Tag Archives: how to write

The Four Stages of Learning and What This Means In the Era of Self-Publishing

Four Stages of Learning
I am all for self-publishing. It gives writers a viable alternative when publishers say things like ‘We’d like to publish your work but…’

But it’s too risky.

But it’s too hard to market/we don’t know how to market it.

But it’s not fashionable right now. 

There are a lot of buts, but… the one thing they have in common is all these type of answers imply (or expressly state) the quality of the work is good, and there are other commercial considerations in play. We all know publishers have acted as gatekeepers in the past, and sometimes they were gate-keeping excellent work for business reasons, and self-publishing neatly solves this problem. 

BUT.
 
If the publisher no longer acts as gatekeeper, for any issue, including quality control, it falls to the writer to act as their own gatekeeper for their own poor quality work – self-regulation is required.

Now I know what you’re likely to say next – but publishers do publish badly written books. There are a couple that spring to mind at the current time, and I bet you’re thinking their names right now.

Twilight.

50 Shades of Grey.

Both hugely popular books that, from a technical standpoint, aren’t all that brilliantly written. And yet they were published.

But there is just as much a business reason behind publishing these books as there is behind the excellently written books that weren’t published. Because a publisher is, first and foremost, a business. A commercial enterprise. We as writers, as artists, like to conveniently forget this fact when it suits us. But they are. And if you’re a self-publisher, you are now a business.

Usually what makes money is good books, and a good book is a well-written book with a good story. Excellent writing won’t make up for a bad story. But publishers also know that sometimes a really good story will make up for mediocre writing – although not really bad writing. And if you think either of those books is really badly written, go check out the first draft of a first book by someone who has just picked up a pen to write fiction for the first time, then come back and we’ll talk. I still remember my first book. It made Twilight look like a Pulitzer Prize winner.

So in the traditional model we get mostly well-written books and some mediocre books which, for reasons that are hard to finger, really set fire to the imagination of readers and go viral.

In the self-publishing model, each writer gets to decide what he or she will publish.

The problem with this is the Four Stages of Learning.

The Four Stages of Learning is a model for learning suggesting individuals are initially unaware of how little they know, or unconscious of their incompetence – in more colloquial terms ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ which I’ve always considered to be a fairly inarguable piece of wisdom.  

Unconscious Incompetence
The first stage is when a person doesn’t understand how to do something, and doesn’t even know they should be doing it. If I go back to my very early days of writing, this includes just about everything. I had an idea about plot and characterisation, but I didn’t even know what POV stood for, never mind what they were, how they differed, or how to use them.

Sometimes this stage is characterised by the person denying the usefulness of a skill if it is pointed out to them. Again, an excellent example is POV. May new writers head-hop, and use defences like ‘But I want to know what everyone in the scene think’ or ‘But Stephen King does it’.

Well, I wish I could do what Stephen King does, but I can’t. Most of us can’t. Most of us never will.

At this level of ignorance, the person doesn’t even know enough about the skill (POV) to know why it’s important, or how to intelligently break the rules (like King does) or why intelligently breaking the rules is even different to just breaking through them like a bull at a gate.

Conscious Incompetence
The second stage begins when the person begins to realise there is something they need to know – and don’t. There is some self-awareness that the person’s work isn’t particularly great, and a writer is more likely to learn from their mistakes.

Conscious Competence
At the third stage, the person has learned how to do something, but the process is laborious and requires concentration. The skill may need to be enacted in conscious steps.

Unconscious Competence
At the fourth and final stage, the person is so good at the skill it has become ‘second nature’ and can be performed easily, or even while carrying out other tasks. The person may even be able to teach it to others.

So, what has this got to do with self-publishing? I believe it affects the quality of what is self-published.

Not many writers in the fourth stage will be self-publishing, except for business reasons. Most of these writers can (and will) be traditionally published – and in fact the process of getting traditionally published is a learning process in itself, equipping the writer with a thick skin. Not many writers in the second stage will self-publish either, because they are painfully aware of their own shortcomings and don’t wish to expose them to the light of public scrutiny.

