Tag Archives: character

28 Jul

How to Write a Book Series: 3 Crucial Decisions

To write a series of books, my biggest tip is to plan ahead. You may get by with writing one book on the fly—plenty of people do that. But for a series to hang together, to have cohesion and coherence, planning is essential. Here are three decisions you should make early in the planning process.

Decision #1: What type of series will you write?

Strategies for a series vary widely. For THE HUNGER GAMES, the story is really one large story broken down into several books. Or, to say it another way, there is a narrative arc that spans the whole series. Yes, each book has a narrative arc and ends on a satisfying note; however, we read the next book because we want to know what happens in the overall series arc. Jim Butcher’s ALERA CODEX is another series with an overall series arc; it was fun to hang out in this world for a long time.

On the other hand, series such as Agatha Christie mysteries (in fact, many mystery series fall into this category) are stand-alone books. What continues from one book to the next is the characters, the setting and milieu, and the general voice and tone of the stories. Once a reader gets to know a character, s/he wants to spend more time with that character. These readers just want to hang out with a friend, your character. A sub-category is the series of standalone books that adds a final chapter to set up the next book in the series and leaves you with a cliff-hanger.

I distinctly remember when I first read Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter series about Mars. Each story is a standalone novel, but he hooked me hard. I started reading at noon on a Saturday and found myself hotfooting it to the bookstore at 4:30 pm because they closed at 5 pm and I had to have the second book to read immediately.

Rarer is the series that crosses genres. This type series begins with one genre, but moves into other genres as the lives of the characters progress. For example, a romance might continue with a mystery for the second book. And the third might move into a supernatural genre. These are rarer because one reason a reader sticks with a series is that they know what they are getting. It will be this type of a story, told in this sort of way and will involve these characters.

On the other hand, some series unabashedly cross genres but they do it for every book. Rick Riordian’s Percy Jackson series is a combination of mythology and action/thriller with a dose of mystery.

Notice that this decision centers on the plot of the stories in the series. Will you plot each separately, or will there be an overall plot?

Decision #2: Characters

Besides plot, you should make decisions about characters, and as with plot, you have choices. One choice is an ensemble cast that will carry over from book to book. Here, you have Percy Jackson, his friends and his family as constants. Each book introduces new characters, of course, but there is a core that stays the same.

Another option is to have just one character remain the same. Agatha Christie had Hercule Poirot traveling around and the only constant was the gumshoe and his skills.

Whether you choose one character or an ensemble, you can add or subtract as you go along. But the characters must be integral to the story’s plot.

In developing series characters, think about cohesion and coherence.

Cohesion: Elements of the story stick together, giving cohesion. For example, if one alien in the family can use telekinesis (moving objects with your mind), then that possibility should exist for all members of the family. Of course, some might not have the power, or it may develop slowly for a child, but the possibility should exist.

Coherence: Elements of a story are consistent from book to book. If Kell’s eyes are silvery in book one, they are silvery in books two, three and four.

Decision #3: How long do you want the series to continue?

Many easy readers series go on forever. Think of THE BERENSTAIN BEARS, who continue their adventures and lives throughout multiple volumes. For this type series, the story possibilities are endless. Or think of a TV series, where the situation set up is rich with possibilities. I Love Lucy ran for years and years on the premise of a slightly crazy wife of a musician.

On the other hand, some series have a finite life span. For stories with a narrative arc that spans a series, the life span is built into the plot. However even for these, there can be spin-offs into related series. Think of Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and Heroes of Olympia series. The A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy and John Gurney had a built-in limit of 26 books.

The Buddy Files Series, Book 1, by Dori Hillestad Butler

The Buddy Files Series, Book 1, by Dori Hillestad Butler

Sometimes, the length of a series depends on the publisher and the early success of the series titles. When Dori Hillestad Butler’s first book in The Buddy Files series, THE CASE OF THE LOST BOY, won the 2011 Edgar Award for the best juvenile mystery of the year, the publisher contracted for more.

For Sara Pennypacker, author of the CLEMENTINE series of short chapter books, the answer of series length depended on something else. In a presentation about writing, she said that she had to ask herself what she wanted to say to third graders. She came up with eight things. Pennypacker focused on the themes of each book (friendship, telling the truth, etc) and found that eight was the natural stopping place for her. Of course, she reserves the right to many more, if other themes present themselves. But she deliberately stepped away from doing a Christmas book, a Halloween book, a 4th of July book, a fall book, a back-to-school book and so on and so forth.

9781629440217-Perfect-PB-CS.inddMy books, THE ALIENS, INC. SERIES, just released in August, 2014, is about an alien family that is shipwrecked on Earth and must figure out how to make a living. It’s been interesting developing these stories and thinking about these three issues.

They accidentally fall into party planning and each book features a different type of party or event put on by Aliens, Inc, the family’s company. KELL, THE ALIEN, the lead-off story, is about a birthday party and of course, it is an alien party. Can the aliens pull off an alien party? The second is about a Friends of Police parade, entitled, KELL AND THE HORSE APPLE PARADE. Book 3, KELL AND THE GIANTS, explored the world of tall and how to keep a giant secret.

