Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: POV

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

Today, it’s me, Cait! Join me as we venture into a common craft mistake committed by virtually every emerging writer—something I like to call ‘dismemberment.’ Because nothing says love like body parts strewn about.

Sarcasm aside, dismemberment is a bad habit that can impact the flow of the story, collapse the fictive dream, and confuse or even insult the reader.

Dismemberment is literary filler that demonstrates we (as the writer) don’t trust the readers’ intellect, thus we are “brain holding” as Kristen likes to say.

Offering fair warning: I’m in a stabby mood today. Really stabby.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

Dismemberment is one of the most common craft mistakes, but it’s also one of the most insidious. It’s one of the most prevalent reasons readers lose interest in a story, or fail to get interested in the first place.

We (readers) get tired of stopping and trying to figure out what the hell is going on. We keep pausing because our brains keep pondering tangents unrelated to the actual story.

If Taylor’s eyes just flew across the room at a dinner party, how does he discreetly get them back if he can’t see? Was any partygoer hit by a flying eyeball? Oh hell! Is one of his eyeballs stuck in some debutante’s expensive up-do?

Aaand this is when the whole story goes off the rails *explosion noises* *screams of pain*

So, what is dismemberment?

Dismemberment is when body parts move around independent of the character.

When we (as editors) see a sentence like, “Seraphina’s violet orbs roved around the room,” our first instinct is to stab. Uh, I mean pick on the obvious issues like…’orbs’ and ‘violet.’

For readers, their first instinct is usually…HUH? What the hell just happened? Do her eyes get dust bunnies on them?

The core issue has nothing to do with Seraphina gazing around the room. Rather, it’s her eyeballs going for a stroll *cue image of eyeballs rolling across the floor like marbles*

Now that you can’t un-see that in your head, let’s dig a little deeper into what dismemberment looks like, why it’s a writing no-no, and how to avoid, fix, and occasionally even use it (properly).

Dismemberment Makes Things Awkward

Remember The Addams Family and Thing?

Dismemberment - Cait Reynolds

The show was brilliant, and took the idea of dismemberment and ran with it. The show turned a disembodied hand into a character with attitude, opinions, relationships, and interaction with the other characters. It was hilarious…because it was so weird.

The problem is that what’s funny weird for a television show becomes disjointedly bizarre in a novel. Once we start being able to identify dismemberment, we can’t help seeing it everywhere. We also can’t help seeing the unfortunate imagery of random body parts moving around.

Eyes, hands, and feet are the usual body parts featured in dismemberment, though I’ve definitely seen a fair share of shoulders, legs, arms, and heads.

“His head flew across the room…”

“Her shoulders slumped down…”

“His hand reached out to her…”

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

Why do we fall into the trap of dismemberment? One possible answer is that we are struggling with how to describe the action in a scene. This is the fault of what I like to call the Inner Pushy Stage Director. Similar to the Inner Editor, the Inner Pushy Stage Director has a lot to say about gestures, blocking, and interpretive dance. #JazzHands

The Inner Pushy Stage Director doesn’t trust the reader to instinctively know the series of movements involved in the simple actions of picking something up or a character moving through rooms.

Her hand reached out to open the door.

Oh-kay.

To be blunt, we (readers) are not stupid and we “get” one would have to reach out a hand to open a door unless telekinetic powers are involved. If telekinetic powers NOT involved, then we as readers assume the character can simply open a door without explaining how this “opening a door” process happens. We’ll keep up just fine. Promise.

By believing we need to give the reader every single detail of an action, we use twenty words to explicate what maybe two or three words could do far better. Inexperienced writers often resort to giving agency to a body part as a way to vary the prose away from constantly using the ‘he’ or ‘she’ as the driver of action.

And, that’s how we end up with Seraphina’s violet orbs roving around the room…maybe stopping to get a canape… See? Creepy, right?

Happy Feet

Body parts do not have emotions. Period. Ever.

There is no situation in which the following sentence is correct: “His hands clenched into angry fists.”

No. Nope. Zipit!

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

Another reason we fall into the trap of dismemberment is that we use it to portray a character’s emotion, whether it’s Seraphina’s POV or her noticing that Taylor is angry.

What has really happened is that we have flubbed the technique of drawing attention to a physical ‘tell’ for a character’s emotion.

Instead of:

His hands clenched into angry fists.

As opposed to clenching hands into joyous fists? #Weirdness

What we really mean to say is:

He clenched his hands into fists.

If we have the correct dialogue/action/inner thoughts leading up to that moment, we shouldn’t have to use the word ‘angry’ at all. We should also be able to avoid turning Taylor’s hands into their own POV characters. We also can just say that he clenched his hands since the word “fists” is implied.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction
You do not want to end up like Cartman and Jennifer Lopez.

Why is Dismemberment So Bad?

Isn’t variety the spice of life? Aren’t we supposed to try and find new and creative ways of describing our characters and conveying actions? Couldn’t you say that it’s ‘artistic’?

No. No, and no. (See, totally stabby this morning.)

Dismemberment violates one of the fundamental rules of writing: Always maintain connection between reader and the story. Always.

You know what breaking the connection does? It creates…bookmark moments. Every instance of dismemberment lets the reader drift a little further away from the engrossing empathy that keeps them immersed and turning pages. It’s a subtle loss of connection that, given enough time, may even relegate our books in the DNF (Did Not Finish) pile.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

I will sacrifice everything for a book hangover because I *have* to find out what happens to Seraphina. Or Taylor. I identify with the choices and emotions of Seraphina and Taylor, but if those choices and emotions are assigned to body parts, I’m just not as invested in the outcome of the characters.

