip past prologues, and the only point of our prologue is to hook the reader, then we have just effectively shot ourselves in the foot. We must have a great hook in a prologue, but then we need to also have a hook in Chapter One. If we can merely move the prologue to Chapter One and it not upset the flow of the story? Then that is a lot of pressure off our shoulders to be “doubly” interesting.
Sin #4 If your prologue is overly long…
Prologues need to be short and sweet and to the point. Get too long and that is a warning flag that this prologue is being used to cover for sloppy writing or really should have just been Chapter One.
Sin #5 If your prologue is written in a totally different style and voice that is never tied back into the main story…
Sin #6 If your prologue is über-condensed world-building…
World-building is generally one of those things, like backstory, that can and should be folded into the narrative. Sometimes it might be necessary to do a little world-building, but think “floating words in Star Wars.” The yellow floating words that drift off into space help the reader get grounded in the larger picture before the story begins. But note the floating words are not super-detailed Tolkien world-building.
They are simple and, above all, brief.
Sin #7 If your prologue is there solely to “set the mood…”
We have to set the mood in Chapter One anyway, so like the hook, why do it twice?
The Prologue Virtues
Now that we have discussed the 7 Deadly Sins of Prologues, you might be asking yourself, “So when is it okay to use a prologue?” Glad you asked.
Prologues can be used to resolve a time gap with information critical to the story.
Genre will have a lot to do with whether one uses a prologue or not. Thrillers generally employ prologues because what our hero is up against may be an old enemy. In James Rollins’s The Doomsday Key the prologue introduces the “adversary” Sigma will face in the book. Two monks come upon a village where every person has literally starved to death when there is more than an abundance of food.
Many centuries pass and the very thing that laid waste to that small village is now once more a threat. But this gives the reader a feel for the fact that this is an old adversary. The prologue also paints a gripping picture of what this “adversary” can do if unleashed once more.
The prologue allows the reader to pass centuries of time without getting a brain cramp. Prologue is set in medieval times. Chapter One is in modern times. Prologue is also pivotal for understanding all that is to follow.
Prologues are used a lot in thrillers and mysteries to see the crime or event that sets off the story. Readers of these genres have been trained to read prologues and generally won’t skip. The serial killer dumping his latest victim is important to the story. It’s a genre thing. Yet, still? Keep it brief. Reveal too much and readers won’t want to turn pages to learn more.
Virtue # 2
Prologues can be used if there is a critical element in the backstory relevant to the plot.
The first Harry Potter book is a good example of a book that could have used a prologue, but didn’t (likely because Rowling knew it would likely get skipped). Therese Walsh in her blog Once Before A Time Part 2 said this:
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is told in a close 3rd person POV (Harry’s), but her first chapter is quite different, told when Harry is a baby and switching between omniscient and 3rd person POVs (Mr. Dursley’s and Dumbledore’s). Rowling may have considered setting this information aside as a prologue because of those different voices and the ten-year lag between it and the next scene, but she didn’t do it. The info contained in those first pages is critical, it helps to set the story up and makes it more easily digested for readers. And it’s 17 pages long.
This battle is vital for the reader to be able to understand the following events and thus would have been an excellent example of a good prologue. But, Rowling, despite the fact this chapter would have made a prime prologue still chose to make it Chapter One so the reader would actually read this essential piece of story information.
Food for thought for sure.
Yes, I had Seven Sins and only Two Virtues. So sue me. That should be a huge hint that there are a lot more reasons to NOT use a prologue than there are to employ one (that and I didn’t want this blog to be 10,000 words long).
Prologues, when done properly can be amazing literary devices. Yet, with a clear reader propensity to skip them, then that might at least make us pause before we decide our novel must have one. Make sure you ask yourself honest questions about what purpose these pages are really serving. Are they an essential component of a larger whole? Or are you using Bondo to patch together a weak plot?
But, don’t take my word for it. Over the ages, I’ve collected great blogs regarding prologues to help you guys become stronger in your craft. These are older posts, but timeless:
Once Before a Time: Prologues Part 1 by Therese Walsh
Once Before a Time Part 2 by Therese Walsh
Carol Benedict’s blog Story Elements: Using a Prologue
To Prologue or Not To Prologue by Holly Jennings
If after all of this information, you decide you must have a prologue because all the coolest kids have one, then at least do it properly. Here is a great e-how article.
So if you must write a prologue, then write one that will blow a reader away. Take my First Five Pages class (below) and I can give you some expert perspective of whether to keep or ditch or if you want to keep your prologue, then how can you make it WORK?
What are some of the questions, concerns, troubles you guys have had with prologues? Which ones worked? Which ones bombed? What are your solutions or suggestions?
Kristen is the author of the best-selling book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World in addition to the #1 best-selling books We Are Not Alone—The Writer's Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It's Me, Writer. Kristen is the founder of the WANA movement, the CEO of WANA International and creator of WANATribe, the social network for creative professionals. She is a contributing blogger for The Huffington Post and the official social media columnist for Author Magazine.
To contact Kristen, e-mail kristen at wana intl dot com.
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
It was the closing day of a writer's event. At the end of a breakfast session, an agent and a writer were wrapping up a session about the ongoing changes in the publishing industry, and how those changes affect writers.
During the Q and A, most of the discussion addressed strategies for writers who were not yet published. I raised my hand.
"I'm wondering about writers who have already been published," I said. "how do you think the changes in the industry are affecting our strategies going forward?"
The agent looked confused. "What do you mean?" she asked.
"Well," I said, "Many mid-list writers I know are interested in developing a revenue sharing model with publishers rather than signing traditional contracts. Or going the indie publishing route."
