Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Misused Advice: Limit Your POV

For today’s post, please welcome our guest Lisa Borne Graves, author of The Immortal Transcripts and Celestial Spheres series.

Every piece of advice that we’re going to talk about in this series has good intentions at its origin, but has evolved into something either misused or inviolable. “Limit your POV” has become the former. To combat head-hopping, one of the first pieces of advice in creative writing—not a rule—is to limit your points-of-view. By focusing on only a couple characters, it is harder to accidentally head-hop. But is that always sound advice? Some would say this advice has gone too far, making the automatic response to the concept of multiple POVs a grievous sin.

Head-Hopping

Head-hopping is when the author jarringly moves from within one character’s head into another, confusing the reader. It mainly happens in third-person POVs, but can also happen when an author switches from third- to first-person. For a better understanding of POVs, take a look at the Points of View Series. Head-hopping should not be confused with well done omniscient POV where the narrator can see into many characters’ heads and is able to discern the switches. In visual terms, head-hopping would be like watching a movie where the camera was from someone’s perspective then shifts to another without warning or does not seamlessly transition.  

How to Choose Your POVs

There are advantages and disadvantages to both limiting and expanding the number of POVs. You’ll want to ask yourself what the needs of your story are as this choice will affect your story in multiple ways at once.
Character Distance
You might want to limit POVs to keep close to a character. It helps readers align and sympathize with certain characters. Seeing inside the main characters’ minds can be essential to understanding their motivations or gaining sympathy, while too many characters could dilute those connections the reader makes with the characters, distancing them. One POV can be problematic as well. Only having one character option can be straightforward, but it also can make a reader put the book down; if readers do not like the character or can’t connect, they have no other option.
If the goal is for the reader to keep distant, more character POV could help. More also adds layers to the novel in conflict, characterization, tension, and/or tone.
Mystery vs Anticipatory Tension
Fewer POVs hide twists. Some genres like mysteries and thrillers are almost always single POV, even as romantic sub-genres, because more would reveal too much information to the reader. 
More POVs can create dramatic irony (when the reader is privy to information from one character that the others don’t know). While the reader awaits character epiphanies, it creates page-turning tension. With only one or two POV’s, that could be lost. 
Establish Tone
There comes a time where limiting POV can completely stifle creativity and lose the richness of a narrative. The POV of characters determines the writing’s tone, and each unique voice added changes the overall feel. Having only one POV sets that tone for the entire piece. Adding more can create different feelings—pessimistic, sad, uplifting, humorous, serious, etc. It could be beneficial to change it up, like an uplifting POV to break up a perpetually sad POV.
Example: Quiver 
This novel has four first-person POVs: three gods and a mortal girl. They are divided up into chapters labeled with their names. Two characters have more chapters than the others. The most important thing about this choice is they each have a purpose. Lucien knows more than everyone else; he is the readers’ informant. The info he shares with us creates anticipatory tension. Archer is an MC, so he shows us the conflict first hand, and seeing his struggles from his POV is critical. Aroha is elemental in showing the complexity of living dual lives; she is also some comedic relief when all other characters are serious. Last is Callie, the other MC, the one most teen readers will want to align with. She is a mirror of the reader, wading into a fantasy world. The reader simultaneously dreads and desires her to solve the mysteries around her.
While querying, I was asked by a few agents to revise and resubmit with only two POVs (the lovers) or one POV (mortal girl). They were abiding by this advice to limit POVs. The novel would’ve lost irony and the personal conflicts of the gods. The largest issue with limiting POVs for this novel was it would’ve caused a massive tonal shift, destroying the rich tapestry of immortal personality and backstory. The gods have a mortal front, but hidden behind is a complex being; without the character Aroha, for example, the book would’ve been darker, without those comedic uplifts she creates. It would’ve watered down a complex narrative into something unoriginal and a bit too sad. I chose not to limit my characters and waited for the right publisher to come along who shared my vision.

Tricks?

