Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dive Into Deep Point Of View!

Oftentimes, when dealing with critique partners or editors, you’ll hear the phrase, “deep Point Of View.” What is deep POV? It’s getting so deep into your characters’ shoes you not only experience their five senses, but their innermost thoughts as well. As if the author has become the character and isn’t just writing about him/her. Sounds complicated? It’s an acquired art, but totally do-able… with practice.

A few things to remember with POV, deep or otherwise.

  1. Avoid distance words such as, “She saw,” “He heard,” “she smelled,” “he felt,” etc. “She smelled smoke.” can easily become, “Smoke tickled her nostrils.” “He heard her approach.” works better as, “Her high heels clicked over the marble tiles.” And “She saw the birds fly overhead,” more clearly sets the scene when, “A flock of geese flew across the chambray sky.”

  1. If the POV character doesn’t know about it, you can’t tell the reader about it. This is probably one of the most glaring errors I’ve seen in contest entries and excerpts for editing. Lines such as, “Jenna didn’t notice when Sheila slipped the knife into her sleeve.” are impossible if you’re writing in Jenna’s POV. If we’re in Sheila’s POV, you could go deeper by saying something like, “While she kept her gaze locked on Jenna’s face to distract her, Sheila slipped the knife into her sleeve. Jenna never blinked. Good. She hadn’t noticed.”

  1. Use “anchors.” Remember balance? Well, sometimes the easy cheat is the best. Words like, “obviously,” “suggested,” “apparently,” and “seemed” can keep you firmly in one character’s head, but divulge information about a different character. “Louisa apparently didn’t get the joke. She frowned and shook her head slowly.” “The hair plastered around his head suggested Mark had been caught in the downpour.” “The dog seemed to sense his master’s presence and relaxed his stance.”

  1. Exceptions: Certain facial expressions and body movements can be told from either side of the POV coin. If Joe smiles, he knows he’s smiling. And Daphne can see him smile. Same with frowns, furrowed or arched brows, narrowed or rolled eyes, snorts, smirks, stiffened spines, fisted hands, and good old-fashioned foot-stomping. To save your sanity, put yourself in your character’s shoes. Stand up (or sit down, if that’s what your character’s doing), face the wall (or your dog, your desk, or any object except something that reflects), and act out whatever you’re writing. If you can feel yourself do it, you can write it in your character’s POV.  
In deep POV, you’re not only following the four rules outlined above, you’re using your POV character’s voice and thoughts to communicate the message, as if (s)he is talking directly to the reader,  without the fourth wall of words on a page.

For example, in standard POV, you might see the following paragraph:

Maggie lifted the hood on her rust-pitted ’67 Camaro and stifled a curse. She’d promised her nephew she’d stop using bad words, but a five-year-old couldn’t possibly understand the sheer frustration that could only be soothed by a loud expletive at the right time. The damn car was deader than her love life. Since the radio still played, her battery wasn’t the culprit this time. A bead of sweat rolled down from her hairline and, on a sigh, she brushed her arm across her forehead to wipe it away. The urge to swear overwhelmed her. Mumbling a quick apology to Steven, she shouted out, “Shiiiiitttt!”

Now, let’s rewrite this paragraph with a little deep POV:

Maggie lifted the hood on her rust-pitted ’67 Camaro and stifled a curse. She’d promised her nephew she’d stop using bad words, but a five-year-old couldn’t possibly understand the sheer frustration that could only be soothed by a loud expletive at the right time. The damn car was deader than her love life. The radio still played Let’s Groove by Earth, Wind & Fire.
Not likely. No grooving would commence tonight or any other night in the near future. Not with this extinct dinosaur as her main transportation. At least her battery wasn’t the culprit this time. Maybe the starter? The alternator? Who knew? Who cared? The upshot was still the same: Maggie was wheels-down in the middle of nowhere.
A bead of sweat rolled down from her hairline and, on a sigh, she brushed her arm across her forehead to wipe it away. Sorry, Steven, but sometimes a gal’s gotta let go. “Shiiiiittt!”

Notice how, particularly in the second-to-last sentence, Maggie is no longer just a one-dimensional figure in the story: she's become a live actor in the play going on around her, telling the reader exactly what's in her thoughts without the barrier of "she thought" or "She said a silent apology to her nephew." I didn't even acknowledge that "Steven" is actually Maggie's nephew, but the reader instantly infers it, simply by the way she mentions his name in that statement.