Some writers from the third category may self-publish, some may be working to improve further (into stage four) before they publish under any model, and some will still be pursuing traditional publishing.

Which leaves us with the first stage. People who don’t know what they don’t know. I’m betting a lot of people in this group are self-publishing, and what they are publishing is bad.

I’m not criticising their ignorance. I remember how great I thought my first book was. And my second. And my third. And hey, even my fourth. I didn’t have the lure of self-publishing to tempt me, for which I am grateful, because I look back at that work now and I cringe. I cringe, and no one but me can see it. How much more would I cringe if it had been made public?

But I wonder, how many self-published writers will look back at the first book they published and regret it? I know one or two who have pulled books from the market for exactly this reason.

So if you’re thinking about self-publishing, maybe stop a moment, consider which stage you think you’re at, and ask yourself seriously if this work is something you’d be embarrassed to admit to in the future.

If you missed it, check out the latest in my Mythical Creature series – the truth about the vampire myth.

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I Just Can’t Say It Enough – The Evil of Saidisms

Saidisms

 Have you read a book where the characters growled, mused, or grated everything? Did it annoy all hell out of you? It sure does me! I don’t go through my life applying such tags to the things people say to me day in and day out – I just process the vocal tone and body language to reach a conclusion about the nature of the interaction. 

If you’re a writer, you might pause to ponder if you’ve been guilty of this sin. I won’t wait for you to answer though because I already know you are guilty as charged. Every writer is.How do I know this?

Because it’s a beginner mistake.

We all do this in our early days. You might be thinking of some of your early work right now – you know, the ones you’ve buried in hopes they will never see the light of day again? If you’re looking at your current WIP and it’s littered with so-called ‘saidisms’, I strongly urge you to go through and delete all those nasties. Said is an excellent word. Said is an under-appreciated word. No matter how much you think you might be over-using it, you’re probably not. And if you actually are, there are better alternatives than ‘hissed’, ‘bellowed’ and ‘snarled’. Don’t even touch ‘grinned’. Trust me on this one. 

In the traditionally published world, this kind of writing will have you hit the rejection pile so fast your head is spinning. There are, of course, exceptions (see my post about Joe Abercrombie here). One is that occasionally contracted writers are allowed to get away with sloppy writing mistakes that newbie writers can’t – something I don’t agree with, but hey, I don’t make the rules. 

Even more occasionally, a debut writer will get away with this – I can only assume because their story is so compelling the errors were allowable. If you’ve been following my #writetip series, you may have seen the one that said great storytelling can sometimes make up for mediocre writing, and I can only assume this is the case here. 

In the self-publishing world, though, the only control is that applied by the writer. Some writers don’t know any better – they’re new, and they haven’t yet learned a lot of craft, and in that first stage of writing, that euphoric bliss of unconscious incompetence that is the first step of learning anything, they publish their work. Ignorance really is bliss. I even know a few writers who, once they learned a bit more craft, pulled their ebooks from distribution because the second stage of learning, conscious incompetence, isn’t nearly so kind to the ego. 

Other writers who know better are tempted into the sin, or ignore their editors, and so a few saidisms might slip through.

Last week – or was it the week before? I’ve been sick and dehydrated to the point of near-hallucinations, so I really can’t be sure. But in the space of 5 minutes I started and discarded three books. Why? Because of evil saidisms.

I can forgive a few creative alternatives to ‘said’. But if you have too many in the first few pages you are likely to annoy me to the point of putting your book down. And if yours is the third book in that list, I am even more likely to be unforgiving. Congratulations to R.S. Guthrie, whose Black Beast was the fourth book I tried that day, and which I have now read to the end.

Why do saidisms annoy me so much? If you’re a reader (and not a writer), they may not consciously annoy you, but it’s likely they have a negative effect on you, even if you can’t put your finger on it. And they annoy me for the same reason, it’s just that so many years of writing and an impossibly long list of workshops (check out my website if you haven’t seen all the workshops I’ve done) leave me in a position where I can articulate precisely why they annoy me. 