Can you tell just from the description some of the decisions I made? There isn’t an overall series arc. Rather, the characters, setting and milieu are set up and there could be endless stories in the series. However, like Butler’s dog mystery series, I am starting with four books and their success will determine future titles. There is a main character who is surrounded by friends and family and, of course, a villainess. These characters weave through the stories and provide cohesion and coherence.

Plan ahead and your series will be stronger. For those who accidentally fall into a series, it will be harder to sustain coherence. You may realize in book three that it sure would be nice if your character had to wear glasses. Yes, you can add it—but you run the danger of it being obviously done for the story itself. So, in my series, early readers have questioned things like the art teacher who is from Australia.

They ask, “Does it matter that she is from Australia?”

“Not yet,” I answer. I just know that I have seeded these early manuscripts with possibilities. If the series goes to books 5-8, I will have hooks to draw upon. So, while I haven’t plotted those books, I have still allowed room for them.

Resource: Writing the Fiction Series: The Complete Guide for Novels and Novellas by Karen S. Wiesner (Writer’s Digest Books)

Want to write a series? What is your favorite series and how will your stories compare?

08 Apr

Complicated Dialogue: Keeping 5 Characters in Line

Today, I’d like to answer a question from a reader.
Shena asks, “I’m writing a story and I have five people who are carrying on a conversation with each other. How do I go about stating each person’s line without constantly using, he said, he replied or using the person’s name to say this person said after the sentence without it being an overkill of redundancy?”

Thanks for the question! You’re right to be concerned about repeating speech tags too often. It’s really a balancing act: on one hand, you don’t want to repeat too often, but neither do you want the reader to get lost. You have limited options, however, and you’ll have to work hard to keep this conversation interesting.

Fiction Notes at darcypattison.com

Speech Tags

Speech tags are the “he said” and “she said” that often accompanies dialogue. Notice that when you use HE or SHE, they are pronouns and will refer to the person immediately preceding. That’s important. The pronoun antecedent must be the right person. In the case of five people talking, you’ll probably need to use the character’s name often.\

James said, “Get lost.”
Jim said, “No way?”
Jill said, “Why?”

In the example above, notice that the job is even harder when character’s names all start with the same letter. Make sure your novel is populated with characters who have unique names that stand in contrast to one another. Not Jill and Bill, because they rhyme. Not James, Jim and Jill because they all begin with the same letter and are all one syllable. Instead, choose something like this: James, Brianna, Marguerite, Ally, and Bob.

Actions in the Midst of Dialogue

Dialogue rarely stands alone, though. When you add actions to dialogue, it’s sometimes called beats. This isn’t the same as action beats in a scene, but instead just means the small actions that are interwoven with dialogue. Sometimes those are the same, but sometimes not.

Dialogue beats are the small actions. Scenes demand actions, not just interior thoughts. What are your characters doing? Changing a light bulb.

James took the light hub out of the package and said, “Get lost.”
Reaching in, Marguerite gently took the package from him and said, “No way.”
Ally stuck out her lip in a pout. “Why?”

Notice here that Ally has an action, but has no speech tag. Sometimes, you can just omit the speech tag, if a character does something right before or after the dialogue and it’s clear that it’s this character speaking.

This still sounds boring, though. Part of that is because we repeated the structure too exactly in the first two sentences. They have an “action and said,” structure, which doesn’t really work here. Vary the structure of your sentences, sometimes putting the dialogue first, last, or even in the middle of the action.

Bob shook his head in disgust.
James tore open the light bulb package and snarled, “Get lost.”
“No way.” Marguerite’s voice was soothing and gentle. She took the torn cardboard from James and patted his shoulder.
Ally stuck out her lip in a pout. “Why should I get lost?” She hesitated and added, “I don’t want to.”
Bob grunted, “Why? Isn’t it obvious?”
“James is just upset,” Brianna said, “But that doesn’t mean he should get his way.”

Notice the variety here.

  • There are some actions without dialogue.
  • Dialogue occurs at the end, the beginning or the middle of the dialogue.
  • After some dialogue, there’s a longer section of actions.
  • I’ve used two substitutes for “said”: snarled and grunted. I don’t like using very many substitutes. Many writers explain that “said” disappears and readers don’t notice it. If you use an alternate word, it should add something important to the story.

Character Tics and Tags

Finally, it’s possible to use character tics or tags to good effect. Perhaps, poor Ally stutters. And James has a high pitched voice.

Bob shook his head in disgust.
James tore open the light bulb package and whined in soprano, “Get lost.”
“No way.” Marguerite’s voice was soothing and gentle. She took the torn cardboard from James and patted his shoulder.
Ally stuck out her lip in a pout. “W-w-why should I get lost?”
“Especially you!” James squeaked.
“W-w-why?”
Bob threw up his hands. “Why? Isn’t it obvious?”
“James is just upset,” Brianna said to Ally, “But that doesn’t mean he should get his way.”