Deep POV can help you:

1.                  Reveal a character’s secret:
“I can’t believe we haven’t met before now.”
In mid-sip, Maggie nearly choked on her Coke. Yeah, right. Wouldn’t Jake be shocked if he knew she drove past his house every morning before work, in the hopes they might run into each other?

2.                  Reveal a character’s internal conflict:
The man had a pet cockatiel. Of course, he did. Because Maggie had been terrified of birds since that escapade at the petting zoo when she was six.

3.                  Reveal characteristics of a non-POV character:
This was the woman Jake called down-to-earth and uncomplicated? This perfectly-coiffed ice blonde with five-hundred dollar shoes and a bag to match? Was the man an idiot? Or did her 36DD boobs blind him to the truth? Because despite what Jake thought, Lucinda was a superficial, snotty, money-grubber. Maggie had seen her type a thousand times before.

Keep practicing. As you write your story, become your POV character and directly connect your thoughts to your reader. Imagine yourself sitting in a local Starbucks or restaurant with a friend across the table from you. You, as your character, are conveying what happened to you that day, last week, or when you jumped back to the 15th century. Then just write down what you would say, exactly as you would say it. Don't worry about using all five senses or noting the friend's reaction. Get the dialogue down first. You can always go back and layer in actions and reactions during edit/revision phase.

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Ask the Editor: Multiple POV

Caren H. wrote: Do I have to start a new chapter every time I change point of view? How many POVs can you have before it's considered "head-bouncing"?

Great question, Caren! Thanks for asking.

First, let's define POV:

In any work of fiction, you as the writer have the option to tell the story from one of three points of view. There’s first person (I, me), second person (you—rare, but I’ve seen it done really well!), and the most common, third person (he/she, him/her). There is a fourth POV, omniscient, wherein the author is the viewpoint person. But omniscient wreaks havoc with Show vs. Tell (a lesson for another time).

Third person POV is the most prevalent because it allows an author to tell more than one side to a story. But…it has a major drawback: the possibility to waffle between characters’ heads from one sentence to the next, aka head-hopping.

When you’re in one character’s POV (or shoes, if you will), you can only describe what that particular character sees, feels, tastes, hears, etc. So if I’m in Joe’s POV in a particular scene, I can’t tell my reader Daphne is hungry (unless he hears her stomach growl), afraid (unless he sees her pale features and wide eyes) or hot to jump his bones (unless she actually does jump his bones.) If your viewpoint character doesn’t personally experience something, you cannot tell (or show) the info to your reader through his POV!

Joe can’t (or shouldn’t) describe the color of his own eyes, hairstyle, build, or facial expression. So a sentence like, “Joe brushed his sandy brown hair from his cobalt eyes and set his firm jaw.” should be avoided as much as possible. Does this type of sentence happen? Sure. And it’ll slip past an editor, too. But the more you write and become cognizant of the pitfalls, the more these errors will leap out at you when you’re reading someone else’s work—or your own.

This is why a lot of writers have their characters describe their features while staring at their reflection in a mirror or other shiny object. (Please don’t do this. It’s weak and easy. Your reader deserves better.) And please don’t tell me you should be able to head-hop because “Nora Roberts does it.” When you’re churning out as many bestsellers as Nora every year, then hop into a different head in every sentence if you’d like. ‘Til then, you might want to stick to one person’s mind at a time.

So, we're clear on POV? Good, let's back to Caren's question.

How long do you have to stay in one character’s head? Generally, I like to remain rooted for a full scene, but there are exceptions. Love scenes, for instance, are a perfect place to show two different points of view. But like lovemaking itself, the act requires some delicacy, balance, and good timing.

Does every POV switch require a page or chapter break? Not necessarily. Many publishing houses prefer at least a scene break, but if the scene is seamless, you can generally get away without it. By “seamless” I mean that there’s been no change in time or location. There are ways to transition from one POV to the other without actually skipping lines or ending a chapter. I like to use a touch. Almost like playing tag, if my POV character touches another character, I use that device to seamlessly switch POV. Dialogue can help transfer you from one POV to another. For instance, if your POV character, Joe, says, “What do you think, Daphne?” you can describe Daphne’s thought process and seamlessly move into her POV. Just don’t slip back into Joe’s POV the moment Daphne stops talking! Once you’ve switched from one POV to another, spend some time in the new surroundings.

