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Category Archives: Point of View

Headswerving: Storytelling from Multiple Points of View

By Vaughn Roycroft

Multiple faces with textHeadswerver Extraordinaire: What, you’ve never heard the term? I’m guessing you haven’t since I made it up. It’s a riff on the Shakespearian bedswerver, or one who is not faithful to a single bedmate, prone to swerving capriciously from one bed to another; a playful name for one with a voracious sexual appetite and/or an adulterous inclination.

I made it up because I happen to be one. A headswerver, not a bedswerver.

So what’s a headswerver? It’s a fiction writer who is not faithful to a single character’s point of view, prone to swerving capriciously from the viewpoint of one character to another. To deserve the moniker, one should be prone to writing from many characters’ viewpoints. I’m not alone. George RR Martin is a well-known headswerver, as are Joe Abercrombie and Guy Gavriel Kay, to name a few. Robert Jordan and Marion Zimmer Bradley were also eminent headswervers.

My headswerving may not be as outrageous as someone like GRRM, but I’m right up there. Most writing educators advise moderation when it comes to multiple POVs, some saying keep it to two or three, perhaps four at the extreme. I have eight. And that’s just in book one.

All told, in all four of my manuscripts, I have written from the tight third-person perspectives of twenty-two characters. Hello, my name is Vaughn, and I’m a compulsive headswerver.

Scale and Dimension: I didn’t know any better when I started. I had no sense of restraint in my use of multiple POVs. I simply wrote what I like to read, and considered this approach the best way to tell my tale. I write historical fantasy, and the scope of my world is, if I do say so, rather epic. I was interested in seeing my world from a variety of angles. Utilizing the viewpoint of several (okay, in my case, many) characters helps me to give readers a grasp of the scale of the story. Seeing the issues and conflicts from various perspectives adds dimension to what could be as flat as a map when viewed from a lone standpoint.

I’ll give you an example in relation to setting. In book one I have four characters from three ethnicities, hailing from disparate backgrounds, all starting the story from one place—a walled port city on the northern shores of the Black Sea. For one character, the Greek provincial governor, the city is an opulent world, his ancestral home, rightfully back in the control of his family, a wealthy shipping dynasty. For another, the Roman garrison commander, it’s a stinking backwater post, an assignment he deems beneath his noble standing. There are also two Gothic characters who start the story there, and to them the city is a prison, as they are both slaves. The younger of the two, a slave most of his life, escapes with the aid of the other slaves, bidden to bring back an army of his kinfolk. The other, an aging warrior from a wide green land, stays behind, willingly remaining cloistered in a windowless stone room for an oath to a dead king.

A simple port city could’ve been a distant and detached spot on a map for most of my tale, as neither of my MCs have ever been there. I’m hoping that instead, the experience of these four distinctive secondary characters give the place shape and shading, bringing its history to life.

On the Other Hand: I’ve read my share of stories, particularly historical fantasy stories, where the antagonists are just a distant looming peril. While there’s nothing wrong with looming peril, I believe a story can be enhanced if we get to know the opposition. And I’m not just talking about a scene where the dark lord uses telepathy to strangle a messenger bearing ill tidings, simply to show us he is merciless and arbitrarily cruel. For me it’s all the better that Sauron is a duplicitous fallen demigod, corrupted by a desire to create order from chaos; that the Nazgûl were deceived kings of men, lured to accept corrupting rings by their promise of power; that Darth Vader went to the dark side in a vain attempt to rescue lost love from death’s grip. I want more than simple good versus evil. Give me many shades of gray (no, wait—oh, never mind). I like to know what’s driving my favorite antagonists.

And what better way to get to know a character than to be in their skin, to feel their feelings of betrayal, loss, or injustice? What drove them to the dark side? Is their side even dark to them? Headswerving to your baddies’ viewpoints delivers the answers. Goals can be clarified, motivations strengthened, and conflicts escalated when we are brought deeper into the psyche of the antagonists by seeing the story from their perspectives. For me there’s an added bonus: they’re just plain fun to write.

Options for Optimizing: Headswerving also allows you to optimize the tension and impact for any given scene. It’s not just what’s happening, but who’s experiencing it. For example, say a character slaps another across the face. Who’s going to best sense whether the incident will escalate and how? The slapper or the slappee? Maybe it’s a bystander. Who best knows the depth of shame involved, or the amount of regret for the impulse? Which is greater? Rather than offering the reader just a stinging hand or cheek, you allow them to experience the event from the head that feels the fullest impact and senses the gamut of the potential repercussions.