If there is too much, Seraphina’s head flew across the room when Taylor unexpectedly arrived to the party, then I’m more concerned why the partygoers aren’t trampling each other in terror to flee the room and the flying head.

Dismemberment takes the edge off of tension and blunts the poignancy of the ‘either-or’ that drives plotting and character arcs.

There’s one other reason that dismemberment is so very, very bad.

Welcome to Amateur Hour

Dismemberment is one of the clearest symptoms of amateur hour. Editors can spot a sloppy writer in any number of painful ways, but dismemberment in a FINISHED, EDITED, AND PUBLISHED BOOK is the equivalent of the author holding a neon sign over his/her head flashing ‘AMATEUR HOUR – 24/7.’ 

Even worse? The fact that whoever was paid to edit and proofread did not catch the dismemberment…just maybe see about a refund.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

In my opinion, amateur hour editors sin worse than amateur hour authors. There is more to being an editor than running a manuscript through Grammarly and finding typos, which is why writers need to use prudence and maybe referrals when choosing an editor (not just price).

If you think I’m being harsh, I’m a small fry compared to agents and NY editors. They’re inundated with more manuscripts than they could read in a lifetime, meaning they are actively looking for reasons to stop reading. The moment these folks see dismemberment? Their head doesn’t fly across the room, our novel does.

#SlushPile #NoTimeForN00bs

Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together

So, now, we have to pick up all the scattered body parts and emotions, and order the 40-pack of super glue from Amazon.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

The first part of recovery is to train ourselves to recognize dismemberment so we can get out of using it improperly. While it might take some time to break the dismemberment habit, this is one case where we do need to stop and listen to our Inner Editor as we draft.

Instead of noting the dismemberment and promising to deal with it in revisions, we should take the time to correct it then and there. It’s simple to fix. Just delete a few words and reassign the emotions to the character instead of the body part.

Do this over the course of 50,000 words, and you’d be surprised how quickly a new and better habit forms…

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction
When you start to hear Cait’s voice as your Inner Editor…

Of course, no one is perfect (except for me, duh). That is why there is the editing phase of writing, when we catch those sneaky little instances of dismemberment that slipped a body part in our path without us noticing.

In terms of actually fixing dismemberment, think of a movie. Really think and try to recall how often the director has the camera zoom in on a JUST a body part (okay ASIDE from porn).

Funny how it’s a little tougher than you thought to come up with examples. Why is that?

Well…wait for it…because the moviegoer identifies with the character, not the body part.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

There’s one other thing to watch out for when we are correcting a scene with dismemberment, and that is the dreaded ‘SHOW DON’T TELL’ problem. In this case, it manifests in the far-too-frequent and indiscriminate use of the word felt.

Seraphina felt her ears heat up from embarrassment.

There’s no dismemberment in this sentence, but it’s kinda blah. I mean, the whole point of the sentence is to inform the reader that her ears are getting hot. Meh.

Like I said earlier, if we are guiding the scene the right way, we won’t need to point out that she’s getting embarrassed. The reader will already be getting the sense that Seraphina’s experiencing humiliation/shame/whatever.

We could make the sentence more interesting and ENGAGING with just a couple tweaks.

Seraphina fought to keep her expression neutral, even if her burning ears were bright pink giveaways.

In this example, I changed up the passive ‘felt’ for a more active purpose to the sentence. We still understand that she’s feeling embarrassed, but now, she doing something other than just passively experiencing a sensation. Also, I’ve given the other characters in the scene something to notice and/or react to with Seraphina’s obvious struggle to keep a straight face.

Dismemberment - Cait Reynolds

When correcting dismemberment, just remember: put the emotion back in the character’s head, and have him/her/it DO something to express it.

Disciplined Dismemberment

Like every rule, there *are* exceptions to the ban on dismemberment.

Once we are on auto-pilot in terms of avoiding dismemberment, we can finally use it as the tool it was really meant to be. (Hey, you can’t go through medical school without gross anatomy – dissecting body parts has its place!)

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

We can use body parts when we are trying to heighten tension.

For example, let’s say Seraphina and Taylor have been gagged and tied up, but there’s a knife nearby to cut their bonds. Just riffing here:

Seraphina held her breath as Taylor tried for the knife. His fingers flexed and stretched as long as possible, desperate for the blade. Tendons popped out on his hands, hands that reached farther and farther until they shook from strain, only to finally slacken in defeat.

In this moment, Taylor’s ability to reach the knife is critical. By zooming in on his hands and their actions, my goal is to build tension and create a vivid, visceral visual. It’s worth nothing that in this situation, Taylor’s hands are the only part of him that can have any action.

If he wasn’t tied up or his arms were free, then I’d describe the moment differently and put Taylor himself back in the driver’s seat.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

Another way of using body parts is by having the POV character notice a particular action or emotion on the part of someone else in the scene.

Taylor did a double-take when Seraphina’s eyes widened a mere a fraction. He wasn’t sure if she was surprised or angry, but it was enough to put him on his guard.

The reason this example works is because I’m showing, not telling, and the dismemberment provides something for the POV character to react to – in this case, a confusing signal from Seraphina. When used in this way, dismemberment can be an excellent tool for revealing or concealing clues, creating misunderstandings, and varying communication between characters between verbal and non-verbal forms.

THESE EXAMPLES DO NOT GIVE US PERMISSION TO GO BACK TO HACKING UP BODY PARTS AND HAVING THEM RUN AROUND DOING THINGS ON THEIR OWN!

Just like truffle oil…a little goes a very long way.

Class with Cait this Friday!

