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Toolbox – Point of View and Characters

This week we discussed point of view and characters. We did a little fact finding, then discussed how we could use this to improve the characters in our current works-in-progress.

Characters:

You need to know what makes your character tick if you are going to write from their perspective.  There are things like eye colour, height, foibles and background. But these alone do not a character make. What are their likes, their GOALS, their MOTIVES? How do they react to other characters? How do they handle conflict? How does the character change by the end of the story (character arc)? Goals push a story forward, through the conflicts and must become needs or the character may quit before the end.

There are many worksheets, found on the internet, to help nut out the details for your characters. Just remember the more characters, the more work you are making for yourself. You can write pages on the character or start with what is needed for the story, and fill in the blanks as you go along.

What is POV?

Point of View is the perspective through which a story is told – how a writer lets a reader see, hear and experience a story. The POV chosen can influence the reader, making them more distant or involved in the story and the characters.
So choose wisely.

How to choose a POV.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How many POVs do I need to tell the story?
  • Do I want the reader to remain distant or becoming more emotionally involved with the characters?
  • Do I want the story in a character’s POV or the author’s POV?

Here’s some information that may help you decide.

Types of POV.

First Person: This is currently popular in YA fiction. The story is told from the main character’s POV, using I/me/my, bringing the reader closer to the main character – in his or her headspace.

Second Person: This is less commonly used. The story speaks directly to the you, the reader, using you/your. It is more personal and places the reader into the story. However if the ‘you’ does something the reader is uncomfortable with, they may stop reading.

Third Person: The story is told from the POV of multiple characters and is the most popular form of POV. There are several types of third person POV:

  • Omniscient – The story is told from an all-knowing point of view. We know what all the characters know, feel or think. This POV was popular in 19th century literature. It creates distance but can be confusing if not done well due to the feeling of  head hopping, and is cautioned against in modern writing. An example of omniscient writing is Pride and Prejudice or War and Peace.
  • Third Person Limited – The story is told from the perspective of one character only. We do not get any insight into what other characters are actually thinking or feeling. This is popular in modern writing and creates distance.
  • Deep POV: This is becoming more popular. The story is told in one character’s POV (usually the hero). We see deep into the character’s thought, feel what they feel and experience the story through their voice. There is no ‘she thought’  but instead we read direct thoughts. This provides more intimacy for the reader.
  • Third Person Multiple –  This provides more options for the writer and the reader. The story is told through more than one charater’s POV. Generally a scene will be from one POV, ie. one POV per scene. However in modern writing a change of POV can be signalled by skipping a few lines (blank) before continuing with a new POV. This is the preferred POV in modern literature.
    Multiple POV can be done via third limited POV, deep POV or first person POV.

But wait, there’s more!

There are also out of character points of view.

  • Camera angle – This is one of my favourites. Imagine being a movie camera, recording the story. You can describe it – what is seen, heard or smelt – but you can’t provide any judgements. No emotions or thoughts. No internalisation. It is best used like an establishing shot, setting the scene or can be used – in short bursts – to create distance. You can see the oranges  of a sunset melting into the sea but you can’t call it beautiful.
  • External narrator – The story is told by a narrator, as if they were retelling the story. The narrator is often a quirky character unto itself. This POV was popular in 17th, 18th and 19th century literature though modern writers, like Terry Pratchett and Douglas Addams, excel at this POV.
  • Shadow or Hand-cuff – Think Agatha Christie. You follow the characters through the story but never really get into their heads. There is no internalisation. Or the game would be given away!

So now ask those questions again:

  • How many POVs do I need to tell the story?
  • Do I want the reader to remain distant or becoming more emotionally involved with the characters?
  • Do I want the story in a character’s POV or the author’s POV?

Did you get the same answers?

Some recommended reading by members:

  1. Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View, by Jill Elizabeth Nelson.
  2. Writing 101: Choosing the best POV for your Story.

-Karen J Carlisle

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Toolbox – Research tips and Techniques

I don’t know about you but, for me, research (particularly that of the internet variety) can be like falling down a rabbit hole. Don’t get me wrong; sometimes the fall is exhilarating. Sometimes it is just another form of procrastination.

Have you ever spent two hours searching for era-appropriate phrasing or whether a shirt sleeve had a button or cuff link as a closure? My Google-fu fails me regularly. (by the way, it was a button.)

This month, my writing group’s toolbox topic was research tips and techniques.

Something unexpected was unearthed by our discussion. It seems even the meaning of the term research can differ. The online Oxford dictionary defines research as ‘the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions‘.

To some in our group, ‘reaserch’ meant finding specific proof to back up facts in a pre-written story outline, with research done in response to specific requirements based on the plot points of their story.

To others it was a multi-phase method, sometimes initiated by an idea, a mood, a title or a picture. Most (possibly up to 80%?) research was done before writing – a form of background immersion in a world or timeline (like the writing iceberg.) Once drenched in the ambiance of the chosen topic, we write, letting the story evolve – sometimes plotting, sometimes pantsing – and making notes for further research along the way. Maybe that’s another difference between plotters and pantsers?

