Story POV: Yours, Mine, and the Truth

Choosing your stories point of view (POV)

“There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the cold, hard truth.” ~ Don Henley

Choosing your point of view (POV) is one of the most critical aspects of your novel writing. Yet it is also one of the most automatic. Most writers leap into a story, and start writing from their main character’s perspective, in either the first or third person. This early decision can cause issues later on, if the point of view isn’t the ideal one for your story.

POV is also one of the main tools that establishes the narrative mode of your story. It dictates how involved your readers become, by limiting how much information your characters are able to reveal. It brings a unique perspective to the story, which can drastically change if you rewrite a passage with a different point of view. Take a look at some of the most commonly used points of view in literature, and see if your writing could benefit from a perspective face lift.

First Person POV

Your main character speaks directly to your audience, using “I, me, mine”. When using the first person, you are restricted to revealing only one character’s inner thoughts. Your readers see the world through your protagonist’s eyes only, learning new facts only when they are discovered by your hero. Descriptions of your setting, other characters, and obstacles are all filtered through the POV character’s perspective.

This technique is particularly effective when you are writing a character driven story. Your theme will often depend on the character’s personal growth, inner transformation, and the struggles she faces. It is less effective when you need to be able to switch your perspective from character to character, as readers may struggle when presented with another first person point of view within a story. You may try switching characters at chapter breaks, but readers will greatly identify with the character whose head they’ve been in from the beginning, and may resist the unusual break in perspective.

Third Person Limited POV

Your narrator or narrative voice speaks about your characters, using “he, she, them” while focusing primarily on one or two characters. You still retain some of your authority as a writer, and can describe the rest of the story’s world without the need to take your protagonist’s perspective into consideration. Usually, the story will focus on only one character within a chapter, and perspective switches occur at chapter breaks.

Romances are a great example of when two characters share the protagonist role, and when third person limited is split between two characters. However, be on the lookout for when your point of view slides into another person’s perspective without you realizing it. This can cause confusion for your readers, who may not understand why your story is being seen through another person’s eyes all of a sudden. Also, make sure that you don’t unintentionally reveal facts and thoughts that your protagonist cannot know, or else your story’s continuity can be undermined.

Third Person Omniscient POV

Your narrator speaks in a similar way to third person limited, except that they can reveal anything and everything about your characters. The sky’s the limit here, as you can begin with a grand overview of your book’s world, and then zoom in to the perspective of a bumblebee. This perspective is excellent for plot driven stories, where you need to jump from scene to scene taking place in various areas of the world.

However, third person omniscient is also one of the most difficult perspectives to do well. If you jar your readers too much by jumping around, they may lose interest and set your story down. While you can do anything you want, you probably shouldn’t. Guide your readers through your story with grace and skill, and they will be blown away by the expansiveness and complexity of your tale.

Choose a passage from your latest story, and determine what POV you have used. Try rewriting it another point of view, and see how your story changes! What is your favorite point of view?

Photo Credit: Dreamglow Pumpkincat210

Word Count: Murdering Your Darlings and King’s 10% Rule

Murder Your Darlings ~ Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” ~ Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1914)


First drafts tend to be unusually long winded. We write at length because it is the surest way to express those thoughts and impressions most profound. We over-describe. We add chatter. We include thinking words. In the process of writing a first draft we write with a freedom of expression that is uncensored and unfettered.

A first draft is NOT a final draft.

Recently, a client emailed me with a request to edit the first chapter of their first draft. I don’t recommend hiring an editor for your first draft. The story has barely begun to be formed after your first pass and it requires at least one (preferably two) more drafts before it should be handled by others. In this case, the fact that it was a first draft wasn’t the issue. The fact that it was an 11,000 word count first chapter was.

There are no hard and fast rules about how long a story should be. Even the standard guides aren’t concrete. A story is as long as it takes to tell the story. But there are conventions that we tend to follow to increase our odds of being read. Very few readers will be comfortable facing such lengthy chapters.

When Writing Long Is Writing Long-Winded

The best way to handle the obesity of that first draft is to follow Stephen King’s Ten Percent Rule. In 1966, when King was still in high school he received a rejection slip that offered profound advice for the young writer.1

“Not bad but puffy,” the editor wrote. “You need to review for length.”

That wise editor gave King a winning formula:

“2nd Draft = 1st draft – 10%”
~ Stephen King (2002)

But you’ve got lots of darlings in your first draft. How do you really know where to cut the fat and prune the weeds? Which words are fat? Which words are weeds? Each story is different but there are some words we use in modern language that are unnecessary when writing fiction.