‘Said’ is invisible. The reader reads it, but they don’t consciously acknowledge it. They just skim past it. It’s primary function is to alert the reader to who is talking. When a writer gets creative with speaker tags, and uses something else, the reader will, perhaps not consciously, attempt to match the tag to the words. Do they sound like something that would be growled? Is it appropriate to shout that line? Can that sentence actually be hissed? Wait… it’s got no sibilants in it. How can you hiss that

And now you have a problem. The reader is paying more attention to matching dialogue to tags than your actual story.

Jack Bickham, in ‘The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes’, says 90% of your speaker tags should be ‘said’. No, that doesn’t mean 90% of your dialogue should use ‘said’. What it means is that, where you use tags, 90% of them should be ‘said’. There are, of course, other alternatives to speaker tags, such as no tag (where not needed) or an action tag, where the writer describes what a character is doing. This helps to give context to the dialogue and avoid the ‘talking heads’ problem. 

In short, using alternatives to said is distracting. It can jolt the reader out of the story. For reasons you can’t precisely identify, you may not feel as deeply involved in the story as you’d like. Sound familiar? Ever experienced that problem? I bet everyone has, at least once, even if you couldn’t say what it was you didn’t like about the book. 

Dialogue should speak for itself. We should understand the likely tone from the words themselves, and this extends to adding adverbs after said – there is no need to say ‘I’m sorry’ apologetically. We already see it’s apologetic from the words. And for god’s sake, words cannot be grimaced or grinned as in ‘I know,’ he grimaced. ‘Grimaced’ in this sentence is necessarily a modifier of the spoken words, which just doesn’t make sense. The correct structure would be ‘I know.’ He grimaced. The exception is arguably things like ‘whispered’ and ‘shouted’ where the reader can’t actually gauge the tone from the words. And, of course, ‘lied’, but don’t ever use this for a non-viewpoint character or you’ll be head-hopping (unless you are using omniscient third). 

In the spirit of fun, here’s a poem by Franklin P. Adams. He wrote this poem using the attribution tags he found in two stories in a single magazine.

Monotonous Variety

She “greeted” and he “volunteered”;
She “giggled”: he “asserted”;
She “queried” and he “lightly veered”;
She “drawled” and he “averted”;
She “scoffed,” she “laughed” and he “averred”;
He “mumbled,” “parried,” and “demurred.”

She “languidly responded”; he
“Incautiously assented”;
Doretta “proffered lazily”;
Will “speedily invented”;
She “parried,” “whispered,” “bade,” and “mused”;
He “urged,” “acknowledged,” and “refused.”

She “softly added”; “she alleged”;
He “consciously invited”;
She “then corrected”; William “hedged”;
She “prettily recited”;
She “nodded” “stormed,” and “acquiesced”;
He “promised,” “hastened,” and “confessed.”

Doretta “chided”; “cautioned” Will;
She “voiced” and he “defended”;
She “vouchsafed”; he “continued still”;
She “sneered” and he “amended”;
She “smiled,” she “twitted,” and she “dared”
He “scorned,” “exclaimed,” “pronounced,” and “flared.”

He “waived,” “believed,” “explained,” and “tried”;
“Commented” she; he “muttered”;
She “blushed,” she “dimpled,” and she “sighed”;
He ‘ventured” and he “stuttered”;
She “spoke,” “suggested,” and “pursued”;
He “pleaded,” “pouted,” “called,” and “viewed.”

O syonymble writers, ye
Whose work is so high-pricey.
Think ye not that variety
May haply be too spicy?
Meseems that in an elder day
They had a thing or two to–say.
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What is Deep Third POV?

Deep Third

Following on from last week’s post on POV and Head-hopping (which you can find here) I’m going to make an attempt to explain something I don’t have a firm grasp on. Hopefully this doesn’t become a complete mess!

In times past, if we wanted the reader to be close to the character, the standard advice was ‘use 1st person POV’. Deep third is like first, in that sense, but it’s… well… third. So it’s a way of bringing the reader closer to the viewpoint character, and removing that sense of the author being in the scene, and still avoiding (if you’re like me) ‘dreaded first’. And I am sure keen to avoid first, because one of the most definitive pieces of advice to come out of my writer’s group on Saturday was ‘Don’t use first. Just don’t.’ Yeah, OK, so I suck a little at first. 