It was as if a toad had leaped from my mouth. "Indie publishing?" the agent asked me. "You mean, self-publishing?"
"Right, but not vanity publishing," I said, beginning to sweat. "I'm talking about writers who want to keep a greater share of revenue than they have under their previous contracts with legacy publishers."
"Legacy publishers?" Now the agent looked truly horrified. "That word sounds like something that guy Konrath would say."
JA Konrath, in case you don't know, is a pioneer in self-publishing who successfully transitioned from legacy--excuse me, traditional--publishing. He's known for criticizing the practices of publishers in his popular blog, The Newbie's Guide to Publishing.
At this point I was prepared to dive into my coffee cup and drown myself, but the agent was just getting started.
I don't remember her exact words, but they were something to the effect of "agents don't want to give up their advances."
Well, granted. But what about writers? What is best for us?
I had unwittingly stepped into a raging discussion that's been swirling in the media-publishing world for months. A bit of background: there's something of a class system in the world of writing. The mega-bestselling writers are the darlings of publishers. The rest of us, not so much. Unless your first book is a monster success, you are more or less sent to the servant's quarters. It used to be that publishers would give a writer time to develop and gain a strong readership base. That is less often the case today. Midlist writers are being dropped; contracts are not being renewed. Advances are shrinking.
Then there's Amazon, which offers writers--any writer--a decent percentage of each and every sale. Published writers who have been able to reclaim their backlist have been startled to discover that they can make good money from "new old" titles which had been languishing on the vine for years. The prices for indie ebooks are being set by...gasp...the writers. This process, along with the rise of indie publishing in general, is driving down the overall cost of ebooks.
Publishers don't like to lower their ebook prices, and they're fighting back. Amazon and publishers have gotten into several scrapes over pricing and distribution. Most recently, the tension boiled over into the Hatchette vs. Amazon kerfuffle. You can read more about that here. But the subtext of the fight is that journeyman writers suddenly have more options for publishing and getting paid for their work. These changes are putting pressure on the traditional publishing model, on pricing in particular.
I don't have any strong beliefs about the merits of traditional versus indie publishing. I suspect that most published writers will become "hybrids," pursuing the best available options. I do think that it is still better for unpublished writers to get traditionally published first--going through the process helps a writer develop her skills, learn valuable ropes, and establish a readership. But for writers who have previously been published and languished under the old system, the picture is different. If a previous book did not sell well, we're haunted by those sales numbers forevermore. If it did sell, the publisher will collect the lion's share of the book's revenues, forevermore.
At the breakfast meeting that day, the agent wound up her response to me by saying, "You're too early in your career to give up on traditional publishing."
In fact, I'm not in any way giving up on traditional publishing. As a published writer who will have a new manuscript to market in the near future, I'm simply trying to figure out the best strategy for me. Not the best strategy for the publisher. Not for Amazon. Not for an agent. If traditional publishing gives me a good deal on my next book, I'll break out the champagne. If not? I'll go indie. I don't have any agenda attached to exploring all the possibilities. As they said in The Godfather, "It's not personal. It's business."
Monday, September 15, 2014
Last week Publisher's Weekly reported that the New York Times was going to revamp its bestseller lists (see article here) to include reporting on niche markets including travel, humor, family, relationships and animals as well as (on a rotating basis) other niche lists such as Politics, Manga, Graphic Novels, Food and Fitness.
Now, I'm just as happy as the next person to see books I love listed on bestseller lists - but isn't this all going a little too far? I mean already have to read Facebook posts from authors about hitting every conceivable niche bestseller list for that day or hour on Amazon but now I have to puzzle over what it means to be a NYT bestselling animal book (which is, I assume, by topic rather than author - though I suspect my collie Hamish would love to be on this list!).
Isn't our obsession with term 'bestseller' getting to the point where it is no longer meaningful?
Apart from the obvious kudos, I'm starting to wonder what many of these lists actually mean (especially since many don't necessarily reflect what you think they reflect). The NYT list, for instance, has a fairly secretive methodology based on weekly sales from a sampling from selected retail outlets. Although this methodology been the subject of controversy, nonetheless, I think it's safe to say that the NYT list is pretty influential! The mantle of 'New York Times Bestseller' is a much coveted title - even though many of us aren't exactly sure what it means.
As I said before, I love seeing books from authors I admire on bestseller lists and I admit I can be influenced by said lists in terms of deciding which book to purchase. But I am getting a little jaded by these lists too - and the thought of having niche lists for topics such as fitness and family, seems too much. I would be far more interested in seeing a list that breaks down mystery, romance, science fiction genres - but even then it could get so niche market driven that that the list becomes less meaningful to me as a reader (though we could have as much fun as this Melville House blog post in coming up with our own possible lists)
So what about for you? What do you think about niche bestseller lists like the ones the NYT are proposing? Does it make sense to you? Does the NYT bestseller list even resonate with you any more? Or do you think in the age of indie publishing, that Amazon or Nook sales matter more?
As a reader, how much influence do bestseller lists have? As a writer I'm assuming, like me, you would have no qualms appearing on any of them...
Sunday, September 14, 2014
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!
Saturday, September 13, 2014
Friday, September 12, 2014
Thursday, September 11, 2014
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
But drug users craving China white are “heroin addicts.”
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.
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.
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.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
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?”
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.
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.
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
"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.
Clay? You there, buddy?
Dude, I really need you to talk to me.
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.
“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.”
“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.
Oh God, what have I done?But never:
I think I’ll have egg salad for lunch.
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.
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.
Monday, September 8, 2014
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.