I’m offering a really cool class tomorrow night! It’s my blurb-writing class. In it, I will show you all my secret tips and tricks (even beyond what I wrote in this blog post) to painlessly writing those crucial 150 words that will SELL YOUR BOOK!

What’s extra cool about this class is that I will take TWO blurbs from attendees and rework them LIVE AND ON-THE-FLY IN CLASS to demonstrate just how simple and effective my techniques are.

Yeah, I know. Super cool.

Anyway, here are the details–hope to see you tomorrow night!

BLURB BOSS: WRITING BLURBS THAT SELL BOOKS

Blurb - Cait ReynoldsInstructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $45.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, November 10, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

If the cover is an invitation to the party in your book, then the blurb (the back cover description, the summary, your entire book in 3 short paragrahs) is the RSVP card readers check off as attending-with-the-chicken-option when they buy your book.

The trouble is that for so many books, while the cover is invites you to a rave, the blurb reveals it’s really polka night at the VFW.

So, if the blurb is so important, why is it so hard to write? Raise your hand if you hate writing blurbs. Raise your other hand if you agonize over writing a blurb, and it still feels like it’s awful when it’s done.

The heart’s cry goes up from every single writer ever: “THIS IS HARDER TO WRITE THAN THE 90,000 WORDS OF MY BOOK!”

And yet, it shouldn’t be. Approached from a different angle, a blurb should be one of the easiest and most fun things to write. Yes. I went there. I said it. Hopefully, after taking this class, you will be saying it, too. No more blubbering over blurbs. Ever.

This class will cover:

  • Understanding the purpose of a blurb in attracting readers;
  • The top secret formula to structuring a blurb;
  • How to plug-and-play every blurb, every time;
  • Why everything you think is important in your story really isn’t (in terms of the blurb);
  • The secret to keywords, blurbs, and algorithms.

As a bonus, bring a copy of your blurb to the class for group workshopping! I will pick two and edit them LIVE IN CLASS to show you just how easy it is!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

Register today!

For subscribers, click to my site to view gallery of upcoming classes (gallery doesn’t show up for you). But here are the two biggies coming up from ME (Kristen LAMB)…

BRAND BOSS! When Your NAME ALONE Can SELL! November 14th, 7-9 EST and comes with FREE RECORDING. $45 for General Admission, GOLD Option Available!

PLOT BOSS! Writing Novels Readers WANT TO BUY! November 16th, 7-9 EST and comes with FREE RECORDING. $40 for General Admission, GOLD Option Available!

Blurb - Cait Reynolds
BLURB BOSS: Writing Blurbs that SELL BOOKS. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 10, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
BRAND BOSS! When Your Name Alone Can Sell. $45 USD. Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
PLOT BOSS: Writing novels readers want to buy! $40 USD. Thurs., Nov. 16, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Bad Boys. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 17, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 5.35.06 PM
This is my Upside-Down-Face

P.O.V. is a word that throws many new authors into panic. What is THAT? Prisoners of Vietnam? Pets of Vegans? Pals of Viagra? P.O.V. stands for Point of View. Traditionally, I’ve not included this lesson in my teachings on structure, but I am amending that since P.O.V. will affect structure.

The structure of a novel written in first person is very different than a novel using multiple third-person P.O.V. characters. Scenes will need a different kind of balancing, so choosing a P.O.V. should not be taken lightly. Yes, often choice of P.O.V. will come from author voice, but not always. Sometimes genre might influence our decisions as well.

Thus, today, we are going to whiz through Kristen’s P.O.V. Spark Notes.

***Just a quick reminder though. Comment over at my new Dojo Diva blog and there is a separate contest for comments with better odds of winning my 20 page critique. We are talking about How to Be the Sheepdog. Not a wolf, not a sheep, but a sheepdog. Moving on….

Anyway…

We ALL know writing a novel is FAR from easy. We just make it look that way 😉 .

Today, I’m putting on my editor’s hat. Many of you decided to become writers because you love to write. Duh. I’ll even bet most of you, back when you were in school, also made very good grades in English. Thus, you might assume that you naturally know how to write a novel that is fit for successful publication.

Maybe you do. But, if you are anything like me when I started out? You might not know as much as you think you do.

Why?

Our high school English teacher didn’t care that we used 15 metaphors on one page. Why? Her goal was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor…NOT to prepare us for a career in commercial fiction. Same with college.

The single largest mistake I see in new manuscripts is the author does not understand P.O.V. and often this is why agents and people like me only need a page or two to know the manuscript/writer isn’t ready to publish.

This is an easy mistake to make, in that, as I stated earlier, formal education classes aren’t neccessarily there to teach us how to be great novelists. Some writers pick up on P.O.V. intuitively, but most of us need to be taught, lest we leave the reader feeling as if she is being held hostage on Hell’s Tilt-A-Whirl.

P.O.V. Prostitution (A.K.A. Head-Hopping)

Let’s step back in time to the days before we all made the decision to become writers. I would guess (hope) all of us were readers. We loved books, and books were a large part of what prompted our career choice. Ask yourself the following questions:

Have you ever tried to read a book, but eventually had to put it down because it was too confusing? You couldn’t figure out who was doing what, and you needed Dramamine to keep up with the perspectives?

Have you ever read a story that was so good you actually felt as if you had taken on the character’s skin? His success was yours, as was his failure. By the final page, you were sad to say good-bye?

P.O.V. used properly can create entire worlds, and breathe life into characters. Used improperly, it can make your reader feel like she’s been bungee-corded to Satan’s Merry-Go-Round—not good.

First, we have to know what P.O.V. is if we hope to use it to our advantage.