Words You Should Search And Destroy

When you examine a draft for superfluous words or seek ways to be more concise you can sharpen the language of the manuscript and reduce the word count. There are a selection of words you can almost always cut without changing the meaning of a sentence. The first five words you can cut are:

  1. Just: The only time this word is actually a word is when you use it to mean, “guided by truth, reason, justice, and fairness”.2 There are other meanings but the word is cruelly misused so when it appears in your manuscript odds are it can be obliterated.
  2. Really: I would “really” like to obliterate the word “really”. This is an adverb that is always underwhelming. It has no substance or measure. If you feel inclined toward hyperbole find a more distinct and effective word and no, “totally” doesn’t count.
  3. Quite: This word often feels like it is trying to justify its existence. It is timid and quiet which is perhaps why the word “quite” often gets misspelled as “quiet”. The words in your story should be empowered and confident.
  4. Perhaps: Sometimes your characters may use this to indicate uncertainty. The trouble is, “perhaps” reflects uncertainty to the reader too so use it with care and only in dialogue.
  5. That: This word needs careful consideration. It’s not always one that can be cut without thought like the four above. In that sentence, and this one, the word “that” is used to define the subject of the sentence. But sometimes, even when used in this way, it is not necessary.

A Sixth Word To Cut

  1. So: My personal pet-peeve word is “so”. I believe this word can be obliterated in every single instance. Prove me wrong! If you can think of a sentence that requires the word “so” to make sense, share it in the comments. Until you can, search and destroy “so” in all of your writing.

What other words do you feel should be obliterated from fiction and what other ways do you reduce the word count of your first draft by ten percent?

References:
1. Poynter Online, The Ten Percent Solution First Draft by Chip Scanlan
2. Dictionary.com – just (adj.) 1. guided by truth, reason, justice, and fairness: We hope to be just in our understanding of such difficult situations.

Photo Credit: 09-18-07 © archives
Photo Credit: 11-27-08 © mark wragg

Character Birthdays: Happy Birthday, Heros and Heroines

Happy Birthday Cake for Heroes, Heroines, and CharactersDo you know your when to wish your characters a happy birthday? Many writers neglect the most important day of their protagonist’s life. After all, if she was not born into your imaginary world, you wouldn’t be able to tell her story now. But there are stronger writing issues to consider when deciding your male and female characters celebrate their birthday.

Happy 29th, Again

What is your character’s attitude toward her birthday, and her age? Does she dread every passing year, or does she celebrate with a blow-out party that includes everyone she’s met in her life? When are the birthday’s of your character’s family? If you don’t know, you are missing out on a key area of characterization that you could explore.

More importantly, you may miss her birthday all together! If her birthday falls right into the middle of your story, your character wouldn’t completely forget. At the very least, she would comment to herself about how she is far too busy to go out with her friends this year. Perhaps she’ll miss visiting her parents, because she has now moved halfway across the country to start her new job. Are your character’s kids celebrating their birthdays with a crisis filled birthday party? Her new love interest may forget, and schedule his monthly golf game on the birthday weekend she expected him to take her to his beach side villa. Unless you know, your characters will never age, and gain the wisdom that comes with reflecting over the course of their lives so far.

What’s Your Sign?

Another consideration is that you or your characters may have an interest in exploring what their birthday stands for, in the universal scheme of things. Astrology and Numerology use a person’s birthday to determine their personality traits, and the possible issues they might have to deal with throughout their lives. If you are struggling to flesh out a character, you can look up their birthday, and discover how they might act in their relationships, careers, and home lives. If you don’t like what the results turn up, you can change their birthday to a different sign, and start over. Even if you don’t care about such things, your young college student heroine might read her horoscope every morning, and you ought to have an idea what it would say.

Other uses for birthdays include exploring what happened on that day in history. If your historical hero was born on the day the Civil War started, he would have a different upbringing than someone whose parents raised him during the Great Depression. Many websites and books have such “Day in the Life” descriptions, or you could scan old newspapers near your character’s real world hometown. Even less famous events could play into your character’s life, such as if she were born on the same day the water tower fell and flooded her home.

Planning For Other Character’s Birthdays

Even if your story covers a short amount of time, it is wise to know when all of your characters are born, not just your protagonist. She may be planning a surprise party for her best friend, when she suddenly loses her job and can’t afford to do so anymore. Your antagonist may decide to cause havoc on his birthday every year, because local bullies wrecked his 18th birthday party.

Birthdays are a great rite of passage that everyone goes through each year. It marks new growth, beginnings, and a chance to start life with a clean slate. Your characters could use these same milestones, to take your story in new and unexpected directions.

What do birthdays mean to you, and your stories? Have you explored how your characters react to growing a year older?