I’m a mostly pantser myself. Most stories start with a spark – a photo, a word, an idea. This is usually followed by weeks of research. A first draft follows. I then concentrated on the picky, specific research (see button vs cufflink comment above) as part of my first rewrite (usually when transcribing my handwritten draft to the computer).

Here are some tips for writing research:

  1. What is your writing style/ How much time do you have?
    Are you a pantser – letting your story evolve? Do more pre-research so you know your story’s background well – even if the reader only gets to see the tip of the iceberg. This can work for plotters too but can take more time. If you are more comfortable plotting a story, or have less time to finish your story, then researching specific facts as you go, or after your first draft, may work for you.
  2. Write a list of topics or questions you need answered.
    And stick to these. Don’t go chasing a titbit just because it sounds interesting.
  3. Use ‘TK’ notations in your draft or manuscript.
    As I write, questions arise or facts needed checking. I note them using ‘TK’. This was a method I gleaned from other writers. The letters TK are rarely found together in the English language. A TK computer word-search of the manuscript will pull up all the items needing further research.
  4. Google search: be specific with your questions. 
    eg. ‘Who made jammy dodgers’? / ‘What is the smell produced by the New Model No. 3 Smith and Wesson revolver, using ‘black-powder, centre-fire, metallic revolver cartridge (1882)?’ (is that specific enough?) – this was an actual question I googled for a short story. Maybe it was too specific? It led me to a YouTube video (useful to describe the sound) and book, Chemical Analysis of Firearms, Ammunition, and Gunshot Residue by James Smythe Wallis.
  5. Read and Use Wikipedia footnotes and bibliography
    The problem with Wikipedia is anyone can add to the pages. This means you can’t always believe what you read. Read the footnotes, check out the references. Check facts for yourself.
  6. Don’t forget books!
    Your library is your friend. I can order inter-library loans for research books, if my local doesn’t have it. If I use the book alot, I search online second hand book stores. (I bought a copy of Chemical Anaysis of Firearms, Ammunition, and Gunshot Residue and have used it many times.)
  7. Keep folders (paper or computer) of your research
    I have both. I have boxes for specific story ideas, and computer folders and notebooks on specific research topics.

Some useful websites we use:

  1. Boothe’s Poverty Maps – This is a colour-coded map of 1889 London, showing socio-economic categories of each street.
  2. British History Online – http://www.british-history.ac.uk/catalogue
  3. Centre for History of Medicine (Harvard) – online ‘Curated content from the Center for the History of Medicine’s extraordinary collections’
  4. Google Maps – I often use this in conjunction with Boothe’s Poverty maps.
  5. Gutenberg Project – digitised online books, from many countries, with searchable catalogue.
  6. Trove – historical newspaper clippings held by the National Library of Australia.
  7. UK Census (1881) – others also available online.
  8. Victorian Literary Studies Archive – list of various ‘Victorian era’ webpages

-Karen J Carlisle

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Dialogue – Let’s Talk About It

The toolbox topic this month is dialogue – now, that’s not just a couple of heads having a chat or an argument – and it created a lot of discursive discussion and the occasional heated opinion. That’s life in a group of people who want to understand the best way to put the story out there in the format that makes it most powerful, most connected, the most ‘real.’

Dialogue is so much more than the character (or characters) talking, putting words between quotation marks. If the dialogue in the story doesn’t do something (whether that is clear or not at this stage of the story), then it probably shouldn’t be there at all. Dialogue does need to do something. For a start, it needs to  be a true and unique reflection of that character: how they speak, why and when they speak, the words and sentence structure they use, and the hidden or sub-textual meanings or hints.

Tags and pronouns need careful consideration. Do we (the reader) know who the ‘he’ or ‘she’ refers to – has the name been used in the right place to enable a smooth flow of understanding with no need for the reader to go back a step, or a scene, or . . . (worst) stop reading?

If the dialogue is read out with ‘actors’ in the roles, doing the actions and making the moves, does it make sense? Does it do or create the mood or sense that is required for that moment in the story?

Consider the work dialogue must do in story:

First – speak for the character in the voice and tone and POV of the character (their personality); it needs to move the story in a direction (or misdirection); provides information that is new or necessary (but only by following the principles of POV and personality); it should (must) ensure the conflict issue is front and centre, being dealt with (or not); it will reveal character, either by what they say or don’t say, or conversations they avoid (silence is a conversation); and it is an element that allows the most emotion to be brought forward by that character. It can be used to foreshadow (in tiny little bits), to enhance tension and to set the tone of the scene.

Above all, dialogue will make the story interesting if it is true to POV character and does the three most important things: move the story in a direction, put information (subtly – no tell or exposition in dialogue please), and deepens the conflict.

Go ahead, try it – see how easy it isn’t!

 

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