Nov 20 2013

From a Certain Point of View

Chicago Bean

Chicago Bean by Jeremy Cliff

As a writer, point of view (POV) or perspective can have a dramatic impact on how characters are judged by readers and on the overall story. One of the first choices to be made is whether the story should be told from first person, third person, omniscienct, or maybe even the dreaded second person POV. In this regard, Writer’s Digest fortunately has a great post with six tips for choosing POV in a story, so I’ll just turn your attention there for those interested.

Instead, I’d like to talk about other ways perspective can have an effect on characters of the overall story.

How Does Reader/Writer Perspective Alter How A Character is Perceived

Cindy Angell Keeling wrote about visiting Chicago’s famous sculpture, The Bean, which casts shifting reflections back at the view from a variety of angles and perspectives.

“It occurred to me that we writers get to know our characters by viewing them from different angles and perspectives. As we polish them into being, what is reflecting back? From here, Bob seems affable and responsible. From there, we see an angry side with a tendency to shove problems under the rug. From fifty feet away, he’s helping an old lady cross the street. From ten, he’s threatening a neighbor.  Standing underneath, we see a scared little boy, bruised and hiding in the closet.” (Source.)

People are multilayered and complicated and contradictory. But from the outside, if you see only one moment, one angle of their lives, it’s easy to make judgements and make assumptions about them based on that limited perspective.

Likewise, readers only have access to the perspectives writers choose to include on the page. If a character is presented from only one side, then the reader will make assumptions based on that information and may begin to see the characters as flat. Therefore, it’s up to the writer to provide multiple

Prompt: Take a look at your characters. Consider them from another angle, maybe as seen from a grocery store clerk, or the neighbor across the street, or their mother. Is there a side to them you haven’t seen yet? Is there an aspect of their lives that will grant greater intimacy or distance?

How Does a Character’s Perspective Alter Events

Years ago I read and loved The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. The story is about a missionary who brings his family to the Congo. One of the aspects I loved about the book is that it is told from five different POVs, each with their own distinctive voice. In an interview discussing her book, Kingsolver said that she essentially wrote the entire book five times, once from each POV, which allowed her to consider events from every angle and choose the best perspective for a specific moment in the novel.

“I conceived the structure this way from the very beginning, even though I knew it would be quite difficult to pull off, from the point of view of craft. I spent almost a year just honing the different voices, practicing telling the same scene from all five different angles, until I had differentiated them to the point that the reader would instantly know who was speaking, just from a sentence or two. So yes, it was hard, but it had to be so. The four sisters and Orleanna represent five separate philosophical positions, not just in their family but also in my political examination of the world.” (Source.)

The perspective of each individual character in the story is a really powerful instrument, because each individual sees the world a little bit differently.

My mom is fond of saying, If three people witness a car accident, each one will tell a different story of how it happened. A police officer may describe the scene with precision because his career requires it. A young student may describe it from a place of anger because they had a friend die in such an accident. An old man may tell it from a place of panic because of the shock it caused it. Each of them will have their own stories, memories, experiences, passions, and fears that colors how they view any given moment or event.

Prompt: Write a scene fives times, each time from a different character point of view. See if you can give them each a unique voice of perspective. (This is could be good for trying to add depth to side characters.)

This post was loosely inspired by The Daily Post prompt: Perspective.

Nov 19 2013

NaNoWriMo Update, Vol. 3

I did not quite meet NaNo word goal for the week, as I’ve been skipping writing days during the work week. Things are getting hectic at my day job, since we have to go to press with our December issue before Thanksgiving and there is a lot of work to do.

But I made it through Chapter 16 on the novel and I’m happy with the progress of the story.

On Saturday, I inadvertently skipped a day of Nablopomo. I created the post for Saturday, but saved it as a draft instead of posting it, so it ended up being posted on Sunday instead. Whoops. I’ve made it up by posting two posts today, however.

In the mix of this, I managed to do two of my three workouts last week. I feel good about this. With all the sitting at my computer, though, I can also feel my spin and muscles tightening up, reminding me that I need to get back to doing my morning yoga.

Current Project: Under the Midday Moon
(Novel Word Count Before Starting Nanowrimo: 13,010)

Goal: Complete 50,000 New Words and Hopefully the First Draft
New Words This Week: 8,252
Total NaNoWriMo Word Count: 22,807

Random Rough Sentences: Now, the sun was behind the trees and the sky was illuminated with pink, peach, and red, making the snow blush between the elongated shadows of the trees. Mom and I both stood on the porch, watching the sky with the plastic we’d used to cover the broken window flapping slightly behind us.

“I think we should get out of here,” said mom.

Novelling Notes: I don’t have any deep thoughts at this time. I’m pleased with the progress I’m making and how the story is starting to take shape in my mind. Lots of chapters begin and end with “Author’s Notes” pointing out changes I’ll need to make in the editing process.