P.O.V. stands for Point of View.

Although this literary device is one of the most vital tools an author possesses, it is probably the number one style problem I encounter as an editor. I cannot count how many new writers (and, sadly, some not-so-new writers) give me a blank stare when I write P.O.V. in big red letters all over their manuscripts (and H.H., but we’ll get to that later).

The best way to describe point of view is to think of your story as viewed through the lens of the video camera. How many people (characters) are going to be permitted to hold that camera?

Image courtesy of Jon Gosier, via Flickr Creative Commons
Image courtesy of Jon Gosier, via Flickr Creative Commons

Is your camera going to travel with one main character through the entire story? Or, do others get a turn? Is “God” holding the camera? These are simple questions you can answer to help you select the point of view perfect for your story.

There is no wrong P.O.V., but we do have to be consistent. P.O.V. is a HUGE factor in determining our writing voice.

What are the types of P.O.V.? What are their inherent weaknesses and strengths? For the record, this is HIGHLY redacted for the sake of time.

A quick overview:

First-Person P.O.V—uses “I” a lot. Only one character (the narrator) has the camera.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 7.35.04 AM

There are three disadvantages to this P.O.V.

1. This P.O.V uses a lot of “I” which can become repetitive to the point of distraction.

2. The reader can only see and hear what the narrator knows. This limits the flow of information. Probably good for a mystery, but if you aren’t writing a mystery this may not be the right P.O.V for you.

3. First-Person P.O.V is a bugger when it comes to tense. Why? Because First-Person breaks into two camps.

There is the I Remember When camp and the Come Along with Me camp.

One is in past tense, a recollection. “I remember the day my father and I were attacked by a pack of Mary Kay ladies gone feral….”

The other is in present tense, and the reader is along for the ride. “I walk these streets every morning, but today I am just waiting for something to go wrong….”

Note of Caution: It is extremely easy to mix the two camps together. Tense can be problematic…okay, a nightmare.

The benefit of First-Person? First-person P.O.V. adds an intimacy that no other P.O.V. can, and is useful for stories where we might want to withhold information from the reader.

Third-Person P.O.V—is when you, the writer, permit one or more of the characters to lug the camera through your story.

Third Person Locked allows only one character access to the camera. The entire story is told through what that particular character can experience through the 5 Senses. So, if your character’s eyes are “shining with love,” then she’d best be holding a mirror, or you are guilty of head-hopping.

Third Person Shifting allows more than one character access to the camera. Here’s the rub. Your characters must to play nice and take turns. Only one character with the camera at a time. When the next character wants a turn, there has to be a clear cut.

Think of the director’s clapboard ending one scene before shifting to the next. It is usually a good idea to limit one P.O.V. per scene. When we switch perspectives inside the same scene, that is called head-hopping, and it will confuse and frustrate our readers.

There are advantages to Third-Person Shifting:

1. It can add additional depth and insight to your story.

2. It can allow you (the writer) to hold back information and add to suspense.

3. Third-Person Shifting can allow other characters to take over during emotionally volatile points in the story.

For instance, if your protagonist walks in on her brother lying dead in a pool of blood, the emotions experienced are realistically too overwhelming to be properly articulated by your protagonist. In this scenario, First-Person P.O.V might not be the best fit. The scene might be more powerful if told from someone watching this protagonist react to discovering a deceased loved one.

Ah, but there are also inherent problems with Third-Person Shifting.

1. Your characters must play nice and take turns. Otherwise, your reader will likely become confused and eventually frustrated.

2. It is best to permit camera access to key characters only. The reader has to stay in one head long enough to feel connected. Too many perspectives can easily become overwhelming and dilute the strength of your characters.

Omniscient P.O.V is when “God” gets to hold the camera.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 7.33.18 AM
Oh stop mucking it up and give Me the camera…

This P.O.V is like placing your camera up high over all of the action. The narrator is omnipresent and omniscient. “If Joe had only known who was waiting for him outside, he would have never left for that pack of cigarettes.”

Joe cannot experience anything beyond the 5 Senses (third-person). So, unless Joe is actually Superman and possesses X-Ray vision, it takes an omniscient presence to tell us someone bad is lurking outside waiting to do Joe harm.

There are advantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Omniscient can relay information that would be far too overwhelming to describe if limited to the 5 Senses. Epic battle scenes are a good example.

2. Omniscient can give information critical to the story that the character doesn’t have to personally know. For instance, in NYTBSA Bob Mayer’s Area 51 Series (which I HIGHLY recommend), he relays a lot of factual and historical information that is critical to understanding the plot. But, it would really seem bizarre to the reader if his characters just started spouting off the history of the pyramids like an Egyptologist.

To avoid this jarring scenario, Bob used an omniscient presence to relay the information so the prose would remain remain nice and smooth and the fictive dream could stay in tact.

There are disadvantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Third-Person P.O.V. and Omniscient P.O.V. are VERY easy to tangle together.

2. Omniscient P.O.V. and Head-Hopping are not the same, but are easy to confuse. I’ve edited many writers who believed they were employing Omniscient P.O.V. In reality, they were just letting every character in the book fight over the camera simultaneously, leaving me (the editor) feeling like I was trapped in the Blair Witch Project.

Proper use of P.O.V. takes a lot of practice to master. It is very easy to shift from one type of P.O.V. to another, or what I like to call “P.O.V. Prostitution” or “Head-Hopping.”

Key Points to Remember:

In First-Person—Come Along with Me stories can easily turn into I Remember When stories (or vice versa). Tense is a big red flag. Do you shift from present to past or past to present? Pay close attention to verbs.