You can start to see how dialogue can be enliveded with actions, sentence variety and small characterizations. You can devise many more ways to distinguish one character from another and use those traits in creating interesting dialogue. Try varying the character’s typical word choices or dialect. Within a larger conversation, too, you might have one character addressing another, as in Brianna’s aside to Ally and Marguerite’s intimate moment with James.

What’s your favorite way to keep complicated dialogue straight, yet keep enough variety to be interesting?

24 Feb

False Teeth and Blue Eyes: Keeping Track of Characters

Traditionally, novelists have been told to keep track of their characters with a Character Bible. Especially for a series that features the same characters, it’s important that a blue-eye beauty in Book 1 is still a blue-eyed beauty in Book 3. To maintain consistency, authors often need to keep detailed lists of characters and his/her characteristics. Of course, it’s not hard to track main characters, but the minor characters can run together in a blur.

Enter, the Character Bible. Often this is a physical notebook that gives each character a page(s) where you jot down important notes about physical or psychological details, along with notes on his/her back story.

But in these high-tech days, there are other ways to do this.

Spreadsheet. Create a spreadsheet with columns for important details. Rows are the names of the characters. One advantage of this is the ability to sort alphabetically. You can see at a glance if every one of your beauties is blue-eyed or brown-eyed or an interesting mix. It’s clumsy when every character’s name sounds like every other one. Just skim the names and try to make sure that names begin with different letters.

Wikis. Wikis are collections of information that allow collaborative editing. What you care about here, though, is that you can organize the data in any way you wish. Perhaps, you want a page for every character, for every family, for different chapters, or specific to one title in a series. It’s up to you. This article explains four options for a personal wiki.

Keep track of your character's false teeth and blue eyes with these tech toys.

Keep track of your character’s false teeth and blue eyes with these tech toys.



Evernote is a popular software that allows you to capture websites, add files and stay organized and synced across various platforms via the Cloud. Uber-fans of Evernote use it to organize their entire life: they store recipes, organize trips, and keep track of homework assignments. The novelist can use it only for work, or extend it into other areas of life. For keeping characters straight, use tags and keywords for eye and hair color, save photos of clothes that Sally might wear, and clip a website article about grieving. Read more about Evernote.

Scrivener is a writing software that allows you to write without worrying about formatting. But it’s far more than that, with the ability to use tags and keywords, to clip websites and store photos or other research materials. It has the added bonus of outlining with text or a simulated cork board with index cards. Though we’re talking about keeping track of characters, this program goes so much farther, even tracking daily quotas of writing. Writers swear by this one, too.

Intro to Scrivener Video

If you can’t see this video, click here.


Pinterest Boards. If you are visually oriented, try creating a Pinterest board for your series and Pin photos of characters, clothing, recipes, setting, etc. Here’s an example of a Character board, and another, and another. These also seems like great ways to promote your book. If you have a character Pinterest board, please leave a link in the comments.

HOW DO YOU KEEP TRACK OF YOUR CHARACTERS?

11 Feb

Idea to Book: Outline + Character

How do you take an idea to a book? I am just starting the process again and every time, it overwhelms me. I know the process works, but it seems so daunting at this first stage. So, I only look forward to the next task, knowing that taking the first step will lead me onward.

For this story, I’ll approach it on several levels at once:

Outlining. This is the fourth book in an easy-reader series, so I know the general pattern that the book will follow over its ten chapters. Chapter one will introduce the story problem and chapter ten will wrap it up. That leaves eight chapters and each has a specific function in this short format. Chapter 2 introduces the subplot, chapter 4 intensifies it and chapter 6 resolves it. That leaves chapters 1, 3, 5, 7-10 for the wrap-up. Chapters 9 and 10 are the climax scene, split into two, with a cliff hanger at the end of chapter 9. In other words, I can slot actions into the functions of each chapter and make it work. Knowing each chapter’s function makes it easier–but not automatic. I’ll still need to shift things around and make allowances for this individual story.

Character Problem. Making my characters hurt is the second challenge. Squeezing them, making them uncomfortable, making them cry, dishing out grief and mayhem–it’s all part of the author’s job. I tend to be a peace-maker and find this to be quite difficult. But if I can manage to bring my character’s emotions to a breaking point by chapter 8, I’ll be able to move the reader. I’ll be searching for the pressure points for the character as the outline progresses. Hopefully, the emotional resolution in chapter 9-10 will be a twist, something unexpected by the reader.

Back and Forth Between Outline and Characters. The nice thing about focusing on just this much at first is that it is interactive. I’ll go back and forth between plot, character and the structure demanded by this series until the story starts to gel. Will it be easy and automatic? Oh, no. I’ll be pulling out my hair (metaphorically) for a couple days. But by the end of the week (I hope) there will be progress.