Things To Be accomplished in the Coming Week:

  • Write a minimum of 12,000 words
  • Do three workouts (1/3 completed)
  • Post a new blog everyday
  • That’s it
Typewriter Keys

Typewriter Keys by Kristin Nador

Nov 9 2013

Witches and Woods and Good Fairies

Autumn woods

Autumn woods by Mel Green

Sophie Masson wrote a lovely post about a home she grew up in, which seemed to possess the soul of a good fairy. It was a home of secrete histories and ghosts and wild places to explore (and I recommend reading it, rather than taking it at my sparse description).

Her post immediately reminded me of the park and little woods in Anchorage, Alaska, where I used to live when I was a kid (seven-ish). The park across the street looked out over Cook Inlet, the water grey and, in the summer sun, sparkling. Two sides of the park were framed with little woods, patches of trees that separated the park from other peoples homes. I remember running through those woods and believing them huge, giant forests almost filled with wonders and strange creatures. I remembered looking up at the tall trees and feeling very far from home. I remember stepping only a few feet inside the little woods and feeling as though I could become utterly lost.

As kids exploring the little woods, we once stumbled upon a tree house — just a platform, really — that sat perched at what seemed to be the tippy top of a tree, which we were never brave enough to climb. But we imagined the kind of strange, brave person who would live at such heights.

Another time we discovered a cement slab (something industrial) hidden in the trees. It became the framework for an invisible house in which we pretended to live. It became a stage upon which we pranced and gave our bows. It became the home of an evil man who kidnapped good children and hid them away. It became so many things.

A few years ago, I was remembering the little wood and wondered what would happen, if such a small wood, the kind it was impossible to become lost in, actually hid in its heart an older, much greater wood — the kind one might never return from. That idea inspired a a short story, called “The Witch of the Little Wood,” grew into a novella, which transformed into part one of an unfinished novel that I plan to finish eventually.

My life inspires my writing quite a lot, usually in unusual ways. “The Witch of the Little Wood” makes use of several moments from my life, all unconnected. A phrase shouted at me by my sister during the middle of a fight (which made us laugh at the time) becomes barbed cruelty tossed at our MC by a bully. The awkward feelings of junior high, in which several people whom I thought were friends suddenly changed and became bitter enemies, makes it into the story. Bits of life here and there, hurts and loves and joys, travel through me and become new unrecognizable scenes in my characters lives. Bits of myself show up in everyone, from the heroes to the villains.

Writing is a fascinating process that way. Reading is, too. How you can look at a story just discovered and realize, oh, this is me, this is my life, here is everything I love and hate and need and feel all right there on display.

When you write or read do you often discover yourself in the stories? Does it surprise you?

Nov 8 2013

Five Things I’ve Learned from November Writing Challenges (so far)

For those who are not aware, I am participating in both National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)* and National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) this November. If this sounds like madness to you, that’s because it is, my lovelies, it is.

I’m finding the dual challenge fun, at least in these early days of the month. Here are a few things I’ve learned so far.

1. Exceed the Daily Minimum.

I kind of knew this one from the previous years I’ve done Nano and it feels like it should be obvious, but I feel like it’s something I always end up learning all over again. If you just meet the minimum requirements of the challenge, then you can get in trouble if life gets in the way latter down the road.

I try to at least get a few hundred words over the 1667 minimum required for Nano, that way I’m not stressed if I don’t feel like writing one day.

For the blogging challenge, this sometimes means I’m writing two blog posts a day, one for the day I’m on and one in preparation for the day after. It’s the same amount of words, but helps me have all my bases covered. In some cases this has resulted in two posts in the same day, because something new and relevant has come up. So, at the end of the month, I may have more than the minimum 30 blog posts (way cool).

2. Write First. Life Second.

Simple, and something I’ve known for a long time. Get the work done that needs getting done first and use the time left over for cleaning your room, chores, errands, watching TV, reading, friends, family, etc.I think this works best for the craziness of these writing challenges, since it only has to be sustained for this short period of time. During the rest of the year family and friends are the priority; cleaning, errands and chores end up on fairly even keel with my writing activities; and play (i.e. TV and movies and such) should be lowest, but isn’t always.

For day to day life, I won’t be able to keep this manic energy up, but I can set aside specific days where I come home from work and make writing my priority.

This work first attitude is also helping to build a habit of getting stuff done, which I’m hoping will carry over after the November challenges are completed.

3. Get Out and Do Things.


Haymitch says, “Just stay alive.”

Once the day’s goals have been met and exceeded, get out, get away from the chair, go do something. It’s kind of like a reward for the hard work done that day, but it’s also a way of maintaining mental order.

Last weekend was perfect. I got up early (but not too early), had some tea and toast while doing my Nano Novelling, and then went out and took walks with my baby niece and sisters, went to the farmers market, played with the baby, watched some movies. I

I have also been keeping up with my exercises, which helps keep me physically capable of sitting there and writing without feeling like I’m going to fall apart at the seams. And it also helps clear my head and exorcises stress.