There are ways to write omniscient POV well or include multiple POVs. Some common organizational or formatting tricks are separating characters per chapter (probably a must with multiple first-person), using gaps in text to mark shifts, and/or (in third-person) using the character’s name in the first sentence. Another option is labeling chapters—if characters are separated—by name or theme. There are many other options, but the point is to make the transition from one mind to another clear-cut.

So How Many?

Sorry, there’s no magic number as this would be forcing advice gone astray into a rule. Better advice than automatically limiting POVs might be to examine each POV’s purpose, meaning there should be a well-thought reason for every POV. Show us the villain’s mind to humanize him/her? Solid. Give us two characters’ POVs in a romance to create a he-said/she-said narrative? Great. But if there is any other way to show a minor character’s thoughts and emotions through actions and words, you might want to examine that option first.

Have you ever heard writing advice that seemed odd? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook! Keep an eye out for next month’s Misused Writing Advice: Don’t Use Adverbs.

And join us next week for an interview with B. B. Morgan, author of Thief in the Castle, to talk about the upcoming sequel, Mage in the Undercity.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

New Authors: Setting the Stage

The setting within your story
Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4
You might think this is the same thing as world building, and it sort of is, but the setting is more of the minute details within a story. The biggest difference between the two is that your setting is where a scene takes place, and world building is where your story exists, but the latter will still affect the former.  

Where is your character?

First thing’s first: where’s your character? No one is in a void…unless they are, but even that is a setting that needs development. When you’re writing where your characters are, your reader only knows as much as you tell them. I want to talk a little bit about setting in a micro and a macro level. 
Macro
When you’re writing your scene, keep in mind that your setting is going to affect your character in a big way. Maybe your character is a small-town girl who is moving to the big city, and she’s just arrived. She’s going to be scared, unsure of exactly how to handle herself around a buncha high-falutin’ city folk, and possibly wishing that she had never moved in the first place because it’s just so much. 
On the flip side, if you put someone who is used to finery into some podunk town with dirt and what they could consider to be “simple folk,” it’s going to be hell on earth for them, adjusting to their surroundings. Think Schitt’s Creek and how the Rose family is in complete shock and denial the moment they set foot into their new home, and it takes them ages to adjust. Dan Levy has done a beautiful job of showing how the setting affects the characters.  
Micro
We have to remember in the small details to write as readers rather than writers and not keep it all in our heads. These are going to be the smells, sounds, temperature, even if there’s dust floating in the sunlight coming through the window when a character disturbs an old book. Every move that your character makes is interacting with the setting you have, and the reader needs to know how that happens. As mentioned in the “Show, Don’t Tell” blog post, however, you don’t have to go overboard describing the small things in the room, but we do need to see what the character is seeing. 

Oh, God, it’s the outside!

Inevitably, your character is going to be going outside during your story, unless your story is set entirely on a space station in which there is no going outside, but those will be the exceptions to this. Just like in the section above, your character is going to be affected by what’s happening in the out of doors. So what is your outside going to do?
Weather
The first thing you’ll want to think about is the weather. There are many ways the weather can affect your characters: Is it going to be hot? Cold? Rainy? Is it going to rain on your character while they’re traveling and put them in a bad mood?
Your weather can entirely change your scene from romantic to miserable very easily. For example, two lovers who are on a picnic for a romantic proposal could have their moment ruined by a sudden torrent of rain. Or, on a more dangerous scale, your character could have to travel in a sudden heatwave and end up with heatstroke. 
Pests
Ugh, bugs. Bugs are a huge reason why I don’t go outside. Nature is chock full of pests and beautiful things, there is no escaping them until the winter, and even then, there are still insects that are active in cold temperatures. 
A lot of times, we don’t give our characters the option of choosing where they are, and we make them miserable because authors suffer from Schadenfreude when it comes to our characters. So, when your characters are outside, what kind of pests are there to bother them? Do you have bees in the garden that your character is severely allergic to? Gnats flying at your character’s eyes while they try to find their way?