Editor’s Note: Know another birthday you shouldn’t forget? Writer’s Round-About! We’re turning 3 this month so come and win some prizes at our birthday bash.

Image credit: Dan Taylor

Rescue your Darlings by Kenji Crosland

This post is part of the Guest Post Giveaway at the blog Unready and Willing. If you think articles about writing or personal development (or personal development for writers) sounds like a good fit for your blog, please take a look at the Guest Post Giveaway page and see if any of the articles spark your interest.

You may be familiar with the phrase “Murder your Darlings.” This is the mantra repeated over and over again by teachers of the revision process. For many writers this is a painful ordeal that seems to take the life from a piece. Painful as it is, cutting out the parts that seem most precious to you is essential in polishing your work. Oftentimes when an editor will suggest that you cut a passage out of your story or novel, it’ll be one of your favorite sections–this is probably because you felt very good writing it. You were in the flow, and everything that fell onto the page just “felt right” to you. And now this editor wants you to cut it? To trash it as though it never existed? How could they be so cruel?

Is this the part of the writing process that you hate the most? Do hate the feeling that the passages that you had had so much pleasure writing will not see the light of day? I certainly did when I started out writing, but there are good reasons for cutting the fat. Although certain passages are beautifully written, they may do nothing to contribute to a story’s plot or give any insight to the characters. Exchanges of dialogue, though clever, may not really be important at all. The character that you snuck into chapter three was forced into the story just because you thought he or she was interesting. Lost in the flow of your writing, you might have spent two paragraphs describing a horse-carriage and not even know it. These passages simply don’t belong.

Instead of getting out your ax and murdering your darlings right then and there, however, why not consider dropping them off at the orphanage so that another story might be able to pick them up? Essentially you can create a database of written material that just didn’t make the cut for your other stories. Not only does this take some of the pain out of revision, but it also can give you a place to access characters, descriptions, and clever turns of phrases that simply didn’t fit in your other work. Whenever you feel writer’s block coming on, you can infuse some of the good stuff you didn’t use from your previous work into your new one.

To establish this orphanage, create a folder on your computer for your rescued darlings and then make sub-folders with names like “characters,” “descriptions,” “dialogues,” “settings,” and so on. Every time you cut a substantial part from your story, copy it and paste into a new document. Title the document in a way that you’ll be able to recognize it easily when you come back to it. Your “settings” folder would have documents titled “Roadside Cafe,” “African Village” and so on. The “Characters” folder could have documents with the character names, or just a short description like: “Nerdy Mobster” or, “Obsessive-Compulsive Stockbroker.”

Personally I find that I tend not to use too many of my rescued darlings in my new work. It’s comforting, however, to know that they’ll always be there waiting should you ever need them.

Kenji Crosland is a creative writing major who, scared of becoming a starving artist, became a corporate headhunter in Tokyo. Since then he’s regained his sanity, quit his job, and now blogs about creating an ideal career at unreadyandwilling.com. He is also developing a web application that just might change the internet. Follow him on Twitter: @KenjiCrosland.

Have you ever cut a part of your story that you really wished you’d kept? What do you do with the darlings you cut? Have you used a character or scene that didn’t make the cut in one story for another? What kinds of safety nets do you use when editing and revising your work?

Five Traits Your Heroes Must Have

Your Romantic Hero? What character traits does he have?No matter what kind of fiction you write, you have to have a main character, a hero, with various traits. This is especially true in romance writing. Your characters are tall, dark, and handsome. They’re perfect.

Or are they?

Romantic heroes should have great qualities. Here are five qualities your heroes need to be well-rounded, believable characters:

1. Likeability

If you don’t like your hero, your reader won’t either. More importantly, neither will his intended love interest. No interest on the heroine’s part, no story regardless of how much your hero wants to be with her.

Even if he isn’t likeable in general at the beginning of your story, he has to have at least one likeable quality. He also needs potential to grow to be more likeable.

2. A flaw

Let’s face it: People aren’t perfect. Your hero shouldn’t be either. He needs to be flawed.

Give him a physical imperfection. He’s tall, dark, and handsome, with a limp. His face is badly scarred from being burned in a fire.

Give him a psychological imperfection. His uncle is a renegade vigilante who leads bands of clansmen to ambush rival clans as they travel. He’s a womanizer who has been told he has to get married or lose his title and position.

3. A love interest

While your hero could be narcissistic and love himself, he also needs to have an external love interest. What else is a romance but a story between two people, regardless of sexual orientation, as they fall in love and deal with the conflicts that arise as their relationship grows? Well, okay, it could also be a suspense, mystery, or historical, just to name a few. The lover needs to give the hero a reason to grow, to change. He can’t be the exact same person at the end of the story as he was at the beginning.

