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Posts Tagged ‘Point of View’

It’s a fact of life when you publish something that not everyone is going to like it. And some of them are going to say so in the form of reviews on Amazon or some other forum. Brace yourself for it.

As a writer, I just have to get used to that, the same as I had to get used to taking–and using–critiques of my work in order to improve as a writer.  And, especially when it comes to reviews, the one thing you must not do is argue about it. That only leads to a downward spiral. Doesn’t mean that’s easy, though.

I had to remind myself of this earlier this week when someone gave my novelette “Heart of Oak” a one-star review. Ouch.

Now, by definition, a reader cannot be wrong about their experience of a story. It’s their experience, after all. So this reviewer read some things into this story that I had actually tried consciously to suppress. To me, it’s a story about an outsider trying to cope with a world she doesn’t understand and a bit of a romantic fantasy (as in, yes, there’s romance in it, although not ’til the very end). This reader found an environmentalist message that had not been my intent. But that’s what they read, so I won’t argue with it.

The part of the review that stung a bit was where the reviewer referred to me as a “beginning author”. Well, yes, this is the first thing I’ve published. But it’s not close to the first thing I’ve written. I didn’t just jump in without first practicing and honing my craft, as the reviewer implies. I’ve been working at this for four years now. Believe me, the first short story I wrote (the first that actually was a story and not a vignette) won’t ever see the light of day again.

I don’t, in fact, write very many short stories. I’m more comfortable taking my characters on longer, novel-length adventures. But I wanted to put my toe in the e-publishing waters with something that wouldn’t be too complex to format. Short stories, even novelettes, don’t have things like hyper-linked tables of contents.

I selected “Heart of Oak” as my first attempt at e-publishing for a couple of reasons. Most everyone who had read it, liked it. And, yes, I do have critique partners who will tell me if I accidentally turn out complete drivel. It happened earlier this year with a misguided attempt at science fiction. I’m just not comfortable playing in that sandbox, yet and it showed.

“Heart of Oak” had been submitted to most of the paying publications that will accept that genre and length (almost 10,000 words is a tough sell). And, although it hadn’t sold to any of them, it had gotten some personal rejections and kind words. Including, from a well-respected and professional-paying market, that they liked my writing and characters, inviting me to send more stories.

Between what my critique partners said and that rejection, I felt confident that “Heart of Oak” was good enough to be the first thing I put out. If anyone found it a disappointment, I’m sorry.

Nothing will kill sales faster than a bad review. I always think about that before I post a review on a book that doesn’t work for me. Just because it’s not my cup of tea, doesn’t mean it won’t be the best thing someone else has ever read. So much depends on personal taste. (Which is a topic I’m going to take up next time.)

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I am just about to type “The End” at the bottom of the manuscript of MAGIC’S FOOL. It’s a rough first draft. All first drafts are, but this is rougher than usual for me. And, while I was worried about this story when I started, I’m now happy with it, which is even better.

I know most of what needs to be fixed or expanded in the next go ’round. And I can take as much time as I need next year, while querying SEVEN STARS, to make those changes until I think MAGIC’S FOOL is ready to take its turn in the query hopper.

Counting manuscripts that have been shelved (a couple of them probably permanently), this is my seventh completed manuscript. It still feels almost as good as the first.

So,after today, it’ll be back to BLOOD IS THICKER, which ran off into the weeds unexpectedly earlier this month. I need to create some kind of emergency to kick my characters back out into the fray. I have a couple of ideas about that which could have the added benefit of tying in some additional plot elements.

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This is something I’m wrestling with a bit right now. I’m not talking so much about first or third person right now. That, for me, is mostly controlled by the voice of the story I hear in my head when I’m writing. If I hear “I”, I tend to write in first person. So far, I’ve only written two short stories in first person. I haven’t yet tried to do a whole novel that way. (Though if “Heart of Oak” ever grows into a novel, I may have to try.) Most of the time, I write in close third person.

No, what I’m talking about now is how many points of view to use in a story. I have a sort of general rule about point of view. (And like most rules in writing, it’s really more of a guideline than a law.)