In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting)—Characters will only play nice and take turns if you, the writer, force them to. Make sure whatever is happening in a scene is something that could be filtered through ONE character’s 5 Senses.

In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting) —“God” is really bad about grabbing your character’s camera, so keep an eye on Him. If there is suddenly information your character has no way of knowing through the 5 Senses, that is a big clue the Big Guy snagged your camera. Just remind Him nicely of commandment number eight, and ask Him to give the camera back.

In Omniscient—“God” is in charge. Be careful your wide-lens isn’t zooming in and out and making your reader dizzy in the process.

P.O.V. is one more reason it is critical for writers to read if they hope to become great authors. Read, read, read. Read all kinds of books by all kinds of authors using different P.O.V.s to see how it is done well.

EXAMPLES:

Veronica Roth brilliantly employs the first-person Come Along With Me in her Divergent trilogy. Her choice of P.O.V. gives an intimate feel no other P.O.V. can, and, since it isn’t an I Remember When story, Roth is able to maintain reader suspense.

Stephen King does a great job of using first-person in an I Remember When style in The Green Mile. King chose this P.O.V. for a very specific reason, which I will not say so as not to spoil the ending even though y’all have had like, TWENTY YEARS to read it.

Dennis Lehane does an amazing job of employing omniscient in Mystic River. If you think you might want to use omniscient, I’d recommend reading him.

James Rollins uses third-person shifting very well in The Doomsday Key. Third-shifting is generally a great P.O.V. for thrillers in that it helps manage/reveal a lot of information that the protag may or may not know.

I would recommend Jonathan Maberry’s Patient Zero: Joe Ledger Series.  I HIGHLY recommend Iron River by T. Jefferson Parker. Both these authors mixed third-limited and first-person and the effect is impressive.

P.O.V. when used properly can take a story to a whole new level. Read, experiment and practice. I know I just touched on a handful of suggestions, so feel free to add your thoughts, expound, ask questions.

Also, if you want to meet me and author and Hollywood TV/Film Producer Joel Eisenberg, we will be in Boaz, Alabama on June 15th. Joel will be doing a workshop called, “Catching Your Muse: How to Claim Your Artistic Spirit” and I will be there to help any of your social media angsts. We can also plot global domination using a weaponized Bedazzlers and trained hamsters….so REGISTER HERE.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Remember, for MORE chances to win and better ODDS, also comment over at Dojo Diva. I am blogging for my home dojo and it will help the blog gain traction.

Both winners will be announced next blog. We just came in from assessing flood damage at our ranch and I haven’t had a chance to tally the winner. So stay tuned!

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Orignal image via Wikimedia Commons
Orignal image via Wikimedia Commons

For the past several years, I’ve always begun the New Year with predictions of what the publishing industry would or wouldn’t do in the year to come. But this year? I’m being a rule-breaker and taking a different perspective—one I believe has greater impact and longevity. Algorithms rise and fizzle, publishers go out of business, change paths, or change rules. Heck, Amazon changes its mind more than my mother trying to pick a restaurant. So…eh. Not going there this year.

Unlike the days of early artists, we live in a light-speed society where something can fall flat or catch fire in an instant. This is an exciting time to be a writer.

We are in a New Age of the Artisan. When I give advice to young people about a future career, I simply want them to ask these simple questions. Can what I do be outsourced to a low-wage worker in another country? Can it be broken down into a procedure/manual and reproduced? Can it be done by a computer? Can I do/produce something consumers WANT that ONLY I can do, and do it really well?

I believe the future belongs to the artists and the rebels.

So….

Breaking rules. We all want to do it and, to be blunt, we should. I’ve dedicated most of the craft posts on this blog to teaching fundamentals, why they are important. If we don’t understand the rules, then we aren’t taking our profession seriously.

We can be Rebels with a Cause or Rebels Without a Clue 😉 .

First, to be a really GOOD rebel, it helps to study successful rebellions of the past. This is all highly redacted because this is a BLOG, but I hope it will educate and inspire you…

The Old Way

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

In the era before the Impressionist artists we now adore so much, artists could only live (survive) by being commissioned by wealthy patrons. Unlike today, paintings and images were extraordinarily rare. A human could live out an entire lifetime without ever seeing a painting.

Most regular people only saw paintings/images in churches or cathedrals. Visual art was planted almost exclusively within the realms of royalty and the very wealthy.

Thus, if an artist wanted to be PAID, he would paint what consumers wanted. Portraits were super popular (since Selflies hadn’t yet been invented). Artists would paint grand horses, breathtaking and realistic landscapes, religious pieces, etc. Why? Because YES it was art, but it was art that made money.

The Impressionists who are now so famous were actually very revolutionary, and at times? Extremely unpopular, ridiculed, and destitute. Though classically trained under the masters of the time, they wanted something fresh…different.

Thus, artists like Monet, Renoir, etc.  began playing with color and light. Instead of something so realistic it might be a vision witnessed in person, they sought the haze of unreality, perhaps the look of lilies floating on water in a dream instead of life.

Another CRAZY notion these rabble-rousers had was to paint things that were very ordinary—women washing clothes in a river, landscapes of the docks with ships unloading wares, a peasant girl guiding geese along a path.

THE HORROR! Who would want to look at these fuzzy images of peasants and docks and REGULAR PEOPLE?

Manet 1874 via Wikimedia Commons
Manet 1874 via Wikimedia Commons

Well, apparently a lot of people, just not immediately.

Artists back then aren’t so different than today. If we want a “surer” bet for making money? We write what people want. The trick, though (especially for The Digital Age Author) is to write what people don’t yet KNOW they want.