Keeping track of time

This is something a lot of authors struggle with both in the short term and the long term. Readers need to be aware of how time is passing, and we can drop hints in there without having to say, “Now that it’s evening.” Tell your reader how the moon is starting to come out, and the air is chilling a bit. Or, if your lovers have been talking all night, talk about how the birds are waking up, and their chirps are interrupting the character’s chatting.
In the long term, your reader—and characters—need to know what time of year it is. This will determine where your characters are going, what they’re wearing, how their friendships are developing, and the list goes on. The longer a character is in a place, the more the reader needs to know how time is passing with them. 
Lastly, if you’re writing a story that takes more than one book to tell, make sure to show the time changes on your character. Has your character started to get wrinkles around their eyes? White in their brows and hair? We need to make sure that our characters keep up with the story and aren’t stuck in a perpetual void of youth.  

Join us next week for the next installment of our Misused Writing Advice series where we talk about limiting your points of view. 

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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

New Authors: Who are you talking to?

Writing dialogue in your book
Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing
The dialogue of your book is what makes it unique. Yes, your world and your plot can as well, but when it comes down to it, in this day and age, almost every story has been told already. They’re just packed in new and different ways. 

How do your characters talk?

There are books, upon books, upon books out there on how to write dialogue within your story to make it believable and enrich your world. I want to focus on three things I think writers struggle with the most. 
Regional dialect
In a fantasy world, it’s hard to get a dialect just right. Whose rules and accents do you follow? Do you make up your own or listen to people from different regions speak until you think you can write it with consistency?
It’s hard to tell, if I’m being honest. You might be able to make your own by mixing similar dialects and cherrypicking your favorite isms and slang, but you would need to make sure that they’re similar enough that your character doesn’t sound like they don’t know where they are. That might be a fun twist for an amnesiac character, but in general, it’s going to feel like you didn’t edit well enough in your finished project.  
If you’re wanting to create your own language and give it its own flair, you can check out our worldbuilding blog post on language to get a jumping-off point. 
Speaking style
Each character is going to have their own speaking style and personality, and your reader should be able to pick up on it fairly easily. For example, you might have a character who’s Oxford-educated, who is naturally going to speak with a broader vocabulary than someone who didn’t graduate high school. (Before you bite my head off, there are many exceptions to this statement, but these blogs are always written in generalized statements.) 
Or maybe you have a character who has a habitual turn of phrase or a specific word they say with annoying consistency, such as my nephew who regularly says, “Well, actually,” when he wants to correct someone in all of his seven-year-old wisdom. Which leads me to my next point...
Age-appropriate
This is one that I run into the most when I’m reading books or submissions: there’s a child in the scene, and the child speaks in the same manner as an adult. There are some very intelligent children out there, but a general rule of thumb is that children speak as children. 
This is the same as for an elderly character. Language changes by the day, much as we dislike it. My grandmother wouldn’t ask for gossip by saying “spill the tea” as much as a teen of today wouldn’t ask someone to “chew the fat” to catch up on each other’s lives. 

Believable Dialogue

Believable dialogue is hard. It’s really hard, you guys. 
There isn’t really one simple trick to get believable dialogue in your writing, frustrating as that might be. Even authors that have been writing for decades can sometimes struggle with writing a smooth-talking character or swoon-worthy love confessions. It’s just plain old difficult. 
But, there is hope. There are a few things that you can do to help yourself along, and they are pretty easy: 
  • Read your dialogue aloud to yourself or act out the scene to get just the right mood for the words.
  • Ask a friend to read the dialogue you’re unsure about.
  • Have multiple people critique your work. 
The last one might seem like it would be hard, but there are plenty of people out in the world willing to be critique partners or alpha/beta readers for you. If you’re looking for a place to get started on that, try out Scribophile, a free or premium site that’s filled to the brim with authors in various stages of skill who are all there for the same reason you are. 

I don’t know what to do with my hands!