So that’s the explanation of deep third, but it doesn’t really tell you how to write deep third, or how it’s different from third limited. It’s difficult to explain the differences, so I’ve aimed instead to illustrate how to achieve deep third using some examples of what to do – and what not to do – when trying to create deep third. 

Use he and she sparingly – Personal pronouns should appear in action, but not in description or opinion. So we say ‘He opened the door’ (action) but we don’t say ‘He smelled the bread baking’ (description). Instead we might say ‘The air smelled of baking bread’. Notice the protagonist doesn’t appear in this sentence? And if you remember, this was something I said about first as well – we don’t need to use the pronoun because we know it’s the viewpoint character smelling it. 

Similarly with opinion – ‘Did he really think because she smiled at him she was interested?’ This is an opinion in deep third – it is the character making a judgement about what another character thinks. We could have said ‘She wondered if he really thought she was interested because she smiled at him’ but then we are distancing the reader again. Using ‘he’ and ‘she’ in description and judgements is a sign you are filtering through the author, which is something you don’t want in deep third. You want the reader to come closer… closer… closer… OK, we’re touching noses, that’s good! All right, maybe back off a teensy bit. 

Get deep in the emotion – Last week I noted that when using third limited the reader can only know what the viewpoint character knows, and only see what the viewpoint character sees. This is true in deep third as well, but we go a little deeper. When something is described to us, the character has just noticed it – and an emotional reaction of some kind should follow. An assassin might see a second door, and recognise an escape route. A carpenter might see the same door, and admire the fancy carving. This helps to bring us closer to the character than we might otherwise be in third limited. It’s also an aid to characterisation. 
 
Voice – Of course, when you write deep third, you should always write in the character’s voice. So my protagonist, Astarl, once observes that somewhere is as dark as the inside of a horse’s arse. Because, you know, she’s an assassin, she spends a lot of time with men, and she tends to be blunt. A duchess probably wouldn’t make the same observation…

Word choice – There are some words we can use to better remove the author from the reading experience. These are words that better reflect how we process our observations and thoughts to ourselves. We tend to think of ourselves as the centre, and you need to write the character this way as well to capture deep third. Some of these words include:
  • ‘This’ instead of ‘It’ – as in ‘This was what he wanted’ or more simply ‘This was it’, instead of ‘It was what he wanted’. ‘It’ isn’t something we think to ourselves and it distances the reader;
  • Relative time – Use last night and tomorrow instead of ‘the night before’ or ‘the next day’. Do you think ‘the night before’ to yourself? Didn’t think so…
  • Relative position – describe movement relative to the viewpoint character, for example, ‘The monster came closer’ or the ‘The monster shied away’. If we say ‘the monster moved across the room’ or ‘the monster stepped closer to him’ then in both cases we are removing the central focus on the viewpoint character and distancing the reader.In particular, in deep third there is no need to say ‘to him’ for the same reason we don’t need to say ‘he thought’ or ‘we smelled’. this is assumed, and spelling it out reminds the reader of the author’s presence.
Note, also, the difference between using ‘the’ and ‘a’. If the viewpoint character sees ‘a door’ it’s just a door the character has recognised as present. ‘The door’ signifies it as the exact door the character is looking for. So ‘the’ is important for denoting significance to the viewpoint character in deep third because we are relying on the character for all the descriptions and observations. 
  
Correct use of syntax – For example always make your viewpoint character the subject and not the object of a sentence i.e. the actor, and not the thing being acted upon. The exception is judgements, in which there need be no subject. The subject (the viewpoint character) is assumed because we know we are in their viewpoint and therefore it is their judgement. This relates back to my examples of ‘Did he really think because she smiled at him she was interested?’ versus ‘She wondered if he really thought she was interested because she smiled at him’. There is no subject (no actor) in the first, but only in the second, denoted by ‘she wondered’. Similarly, don’t place the subject in the subordinate clause – because that’s not where the emphasis is! 

So that was more an explanation by way of demonstration, but I usually find that to be more effective. There are other techniques you can use, but I haven’t made an exhaustive list here, and I tend to think some of them overlap anyway. 