How about a first kiss? Who is most shocked, or elated, or scandalized? Okay, how about a death? Who’s going to be horrified? Who least expected it? Who will be devastated? You can explore one or all of them—see the incident and delve the ramifications in any variety of ways. But most importantly, you get to choose the perspective that best moves your story forward and will deliver the biggest impact on your readers.

My Rose Colored POV Glasses: By now I’m sure you’ve surmised that I’m unabashed and unrepentant about my headswerving. I may love seeing from the eyes of many, but I’m not completely blind to the pitfalls. I’ve made my share of mistakes with my profusion of POVs, and I may make even more changes to my manuscripts before I’m done. So before you jump on the headswerver bandwagon, take a note of caution from a longtime devotee. Be aware of these potential complicating issues:

* Make them distinctive!  Be sure each character has a unique voice and perspective. Does each character come across differently and offer the reader a fresh outlook? Use of quirks and vocal tics can be helpful, but don’t rely on tricks. Make sure each POV character has a singular personality and set of opinions. Don’t duplicate worldviews.

*Avoid head-hopping. Make sure it’s very clear to the reader whose skin they are in. It can feel disorienting or even creepy when they aren’t sure. Delineate the changes with a scene break or a chapter change, and quickly identify the new POV after the change—within a line or two.

*Don’t fall down the rabbit hole. Secondary character POVs can be a blast to write, and they often aid the pacing. The development of subplots can enhance your story’s themes and keep your novel’s middle from sagging. But beware of being sidetracked! Your readers want to follow your protagonists—after all, they’re the ones you put in the story’s driver’s seat. Get back to him/her/them… Often.

*Offer closure. Don’t allow yourself to leave dangling participants when you get to ‘The End.’ If you’re going to create them, give them an arc. Every POV character should have some clear reason for their departure or the end of their role in the story—for better or worse. (I know some of you brash young headswervers are going to kill a few off, aren’t you? It’s okay, I get it.)

Headswerving’s Head Recruiter: So tell me—are you already a headswerver, or do you enjoy reading them? If you haven’t yet, do you think you’ll ever try a story from multiple POVs? Or are you just annoyed by all this hopping around, wishing I’d join Headswervers Anonymous already?

Vaughn RoycroftMany thanks to Heather Reid for allowing me to fill in for her, and to all the H&C ladies for their hospitality! For those of you who don’t know me, feel free to drop by my other blogging home at vaughnroycroftblog.com anytime, and we can get better acquainted. 

Image credit: rolffimages / 123RF Stock Photo

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Posted by on February 20, 2013 in Characters, Point of View, Uncategorized

 

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Stepping into POV

20130208-163533.jpgThanks for continuing to follow us through our February workshops. A special thanks to those of you who have been brave enough to share your work with us. We sincerely appreciate the opportunity offer up some of the things we’ve learned over the years, but also the chance to learn from you. If you haven’t yet, be sure to enter to win a 25 page critique from Month9Books editor, our very own Courtney Koshel.

“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”
— Roger Miller

Today I’d like to talk about point-of-view, something that has always been highly important to me and something that has evolved in my writing over the years. For those of you who have read my stories, you know I like to dig my heels deeply into my characters’ hearts, set up camp, and then invite you in for a hot cup of coffee. It’s the best seat in the house.

There are three common points-of-view used in fiction: 1st person, 3rd person limited, and 3rd person omniscient. Two things usually dictate which one you choose: your writing style or your story. For me, first person is a choice I’ll make 9 times out of 10 because that’s how I connect to my characters and that’s what shapes the tone of my story. It’s a stylistic thing.

For others, it may vary from story to story. For instance, fantasy is often written in 3rd person because of the vast amount of world building that needs to be done, while Young Adult is commonly 1st person to create the familiar emotional intensity of adolescence in the reader. I’ll let you Google the many articles out there about which one is right for you, but no matter your choice, there are some common tips that mean the difference between watching the story play out on a mental screen and stepping into the character’s shoes.

Eliminating Filter Words

Courtney already gave us a wonderful post on filter words and in it she says, “They distance the reader from the story. It’s one extra step the reader has to take in order to experience action with the character.” There’s no better way to say it so I’ll leave it at that and encourage you to check out her post again for a list of common filter words.

Sensory Details

Including the five senses is essential in each scene yet it often gets overlooked. I think we’re so used to experiencing the world through them, we take for granted that without them I wouldn’t be able to feel the warm blanket over my legs right now; I wouldn’t hear the space heater running beside the couch; I couldn’t see the screen in front of me to type this, or taste the remnants of the Granny Smith apple I ate a few minutes ago. I could have simply said I’m typing this on my iPad in my living room but don’t the use of my senses create a much clearer picture?