POV purists will insist you need at least a page break for either of these instances, but I’ve yet to have an editor force me to make the change. So if your critique partners bust your butt about it, you can choose to add the page break or to leave the scene whole until an editor or agent won’t acquire the manuscript unless you make the change.

Email questions to Gina at ginaardito@gmail.com!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Still More Confusables

And the hits just keep on coming. Here's a new list of misused/misspelled words from this month's reading:

1. Principal/Principle. A principal works in a school and has the principal job in keeping the kids safe and educated. Heros have principles.
2. Used to/Supposed to. Let's remember that "d" at the end there, kids, okay? Please. You're supposed to know this stuff.
3. Compliment/Complement. If someone tells you that your shoes complement your purse, that's a compliment.
4. Iced tea. Not ice tea--unless you're icing it as we speak. Even if it's a Long Island Iced Tea. (Especially if it's a Long Island Iced Tea.)
5. Capital/Capitol. The congressman visits the Capitol in Washington, D.C.. Whether he's from the capital of his state, has lots of capital to spend on his campaign, or uses capital letters for his monogram, it's all the same.
6. Illicit/Elicit. Having an illicit affair will elicit gossip from your neighbors.
7. Taut/Taught. Something that's pulled tightly is taut. Your English teacher should have taught you that.
8. Peddle/Pedal/Petal. When you realize you're wrong you might backpedal. The guy who works the kiosk in the mall peddles his goods. The florist might spray glitter on the flower petals.
9. Tortuous/Torturous. Oh, the difference one letter can make! Torturous has to do with torture. Tortuous is wending/winding. Think about the tortuous way a contortionist moves his body. I wonder if his muscles feel tortured.
10. Palate/Palette/Pallet. The five-star chef has a discerning palate (refers to the roof of the mouth). An artist dabs his paints on a palette. During medieval times, the characters might sleep on a pallet. In modern days, the supermarket brings the pallet of canned peaches from the backroom to be placed on the shelves.

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Friday, August 3, 2012

To Cap or Not to Cap? That is the Question

One of the things that drives me crazy in published works is incorrect (or missing) capitalization. There's a simple rule of thumb you can follow to get it right 99% of the time. Proper nouns need capitalization; common nouns do not. What's the difference? In its simplest form, a proper noun indicates a specific person or place by name:

The Earl of Greenwich, Your Majesty, King James, Lady Ethel Swallowtail, Miss Aragon, Mommy, Captain Courage, and our Lord, Jesus Christ are all proper nouns. Rome, Mount Olympus, The Inn at Valley Forge, Burger Land, and Happy Fun Park (whether they're fictional or real places) are all proper nouns. But if I say my characters dined at the inn before going to the park, no capitalization is necessary.

Here's where it gets tricky. Apollo is a proper noun. The god of the sun is not. Why? Because "god of the sun" is not specific. Even if you're speaking to a group of Greeks, "god of the sun" is not specific. If I'm addressing my father, Dad is a proper noun. When I'm talking about Lucy's dad, it's not. If I'm talking to Lucy about my dad, it's not specific.

So... "Dad said you can't go to the beach without him."


"My dad said I couldn't go to the beach without him."

What's the distinction? The possessive. Adding that possessive (my, his, Lucy's) changes the noun from specific to generic, thereby removing the need for capitalization.

Let's try those tricky titles for the historical writers out there. The rules remain the same.

"The marquis strode across the ballroom." No cap.

"The Marquis of Waterford strode across the ballroom." Capitalize. 
Why? Because we've used his proper title, specific to him alone.

The same holds true for my lord, my lady, and milord and milady. These are not proper titles and do not require capitalization.

"May I help you, my lord?" (Note the possessive!)

"Have you seen Lady Katherine?"

Recently I read a self-published work where the author consistently screwed up "the judge" and "Mom," capitalizing the wrong one. "Judge Judy" is capitalized; "Here comes the judge" is not.

"I wish Mom could be here." Capitalized.
"I wish my mom could be here." No cap.

Now, let's talk deities. The only god that should be capitalized is the one and only God. Why? Because when discussing the "one nation under God" god, God is a proper name. You would also capitalize the name Zeus, but not his title of "god of the heavens." Buddha, Allah, Vishnu, etc. are all proper nouns that require capitalization. Generic terms such as gods, goddesses, demons, etc. are common nouns.

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