How do you start your story? Do you free-write, create a character background, or outline? Which parts interact as you create the basis for a new story?

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bk/12392396893/

What Character Are You? Click to Enlarge. Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bk/12392396893/



31 Dec

13 Blast it Out of the Park Posts of 2013

It’s a time to look backward. What are the 13 most popular posts on Fiction Notes in 2013? Here’s the countdown!

Posts Written in 2013

13. 63 Character Emotions to Explore When your character gets stuck at sad, even sadder and truly sad, explore these options for more variety.

12. 5 Quotes to Plot Your Novel By. We always like to know what other authors think about writing and how they work. These quotes are a tiny insight into the writing process.

11. 5 More Ways to Add Humor. Ever popular, but hard to get right, I always need help being funny.

10. Nonfiction Picture Books: 7 Choices. What types of nonfiction picture books are popular now, especially with the Common Core State Standards.

9. Why Authors Should Believe in Their Websites. This was a response to a posting on Jane Friedman‘s website that challenged why authors need a website at all.

8. Help Me Write a Book. A list of suggested resources that will help you write a book.

7. 7 Reasons Your Manuscript Might Be Rejected. A discussion of the rejection cycle and how to defeat it.

c.2013 Dwight Pattison. All rights reserved. My favorite picture that my husband took this year. Pelicans along the Arkansas River

c. Dwight Pattison. My favorite picture that my husband took this year. Pelicans along the Arkansas River


Classic Posts


6. 9 Traits of Sympathetic Characters. How to make that protagonists a nice-guy or nice-girl.

5. 29 Plot Templates. Lost on where to start plotting? Consider one of these options.

4. 30 Days to a Stronger Novel. This series continues to be popular. It’s 30 days of tips for making your novel into the story of your dreams.

3. 30 Days to a Stronger Picture Book. Likewise, 30 days of tips for writing a picture book is hugely popular.

2. Picture Book Standards: 32 Pages. The most frequent question people ask about picture books is how long should they be. Here’s the standard answer, with explanations for why 32 pages is the standard.

1. 12 Ways to Start a Novel. 100 classic opening lines are categorized into twelve ways of opening a novel.

This list reflects the range of topics that consume me and that I want to write about. But it’s not just about me. Please leave a comment with one topic you’d like to see discussed this year.

12 Nov

3 Simple Ways to Use Photos to Establish Characters

boy1

I need my characters to come to life quickly for me and this time, I’m trying a shortcut. Photos.

It’s easy to go to google.com/images or flickr.com and search for images that might fit your characters. Start with a gender (male/female) and age (child, teen, adult, senior, 30s, 40s, etc).

Ethnic background. For my story, I knew that one character had a mixed-ethnic background, combining Asian and Caucasian heritage. What I didn’t know was how strong the genes might be on either side of that, and how they might change for different Asian/northern European mixes. Even better, I found personal stories of growing up multicultural. Sites like this make it easier to add a unique richness to a character, avoiding stereotypes that might result from a specific ethnic background.

Physical description. Frankly, my physical descriptions have gotten stale. I’m not particularly visually oriented and inventing characters physical looks is usually last on my list of writing chores. I keep thinking, “But it’s the inner character that matters.” Of course. But physical looks matter, too. I took several photos and really observed closely, trying for fresh descriptions. Here are three boys. How would you describe each one to make him come alive as a character?
boy1


boy2


boy3

Historical photos. Photos are gold when you are writing historical fiction. Notice details of clothing, shoes, hair styles, setting, surroundings, etc. and use these details as you write.

1971 Tallahassee Civil Rights march. Notice the variety of clothing--great stuff to add to your story.

1971 Tallahassee Civil Rights march. Notice the variety of clothing–great stuff to add to your story.



What’s your favorite way to use photos to establish characters?

06 Nov

Point of View: Inside a Character’s Head

Ivan

How does an author take a reader deeply into a character’s POV? By using direct interior monologue and a stream of consciousness techniques.


This is part 3 of a 3-part series on Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head. Read the whole series.

  • Outside
  • Outside/Inside
  • Inside
  • Going Inside a Character’s Head, Heart and Emotions

    IvanOmniscience.Jauss says, “In direct interior monologue, the character’s thoughts are not just ‘reflected,’ they are presented directly, without altering person or tense. As a result, the external narrator disappears, if only for a moment, and the character takes over as ‘narrator.’” (p. 51)

    Here, “. . . the narrator is not consciously narrating.” In much of IVAN, he is consciously narrating the story. Sometimes, it might be hard to distinguish the difference because the character and narrator are the same, and it’s written in present tense (except when he is telling about the background of each animal). This closeness of the character and narrator is one reason to choose first-person, present tense. But there are still times when it is clear that IVAN is narrating his story.

    But there also times when that narrator’s role is absent. In the “nine thousand eight hundred and seventy-six days” chapter, Ivan is worried about what Mack will do after the small elephant Ruby hits Mack with her trunk:

    “Mack groans. He stumbles to his feet and hobbles off toward his office. Ruby watches him leave. I can’t read her expression. Is she afraid? Relieved? Proud?”