Character Thoughts and Feelings

In any given moment, a person has an emotional reaction or thought about what is happening around them, or what happened earlier in the day or week or month. They have feelings about what other people say or do, or what might happen in the future. It is a rare moment when we aren’t reacting to our surroundings. Bring your character to life by giving us a glimpse into his or her mind and heart with internal monologue, skillfully included using the POV of your choice. Make us feel it too.

There are many ways to put readers behind the eyes of your characters but these are just a few. They say you don’t know someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, and a novel is a cross-country trek. Bring us along.

In the comments, I would love to see a few paragraphs of your work-in-progress where you might need a little help with implementing these techniques. The ladies and I here to support you and speaking from experience, nothing helps your grow in your craft more than trial and error with an encouraging group or writing friends. 🙂

Photo by Newtown grafitti

 

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My Favorite Hugs and Chocolate Posts

Sometimes, a hug is all what we need – Jesslee Cuizon

What a good year it’s been over here! I though that the best way for me to end off things would be to share a few of the post by the wonderful ladies I share this blog with. If any of the links go to places they shouldn’t, please let me know.

It’s been such a pleasure getting to know all of you this year. I’m giving all of you big virtual bear hugs. I can’t wait to see what next year will bring us.

It’s been an honor, ladies and gentlemen.

Jamie Raintree

My Romance With Writing

Who Cares About Writers?

Instruction Manual for a Full-Time Writer

Why Character Archetypes Aren’t Just About Commercialism

Why I Heart Scrivener for Outlining

How to NaNoWriMo During Thanksgiving

Tonia Marie Houston

Bring Your Shovel

St. Patrick and the Writer’s Trinity

Gift Ideas for the Writer in Your Life

33 And It Feels Divine

Give Your Characters Quirk

Synopsis Fundamentals

Heather L Reid

Learn to Love Writing Queries

Dream Big and Never Give Up: How I Landed a 2 Book Publishing Deal

The Third Perspective: Why I Love Third Person Narrative

The First Editorial Letter: Let the Revisions Begin… Again

Riding the Revision Coaster: Completing My 30 Day Deadline

Rebecca Fields

What If…

Luck of the Irish?

The Magic of Fairy Tales

A World of Ideas

Pardon Me, Social Media

Read A (Banned) Book

Courtney Koschel

Filtering Filter Words in Your Writing

Questions to ask When Hiring an Editor

I Suck Syndrome: Recognize it and Beat it

Giving and Getting the Most Out of Critiques

Common Comma Issues

Manuscript Formatting

Jani Grey

Support from the obvious places

Need a little motivation or inspiration? I have some of that for you

Personal Perspective: Why I write 1st person POV

Let me tell you why you’re a winner

The Small Things

Why the subject of your blog post is so very important

Guest Posts

Visualize Your Way to Success: Guest Post by Vaughn Roycroft

DIY Editing and Proofreading Part 1 with Karen S. Elliot

Editing, Proofreading, and a Contest with Karen S. Elliot

Pants on Fire: Guest Post by Laura Long

Guest Post by Brian Taylor: Take a Walk… On a Tightrope: One Writer’s Journey

I’ll see you next year. Have a happy and safe new year!

 

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Why THE SUBJECT of your blog post IS SO VERY IMPORTANT

I’m throwing another opinion post your way. Because I can. https://i1.wp.com/mediaserver.pulse2.com/uploads/2011/10/greader-logo.jpg

When I get home after work, I make myself something to drink, and sit down to do/check my social media things for the night. It’s part of how I unwind, de-stress, and also get ready for the writing things I’ll do a little later.

My Google Reader is part of this ritual, and an extremely busy place. I follow an insane amount of blogs for various reasons, each of them providing me with something different.  Most of them have to do with the writing/publishing world, and a few others are for fun and inspiration.

Which brings me to the subject of subjects. My reader is full of awesome post. On good days I might have well over 75 unread posts, but there just isn’t time to read all of them. So I scan the subjects/headings and read the ones that tell me exactly what the post is about, if it’s something I’m interested in.

I’ve got my reader open at the moment. Right now I’ve got a total of 27 unread posts and it’s only 10:30. There’s no way I can read all of them, but I will scan the subjects.

Let me give you a few examples…

In my agents folder there’s a post about word count, I’m definitely going to read it. Another one I’ll definitely be reading is Why you should pitch a single book. Both these posts tell me exactly what I’ll be reading. If the subjects had been something like Words and Numbers and Selling Single Books, I wouldn’t even have opened the posts.

