Monday, December 24, 2012

Make Your Readers Work? Really?

I just read a blog post where one of the commenters stated that his readers needed to work when they read his stories. He said, and I'm paraphrasing, that he did his part in writing the story, but that he expected his readers to do their part by working to see what he wrote. Since the original post was about hurrying through the editing process to get to the next story (and thus let editing errors through to the finished product), the implication seemed to be that if this author had misspelled words and poor punctuation/grammar, then so be it. It was the reader's job to figure it out so they could understand the story and see it in their minds.

I find this attitude unbelievably appalling. An author should NEVER expect their readers to "work" to understand the story. It is the author's job to work so that the readers don't have to. The author is the one getting paid in this scenario, and as such, the onus is on the author to provide a quality product to meet the reader's expectations. The reader should simply be allowed to sit back, open their mind, and flow through an experience that is free from errors and clearly lays out the story for them.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, an author's job is to provide a reading experience to those who spend their hard-earned dollars on his or her books, and the reader's job is to simply have that experience. Errors and poorly written passages impede that experience for a reader.

When I buy a shirt, I don't expect to have to sew on the buttons or attach the sleeves before I can wear it, thus doing some "work" before I can enjoy that which I have purchased. Should my Galaxy S3 have come incomplete without all the necessary programming for me to finish before I used it? When I buy a car, is it my job to air up the tires and put oil in the engine before I drive it? So, why should a reader have to take their proverbial red pen through your manuscript as they read it in order to understand it? Why should they have to trudge through poorly written dialogue and narrative to figure out the story? Why should they have to read a passage multiple times before figuring out who's doing and saying what? Does this author's customers not deserve the best story he can give them? Is it okay to simply rush through the editing process and send out sloppy, poorly written work simply to get to the next story as fast as possible so the author can make more money?

I'll tell you what happens when you make your customers "work": They will take their business elsewhere, and you will get the reputation of a being an unprofessional, selfish (only want the money) writer. Businesses that make their customers work that hard  and sell "lemons" go out of business pretty quickly.

Yes, I'm mad. When I read comments like the one this author made, it pisses me off. If an author is going to be that selfish and lazy, they have no business charging for their books, let alone writing them in the first place.

My suggestion for authors is to never scrimp and never go into writing a book with the attitude that it's the readers' job to work to figure out the story you're telling. If you expect your readers to work that hard, you do not have the right mindset of a true author and should consider hanging up the writing hat until you learn that it's an author's job to do the work, not the reader's. ALL the work.

Happy reading and writing!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Missing Salad—The Cause of the Apocalypse

I usually blog about writing or something having to do with writing, but 1 out of 50 posts, I blog about something else. Today is one of those days.

Through the course of a chain of events, back in May I took a contract job working for a friend of mine at a company I used to work for. I like most things about my job, but yesterday, during our company party, I was witness to some of the most appalling behavior by my coworkers. I told my husband last night, as I recounted the incidents, that I was unbelievably embarrassed by their behavior.

What happened to make me see several of my coworkers in a new, negative light?

The salad and rolls were missing from our catered holiday lunch.

Yep. Catastrophic, huh? Let me explain.

The tale of the missing salad spread through our office like an explosion of Agent Orange on the Ho Chi Minh trail, its toxic fumes and plume of smoke infecting the masses. In the minute it took me to get in line for food, the sarcastic jokes about the missing salad had reached epic proportions, and for one person (the lady who organized the lunch...we'll call her Wanda), the missing salad and rolls were cause to erupt like a volcano. She would still be fuming over them three hours later. Talk about the end of the world. You'd have thought it was. Missing Salad—The Cause of the Apocalypse.

The delivery guy was still in the building, and there is no way he couldn't have heard the remarks or avoid Wanda's wrath. I looked around at the people barking about the salad and asking for salad dressing and making all manner of other insensitive commentary, my mouth gaping. And we had croissants, so it wasn't like rolls were a big deal. I'm actually wondering why we even ordered rolls if we already had a platoon-sized tray of croissants, which I think are better than rolls, anyway.

But I digress.

Here we were, about to sit down to our Christmas lunch, a time of love and sharing and good cheer, and all anybody could do was bitch, joke, and laugh (and not in a good way) about the missing salad. Not a single person thanked the delivery man except for me. As he was walking out and past my desk, I stopped him and told him the green beans and mashed potatoes I was eating were the best I'd ever had. And they were. I don't think I've ever had such delicious mashed potatoes (I even had them for dessert, they were so good). And who'd have thought green beans could be so yummy they'd be the first thing I finished on my plate. The ham and turkey were good, too. And the jellied cranberry sauce was a delightful touch. I'm a sucker for jellied cranberry sauce, and I won't lie, I actually got excited when I saw it was part of our luncheon.

