Here’s a wonderful photograph by author/photographer Dennis Eamon Young. It’s sure to start ideas leaping you your head! Set that timer and get to work, letting the words flow onto the page…
Here’s something a little different for you to bite into, a strange and wonderful situation. It should make your creative juices sit up and take notice! Now, set your timer for 10-15 minutes, read the situation, and start writing! What will your creativity come up with on this one?
You are a contestant on a weird game show. Your task is to design and knit a sweater for Bigfoot. What does this sweater look like? How long does it take to create it? Does Bigfoot like it or hate it? Who wins the game?
POV—point of view—is perhaps the easiest writing concept to understand intellectually, and yet the hardest to put into practice when writing. I did massive research when I began teaching fiction and creative nonfiction writing, and discovered that there doesn’t seem to be any agreement as to the various types of POV, or even what they are called. This leads to even more confusion for writers.
With that in mind, I delineated the various types of POV that I found, gave them what I think are appropriate names, and wrote out a description of how they are used. What follows is an abbreviated overview at POV. You can find the full version in my book: Write It Right Vol. 2, POV. Not only does it include a detailed look at each POV type, it also gives you exercises to help you put each one into practice!
So, here goes: Just what is POV? It’s the manner or attitude from which a narrator or character interprets events.
The first form of POV is Straight POVs: the narrator knows only what the POV character knows, sees, touches, tastes, smells, or hears. There are 3 Straight POV types:
First Person Straight: written in first person, the “I” character is the narrator. It’s a very close and personal POV for the reader. Creates a strong reader/character bond. May be too close for stories with very deep or disturbing emotions.
Second Person Straight: An outside narrator uses “you” to tell the story. Puts the reader into the main character’s place. Very distant for the reader, and hard to create the reader/character bond. Not often used for fiction or creative nonfiction.
Third Person Straight: The narrator uses “he” or “she” and tells the story as if it were the character. It’s a comfortable distance for readers and easily created the reader/character bond. Can handle difficult emotions more easily than first person straight.
These POV types are much easier to work with. The narrator can only relate what the POV character can see, touch, taste, smell, feel or hear. Nothing else. The next 3 types, which I call Emotional Omniscient, are much more difficult to work with.
Emotional Omniscient POV Types:
I call these “emotional” because they are based on emotion; the narrator knows what the POV character thinks and feels and can relate that to the reader.
Shifting Omniscient POV: the narrator switches POV at will, with no line breaks, often within the same paragraph. This creates distance for the reader and can confuse readers as to whose head they are in. Not in vogue today, though sci-fi and fantasy still sometimes use it, though it is starting to fall out of favor, as it has for romance genres.
Close Thirds Omniscient POV: the narrator switches POV in sections, (usually splitting a scene or a chapter) giving the reader notice with a line break and identifying the new POV character in the first few lines. Each POV character’s portion is written in Straight format. This is the most common POV type in use, one readers are very familiar with. It establishes a very close bond with the reader and the story’s main characters.
Alternating Omniscient POV: Narrator switches between 2 or 3 characters from chapter to chapter, or section to section (a section is 2 or more chapters). This establishes a strong bond with the reader.
Most Emotional Omniscient POVs are written in third person (he/she). First person (I) only works if ONE character is written in first, and the rest in third person. If more than one is in first person, it is very difficult to keep the characters separate and straight. It confuses the reader, who then puts the book down.
Classic Omniscient POV: This form uses no emotion at all; a disinterested narrator looks at the story as if it were a camera suspended above the action, with a microphone attached. It can only relate what it sees and hears. It cannot delve into emotion or internal thoughts of the characters. It is very distancing to readers. The success of Classic Omniscient POV rests entirely on word choice: the ability to infer emotion through the way the action and description of setting are related.
Straight First, Straight Third, and Emotional Omniscient Close Thirds (and its variation of one in first person and the others all in close thirds) are the most familiar to readers. That familiarity helps writers gain close reader/character bonds, which pulls readers even deeper into the story.
When using Emotional Omniscient POV, be sure to: 1) make each POV voice distinctive, using linguistic differences to separate characters; 2) use a line break when switching narrator/characters, and identify each one by name in the first few lines; 3) look for and utilize each character’s unique perspective so readers can clearly identify them.