I hope it’s helped you to understand the difference, even if it may not have helped you to achieve it. I know I still struggle to create deep third, even though I know how it should work.

So are we all traumatised now? A few people were already scarred after last week’s clash with POV.
 

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POV Made Simple and Why Head-hopping Is Naughty

Head-hopping

It’s not that hard! Really, people, get with the programme. 

OK, possibly that is slightly harsh. I don’t think POV is hard, but this is for all those people whose brains work in slightly less dysfunctional ways than mine and who struggle with getting point of view right.
It took me a long time to figure it out, but there’s something about POV that seems to come naturally to me. This is not to suggest I am somehow better than those who don’t get it, but more a request to bear with me as I attempt to explain something that comes instinctively. In fact, it’s only recently I’ve actually understood it in terms I can explain to others. Before that I was like Nike – I just did it. So I don’t claim to be a good teacher! Just an opinionated sod with a loud mouth. 

So why am I so riled up about POV?

Because I am tired of bad POV, especially head-hopping, in traditionally published books by authors who should know better. Here, in Australia, I pay $22 for a paperback, so if I have bought one instead of an ebook, I damn well want quality for my money. It’s also one of the biggest sins newbie writers commit and one of the most complained-of problems by editors and agents.

If you don’t already know, you may be asking ‘What is head-hopping?’ We’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s consider the three main kinds of POV (I’m not going to look at second person because – eww! Just eww).

First person

This is where you write the story as if you are the protagonist. ‘I walked down the hall’ is an example of first person, so it’s as if the protagonist is narrating their story to us. It’s conventional to only have one viewpoint character when using this POV. If it is absolutely necessary to have another viewpoint character (such as because we need to know events the viewpoint character is not present for, as is the case in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series when Claire is in the future and we need to know what happens to Jamie) then it is conventional to use third limited for the other characters.

I am aware there are books that have broken this rule, but I personally hate this technique, and there’s a reason the rule exists. It can be confusing and disorienting for the reader to try and work out which one of multiple viewpoint characters ‘I’ now designates, and it can also be difficult to really settle into and relate to multiple characters from inside all their heads. I personally detest books written in this way. I’m not a fan of first person to start with, although I enjoy Diana Gabaldon, but multiple viewpoint characters in first frankly just turns me off. The only time you can
maybe get away with it is if each viewpoint character has a very distinct voice. 

Third limited

Here the story is written from the perspective of one or more viewpoint characters, so everything is still perceived through that character’s ‘filter’, but the story is not narrated to us by that character. Third limited uses ‘he’ and ‘she’ pronouns such as in ‘She walked down the hall’ but the use of these pronouns is not definitive as they are also used in third omniscient. ‘Limited’ refers to the fact the reader can only know what the viewpoint character knows. We may also be privy to the character’s thoughts. It’s like we travel through the story on the viewpoint character’s shoulder or perhaps in their head, not controlling the action, but seeing it through that character’s eyes. I freely admit third limited is my favourite. 

Third Omniscient

And now we get to the really hard stuff. This is where people most often get confused. Omniscient is where we have a narrator, but the narrator is not the protagonist. The narrator may themselves be a character in unfolding events or may remain nameless and faceless, in which case, I hear you say – how do we even knowthere is a narrator? You know there is a narrator when you see a scene and the character isn’t present – or in other words, we get a camera view of the action, like watching a movie. We aren’t inside anyone’s heads, although the ‘narrator’ may tell us what certain people are thinking where it’s relevant, and so we may be privy to more information than in first or third if the narrator informs us of the thoughts and emotions of more than one character present in a scene.However, our understanding of each character is more superficial than in third limited. 