4. Other interests/events

Do you have one interest and only one interest in your life? I think the answer is no. You have more than one interest. Your hero should, too.

What else is going on in his life that takes his attention away from his one-and-only? War drags him away just as things are starting to get hot and heavy. Hunting takes him away for shorter times. Injury, and possibly near-death, keep him away for longer (but also serves for good growth in their relationship if his love interest is willing to act as his nurse). His job makes him travel cross-country. Football keeps him glued to the television on Mondays.

Give him something else to be interested in. Otherwise, you will have a flat character that no one – including you – cares about.

5. Motivation

What drives your character?

Other than spending time with his heroine, there is another driving force in your hero’s life. Perhaps it is protecting his people, getting a promotion, defending his family’s honor, or making enough money to live comfortably. Without motivation, your character is a dead-beat.

That’s not very romantic.

There are a lot of factors that go into creating a strong character. These five traits, while not exhaustive by any means, provide a good foundation for creating your hero. They are also not exclusive to men. Your heroines also need these qualities, which should complement the hero’s, at least in some ways.

Above all, your heroes and heroines need to be individuals and not cookie-cutter copies of previous characters with different names. Figuring out these main five traits will help develop their individuality. How else can you set your heroes and heroines apart from other characters?

Jen Nipps is a talented romance author and freelance writer/editor based in south-central Oklahoma, USA. She currently spends time in the hands of her love, the hero of her latest historical romance, “Trevor’s Triumph”.

Show, Not Tell, for a Winning Story by Jean Knill

When reading short story submissions, if there’s one thing that will put editors’ or competition judges’ teeth on edge it has to be telling instead of showing. Many stories of old were written like this – that’s why we sometimes find them a difficult read. We haven’t been given word pictures to stimulate our minds.

All the creative writing gurus nowadays tell us you can no longer get away with this. You can’t ‘tell’ your readers that someone felt scared, for example. You have to say the person’s hands shook or heart pounded, so that readers are shown how to make the connection for themselves.

You may believe showing will be easier if you write in the first person. Your readers can get to know your character by what he or she thinks, as well as what they say and do. But you can still fall into the trap of telling. ‘I remembered the tales of the goblins and I was terrified as I walked through the dense wood’, is telling, while ‘My mind imagined hungry goblins behind all the trees, waiting to pounce on me and drag me off to their cooking pot’, shows the readers just how scared your character is. It’s a word picture that can jump into their own minds.

The other disadvantage of first person writing is that you have to stay in the head of that one person all the time. If the person walking through the wood is Mary, how can you show your reader that Pauline is secretly following her? Mary doesn’t know, because Pauline is doing this in secret. This can only work if your plan is to reveal it somehow later in the story. So choosing whether or not to use a narrator, and write in the third person, is an important decision in choosing how to show, not tell.

How can you be sure you don’t commit the crime of telling? How can you stop the anxiety about this from interfering with the flow of your writing? The answer is to forget about it until the editing stage. You wouldn’t write a story and submit it on the same day, would you?

No, you leave it for a couple of days, and then come back to it. And you go through every sentence carefully to check for errors and ambiguity. You want your work to say exactly what you mean in good and correct English.

So you need to add one more layer to this. Ask yourself more questions. What is this telling me, and then, how is it showing me? How else could it be shown? That is the point when you can decide to make changes that will show, not tell.

Once you get into the habit of this, you may find that you need to make fewer changes, because it becomes second nature to write in that way in the first place. And your competition entries will be more likely to reach shortlists and become winners.

Jean Knill is an talented writer and I’ve adored reading her lively and genuine voice. You can read more about Jean and her writing life on her blog, Jean’s Musings and at WriteLink.

An Australian Writer’s Australia Day

The Australian FlagIt’s Australia Day today. Australia Day is similar to the American Independance Day. Of course, instead of celebrating the end of a civil war we celebrate the founding of a new land, a new country, under the mantle of England.

The day is a joy-filled one. Here in Perth, people are pretty nice. Families gather around the state, enjoy the summer sunshine at the beach along the coast or get together for a barbeque before driving out to see the fireworks.

We sing the national Anthem, loudly, proudly, all knowing the words, some even remember what they mean. We sing a few other Australian classics as the night sky, sun just set and stars twinkling, bursts into technicolor explosions.

Days like this are a writer’s fantasy. I sit on the dry scrub hill overlooking the lake in the center of my town where our local fireworks display is in full bloom. My childrens’ faces are alight with excitement, amazement, their hands clasped over their ears because of the noise.