We’ll talk more about that later.

Learning “Rules”

Picasso painted in the accepted classical style before he reinvented art as people knew it (and if one studies his work, it is clear he built in Impressionism and Post-Impressionism).

Hemingway learned how to write the “accepted” way (journalism) before he harnessed his training as a reporter and used it to strip fiction down to the bare form he’s now renowned for.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Elvis sang in church before becoming the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Even Ludvig Von Beethoven broke rules. He continued to maintain the basic Classical traditions of form yet he infused much more melody, rhythm and harmony, thus stretching the musical “vocabulary” of competing composers of the time.

The point I’m making here is READ. Read craft books. Understand the basics and fundamentals so much they are a part of you, then? Have some fun. Break some rules.

We Take Rule-Breaking for Granted

Writing Forms and POV

The novels we now enjoy DID NOT exist until roughly the 18th century. Even then, we wouldn’t particularly recognize them or like them. But, then again, storytelling has been evolving for thousands of years.

Stories were originally communal story-telling, expressed around a campfire, committed to memory or a cave painting, and handed down orally.

Image via Wikimedia Commons
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Later, humanity experienced the rise of the epic poem (works like The Odyssey or even Beowulf). Fast-forward and lots of religious writing, including works like Paradise Lost or Dante’s Inferno. 

Then we see an explosion of poetry, plays and the invention of sonnets (an Italian guy named Pertrarch) then later that version of the sonnet reinvented into the Shakespearian Sonnet, which includes three quatrains (set of four lines, every second line rhymes) and a closing couplet (set of two rhyming lines).

Shakespeare, that rebel.

But each generation learned what was HOT during their time, then built their own visions atop the old. Pamphlets, shorts, and serials were actually the precursors to the novel (think Sherlock Holmes).

If one reads early novels, psychic distance was VERY…distant. Almost everything was written in omniscient POV. In my opinion, this was reflective of the age. People didn’t travel. They waited months for letters. News of a war came often after the war was over and the dead buried. It took months or years to travel to distant places, and the world was very disconnected.

This is why many early novels are guided by a God-like narrator.

Come with me, Dear Reader….
Come with me, Dear Reader….

Also, since many writers were paid by the word, novels were padded more than a freshman term paper (War and Peace). There was LENGTHY and tedious description because it was necessary. People didn’t have the kind of access to information we now take for granted.

People who had enough education to read and enough money for books also had A LOT more free time.

LONGER=BETTER

Additionally, the Image Revolution (brought about by the invention of film and photography) had yet to happen. Unless one spent a hundred pages describing a whale, no one (aside from those living on the coast) would know what the heck the writer was talking about.

This is also why we see authors like Mark Twain writing some characters’ dialogue in pure vernacular. Someone in England would have no clue what someone from Mississippi sounded like.

During the Industrial Revolution, we had an explosion of technology. Photographs, newspapers, telegraphs, trains, steamships, etc. connected humans more than ever, thus writers once again broke and rewrote rules. They began closing the psychic distance and leaving out now-common details.

In the 1800s third-person shifting hadn’t yet evolved. It wasn’t until radio, film, and later television accustomed audiences to shifting scenes that we see can the distinctive rise of third-person. First-person also became far more popular.

Because humans were more connected and closer, they wanted to be CLOSER to characters as well.

Writers like Hemingway stripped away the excess down to only necessary words. He broke rules of overwriting, believing that all the “superfluous” details took away from the essential human story.

As we progress into the 20th century, we see the rise of close-third. Today, close-third and first-person are very popular. Why? We are a Reality TV Generation. We’re spoiled with intimacy. Omniscient would feel alien and cold to many of us.

Breaking Rules of Genre

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All early sci-fi, gothic, fantasy writers broke the rules of what people wanted to read. Like painters who no longer wanted to create works of reality, these authors dove into unreality. Jules Verne, Mary Shelley, Tolkien? All rule-breakers.

Genre, to be blunt, was invented by those who sold books. When physical books started appearing in bookSTORES, book SELLERS needed a way to know where the heck to shelve a story to help potential customers locate what they might want to read.

Genre was also highly political.

Horror was a VERY popular genre until the slasher films and gore-porn of the late 1970s and then the 1980s tainted the entire genre. Then we began to see horror “disappear” and labeled under other “genres.” “Supernatural” for instance.

****But, as an aside, gore-porn like Texas Chainsaw Massacre also broke rules. We were a nation reeling from Vietnam. The rules of horror before had been, “Wait until daylight and you’re safe.” TCM threw that away. We were NEVER safe EVER.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Speaking of breaking rules, I bet this is the first blog you’ve read that talks about Beethoven, Renoir, Hemingway AND Texas Chainsaw Massacre. 😀

Moving on…

What to Do With The Digital Age

In The Digital Age, humans consume more information in a week than our early ancestors did in a lifetime. We are connected globally 24-7. We’re exposed to all kinds of ideas, information, myths, cultures, subcultures, etc.

Image via Pink's Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons
Image via Pink’s Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons

Strict genre is blurring as brick-and-mortar stores give way to digital bookshelves. Writers also have access to new audiences and emerging markets.

When we study the works of artists of before and even today, we can see areas where we might try something new. Since we are no longer chained to making it through Gatekeepers of NYC? We have a lot more freedom to be artists.

Now, I will say that breaking rules, while fun, has a price. People might not “get” it for a while. We need tough skin. We also need to make sure we are being artists and not amateurs. All art still has structural rules that need to be followed to maintain integrity. Rules are meant to be a foundation, not a straight-jacket.