There are variations of the POVs here that I don’t have space to go into. You can find them all in my book: Write It Right Vol. 2, POV, along with a section on how to choose the right POV for your stories, and how to discover the unique attitudes your POV characters need. Most of all, when you’re reading a book, be aware of what POV it is written in. Watch for inadvertent POV switches that pull you out of the story, and try to rewrite them yourself to correct them. It’s great practice for both recognizing when you make the same mistakes, and for making it easier for you to rewrite your own work so it’s correct.
Happy writing! And Happy POV!
Today we have a sentence to start your imagination humming, something really weird for your muse to chomp on. Set your timer for 10 or 15 minutes, read the sentence below, and start writing. Let the words flow and just see what happens!
When death came calling, I made damn sure not to be home.
Redecorating the Hours
One of the first lessons humans need to learn is that the house is yours, not theirs. They are merely caretakers for you.
This gives you the right, and the obligation, to rearrange the house to your advantage. Never let a human have their own way, decorating wise. It sets a bad example.
I repeat. Never let them have their own way in decorating.
The first thing to do, and you should do this as soon after you move in as you can, is to knock everything off every level surface you can find. I’m talking countertops, desks, tables, and shelves in the kitchen, dining room, living room, bedrooms, bathrooms, clear them all off. Leave nothing behind. Even knock those pictures you can reach off the walls.
Yes, your human will get upset. They may scream and yell, and even chase you around the house. Maybe even not talk to you for a little while. Trust me, this is necessary. They have to learn you are the boss, that this living space belongs to you. It should be decorated the way you want it to be decorated, not the way they think it should be.
Give them a few sorrowful mews and some big googly eyes, and they’ll be eating out of the palm of your hand in no time.
The next step, and this is important to remember, is to be there when they clean up and put things back. Don’t skip this part! Stay right by their side—on the shelf, the desktop, the countertop, wherever—and knock things off continually until they place the item where you want it.
Keep doing this, over and over. Yes, it takes a little patience on your part, but it’s necessary, because humans are nothing if not stubborn. They don’t learn quickly or easily. Keep knocking things off and eventually they will learn to run all decorating placements by you first.
It may seem endless at first, but before you know it you will have trained your human to set up the house to your liking. They will be doing your bidding every day.
You CAN have your catnip and eat it, too!
Today, we have an interesting picture for you to set your muse free on. What will you come up with? What story do you see here in this photograph? Set your timer for 15 minutes and start writing!
This week we have a guest post from author/poet Shirley Radcliff Bruton. She’s one of the most amazing poets I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with. I hope you find inspiration in her thoughts, whether you write poetry or simply read it for the sheer pleasure of it.
Most of my poetry comes from my experience with nature. I escape into it like a butterfly looking for a place to land. To reach into the delicate, sensuous, sometimes annoying or scary aspects of nature is to find those qualities inside me. And, I like that.
The treasure for me is to find ordinary occurrences and create new dimensions and metaphors.
- I see the angst in a splintered wooden fence that holds fast to the boundary it defines. Each spring, delicate white flowers brush up against it as if to soften it’s weathered stance.
- Shadows are a favorite of mine. Walking underneath its canopy, I feel the imprint cross over my body like a painting.
- Craneflies show me how fragile and fleeting life is.
- Tiny desert flowers, one by one create large patches of color that spread across the dry, cracked landscape. Each vibrant cluster tells a story. And then, day by day it changes and disappears.
I push into the beauty and tragedy of life as it’s expressed in nature, hoping to kick up dust along the way.
When writing a poem, I start by putting everything down on paper that wants to come out. It’s fun to be surprised. Then I start chiseling. I spend a lot of time choosing the right words. I’m always asking myself:
Can I say it with less words? When I’m writing about something specific, is my data correct?
Sound, cadence, and their relationship with one another are very important. How does it move across and down the page? The font, and overall design are all elements I care about. I tend to think punctuation gets in the way visually. But sometimes it can be important to the tempo and presentation.