For middle grade, I try to stay in a single, close point of view. Whatever doesn’t happen where my main character can see or hear it, he’ll have to find out about some other way. The first time I did this in MAGE STORM, it was a little challenging. How do you make your hero understand the antagonist’s goals?

MAGIC’S FOOL, so far at least, is working out fine with a single point of view. Which is interesting because it’s original incarnation as a mainstream fantasy called THE SHAMAN’S CURSE (I know, I hate that title, too.) had at least a half-dozen point of view characters.

Young adult stories I tend to tell in dual points of view. Archetypally, the boy and the girl, because young adult is always about romance on some level. SEVEN STARS flowed very naturally that way.

And in adult stories, I try to limit the number of points of view, but I will use as many as I need to tell the story. This is where I free myself to actually tell part of the story through the antangonist’s point of view.

Now, there’s nothing hard and fast about this, as I said. Anymore than there’s a strict rule that you must stay with a single point of view in a short story. Generally, short stories work out better that way. But I’ve broken that rule once (“Heart of Oak”) because there were things that I wanted the reader to know that my main character simply couldn’t understand. And I can think of perhaps a handful of good short stories that also broke the rule–and several not so good ones. Which is probably why it’s one of those rules you should think hard about before you break it.

I can think of middle grade stories that have multiple point of view characters. (John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series comes to mind. Not only multiple points of view, but third person omniscient, in which he can tell us what any character is thinking or feeling at any point in time. It actually gets a little disorienting at times.) But the ones that I’ve enjoyed most usually stuck to just one point of view–or very close to it.

I can also think of lots of young adult novels told from a single point of view and a couple that have multiple points of view. The multiple points of view actually didn’t work so well for me in this kind of story. Either really close to the struggles of a single character or the intimacy of seeing how the two characters are trying to overcome their fears to come together seems to work best for these stories. Here again, I’ve got two young adult stories on the back burner now that might well be told from a single point of view. We’ll just have to see when I get there.

And, except for the third-person framing story, Patrick Rothfuss’ KINGKILLER CHRONICLES is told from a single, first-person point of view. There are plenty of other examples. Patricia Briggs’ MERCY THOMPSON series is one. You really don’t need multiple point of view characters. Not even for the romance part of the story.

See, no hard and fast rules.

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Sorry. I got busy writing again and almost forgot to blog. I’m not officially doing NaNoWriMo, but I’ve written over 3200 words in the last two days anyway. Love it when the story flows.

So, October’s reading list:

LINGER and FOREVER by Maggie Stiefvater:

I have two kinds of comments about these–as a reader and as a writer. 

As a reader, I found the addition of two more point of view characters (all written in first person) distracting. Two first-person points of view in SHIVER took some getting used to. But once I’d adjusted, there was a certain intimacy to it. Adding two more first-person point of view characters in LINGER and FOREVER is not twice as confusing. It was exponentially more confusing. It also diffused that intimacy of the two points of view. I’m not sure the subplot of Cole and Isabel added enough to make up for that. You really do have to check the subheading for each chapter to find out who “I” is in this one.

 I bought the kindle edition of FOREVER, even though I don’t have a kindle and had to read it on my PC because that way at least I could read it in black and white. I was bothered by the blue ink in SHIVER and the green ink in LINGER. I shuddered to think of reading a whole novel in the dried-blood color of the cover of FOREVER.

Nevertheless, there’s something about these stories. You know how I can tell? Because after I finish reading them, my imagination runs on for a while, dreaming up what happens to these characters next. That doesn’t happen with every story I read.

As a writer, the four first-person characters drew my eye to something else. They all sounded pretty much alike. That wasn’t too noticeable with just two kids who’d both grown up in a little backwoods Minnesota town. Add in a slightly older boy who grew up in New York and is a genuine rock star and a slightly younger girl who came from San Diego and suddenly the fact that they all have virtually identical voices makes a lot less sense. That wouldn’t have been nearly as noticeable if they’d been written in third person.