For instance, architecture is art, but it must merge with rules of engineering or all we’re left with are pretty but deadly bridges, injuries, lawsuits, mold problems, and leaky, unsafe roofs.

The roof of Daniel Libeskind’s Westside Shopping Center in Bern, Switzerland has collapsed twice since its completion in 2008, the second failure injuring three people and narrowly missing a small child (refer to hyperlink)...
The roof of Daniel Libeskind’s Westside Shopping Center in Bern, Switzerland has collapsed twice since its completion in 2008, the second failure injuring three people and narrowly missing a small child (refer to above hyperlink)…

Aesthetics are fabulous, but architects are commissioned to build a bridge that cars can safely traverse…not a billion-dollar sculpture. As writers, we produce books, so we must still have a story or we don’t have a book.

Next time, we’ll explore some more contemporary rebels and maybe even brainstorm some ideas about how we can reshape our art and bring fresh new ideas to our readers. We’ll even talk about the writing business, because business must also be creative and evolve or it will die.

Remember, if artists HADN’T broken rules, we’d all still be memorizing stories and painting on cave walls 😉 .

What are your thoughts? What “artistic” rebels do you admire and why? Do you like it when a writer defies conventions and surprises you? What are some artistic ideas that have fallen flat and why? Did they confuse you? Bore you? Deviate too far? The ones you liked, what was different that intrigued you?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

I will announce December’s winner later (probably next blog) when I have had some SLEEP.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Geiko Caveman.
Geiko Caveman.

Monday, we talked about the Three Acts of a Writer’s Journey. The first hint we might be tipping into The Apprentice Phase is we hear the word P.O.V. and panic. What is THAT? Prisoners of Vietnam? Pets of Vegans? Pals of Viagra?

We ALL know writing a novel is FAR from easy. We just make it look that way 😉 .

Today, I’m putting on my editor’s hat. Many of you decided to become writers because you love to write. Duh. I’ll even bet most of you, back when you were in school, also made very good grades in English. Thus, you might assume that you naturally know how to write a novel that is fit for successful publication.

Maybe you do. But, if you are anything like me when I started out? You might not know as much as you think you do.

Why?

Our high school English teacher didn’t care that we used 15 metaphors on one page. Why? Her goal was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor…NOT to prepare us for a career in commercial fiction. Same with college.

The single largest mistake I see in new manuscripts is the author does not understand P.O.V. and often this is why agents and people like me only need a page or two to know the manuscript/writer isn’t ready to publish.

This is an easy mistake to make, in that, as I stated earlier, formal education classes aren’t neccessarily there to teach us how to be great novelists. Some writers pick up on P.O.V. intuitively, but most of us need to be taught, lest we leave the reader feeling as if she is being held hostage on Hell’s Tilt-A-Whirl.

P.O.V. Prostitution (A.K.A. Head-Hopping)

Let’s step back in time to the days before we all made the decision to become writers. I would guess (hope) all of us were readers. We loved books, and books were a large part of what prompted our career choice. Ask yourself the following questions:

Have you ever tried to read a book, but eventually had to put it down because it was too confusing? You couldn’t figure out who was doing what, and you needed Dramamine to keep up with the perspectives?

Have you ever read a story that was so good you actually felt as if you had taken on the character’s skin? His success was yours, as was his failure. By the final page, you were sad to say good-bye?

P.O.V. used properly can create entire worlds, and breathe life into characters. Used improperly, it can make your reader feel like she’s been bungee-corded to Satan’s Merry-Go-Round—not good.

First, we have to know what P.O.V. is if we hope to use it to our advantage.

P.O.V. stands for Point of View.

Although this literary device is one of the most vital tools an author possesses, it is probably the number one style problem I encounter as an editor. I cannot count how many new writers (and, sadly, some not-so-new writers) give me a blank stare when I write P.O.V. in big red letters all over their manuscripts (and H.H., but we’ll get to that later).

The best way to describe point of view is to think of your story as viewed through the lens of the video camera. How many people (characters) are going to be permitted to hold that camera?

Image courtesy of Jon Gosier, via Flickr Creative Commons
Image courtesy of Jon Gosier, via Flickr Creative Commons

Is your camera going to travel with one main character through the entire story? Or, do others get a turn? Is “God” holding the camera? These are simple questions you can answer to help you select the point of view perfect for your story.

There is no wrong P.O.V., but we do have to be consistent. P.O.V. is a HUGE factor in determining our writing voice.

What are the types of P.O.V.? What are their inherent weaknesses and strengths? For the record, this is HIGHLY redacted for the sake of time.

A quick overview:

First-Person P.O.V—uses “I” a lot. Only one character (the narrator) has the camera.

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There are three disadvantages to this P.O.V.

1. This P.O.V uses a lot of “I” which can become repetitive to the point of distraction.

2. The reader can only see and hear what the narrator knows. This limits the flow of information. Probably good for a mystery, but if you aren’t writing a mystery this may not be the right P.O.V for you.

3. First-Person P.O.V is a bugger when it comes to tense. Why? Because First-Person breaks into two camps.

There is the I Remember When camp and the Come Along with Me camp.

One is in past tense, a recollection. “I remember the day my father and I were attacked by a pack of Mary Kay ladies gone feral….”

The other is in present tense, and the reader is along for the ride. “I walk these streets every morning, but today I am just waiting for something to go wrong….”

Note of Caution: It is extremely easy to mix the two camps together. Tense can be problematic…okay, a nightmare.

The benefit of First-Person? First-person P.O.V. adds an intimacy that no other P.O.V. can, and is useful for stories where we might want to withhold information from the reader.