    The last three questions remove the narrator-Ivan and give us what Ivan is thinking at the moment. The direct interior monologue gives the reader direct access to the character. With a third person narrator, those rhetorical questions might be indirect interior monologue; but here, because of the first person narration, it feels like direct interior monologue.

    Or, in the “click” chapter, Ivan is about to be moved to a zoo:

    The door to my cage is propped open. I can’t stop staring at it.
    My door. Open.

    The first two sentences still feel like a narrator is reporting. But “My door. Open.” feels like direct access to Ivan’s thought at that precise moment. He’s not looking back and reporting, but this is direct access to his thoughts.

    A last technique for diving straight into a character’s head is stream-of-consciousness. Jauss says, “. . . unlike direct interior monologue, it presents those thoughts as they exist before the character’s mind has ‘edited’ them or arranged them into complete sentences.” (P. 54)

    When Ivan is finally in a new home at a local zoo, he is allowed to venture outside for the first time. The “outside at last” chapter is stream-of-consciousness.

    Sky.
    Grass.
    Tree.
    Ant.
    Stick.
    Bird. . . .
    Mine.
    Mine.
    Mine.

    What the reader feels here is Ivan’s wonder at the great outdoors. It’s a direct expression of Ivan’s joy in being outside after decades of being caged. We are one with this great beast and it gives the reader joy to be there.

    Or look at the “romance” chapter, where Ivan is courting another gorilla.

    A final note: Sometimes, an author breaks the “fourth wall,” the “imaginary wall that separates us from the actors,” and speaks directly to the reader. This is technically a switch from 1st person POV to 2nd person POV. But it is very effective in IVAN in the second chapter, “names.” Here, Ivan acknowledges that you—the reader—are outside his cage, watching him. It was a stunning moment for me, as I read the story.

    “I suppose you think gorillas can’t understand you. Of course, you also probably think we can’t walk upright.
    Try knuckle walking for an hour. You tell me: which way is more fun?”

    Do stories and novels have to stay in one point of view throughout an entire scene or chapter? No. Not if you are thinking about point of view as a technique to draw the reader close to a character or shove the reader away. You can push and pull as you need. You can push the reader a little way outside to protect his/her emotions from a distressing scene. Or you can pull them into the character’s head to create empathy or hatred. You can manipulate the reader and his/her emotions. It’s a different way of thinking about point of view. For me, it’s an important distinction because my stories have often gotten characterization comments such as , “I just don’t feel connected to the characters enough.” I think a mastery of Outside, Outside/Inside, and Inside point of view techniques holds a key to a stronger story.

    In the end, it’s not about the labels we apply to this section or that section of a story. These techniques can blur, especially in a story like IVAN, written in first person, present tense. Instead, it’s about the reader identifying with the character in a deep enough way to be moved by the story. These techniques–such a different way to think about point of view!–are refreshing because they give us a way to gain control of another part of our story. These are what make novels better than movies. I’ve heard that many script-writers have trouble making the transition to novels and this is the precise place where the difficulty occurs. Unlike movies, novels go into a character’s head, heart and mind. And these point of view techniques are your road map to the reader’s head, heart and mind.


    This has been part 3 of a 3-part series on Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head. Tomorrow, will be Inside: Deeply Inside a Character’s Head. Read the whole series:

  • Outside
  • Outside/Inside
  • Inside
  • 05 Nov

    Point of View: Outside/Inside a Character’s Head

    Partially Inside a Character’s Head: OUTSIDE AND INSIDE POV

    How deeply does a story take the reader into the head of a character. Many discussions of point of view skim over the idea that POV can related to how close a reader is to a reader. But David Jauss says there are two points of view that allow narrators to be both inside and outside a character: omniscience and indirect interior monologue.


    This is part 2 of a 3-part series on Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head. Here are links to parts 1 and 3.

    These posts are inspired by an essay by David Jauss, professor at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, in his book, On Writing Fiction: Rethinking Conventional Wisdom About Craft. I am using Ivan, the One and Only, by Katherine Applegate, winner of the 2012 Newbery Award as the mentor text for the discussion.


    IvanOmniscience. Traditionally, “limited omniscience” means that the narrator is inside the head of only one character; “regular omniscience” means the narrator is inside the head of more than one character.

    I love Jauss’s comment: “I don’t believe dividing omniscience into ‘limited’ and regular’ tells us anything remotely useful. The technique in both cases is identical; it’s merely applied to a different number of characters.”

    He spends time proving that regular omniscience never enters into the heart and mind of every character in a novel. A glance at Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE, with its myriad of characters is enough to convince me of this truth.

    Rather, Jauss says the difference that matters here is that the omniscient POV uses the narrator’s language. This distinguishes it from indirect interior monologues, where the thoughts are given in the character’s language. This is a very different question about POV: is this story told in the narrator’s language or the character’s language?