My author folder has 5 unread posts, but there’s nothing I want to read based on the subjects alone. And the thing is, I might have missed something wonderful and informative. If the subject doesn’t convey what the post is about, I’m probably not going to read for the simple reason that I just don’t have the time. You have to make me want to read it. Throwing out fancy, thought-provoking titles don’t always work. If your goal is to get readers and comments, get to the point.

In my writing/publishing folder I just found a post titled Alternative Meanings for Names of Senses. YES! The people at Daily Writing Tips ALWAYS get right to the point with their post subjects, and I appreciate it. I even stopped working on this post to read it. Job well done.

See what I’m getting at? Subjects are important. If you want me to read what you’ve written, make sure your subject tells me exactly what you’re blogging about.

One other thing. If your post shows up in my reader with only the first paragraph or two, and I have to go to your blog to read the rest, I’m not going to read it. Of course there are exceptions, but those are few and far between. Yes, it suck, but so it goes.

Time. It’s all about time.

This is just something to think about the next time you type up a post for you blog. If you don’t mind people maybe skipping what you’ve blogged about, go ahead and title your post whatever you like.

Did this post come across as ranty? I hope not. I just really want the best for you and your blog words.

A question for anybody who read the far: Would any of you be interested in a very basic Google Reader for the Writer tutorial? A few weeks ago I chatted with somebody on twitter and she said she had no idea how to use Google Reader. I can’t even comprehend this. How does she keep track of what’s happening in the blogging world if not for using a reader? I’d be lost and will feel uninformed without mine. So, a tutorial. Yes? No?

 

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How Reading is Important to Writing

Before my regular post today, I want to take a minute to thank Karen S. Elliot for visiting our blog last week, as well as everyone who participated in the contest to win a sample of her services. A winner was chosen at random on Random.org. From all of us, we extend our congratulations to Darlene Foster! Karen will contact you to claim your prize!

In On Writing Stephen King said, “if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” Clearly, Stephen King wasn’t nursing a baby twice a night and taking a toddler to the ER for stitches. These days, our responsibilities are endless. Most days, I don’t have the luxury for both reading and writing, and for a girl who has dreams of publishing one day, the writing has to get done.

Even so, I have been reading a lot more lately and I’m glad for that. I’ve discovered some incredible authors, many of which are in the genre I write, so not only does it help me relax after a long day, I feel like I’m learning a lot from those who have already successfully done what I hope to do one day. So I understand what King is trying to say. Reading is the quickest way to teach us how a story should be told.

A Lesson in Writing

For instance, last week I finished reading the book The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue by Barbara Samuel-O’Neal. (If you like Women’s Fiction, this is a must read.) It was one of those books I never wanted to end because I was so entranced with her writing style and the characters and the story. I felt completely comfortable in her world and I wanted to wrap myself up in it for just a little while longer.

Facing reality, I started working on my novel again. After reading the work of a clearly seasoned author, I was jarred because in my head my story had that same smooth tone, that same mature voice, the same character development, but somewhere on the journey from my mind to my fingers it had gotten lost in translation. Clearly, Barbara has a few more books under her belt than I do so this was a great opportunity to learn something.

Troubleshooting time.

Concerns: I was still getting comments that my main character was immature. She often felt snarky when she was supposed to be kind. I didn’t feel as rooted in the story as I would have liked. The beautiful setting in my head wasn’t landing on the page. In general, something wasn’t quite connecting.

So, what was it about The Goddesses that connected the reader (me) to the character? What could I implement in my own novel to bring it to life the way it is in my head?

Are you seeing the red flashing light I finally did? Point-of-View!

Up until recently, I used to always write in 1st person, but after reading lots of books in my genre, it seemed like everyone else wrote in 3rd person. For a while, I liked it too because it kept me from getting too wordy. But after a while, it kept me from saying much at all so that most of the time, it was impossible to know how my character was reacting and what had happened to her in the past to make her react that way. The Goddesses is written in 1st person and it gave a sense of being the character instead of just watching her. The story is also written in present tense–something I had never tried and I thought might help me sort out the past perfect tense I kept stumbling on.

Over the last week, I picked up chapter one (again!) and started from scratch, taking the same scene, but changing the POV, tense, and adding in thoughts, background, and opinions of my character. Going over this chapter again for about the tenth time in the last few months almost killed me, but I was happy about the new feel and I sent it off to my writing partners tired but satisfied.

And they were floored by the improvement. Mission accomplished.

Lessons You May Not Know You’ve Learned

It isn’t always easy to make time for reading when writing is so time consuming, but books are the blueprints for building a great story–especially a publishable story. And in this case, I think it saved mine.