This doesn’t exactly have to do with speaking, but character actions go along with what they’re saying. You aren’t going to have a character standing there stiff as a board as they wax poetic to another character. Your characters don’t need to do anything wild, but the right character action will certainly enrich the scene and make the dialogue more impactful. 
For example, if your character is distressed you have two ways you can go about it.
Option A:
“I don’t know what to do!” he said, distressed. 
Option B:
He ran his hand through his hair while he paced the room. When he finally stopped pacing, he looked to her with wide eyes.  “I don’t know what to do!”
Option B actually shows the distress, enriching the scene while Option A simply tells us he’s distressed. Never underestimate the benefit of telling us what a character is doing. 

Join us next week when we talk about the setting. 

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Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Author Interview: Diane Anthony


Diane, thanks for sitting down with us today. Let’s dive right in, shall we? What inspired you to write Supernova?
I was riding in the Jeep with my husband one day and the thought popped in my head, “What if a supernova happened too close to Earth and people got superpowers from the radiation?” 
Up to that point, I never thought about writing. I was an avid reader, but the idea of writing had never even crossed my mind. My husband was the one that was going to write a book. Unfortunately, he hasn’t had the time to write his yet, but it inspired me to take that step. 
The idea of Supernova came from my love of superhero movies, which all started with the first X-Men movie. I loved the variety of superpowers in X-Men and I thought it would be fun to write a book in that type of universe. I liked coming up with some superpowers that were useless or not your typical, run-of-the-mill powers. 
That’s pretty cool. Do you have any themes in your story?  
Definitely superheroes, but I wanted to put a twist on the typical superhero trope and make using superpowers come with a price. 
You don’t really get to see a lot of the downside of superpowers—it’s nice to see that in your book. Who is your favorite character?
My favorite character to write was my main character’s neighbor, Mrs. Donaldson, especially when she starts going crazy. The crazy characters are the most fun!
However, my favorite character has to be Madeline. I put a lot of myself into her because, in a way, it was like I was writing my daughter into existence. I have three wonderful sons, but no daughters. I wanted to use the girl name I had picked out, and what better way to use it, then to immortalize it in a book.  
That’s really sweet, thank you for sharing that. How did you craft your world? 

I wanted to base my story out of somewhere local; to put Amherst, WI on the map, so to speak. Although I fabricated the characters, most of the locations are real places. 
I decided to show what a big cataclysmic event would look like from a small-town point of view, because most apocalyptic type stories take place in major cities, and I wanted to try something different. 
I feel like more stories should be in small towns. Let’s change direction a little: can you tell us about your journey with this book?
The journey with this book has been a rough ride. Writing this book was easy, but it was everything afterward that was hard. I first tried to find an agent and was rejected over seventy times. I decided to work with a co-publisher, which is where you pay a company to make your book and help sell it. They ripped me off; never paying me my royalties. I fought with them, even hired a lawyer. I came to a point where any mention of Supernova would draw a sigh out of me. I was beginning to hate my book because of everything I had gone through and that was devastating. Fortunately, I finally got them to give me my rights back, and I’m happy to say I’m in a much better place now. Supernova is my first book, my baby, and I’m relieved to have it in the hands of A4A!

We’re glad to have it in our hands, too! What can readers expect next from you?
I’m currently writing the last book for my trilogy. The first book of the trilogy, The Rare, is out right now and the second one, The Remnant will be released in October of this year. 
I have another book idea that I’m excited about. I’m going to include my family in the writing process, allowing each of my boys to create a civilization and world that I will put in my book. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun!

That sounds intriguing! Thanks again for talking with us today, Diane, and readers don’t forget to join us for the launch party for Supernova this Saturday, the 7th!



by Diane Anthony

When librarian Madeline Hayes wakes up in the front yard with no memory of why she's there, her simple life in a small town becomes more complicated than she ever imagined. Strange things start happening: her father heals an injury with a touch, her elderly neighbor seems to become younger, and everyone starts getting this strange blue light in their eyes—and in their veins. 

And then people start dying. 

Can Madeline unravel this mystery and stop the strange transformations before it's too late?
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Join us next week when we resume our new authors series, this time talking about dialogue.

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