    In IVAN, this is an interesting distinction because Ivan is the narrator of this story; it’s told in his voice. But as a narrator, there are times when he drops into omniscient POV. In the “artists” chapter, Ivan reports:

    “Mack soon realized that people will pay for a picture made by a gorilla, even if they don’t know what it is. Now I draw every day.”

    Ivan tells the reader what Mack is thinking (“soon realized”) and even what those who purchase his art are thinking (“even if they don’t know what it is”). Then, he pulls back into a dramatic reporting of his daily actions. Notice, too, that he makes this switch from dramatic POV to omniscient POV within the space of one sentence. And the omniscient POV dips into two places in that sentence, too.

    Because Mack is Ivan’s caretaker and has caused much of Ivan’s troubles, the reader needs to know something of Mack’s character. This inside/outside level is enough, though. The author has decided that a deep interior view of Mack’s life isn’t the focus of the story. It’s enough to get glimpses of his motivation by doing just a little ways into his head.

    Indirect Interior Monologue

    Another technique for the narrator and reader to be both inside and outside a character is indirect interior monologue. Here, Jauss says that the narrator “translates the character’s thoughts and feelings into his own language. “ (p. 45) The character’s interior thoughts aren’t given directly and verbatim. This is a subtle distinction, but an important one.

    Interior indirect monologue usually involves two things: changing the tense of a person’s thoughts; and changing the person of the thought from first to third. This signals that the narrator is outside the character, reflecting upon the character’s thoughts or actions.

    They are all waiting for the train. (dramatic)
    They were all waiting reasonably for the train. (Inside, indirect interior monologue)

    The word “reasonably” puts this into the head of the narrator, who is making a judgment call, interpreting the dramatic action.

    Interior indirect monologue most often seen with a third-person narrator reflecting another character’s thoughts. But in Ivan, we have a first-person narrator. Applegate stays strictly inside Ivan’s head, except for a few passages where Ivan reports indirectly on another character’s thoughts. Because the passages are already in present tense, she doesn’t have that tense change to rely on.

    Here’s a passage that could have been indirect interior monologue but Applegate won’t quite go there. Stella is an elephant in a cage close to Ivan.

    “Slowly Stella makes her way up the rest of the ramp. It groans under her weight and I can tell how much she is hurting by the awkward way she moves.”

    By adding “I can tell. . .” it stays firmly inside Ivan’s head. He tells us that this is true only because Ivan makes an observation. The story doesn’t dip into the interior of the other characters.

    But there are tiny places where the interior dialogue peeks through. This from the “bad guys” chapter. Bob is Ivan’s dog friend; Not-Tag is a stuffed animal; and Mack is Ivan’s owner.

    “Bob slips under Not-Tag. He prefers to keep a low profile around Mack.”

    Ivan can only know that Bob “prefers” something, when he, as the narrator, dips into Bob’s thoughts.

    But indirect interior monologue is also used by a first person narrator to report his/her prior thoughts. When the first person narrator tells a story about what happened in his past, he is both the actor in the story and the narrator of the story. Ivan tells the story of his capture by humans over the course of several short chapters. It begins in the “what they did” chapter:

    “We were clinging to our mother, my sister and I, when the humans killed her.”

    While Ivan’s story is most present tense, this is past tense because Ivan is reporting on prior events. Even here Applegate refuses to slip into interior indirect monologue. Instead, she just presents the facts in a dramatic manner and lets the reader imagine what Ivan felt. It’s interesting that withholding Ivan’s thoughts here evoke such an emotional response in the reader.

    On the other hand, in “the grunt” chapter, Ivan tells about his family. Again, he is the narrator telling about a past event when he was a main character of the event:

    “Oh, how I loved to play tag with my sister!”

    This could be called direct interior thought, but because he’s narrating a past event, it’s indirect interior thought. Otherwise, he would say, “Oh, how I love to play tag with my sister!”

    Or from the “vine” chapter, where Ivan talks about his thoughts after being captured by humans:

    “Somehow I knew that in order to live, I had to let my old life die. But sister could not let go of our home. It held her like a vine, stretching across the miles, comforting, strangling.
    We were still in our crate when she looked at me without seeing, and I knew that the vine had finally snapped.”

    If this was direct interior, it would be:
    “Somehow I know that in order to live, I must let my old life die.”

    Applegate could have chosen to stay inside Ivan, but here, she pulls back so the reader isn’t fully inside this emotionally disturbing moment. She uses indirect interior monologue, instead of direct.

    As Jauss says about a different passage, but it applies here, “This example also illustrates the extremely important but rarely acknowledged fact that narrators often shift point of view not only within a story or novel but also within a single paragraph.” (p.50)

    This has been proclaimed a mistake in writing point of view, but Jauss says it’s a normal technique. We dip into Mack’s point of view, but then pull back to a dramatic statement about what Ivan is doing.