These kinds of challenges require a lot of endurance, especially if you are combining them with full time jobs or education activities (and btw, parenting counts as a full time job, for realz). With the combination of work, life, family, friends, and the challenge, I’ve experienced serious Burn Out before, where I realize I’ve taken on too much with the result that I start to get physically sick or I get to the point where I don’t even want to look at a computer. Maintaining a sense of balance by stepping away from the challenge, taking a break, is a good way of surviving the month.

4. Don’t Be Afraid of Going for the Gut.

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I discovered over the course of this week that I’d been taking the easy way out in regards to my novel, playing it safe for both me and my characters. But it’s so much exciting for both readers and the writer to go for the gut and take risks. It can be scary, but it has the potential for better writing.

Taking part in NaBloPoMo has had me reading more blog posts this month than I normally would, and I’ve been struck by the honesty and courage of my favorite posts. I haven’t managed this much in my blog, as I tend to avoid writing posts that could be the least bit controversial or argumentative. I’m trying to put more personality into my posts and would like to get into more creative nonfiction, adding stories from my life in (hopefully) interesting and creative ways. It’s something for me to work on.

5. Work Breeds Inspiration.

I rediscover this every time I find myself enmeshed in a big project or doing a lot of writing or a combination of writing and other creative things. The more I write, the more I feel inspired to write, the more easily new ideas and words come, the more quickly I can get those words on the page.

To me, writing kind of like having a big round stone in the middle of a field. You know you want to roll the stone over to the other side of the field. As you stare at the stone sitting there, the idea of moving is looks daunting. The stone is too heavy. It’s too much work. Then, you start pushing the stone and it’s hard, but slowly it starts moving. As it starts moving, it starts to pick up momentum and that momentum makes it easier. If you stop, the momentum stops; you have to start the hard part over again. But if you keep the stone rolling until you reach the end of the project, then the momentum makes the work so much easier.

Nano-ing and other such challenges are huge massive heaps of potential and momentum. They start a pace, which the writer can either keep going or not.

For me that momentum is invaluable. It gets me going and keeps me going, and the sheer act of writing is what keeps my inspired.

Since we’re on the subject, my lovelies. Are you doing any personal challenges this month? What have you learned in the process?

PS. This post was inspired by BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo prompt for Day 8.


Good Reading

Nov 7 2013

Turning Right Instead of Left

Some writers avoid talking about what they’re working on with anyone, and my understanding is that this is because they feel they loose the excitement of discovering and writing the story when they tell it.

I personally find the opposite is true. While I’m writing, especially in the first draft stage, talking out the story can be incredibly helpful, helping me to plan out where I’m going. Of course, whomever I’m talking to often has many ideas of where they think I should take the story (most of them not right), but even hearing the wrong ideas can help me weed out the right ones.

During lunch yesterday, I was talking the story with a coworker and telling them what I had planned. One if my characters is attacked, and my coworker leapt to an assumption about the identity of the “villain”.

I explained that I had originally planned to write it that way, but had changed to another option. “But I’ve been thinking of changing it back,” I said. “Because I feel like I’ve been pulling my punches do it this way. That I’ve been playing it safe.”

“You are,” she said. “Just hearing the first version was compelling.”

“Yeah,” I said, and thought to myself, well, fuuuuuuuuuuu—.


Because damn it, she was right.

Of course, now all the planning I’ve done has to be tossed out the window and I have no ideas of how to finish this novel. I’m also going to have to make changes in the beginning sections to make these changes work. And the first scenes I ever wrote for this thing before I knew it was going to be a novel, the ones that kicked it all off, will just about have to be trashed entirely. (“Kill your darlings,” the wisdom goes.)

But I’m grateful to have figured this out now. Actually, I’m right at the pivot point in writing the current draft where this change would have to occur. Instead of turning left, I just have to turn right in the plotting. This will save me tones of time during revisions.

Of course taking this plot turn is scary, and that’s how I know it’s probably right. I’m not sure I’m good enough to pull it off, not sure I can make readers believe, not sure I’ll be able to do that much damage to my main character. I don’t really want to twist the knife (metaphorically speaking) once I’ve jammed it into her belly, but I’m gonna have to.

Right now, I’m trying not to flail.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening mentally working out how to make the change work, and allowed myself a break from writing. I think I’ve got some of it worked out, but have no idea how to end it. I guess I’ll discover that when I get there.

When you’re writing do you talk the story out? Or do you keep it to yourself until the draft is finished?

Alternatively, have you ever caught yourself pulling your punches while writing a story? Or do you always go for the guts?


Good Reading

Marilyn Brant posted Following Our Passions: A Dance of Love, Fear, and Change,” which gives some fascinating insight into her career as an author and talks about why as writers we keep writing.

The Daily Post has a great blog up called, Should You Let the Cats Out of the Bag? Blogging About Family and Friends, which deals with privacy and the internet, how much you should share and not share, especially in regards to the lives of friends and family. It has some great questions to ask yourself before posting and some tips on how to handle the sharing of private information in a respectful way.