I can’t write omniscient (and don’t care to) so I’ve borrowed this from a book familiar to many – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone:
‘…but Privet Drive had hardly changed at all. The sun rose on the same tidy gardens and lit up the brass number four on the Dursleys’ front door; it crept into their living room, which was almost exactly the same as it had been on the night when Mr Dursley had seen that fateful news report about the owls. Only the photographs on the on the mantelpiece really showed how much time had passed.’
Whose viewpoint is this from? Not Harry, and not any of the Dursleys. It’s the narrator’s viewpoint. In fact the scene set by the opening of chapter two paints a picture pretty consistent with the scene we get from the camera in the movie as it sweeps in over Privet Drive. This is omniscient, although note Harry Potter later switches to third limited for the most part. For another good example of omniscient POV, check out Dionne Lister’s ‘Shadows of the Realm’ which I admire for getting omniscient right (and deliberately so).

Head-hopping

And so we come to the notorious head hopping, oft-times cursed but little understood. So what is it?
Head-hopping happens when people confuse third omniscient and third limited. Maybe they want to write in omniscient but they don’t properly understand what distinguishes it from third limited. Maybe they want third limited but like the appeal of ‘knowing what everyone in a scene is thinking’. Here is an example of head-hopping from The Serpent Bride by Sara Douglass:
‘Isaiah gave a small shrug. That is of no matter at the moment. “Tell me how you feel. There have been times since I pulled you from the water when my physicians feared they might lose you back to death.”
Axis rested back against the pillows, not entirely sure how to respond. He’d been walking with his wife Azhure…’
Did you see that? Did you spot the head-hopping? If this is third limited, which it is supposed to be, I believe, how do we know both what Isaiah is thinking and how Axis is feeling and what he was doing previously? That’s head-hopping, when the author puts us inside the heads of more than one character within a scene.

But, you protest, maybe it’s omniscient, in which you said the narrator can tell us what more than one character is thinking or feeling? Indeed I did, but I said the narrator can tell us; I didn’t say we can hear the character’s thoughts. I said our experience of the character and their thoughts is superficial. Isaiah’s thoughts are italicised – that is, it’s an internal monologue we, the reader, are privy to, as is customary in third limited. Thoughts are one of the easiest ways to spot POV issues and here’s a quick rundown of how thoughts shouldpresented in each POV using the example from The Serpent Bride above:
  • First – I gave a small shrug. That was of no matter at the moment.
  • Third – Isaiah gave a small shrug. That is of no matter at the moment.
  • Omniscient – Isaiah gave a small shrug. He thought it was of no matter at the moment.
We italicise thoughts in third limited to indicate it is internal monologue. There is no need to italicise in first because the character is narrating to us and therefore we already know it is the character’s thoughts. In omniscient, we don’t hear the character’s thoughts at all – we are merely told by the narrator what the character thought. So in omniscient we can be ‘told’ what two characters in the same scene think or feel, but we should not see any internal monologue, because the story is merely narrated

Why is head-hopping wrong? For the same reason multiple viewpoint characters when using first is unconventional – it can be jarring to the reader. Which character am I with? Who am I rooting for? Who am I supposed to be emotionally connecting with? These are questions for which the answers are unclear.
The second reason is because third limited is used to bring the reader in closer (as opposed to omniscient which keeps the reader at arm’s length), which serves as an aid to build rapport. Then the effect of conflict and tension in the story is magnified. Does he love her? Will he agree to stay with her or will he go? We empathise with the viewpoint character and want her to have a happy ending, and not knowing makes us keep reading. But then, if you go and tell the reader what all the other characters are thinking, you destroy that tension. Oh, he’s going. He doesn’t love her. No need to keep reading then. 

Admittedly, omniscient defuses that tension too, but there is no point in selecting third limited, a POV designed to bring the reader in close and crank up the tension, if you then turn around and ruin all that work by throwing in omniscient. Doing this just creates a mongrel child of third and omniscient with all the worst features of both – and we call it head-hopping. If you want to tell the reader what all the characters think and feel, then use omniscient, but be aware it’s not in vogue as much right now becauseit keeps the reader at arm’s length. That said, there are still genres that tend to this POV. 
 
How do we avoid head-hopping?