Hundreds of people gather every year for the local fireworks and thousands, tens of thousands, come from all over the state to see the city fireworks. We used to have a yearly tradition to drive into Perth to see the skyshow. It was always spectacular but not a trip a woman and two young kids should make alone, especially the drive home afterwards when 80% of the people on the road have probably had too much to drink.

As I watch the fireworks I listen to extended family around me. They talk of their day, of the display this year, and of the summer heat. It got to around 40C (103F) today. Bushfires leave a haze that made the sunset a dull brown.

Do you write about days like this? Do you hear the dialogue, absorb the atmosphere? There is a story here. A story of the birth of a land, of a people who stand tall, proud, and rejoice to see another year of burning sun and a relaxed peaceful atmosphere.

We’re a youthful country. Secluded for the most part. Sheltered, distinctly alone in the world. We’re unique, set apart from other countries by our size and distance.

I look at Australia on a day like today and see the face of a child, living a celebration in every moment. We’ve had our tragedies, our cyclones, droughts, fires, floods. We’re a hardy people who pull through, rebuild, start over, persevere. How long before the land falls to fallowed lines of age?

There is a story here.

SG1 Series Part Two: Character Development

Characters are an elemental part of every story. An intriguing plot with a good story-arc is important but without approachable characters your story will never connect with an audience. Readers need characters. Characters are the socket for your stories power supply. It is through your characters that readers can plug into the plot and experience the life of your story.

The Stargate series introduces a multitude of characters in various stages and of differing quality and consideration. Some play bit parts as extras or body count but others grow into the story, we come to love them or hate them, we come to care for the part they play in the story, their injuries and deaths bring anguish and grief or heartfelt cheers.


SG1 – Jack, Daniel, Sam and Teal’c

The original SG1 is a team of four diverse characters. Their differences create an initial challenge; they struggle as a unit until they learn to use each others strengths to counter their own weaknesses. It shows the importance of bringing opposites together. These characters are unique in their own fields. It is their united purposes, each individual to their character, which brings them together. A bond is formed that gives this eclectic community a solid friendship. We see the bond develop and grow with the characters as the series progresses.

It is important to blend characters but avoid carbon copies. Each character should be unique and individual. Distinguish them with separate goals, established histories, areas of interest and technique.


The SGC and General Hammond

The Stargate Command is an entity in its own right. It is actually a collection of individuals that work in regulated ways to create a standardized base of operations. There are many faceless characters lead by the General. Most of the time we don’t connect with these individuals but General Hammond represents the unity. His personality molds the actions of the SGC.

Larger forces need a strong head character to represent their interests. Armies can seem like a long column of faceless men but a charismatic leader will show a distinguishing command of his forces. Each of his men is ultimately the voice of this man and a solid leader is one whose men will lay down their own lives to support the orders he puts forth. This is true of the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ guys.


The Goa’uld

While the Goa’uld are a nasty bunch in their own right they are an ideal antagonist. They aren’t evil. They have solid reasoning and a collection of emotional reactions that allow readers to associate with them. The Goa’uld act entirely out of an arrogant sense of self preservation and domination. As a people (um… symbiotic race) they act with rational, intelligent thought. They are challenging but not insurmountable.

Antagonists should be normal people. You can create more impact with a sympathetic antagonist then with a diabolical freak. If a reader can see themselves in a protagonist you have a good story but if readers can see themselves to some small degree in the antagonist then you have a charged situation that will keep a reader tied to the outcome.

There are many more characters involved in the Stargate series. Each new person (or group of people) is shown in snippets. Base motivations appear and personality traits are revealed but characters always have an element that remains unseen. It is impossible to know everything and it is important that characters can still do something unexpected or unpredictable.

Over time, we get to know the main characters. Their own personal stories are revealed and delved into. The primary characters are challenged with personal situations forcing them to make choices that distinguish them. Whole episodes play a vital role in adding depth to these characters and introduce situations that push their qualities forward.

  • Use time in your story to slowly reveal your characters.
  • Allow their actions and reactions to portray the depth of their beliefs and desires.
  • Each scene should use your characters strengths and weaknesses.
  • 3D characters have sides we cannot see.
  • A characters relationships reveal vital clues to their personality.
  • Characters always continue to grow and change based on the situations that occur in each moment of their lives.

Finally, just because your story has reached ‘The End’ does not mean your characters have. Characters should still be imperfect in the final scene. Their growth remains incomplete. Some of your characters may have died but most will live on beyond your closing paragraph and while they began at one point and progressed to another in this story there should always be another world to save, another enemy to fight, another day to live and another dream to follow.

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