Still, the trilogy is a good story. And, unlike many trilogies I’ve read recently, the second book, LINGER, actually does have a plot and a conflict all its own that is resolved in that book. It’s not just a bridge between Book One and Book Two. Bravo for that.

MIRROR DANCE by Lois McMaster Bujold:

If you’ve read this blog at all, you know how I feel about just about anything written by Lois McMaster Bujold. I love almost everything I’ve ever read of hers.

This one certainly doesn’t disappoint. The story of Miles Vorkosigan and his clone brother, Mark, who was created for a plot to assasinate Miles’s (their) father. Two young men who are genetically identical, yet because of the differences in their upbringing, very different. MIRROR DANCE is much more Mark’s story than Miles’s, but there’s still plenty of Miles’s signature chaos. Really good story, as usual.

WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maas:

I know, I know. I should have gotten around to this one a lot earlier. Fiction is so much more fun to read. This one slowed down the reading for the month because I had to stop and think about it often. That’s probably a good thing, though. There area a lot of good tips in there, whatever genre you’re writing. Highly recommend.

I was busy with critiques, and then reading FOREVER on the PC in the evenings, so I didn’t get much research done for my alternate history.

Next up:

I’m already reading SNUFF by Terry Pratchett, because sometimes you just have to stop being serious and have a belly laugh. I also started book 5 of THE RANGER’S APPRENTICE series (THE SORCEROR OF THE NORTH). And, since Lois McMaster Bujold’s book are coming out in e-book editions, I got her first fantasy, THE SPIRIT RING.

I’ve noticed something. No matter how many books I read, my to-read pile isn’t getting any smaller. Hmm.

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I’m approaching the half-way mark on the second draft of MAGE STORM.  It’s going really well, so far.  I had a lot of fun writing a scene where the main character gets attacked by a griffin.  But the pace is about to slow down.

I’m at the point, now, where I need to start building the conflict with the antagonist.  This is where using a single point of view is making things difficult.  In other books, by this time I would have introduced two or three scenes from the antagonist’s point of view.  That makes it easy to show what the antagonist wants and what he’s willing to do to get it.  This one is entirely from the point of view of the main character, so I can’t do that.  It’s posing a bit of a problem.

I can work in the antagonist’s motivation, but not for several more chapters.  The antagonist isn’t going to monologue in front of the main character (who he thinks he has duped), so the only way the protagonist can find out about it is from a third character who knew the antagonist way back when.  That character won’t be introduced for three or four more chapters.  Meanwhile, the antagonist just has to be a confusing and occasionally menacing presence.  Well, for at least another chapter or two, before something happens that strips the mask away.  Even then, the main character won’t understand why the antagonist would do something like that.  Of course, that inability to understand can be used to make the antagonist just that much more scary for a while, so it’s not altogether a bad thing.

This, unfortunately, is probably going to take more than this draft to get really right, but it’s really necessary for this story to work.

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MAGE STORM is the first novel I’ve attempted from a single point of view.  I’ve written short stories from a single point of view, of course, but never a novel.  It’s an interesting exercise.

There are so many places where I’m dying to let what another character feels or thinks into the narrative, and I can’t.  It’s strictly from the main character’s point of view.  If he doesn’t know it, I can’t write it. 

I’ve been kind of moving in this direction gradually.  THE SHAMAN’S CURSE had several point of view characters, not all of them actually important to the story.  Of course, I did need to let the reader know certain things that the main character couldn’t know about.  Then again, I wonder now how much of that I really needed and how much the reader could gather from events.  It couldn’t be told from a single point of view, but it could be reduced, I think.

THE IGNORED PROPHECY has fewer viewpoint characters and all of them are important in some way.  Again, some of them are needed or the subplots simply will not work.

BLOOD WILL TELL has six viewpoint characters, but probably three-quarters of the book is told from the viewpoint of either the main character or a second very important character.

DREAMER’S ROSE is probably eighty percent from the viewpoint of either Rose or Lerian. 

This is the first time I’ve ever attempted to tell a story this long from a single point of view, however.  It’s occasionally frustrating, but hopefully it also leads to a deeper connection with the main character.

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