Third-Person P.O.V—is when you, the writer, permit one or more of the characters to lug the camera through your story.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 7.39.44 AM
Um…YES.

Third Person Locked allows only one character access to the camera. The entire story is told through what that particular character can experience through the 5 Senses. So, if your character’s eyes are “shining with love,” then she’d best be holding a mirror, or you are guilty of head-hopping.

Third Person Shifting allows more than one character access to the camera. Here’s the rub. Your characters must to play nice and take turns. Only one character with the camera at a time. When the next character wants a turn, there has to be a clear cut.

Think of the director’s clapboard ending one scene before shifting to the next. It is usually a good idea to limit one P.O.V. per scene. When we switch perspectives inside the same scene, that is called head-hopping, and it will confuse and frustrate our readers.

There are advantages to Third-Person Shifting:

1. It can add additional depth and insight to your story.

2. It can allow you (the writer) to hold back information and add to suspense.

3. Third-Person Shifting can allow other characters to take over during emotionally volatile points in the story.

For instance, if your protagonist walks in on her brother lying dead in a pool of blood, the emotions experienced are realistically too overwhelming to be properly articulated by your protagonist. In this scenario, First-Person P.O.V might not be the best fit. The scene might be more powerful if told from someone watching this protagonist react to discovering a deceased loved one.

Ah, but there are also inherent problems with Third-Person Shifting.

1. Your characters must play nice and take turns. Otherwise, your reader will likely become confused and eventually frustrated.

2. It is best to permit camera access to key characters only. The reader has to stay in one head long enough to feel connected. Too many perspectives can easily become overwhelming and dilute the strength of your characters.

Omniscient P.O.V is when “God” gets to hold the camera.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 7.33.18 AM
Oh stop mucking it up and give Me the camera…

This P.O.V is like placing your camera up high over all of the action. The narrator is omnipresent and omniscient. “If Joe had only known who was waiting for him outside, he would have never left for that pack of cigarettes.”

Joe cannot experience anything beyond the 5 Senses (third-person). So, unless Joe is actually Superman and possesses X-Ray vision, it takes an omniscient presence to tell us someone bad is lurking outside waiting to do Joe harm.

There are advantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Omniscient can relay information that would be far too overwhelming to describe if limited to the 5 Senses. Epic battle scenes are a good example.

2. Omniscient can give information critical to the story that the character doesn’t have to personally know. For instance, in NYTBSA Bob Mayer’s Area 51 Series (which I HIGHLY recommend), he relays a lot of factual and historical information that is critical to understanding the plot. But, it would really seem bizarre to the reader if his characters just started spouting off the history of the pyramids like an Egyptologist.

To avoid this jarring scenario, Bob used an omniscient presence to relay the information so the prose would remain remain nice and smooth and the fictive dream could stay in tact.

There are disadvantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Third-Person P.O.V. and Omniscient P.O.V. are VERY easy to tangle together.

2. Omniscient P.O.V. and Head-Hopping are not the same, but are easy to confuse. I’ve edited many writers who believed they were employing Omniscient P.O.V. In reality, they were just letting every character in the book fight over the camera simultaneously, leaving me (the editor) feeling like I was trapped in the Blair Witch Project.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 8.01.36 AM
Whose head am I in? I can’t tell. Help meeeee…..

Proper use of P.O.V. takes a lot of practice to master. It is very easy to shift from one type of P.O.V. to another, or what I like to call “P.O.V. Prostitution” or “Head-Hopping.”

Key Points to Remember:

In First-Person—Come Along with Me stories can easily turn into I Remember When stories (or vice versa). Tense is a big red flag. Do you shift from present to past or past to present? Pay close attention to verbs.

In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting)—Characters will only play nice and take turns if you, the writer, force them to. Make sure whatever is happening in a scene is something that could be filtered through ONE character’s 5 Senses.

In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting) —“God” is really bad about grabbing your character’s camera, so keep an eye on Him. If there is suddenly information your character has no way of knowing through the 5 Senses, that is a big clue the Big Guy snagged your camera. Just remind Him nicely of commandment number eight, and ask Him to give the camera back.

In Omniscient—“God” is in charge. Be careful your wide-lens isn’t zooming in and out and making your reader dizzy in the process.

P.O.V. is one more reason it is critical for writers to read if they hope to become great authors. Read, read, read. Read all kinds of books by all kinds of authors using different P.O.V.s to see how it is done well.

EXAMPLES:

Suzanne Collins brilliantly employs First-Person in the Come Along with Me fashion in her Hunger Games Trilogy. Her choice of P.O.V. gives an intimate feel no other P.O.V. can, and, since it isn’t an I Remember When story, Collins is able to maintain reader suspense.

Stephen King does a great job of using first-person in an I Remember When style in The Green Mile. King chose this P.O.V. for a very specific reason, which I will not say so as not to spoil the ending even though y’all have had like, TWENTY YEARS to read it.

Dennis Lehane does an amazing job of employing omniscient in Mystic River. If you think you might want to use omniscient, I’d recommend reading him.

James Rollins uses third-person shifting very well in The Doomsday Key. Third-shifting is generally a great P.O.V. for thrillers in that it helps manage/reveal a lot of information that the protag may or may not know.

I would recommend Jonathan Maberry’s Patient Zero: Joe Ledger Series.  I HIGHLY recommend Iron River by T. Jefferson Parker. Both these authors mixed third-limited and first-person and the effect is impressive.

P.O.V. when used properly can take a story to a whole new level. Read, experiment and practice. I know I just touched on a handful of suggestions, so feel free to add your thoughts, expound, ask questions.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook