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Pick Your POV

November 24, 2014

By CP Bialois

CP Author Photo

“The most common mistake newbie writers make is to head hop.”

How many times have we heard this? A handful? A dozen? A hundred? Yet each time it’s preached like the writing gospel. I guess the best way to answer it is with another question: What is head hopping? Head hopping is having multiple POVs (Points of View) in the same paragraph. That’s it. It’s as simple as that.

Okay, okay, so, you’re wondering what’s my thinking behind this post, right? Well, in a nut shell… Third Person POV. That’s right. Today I figured I’d talk a little about a couple of the different POVs we use as writers.

Whenever we decide to sit down and write one of two things happen. Either we begin with our usual style or we take on the character of the story. I admit, I fall into the latter more times than not. It’s really cool when you feel you’re the conduit for the story to be told. If this happens, we often have no say in what POV is used. Sometimes it’s first person and sometimes it’s third. I haven’t had the urge to write in second so I don’t know whether to take that as a good or bad thing.

What if we fall into the first category? Is it a POV we’re comfortable using that comes naturally or is it one we learned?

For me, it’s Third Person Omniscient about 98% of the time. It’s more natural and easy to do. I look at it simply as this: We’re walking down a corridor painted in gray toward a large window which represents the overall scene. Along the way, there are other windows on either side of us that allow us to see and understand what else is happening within the scene like watching a movie or TV. We have the freedom to know what everyone is doing without any restrictions and allows us easier access to characters we may not have noticed or understood otherwise.
Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s because I’m one that prefers to look around at everything happening instead of focusing on a single point. I don’t know, but I do know it’s way more fun for me to read and write like that.

In Third Person Omniscient, the story is told through the narrator’s voice in a single POV so there are no breaks between each character focus within a scene. There are two types of this called Objective and Subjective. In Objective, we’re told the story through a passive means by not getting to into the characters’ emotions or thoughts by adding dialogue tags to their thoughts.

An example is: I’m going to get in trouble for this, thought Jake

By adding the dialogue tag we’re told what he’s thinking instead of experiencing it as part of him.

In Subjective, we’re a lot closer to the characters and their thoughts.

For example: Jake shook his head. I’m going to get in trouble for this.

In this style we’re shown what’s happening as if we’re a part of the character Jake. It allows us to become more involved with the character and those around him. Each shift in the narrator’s perspective is done by naming the character or having some kind of action involving their head in the first sentence. This also allows the POV to shift from one paragraph to another, which brings me to the opening quote.

Because of the intimate feeling Subjective gives us, many authors have taken to calling it head hopping and is said to be difficult to do. To be honest, the only time I’ve noticed anyone having a problem understanding it is if they’re used to (or insistent on) looking for a single character POV like in Third Person Limited (or Multiple Selective) where each POV is separated by a scene or chapter break.

In Third Person Limited, we’re shown the story through a particular character’s POV. We only see and know what they see and know is happening. In this style, the writer takes the reader by the hand and tells them who each POV is from and is possibly the origin of the different POV debate.

Using my previous description of walking down a gray hallway, we still see the window at the end of the hall, but there are no windows and maybe doors depending on if the author wants us to see something. It’s a great style to use with mysteries and other stories where you want to build the tension and suspense.

In Third Person Limited, each POV needs to be separated by a scene break of an empty gap, multiple asterisks (*****) or another design the author prefers, or a new chapter. Usually, if chapter breaks are used, the chapter title will be the character’s name.

Each shift can be as much as the entire book or story, or even a single line of dialogue if it is tied to a different character’s thoughts or actions the author feels is integral to the story.

Both are legitimate POV styles and each have their detractors, but I’m a firm believer in doing what feels right for you and your story. There is no right or wrong in which you prefer. The main issue is Third Person Omniscient isn’t popular right now, so Third Person Limited is touted as the “proper” way to do it by many.

Let’s go back to my opening quote again. I think it’s important to keep in mind that when someone begins writing, they imitate their favorite authors until they develop their own style. So if they’re using Third Person Omniscient or Third Person Limited, wouldn’t it behoove us to help them tighten their process instead of trying to force them into something we feel is the “correct” way?

Not everyone will agree and that’s fine. Opinions are what helps us learn. What are your thoughts? Do you prefer one over the other?

What NaNoWriMo has taught me about writing

November 21, 2014

You’ve probably seen a hundred posts out there about NaNoWriMo at this point. There’s a plethora out there ranging from ‘it’s the greatest’ to ‘it’s the worse thing ever invented.’ I can’t speak to the more negative side as I am firmly on the side of participation (if someone wants to). Here are some of the things I’ve learned from participating over the past few years.

What NaNoWriMo has taught me about writing

You’ve probably seen a hundred posts out there about NaNoWriMo at this point. There’s a plethora out there ranging from ‘it’s the greatest’ to ‘it’s the worse thing ever invented.’ I can’t speak to the more negative side as I am firmly on the side of participation (if someone wants to). Here are some of the things I’ve learned from participating over the past few years.

  • When I first started NaNo, I’d only written a few short stories and had no idea if I could actually produce a work of 50,000 words. Truthfully, the idea scared me the first time but my husband was participating along with some other good friends online, so I said “Why not?” Joining the challenge and putting it out there publically made me accountable and I am far too stubborn to admit defeat, so I jumped in and kept going– even when it’s looked hopeless at times.
  • Take things one step at a time. As I said in the last point, that 50,000 word goal was terrifying. Just looking at all those zeros made my head spin the first year. In order to keep my sanity, I began to pay more attention to the daily goal of 1,667. By committing to that small goal each day, it made things much more manageable.
  • Be prepared. I usually wing NaNo, otherwise known as pantsing. Whether or not you outline ahead of time (which I did this year and am glad I did), you should be prepared for the unexpected. For example, the first CampNaNo I did, I had saved my doc to a removable but hadn’t backed it up on my computer or e-mail as well. When I came back to it, I discovered the drive was now corrupted and I had lost the whole day’s word count. Now I make sure that it’s always in at least two places just in case something goes wrong. I also have been scheduling a specific time each day for writing and make sure I have music and all the other things I need when writing handy. I also have been writing a little more than needed each day in case something comes up and I can’t get the words in one day.
  • Write for you. Don’t worry right now about getting feedback on your novel or how marketable it is. Just tell the story you want to tell and let the muse take you on a journey. The more I think about what I am writing in terms of how people will respond to it, the more I freeze up. That first round of self-edits is the place for questioning the muse.

These are just a few of the things I have learned since beginning the NaNoWriMo challenge. I apply these same lessons to writing outside of NaNo as well and while some projects have been shaky, I’m working on them and not giving up. I’ve already published two NaNo projects and two other NaNo works are coming through a publisher next year.

I think that might be the most important lesson: Apply it outside of NaNo months. Keep writing, revising, and getting feedback. Once they’re ready, I’d suggest setting something aside for self-publishing while submitting works, should you choose to go the traditional route with your other work. Having a variety of experiences only serves to help us grow and why let that manuscript languish forever in a drawer?

What are some of the lessons you’ve learned, either through participating in NaNo or through your own publishing journey? I’d love to hear about them.

Exercise Wednesday: The island and the chalkboard

November 19, 2014

I can’t confirm this, and my Google search was fruitless, but I’ve heard that one interview at a large company in the Silicon Valley consists of a simple question and your answer. You’re on an island and you have a piece of chalk and a blackboard. What do you do?

That’s the question. That’s the prompt for your character.

He or she is on an island, and has a piece of chalk and a chalkboard–what do they do?

No clarifications. No assumptions. No picture with this prompt to guide you. As the old Levi’s commercial says, “It’s wiiiiiiiiiide open.”

Just write.

Time limit: 30 minutes

Writing with Distractions

November 17, 2014

By CP Bialois

Sootie and EdHello and good morning everyone!

One of the most common battles people have is accomplishing a task surrounded by distractions. While it’s a shared problem, it’s different for writers or artists in general. We range in our ability to deal with what the world throws at us as some have no problem writing when surrounded by bustling noise. I, for one, need quiet or something to block out the noise, hence the wonderful creation of headphones and music.

No one ever claimed writers are normal (Though I contest we are the new normal), but we like to feel comfortable and secure just like anyone else. For many of us, home is our chosen retreat. We have everything we need at hand for a productive day, so what could possibly go wrong?

The answer with vary depending who you talk to, but at some point children or pets dominate the conversation. I tormented the crap out of my mom growing up and rarely gave her a moment’s peace, so she did what so many other parents do: Wished for me to have children as bad or worse than me. I showed her. We don’t have kids, but we do have pets…

Cleo and Notebooks

Two cats and a dog are our children. They are the sweetest, most loving creatures I’ve ever met. They are also the most needy, whiny, and pains in the backside that have ever lived when I try to write. My wife has taken to calling them fur babies and us as pet servants. I choose to refer to us as condemned and our pets as fur brats, demons, and psychopaths. The last two are descriptions that they do their best to live up to when I have a computer or notebook open.

Our solutions to counter this was having them get down, go somewhere like the library, or eventually yell at them when they pushed for the hundredth time. The only problem with those attempts came when we returned home or they continued to pest just because they wanted to. I know I was a rotten kid (One of my nicknames :) ), but come on!

032612181847

Anyway, the best way I’ve found is to outlast them. It helps that I’m extremely stubborn and if I can make it through the first hour, then I’m gold as they give up and do what they normally do like eat and/or sleep. All I have to worry about then is the wife, but that’s where headphones come in to play. (I’m so going to get into trouble for saying that).

What are your tricks to being productive? Do you like to work anywhere special, bribe your distractions, or outlast them?

Five Things a Beginning Writer Needs to Know

November 14, 2014

The indie author world is a fun place filled with amazingly supportive people who are generous with their advice and social media shares. There are so many out there who push themselves to the limit to do so while still working on their own stuff. It’s a great community, but as with most things in life, there is good and bad. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you begin walking the writer path.

  • Keep your expectations in check. There is no overnight success in most endeavors and that includes writing. It took years for me to get views on my blog and build the network I now have.
  • Start now. Keeping the first point in mind, the time to build a web presence is not after (or shortly before) the book has been released. Start posting and connecting with others now so you will have a good starting point for promotion.
  • Be courteous. Don’t be that author who shows up in a group to share their book, only to disappear and not come back until it’s time to promote something else. Avoid DMs (Direct Messages) on Twitter at all costs. Respond to others as much as you post. Be generous with your shares.
The Twitter DM Box: Otherwise known as the spam wasteland.

The Twitter DM Box: Otherwise known as the spam wasteland.

  • Read, take it in, discard. There is so much writing advice out there, and quite a bit of it can contradict other things you’ve read. Listen to you instincts and follow the advice that “feels” right to you, forget about the rest.
  • Have fun. Enjoy yourself. Lose yourself in your story. Don’t let yourself get caught up in competitiveness or feeling jealous of others’ success. We are all in this together, so a victory for one of us is a victory for all of us.

So there you have it: some of my personal tips for a writer just starting out. What advice would you give? What were the biggest lessons you learned when you began your own journey as a writer?

Exercise Wednesday: Freedom!

November 12, 2014

It’s been a long time now, but I can still remember how the last day of school felt in elementary and junior high school. I was too young to work a job, so the summer held endless possibilities. Reality, of course, was more mundane. I had to weed three rows of the garden every day and clean the freezer and mow the lawn. We didn’t go to the Swiss Alps or on safari. But we had a pool and a really big back yard and I had a bike and that was enough.

As an adult, the only time I’ve felt similar freedom is that brief time between jobs when you don’t have any responsibilities left from the previous job and you haven’t gotten any from the new job.

That kind of carefree freedom is magic.

Today, the exercise is to bottle some of that magic. It might be the last day of school. It might be a week alone with your brand new love. It might be the first day of retirement. Or maybe it’s the first day working for yourself after decades of working for The Man.

Whatever it is, get to it.

Time limit: 25 minutes

 

Developing Ideas

November 10, 2014

NOTE: I first posted this entry on my personal author blog back in January of this year. I decided I wanted to share it here in case anyone might find it helpful. Please feel free to comment with any tips you might have for conquering the blank page…

So, I was looking at some blogging prompts when this topic was mentioned. I thought it might be fun to do a post on this, so here are some ways I develop ideas. If you have any of your own, please feel free to share. I’d love to hear about them.

  • Listening to music. This really helps to get in the right mindset to write, but it also inspires ideas from time to time.
  • Meditation. Sometimes, just quieting the mind can be a huge help.
  • Writing prompts. I can’t recommend these enough and they are a huge source of inspiration. A simple google serach can put hundreds of prompts in your hands.
  • Taking a walk. Walks are kind of a meditation for me as well. There are so many times where something was going on that really upset me and going out for a walk was a great way to burn it all off, but it also allows you time alone to work over existing ideas and see how you can add in those twists and turns.
Plus, you never know what you might see while you're out and about. :)

Plus, you never know what you might see while you’re out and about. :)

  • Talk it out. Going over a vague thought with CP has done wonders for generating ideas. Sometimes a fellow writer or a good friend can help you get past a block.
  • RPGs. My time in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer role play game actually led to my first book, The Life and Times of No One in Particular. Writing some fan fiction or acting out an impromptu story in real time is one of the best writing exercises there is. By playing in a world that already exists, you get a launch pad to creating original stories in that world that can evolve into creating your own unique universe.
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