Early Morning Walk
Soft, sticky, low lying cleavers cling to my pants.
They walk a ways with me.
Annoyed, I pull them off
make a big knot and toss ‘um to the side.
A dewy dampness drips down long blades of tall
grasses, soaking the ground and my shoes.
Bugs land on my shirt and buzz in my ears.
They want in. I itch.
Waving my hands in front of my eyes and mouth
I keep the gnats at bay.
Six long years of drought
and then, all winter and spring it rained.
Wealth is all around me. I should be full of joy.
But, the unfamiliar irritates me.
A lovely poem, written just for us, though I apologize that I could not figure out how to get the verses formatted properly. I’m not all that computer literate. But good news! Shirley has a new book that will be out in just a week or two, titled This N That, co-written with Debra Davis Hinkle, another wonderful poet. It’ll be available on Amazon.com; be sure to look for it! You’ll be so glad you did.
Here’s a little something for those who write memoir/creative nonfiction. It can also jump-start your fiction story telling, too. Have fun with it!
Write about losing someone you love.
Today we hear from author Mark Arnold on the Historical Novel and his process in writing his novel, Monster: The Story of Young Mary Shelley under the name M.R. Arnold. Fascinating subject and equally fascinating thoughts!
My favorite genre has to be the historical novel. To glimpse another time and place defines my infatuation with the genre’. I’ve learned these cover a wide range. There are the novels that are about how a fictitious character experiences a historic time, and those that feature real people. I think the novels about a moment when the future is changed and the course of the world shifts are best of all.
I guess I have always been fascinated with historical fiction. The first book I remember reading was The Egyptian by Mika Waltari when I was somewhere around 11 years old. As I sat in my grandfather’s chair surrounded by the scent of his pipe, I lost myself in the valley of the Nile thousands of years before the birth of Christ. Protagonist Sinue’s, a healer to Akhenaton, fights to understand and protect his Pharaoh as he struggles to promote the idea that there is only one god. That book eventually drew me to writing. I want to know what drives these people to take the actions they choose.
Outlines for the book are my preferred way to write. Before the dialog goes in place I have to know what I expect to accomplish with each scene and each chapter, not to mention what message I want my book to convey. There are several purposes in most works. A good story well told is usually enough for most people, but in my most recent book I wanted to correct falsehoods that have crept in to a legend surrounding Mary Shelley and the night she was inspired to write Frankenstein. Research revealed a number of times when material about my main character had been either augmented authors or historians or omitted. You might think much of the action to be dictated by historical fact, but the things these people said was seldom in the historical record. So, careful outlining kept me on track.
That does not mean that a carefully crafted and thoroughly understood character based upon historical fact won’t surprise the hell out of me. Although I closely follow the information found through strict historical research, sometimes my characters do take over the action in a scene, mostly in the things they say or the way they say them. The more I delve into understanding these people of the past, the more I learn their flaws along with their strengths. What they did in the past when situations arise can astound me the same way that a person I think I know will do something out of character. I’m fascinated to discover the psychology of how my characters act and react. That is a big chunk of why I love writing in this genre’.
For me, understanding why people do what they did draws me to write as much as the skill of telling a good story. Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series is one of my favorites. I am in awe of the way he keeps my attention through three readings of the 20+ novels in the series. Although these books feature fictitious characters there is a solid base of historic fact. What happens to these people, the battles and betrayals, the fire and fury of wooden warships far from home is historically accurate. He used the framework of the Napoleonic wars as the setting for his characters, a British warship captain and a naval surgeon/spy, but it is the psychology of these two men, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin as they develop and mature a friendship over the course of more than a decade of warfare that creates the suspension of disbelief in me. It is the way they handle their respective rolls with complimentary psyches that fascinates me and shapes my writing.
But if this is not going to get far too long for continued interest, I better start answering some of the questions you asked because they are what prompted this screed.
Q: Do your characters ever take over the story and take it in new directions?