Here are some other thoughts about how reading helps you become a better writer:

  • Do you ever read a book and about 50 pages in, think, it feels like it’s about time for a plot point? That’s because years of reading has taught our subconscious mind the natural beats of a story.
  • Do you ever use a word while you’re writing that you didn’t know you knew, or if you’re using it correctly, only to look it up and find out you are? That’s because reading expands our vocabulary every time we pick up a book by a new author who writes with words we’ve never heard before. Context clues implants these new words in our minds, almost without our knowledge.
  • Do you ever finish a book and feel that fluttering in your chest, that excitement? That’s because reading is what made all of us want to be storytellers in the first place. Reading books in your genre reminds you of what inspired you to write this story.

What books do you feel you’ve learned from? What are you reading now?

Photo by shutterhacks

 

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Writing in Past Perfect Tense

Naturally occurring iron springs in Telluride, Colorado.

First off, look at the gorgeous picture. I took that a few weeks ago in Telluride, Colorado. It’s naturally occurring iron springs. Stunning.

Okay, now we get into the fun stuff.

Regardless if your book is written in present tense or past tense (also referred to as simple past), there are times in your story when you’ll probably refer to something that has already happened. Sometimes a flashback is necessary to the story. When going into a flashback, or describing something that has already happened in the past, you’ll want to use the past perfect tense.

Well, when/how do you use past perfect?

Believe it or not, there’s a formula for past perfect: (had + past participle = past perfect). I’m not sure about you, but I learn better when I have an example in front of me, so here we go. I’m going to start off in past tense, go into a past perfect to describe something that has already happened, and then transition back to simple past.

Sebastian meowed over and over, trying to get my attention. He either wanted food or love. (Notice this first sentence is in simple past. The reader knows it’s in past tense, all the events that are happening in the story are told in the past.) I’d just graduated from college when I’d made the decision to get my very own cat. I’d always wanted a pound kitty. (Going into a flashback, switch to past perfect. Make sure your reader knows you’re talking about something that has already happened.)

Sebastian picked me as much as I picked him. (Here’s where it gets fun. When you go into past perfect, once you establish that it’s in the past, you switch from past perfect to simple past tense, because the word “had” becomes quite cumbersome, even when used in a contraction. The thing to remember is, when we come out of the flashback, make sure the reader is aware by, and the transition to “now” is clear.) He was such an energetic kitten. He played with my roommate’s cat and loved sitting in my window seat. Now (I’m establishing that the flashback is over, making the transition from past perfect to simple past tense), he’s (notice this is in present tense. That’s because it’s an absolute. Sebastian is still alive and kicking, therefore we use the present tense. I’ll have to do another blog post on absolutes, if you’re interested) fat and lazy, but full of personality. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hopefully that wasn’t too painful, and yes, I do love my animals an absurd amount.

The key to using past perfect is transition. You have to clue your reader in on the timeline. Make sure it’s smooth. This will eliminate confusion, and it allows you to tell more aspects of your story by using things from a character’s past.

If you have any questions, ask away, and I’ll answer in the comments.

Useful links:

This is a great article about writing effective flashbacks.

Visit this page for more past perfect examples.

 

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You’re doing it right!

Hey everybody.

It feels like it’s been ages since I asked how you’re all doing. How are you? Really?

I don’t know how many new writers we have as part of our community, but I feel that what I want to talk about applies more to you guys, or those trying out new genres and new territory in you writing.

This month we’re taking it back to basics, which had me reminiscing about when I’d first started my writing journey. One of the things that stand out the most when I think about when I first started writing is a pretty simple question, and the feelings that went it.

Am I doing it right?

It’s such an inconsequential question but it carries so much weight, mostly with myself. Tell me I’m not the only one.

I carried this question with me while I wrote my first novel, and I’ll admit that it put a bit of a damper on the wonderful experience of putting my very first story down in words. I kept on worrying that I was doing it wrong, don’t ask me in what way, I still don’t know. But I worried about it. I’d spend hours at night staring at the ceiling thinking about it while I tried to fall asleep.

A few weeks ago I thought about this question again when I decided to write a genre that I’m not as familiar with as I’d like to be. As I spun my new story, this question poking around the back of my head, I took a moment and answered it.

Am I doing it right?

Yes, I am doing it right.

Why?

Because I’m doing it my way.

It’s strange what a difference the realization made. It’s relief and joy and stupid grinning and motivating and all the other wonderful things that go with answering a question that’s been bugging you for years.

This is stepping away from that comfort zone you’ve made your home and trying something new. Even if you do it wrong(which you’re not), you still did it. How can that be anything but right?

 
 

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