If you’re using third limited, you should only switch between viewpoint characters at legitimate scene or chapter breaks. If you find it difficult to stay with the viewpoint character, I’m told writing it in first and then switching the pronouns out can help prevent head-hopping – of course there’s a little more to it than that, because you have to adjust for narration. I can’t personally comment, because I have the opposite problem – I can’t write first to save my life, I have to write in third and switch all the pronouns back and add in the protagonist’s narration. But you could always give it a try and see how it works. Alternatively, method writing, where you become the character whose viewpoint you are in, can help. If you pretend you are the character, then as soon as you spot yourself writing something you couldn’t know in that scene, you know you’re head-hopping.

Lastly, different genres of book tend to different POVs. Mysteries and thrillers are often in first person, where fantasy is typically third limited or third omniscient. 

Next week, we’ll take a look at deep third and see how it differs from third limited. It’s the big thing right now, and I’ve only just figured out what they mean… so I might as well share it with you lot as well!


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What I Learned From Rejection… And A Fortuitous Workshop!

Rejection

As many of you know, last year HarperCollins Australia requested a partial of my book Deathhawk’s Betrayal. Alas, they have now declined to see the full manuscript. Given the ratio of acceptances, that’s unsurprising, but one can always hope. In fact, we should hope, because hope takes us many places. The editor was too busy to give me detailed feedback, but what she did say was she didn’t connect emotionally with the characters. 

Ouch!

I won’t say I went immediately to panic stations, but I was concerned. None of my previous test readers had indicated this as one of the many problems I had fixed (or attempted to fix…). Was there a problem with the writing or was this simply a case of one personal preference in a subjective world? One cannot, after all, please everyone. Not even editors. That’s why published authors often get many rejections before an acceptance.
 
A number of writers I know encouraged me not to leap into anything on this basis. One opinion is not enough to justify wholesale changes. And I agree.

So I sought out some beta readers who are part of my target audience and I’ve generously had a half dozen or more offers of assistance, for which I am very grateful. I am also grateful to Twitter, which has given me access to these amazing and wonderful people, something I didn’t have on the last round of critiques I received on Deathhawk’s Betrayal.

And then, satisfied with my day’s work, I went off to read Lesson 2 of the online workshop I am currently doing, Hunting the Elusive Hook. The lesson happened to be on the first chapter of your novel and how to hook the reader, including the most important elements of that chapter.

Oh. My. God.

I had a total epiphany. I looked at my first chapter and thought ‘This sucks!’.

OK, maybe not that extreme. All the right elements were there, but they were in the wrong places. In all fairness, I did write this in 2008 and I have studied the craft of writing a lot since then so it’s reasonable to assume my skills have improved. I had edited it since, but I seem to have some difficulty editing what’s there into something better without completely ditching it and starting afresh. It’s like my creativity is chained by the words already written. The moment of potential has passed, what could be has become what is, and I can’t take it back.  

So I decided to rewrite my opening chapter from scratch.

Because an editor said she didn’t connect emotionally with my characters? No, I don’t think so, that just happened to occur on the same day I read this lesson. The rejection may have just put me in the frame of mind where I was open to the notion that there was something not quite right with my opening chapter.

And when I say rewrote, I mean rewrote. I started from scratch, using the same key concepts, and rewrote that chapter with a completely different aspect. I referred to the original only occasionally to keep a key line here or there or to make sure I covered off all the important points. Otherwise, it is completely unrecognisable.

My husband, who is not a writer, also questioned my motives in rewriting the first chapter. In a quick test, I gave him the first page of the old version and the new version and told him to tell me which was more interesting. Grudgingly, then with increasing enthusiasm, he conceded the new version was much better. The old version he described as ‘cluttered’, which translated to writer speak would mean, I think, the pace was too slow and there was too much peripheral content.

So where to from here? I’m still going to send it out to my happy beta volunteers. I’ll even give them the old chapter one to compare to the new version. Who knows, they might get a laugh out of it. As a writer, I am here to entertain… right?

After that… it will depend on the feedback I get. There may be more revisions to make.

Then let the querying begin…

“He who cannot change the very fabric of his thought will never be able to change reality.”
 Anwar Sadat

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
Albert Einstein

This Sunday I’ll be sharing the new first sentences of Deathhawk’s Betrayal as part of Six Sentence Sunday so be sure to stop by and let me know if you’d keep reading!


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