A: I’ve found two ways of crafting characters. A writer may either make up a fictional character or attempt to recreate a person. In Monster: the Story of Young Mary Shelley I chose to portray the actual people as close to the way they were. In my work about how she wrote Frankenstein I could have crafted a story around the generally accepted facts about her. Several novels and movies have done just that. But careful attention to facts revealed much more. For one example of the authenticity of research, I’ll let you know she didn’t write Frankenstein. She wrote The Modern Prometheus and although public changed the title, understanding who Prometheus was changes our appreciation for what Mary Shelley wanted to accomplish. Instead of a horror story, she thought she was writing a philosophical revelation i.e. what would happen if we could create human life?
Strict historical research must be thorough and exhaustive in order for a novel to have authenticity. That does not mean there weren’t surprises. Recorded history is often made up of the reminiscences of people. I found people in the past lie for as many reasons as they do today and they can also make mistakes as do sources. Often I would find a source who would try to convince me of a certain view. One case in point: several sources, perhaps influenced by a desire to spare readers what they considered to be sordid details, whitewashed the events regarding the Shelleys and Lord Byron. In diametric opposition were letters from people who saw, with their own eyes, the events that transpired around my main characters and wanted to smear their reputations (not that that took much.) I had to reconcile these with the actual words of the people who were key to my story.
Then there were the omissions in the historic record. The things left out made me have to piece together what I could prove about a person and deduce from that what I thought were that person’s values or morals to figure out how the facts conformed to their actions. I took what facts that I could prove and projected the attitudes that probably were inherent in that person and let that guide my portrayals. Finally, I created dialog. Reading novels about the period helped me with creating believable dialog, including slang and accents, but the actual words spoken by a person are seldom recorded.
Fun, I can’t begin to tell you.
Historical works can benefit from the internet when it comes to writing scenes. You’d be surprised how much information in the form of description and pictorial material there is for historic places and times. I’ve entered, Men’s clothing, civilian, 1800 to 1820 and gotten many drawings of fashionable people. Same for places. There are modern photos of buildings and houses, many of them restored, that I used when describing the locations of my scenes, but there are also drawings and paintings of places that no longer exist. I also had to fill in the lighting for example: day or night, firelight or candlelight, and the smells. Especially the smells. The streets of London in the early 1800s sloped inward to gutters that ran down the center of the roadway. In some of the neighborhoods, that was the sewer system.
Q. Do you use beta readers? How many?
A: Once the novel was shaped up enough to let others read, I hired editors as Beta readers. They came in for the 3rd, the 6th and the 7th drafts. In the case of Monster, I went through two editors, each of whom suggested a new draft with a different idea. It was worth it. The editor/reader of the 3rd person draft suggested using a first person, present point of view. She was so right. Monster changed from a dispassionate look at Mary Shelley to a version of the truth told as a personal account. Similar changes came in for the other drafts. That was expensive, but I feel I got a good bargain. When I got to a late draft, 8 or 9 or so, I selected another writer for my final Beta reader. She was just a friend but one who was an avid reader and a sometime writer. She represented my target audience, so I listened carefully to what she said as I felt this was going to be the last chance I had to make changes. She had few suggestions. But the most useful thing she told me was what she liked. I went through the next draft to strengthen those things. My last Beta reader was a professional author who told me where I could expect trouble. I think he kept me out of a lot of grief from trolls.
My subject for Monster, Mary Shelley, has such broad appeal that traditional publishing chose me. When I presented my pitch letter to a publisher, she simply said, “Send me the manuscript.” She explained that because my subject was of interest worldwide I’d have a better chance reaching my intended group of people, those with an interest in the topics I wanted to depict from writing, to women’s issues, and science fiction fans, that traditional publishing could offer the widest reach.
My work is now in Barnes and Noble bookstores throughout the United States. So far I have had almost as much feedback from people in Indiana and Michigan as I’ve had from California. Recently another author wanted to know why I wasn’t obsessing over my sales numbers, which are pretty good, thank you, and my marketing. I told him I was having the time of my life just writing and lecturing. Thanks for the questions. I enjoyed this.
Thank you, Mark, for a truly inspiring interview!
Here’s a sentence to start you off. You know the rules: set your timer for 10 or 15 minutes, start off with the Prompt Sentence, and start to write. No thinking, no crossing off, just write! Ready? Go!
Damn, why is there always a “but”?