    Indirect interior monologue often includes “rhetorical questions, exclamations, sentence fragments and associational leaps as well as diction appropriate to the character rather than the narrator. “ (p. 49) In one of my novels, I used a lot of rhetorical questions as a way to get into the character’s head and an editor complained about it. Now, that I know why I was using it (as a way to manipulate how close the reader was to the character), I could go back and use a variety of techniques. Knowledge of fiction techniques is freeing! Tomorrow, we’ll look at how to go deeply into a character’s head, heart and emotions.

    This is part 1 of a 3-part series on Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head. Join us tomorrow for the final part of the series, Inside: Going Deep into a Character’s Head.


    This has been part 2 of a 3-part series on Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head. Tomorrow, will be Inside: Deeply Inside a Character’s Head. Read the whole series.

    04 Nov

    Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head

    Ivan

    A story’s point-of-view is crucial to the success of a story or novel. But POV is one of the most complicated and difficult of creative writing skills to master. Part of the problem is that POV can refer to four different things, says David Jauss, professor at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, in his book, On Writing Fiction: Rethinking Conventional Wisdom About Craft.
    OnWritingFiction


    This is part 1 of a 3-part series on Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head. Here are links to parts 2 and 3.




    Definitions of Point of View

    1. Your personal opinion. You might say, “From my point of view, that’s wrong.”
    2. The narrator’s person: 1st, 2nd, or 3rd.
    3. The narrative techniques: “omniscience, stream of consciousness and so forth”
    4. “. . .the locus of the perception (the character whose perspective is presented, whether or not that character is narrating)” (p. 25)

    The first definition is a personal, not a literary one, so it doesn’t apply here. The second definition (the narrator’s person) is perhaps the most widely discussed, but Jauss says it isn’t helpful to a writer as s/he approaches a story. In fact, what often happens is these definitions collide and the generally accepted wisdom is that you must stay in only one POV, you can’t use some techniques in some POVS, and the narrator is a side-issue. These conventional rules, though, conflict with actual practice, says Jauss. Further, they prevent writers from controlling one of the most important aspects of fiction: how close the reader feels to the characters. (p. 26, 36)

    I love the idea that point of view is a technique: it is one of the tools in our writer’s tool box that we can pull out as needed to accomplish something in a story. I love the idea that point of view allows you to pull the reader closer to the characters or to shove them away from the character. Right away, Jauss has me. And it only gets better from here. More complicated, but better.

    IvanLet’s discuss point-of-view, and use Ivan, the One and Only, by Katherine Applegate, winner of the 2012 Newbery Award as the mentor text for the discussion.

    Traditional Point of View

    Jauss points out that traditionally point-of-view is discussed in terms of person, and defined by the pronouns used.

    First person uses I, me, my, myself and so on; the story is told from inside the narrator’s head and the reader is privy to all the narrator’s thoughts and emotions.

    Third person uses he, she, they and so on; the story is told as if there was a camera above the narrator’s head and the reader knows only what the narrator sees. A close third person allows the narrator’s thoughts and emotions to be conveyed to the reader.

    Second person is seldom used and talks directly to the reader using you as the main pronoun.

    POV techniques include the omniscient POV, which dips into different character’s heads to give the reader a look at the thoughts and emotions of multiple characters; the camera can change from one reader’s head to another, as the story demands.

    Point of View as Technique for Getting into a Character’s Head

    Point of view, according to Jauss, should be classified by how far into the character’s heads the reader is allowed to go. He proposes a continuum from fully Outside POV, to a POV that is both Outside and Inside and finally a POV that is fully Inside.

    Outside, Outside & Inside and Inside. That’s the three new categories of POV. Jauss gives examples of these POV from what we would traditionally call first-person and third-person POV; I’ll be giving examples from the “first-person” book, Ivan, the One and Only. Ivan is undoubtably written in what most would call 1st person POV. The silverback gorilla, Ivan, is narrating the entire story. As such, it has a simple vocabulary and uses simple sentence structure to match the intelligence of an animal; but this animal has a big heart and that’s where technique allows the writer to manipulate how close the reader comes to the character.

    OUTSIDE POV: What the Reader Infers about Character

    Dramatic. Jauss says, “There is only one point of view that remains outside all of the characters, and that’s the dramatic point of view. . .”

    Jauss defines this as a story in which the narrator is telling a story from outside all the characters AND uses language unique to the narrator. Notice that for Jauss, the narrator is an important part of distinguishing the POV technique used.

    Dramatic storytelling is the the traditional show-don’t-tell kind of storytelling, where some insist that you must show everything and the reader should understand the action and emotions simply from what is shown.

    In the “Bob” chapter of IVAN, we find an example of this, where a small dog interacts with the gorilla:

    “He hops onto my chest and licks my chin, checking for leftovers.”

    Even though the narrator is Ivan and he is including himself in the action, it is still dramatic action. Nothing in this statement gets inside of Ivan’s head; it’s purely dramatic. In fact, most of the “Bob” chapter is dramatic telling from Ivan’s point of view. He dips into his own feelings (indirect or direct interior dialogue—see discussion later) a few times, but it’s mostly dramatic.

    One common demand for a dramatic POV is that the reader understand the character’s emotions only from the actions. If angry, a character might tighten his fists, or his brow might furrow, or he may bare his teeth. Jauss says “the story that results is inevitably subtle. Careless or inexperienced readers will often be confused by stories employing this point of view.” (p. 40)

    What a breath of fresh air! Some writing teacher emphasize this Show-Don’t-Tell to the extreme and yet Jauss says the results are “inevitably subtle.” Because I write for kids, I must question whether “subtle” is what I want! I’ve long thought that the Show-Don’t-Tell is more a plea for stronger sensory details than for implied emotion, and have modified it to say, Show-Then-Tell-Sometimes. What I mean is that the sensory details should put the reader into the situation; but after you’ve done that, sometimes you must interpret the actions for the reader.

    “Jill slapped Bob, leaving a red palm print on his cheek.”

    That uses sensory details; it shows, and doesn’t just tell. But we don’t know WHY Jill slaps Bob. Did she do it to wake him up after he passed out?

    “Desperate, Jill slapped Bob, leaving a red palm print on his cheek.”

    That word, “desperate,” pulls the sentence out of a strictly dramatic telling and starts to drill down into Jill’s emotions. However, we need that word in order to understand the story.

    This technique isn’t used extensively throughout IVAN, but here’s one example. The small elephant, Ruby, is watching the older elephant Stella do her tricks with Snickers the circus dog.

    “Ruby clings to her like a shadow. Ruby’s eyes go wide when Snickers jumps on Stella’s back, then leaps onto her head.”

    We aren’t TOLD that Ruby is scared of the dog; instead, “Ruby’s eyes go wide.” The reader must infer Ruby’s emotions from that bit of action. And here, it works well. We don’t need an extra adjective for interpretation. Applegate does an amazing job of walking this fine line and keeping the action strictly dramatic.

    Dramatic storytelling is like watching a play on stage, or watching a movie. We can never go deeper into a character’s point of view, because the camera can’t go inside a character. The closest we can come is the constant monologues that are a technique of reality TV, where a character talks to the camera and interprets a sequence of actions or explains their thoughts during a sequence. Even that doesn’t take you inside the character like the next techniques can. For the Outside/Inside techniques, join us tomorrow.


    This has been part 1 of a 3-part series on Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head.

    22 Aug

    Cloak, Cape or Hood: Writing Consistent Fiction

    In this January 6, 2013 NPR interview, John Sandys talks about inconsistencies in movies that were released in 2012:

    Well, I think ’cause “Men in Black 3″ travels back and forth in time, it means you’ve got a whole host of factual mistakes as well, which it opens itself up to. One which jumped at me was in Cape Canaveral in 1969, we see the flag of Spain waving, but it’s the wrong flag. It’s the current era flag, not the 1969-era flag. I mean, it’s hardly a major research job. I don’t know whether they thought it wasn’t worth looking into or they just thought, well, no one will care.

    This week, I am doing a final pass through of a novel and finding tons of inconsistencies.

    For example, the main character shows up in a cloak and a scarf wrapped around her head. But at the beginning of the next scene, which is a direct follow-up, she throws back her hood and takes off her cloak. In another scene, she is described as wearing a cape.

    (I know: Capes are soooo out of style.)

    Reading and revising for consistency of details is different than reading for story. Here are a few tips:

    1. Put on your editor’s hat. This isn’t the time to worry about the story line, characterization, plot or those other big issues. Instead, you need to be very logical and you need to pay attention. That requires a different mindset.
    2. Take notes. I use sticky notes, but you could use just a sheet of paper to jot notes. As I read along, I jot down anything that sounds fishy to me, or I am uncertain of consistency through out the manuscript: numbers, names, eye color, hair color, peculiar or unusual wordings, etc. For complicated books or series, some suggest a Story Bible, or a place where you record all such details. For this story, I didn’t feel the need for something that structured. But in an upcoming series, I will definitely go that route.
    3. Timeline. Lots of what I am doing this week is tightening the time line. I had to cut some scenes and that left my character at a loss for an afternoon and evening. So, I moved some scenes to fill in those spaces. Often, I will literally fill in a calendar for the final timeline (after the major revisions), and often it will be hour by hour. I know I planned it all out before, but the revisions make a difference. So, I do it again.
    4. Words and phrases. I also make sure I haven’t repeated a word or phrase too often. It’s hard to describe how this one works, but you sorta have a watcher in your head paying attention to how a story is told. And it will go, “Whoa! Stop right there, little missy.” So, I stop and correct. It’s paying attention to the difference between work table and workbench.
    5. Logic. It’s important for every action to be in the correct time order and to be logical. Clarity rules on this pass through. You can’t hit a ball with a bat if you haven’t picked up a bat first.

    Of course, I am making these types of decisions as I write the manuscript, but I’ve found I need one last run through. What else do you check for in your last pass through a manuscript?

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