So, anyway, I wished the delivery man a Merry Christmas, as he did me, and waved goodbye as he left.

Everyone else was too busy bitching about the salad to wish him a Merry Christmas. Shameful.

Wanda continued to rant and bark to the point I wanted to tell her—and pardon me here—to shut the fuck up and eat her damned food...oh, and Merry fucking Christmas. I was so aggravated, and Wanda's behavior, as well as that of others, just soured my joy for the day. Because not only did she bitch ad nauseum for hours about the lack of salad (are you getting tired of this, yet? Yeah, now you know how I felt yesterday), but then, in front of everyone, she said the catering company would give her a free meal. I'm not quite sure exactly what was meant by a free meal, or how valid this allegation was, because Wanda has a tendency to embellish and...well...lie. For example, she had also told employees that my boss had told her in a meeting (of which I was a part of) that if employees wore jeans the day of the Christmas party they would be putting their job on the line since the company president was joining us.

Ummm, that wasn't true. Not even close. My boss never said anything like that, but yet, Wanda told at least one employee that if she wore jeans, she'd be putting her job on the line. Guess who came in wearing jeans and who didn't? Yep, almost everyone, including my boss, wore jeans yesterday. So, when it comes out of Wanda's mouth, I automatically take it with a grain of salt. She's an office gossip, a trouble maker, and a pot stirrer...not someone I'm gonna put a lot of credibility in. Unfortunately, she has a big mouth, and enough people DO listen to her to make her dangerous, and I know she's bitched about me. God only knows what she's said about me and what words she's put in MY mouth if she's so willing to shove words in my boss's mouth (and he's the VP and head of the office).

So, anyway, Wanda said something about us getting a free meal and implied that yesterday's meal should be free, cocking her eyebrow and getting all uppity, blah, blah, blah. I sat back and shook my head. All they had forgotten was salad and rolls, and I'm not even sure if rolls were even supposed to be delivered. The catering company had already drastically reduced our meal by hundreds of dollars just to get our business, and now Wanda wanted the entire lunch to be free? Over salad???? Seriously? I could see getting a $50 or even $100 break on the meal, but completely free? No. That's not right.

Excuse me while I hang my head and put a paper bag over it, because it's embarrassing for me to even admit I know Wanda and work with her. And I'm equally embarrassed by the behavior of several of the others I work with.

A few hours later, I got a call from someone looking for Wanda, and I think it was someone from the catering place. When I gave Wanda the message, she snapped off some bitchy retort about how "they don't want to be talking to me until I've cooled off." Blah, blah, blah. Get over yourself, Wanda.

So, let's all send Wanda some Christmas cheer this year, because God knows she needs it. I'm just glad she's not in MY family. Whew! Dodged a bullet there.

Happy holidays everyone. Don't be Wanda. And DON'T FORGET THE SALAD! :)


Monday, December 17, 2012

New Year's Resolution For All Writers - The Patient Edit

"I will never rush through an edit again. I will give my first draft a month to breathe, then edit it, then another month to breathe, then edit it again, and another month, and another edit. Then a final edit and a proof...unless it needs more edits. And I will be honest with myself and not accept my book as finished until I feel to the bottom of my soul that I can't make it any better. I will also encourage my beta readers to be brutally honest with me and not get upset with them. I will listen objectively to what they have to say and if they don't like something or think it's not working, I will take their critique seriously and look into the issue and make necessary changes to alleviate the problem they pointed out."

I've already made this resolution. I took this vow earlier this year, and I kid you not, once you go through this exercise once, as long as you're editing right and utilizing your critique group correctly (by encouraging them to absolutely shred your manuscript and be blunt-force honest down to the ugly, hard, no-holding-back-for-fear-of-hurting-your-feelings truth), you will NEVER go back to editing in a rush again.

[A word on beta readers: They are there to help you. If you argue with them and don't listen to their critique, they will stop being honest with you and will stop reading for you. They can see things you can't, because you are too close to your manuscript. They have distance, so they can see where the piece falls short better than you can. LISTEN to them, and DISCUSS with them, but do not argue with them. Make them feel a part of the process by trusting their judgment. If you do that, you will win their trust and their loyalty.]

Okay, that's my lecture on how to work with a beta group. :) Back to the resolution and why I am so passionate about encouraging other authors to make it:

Four months ago, I thought my latest AKM novel, Rebel Obsession, was ready. I set it aside for a two months and when I picked it back up to proof it, I was appalled at how flat areas of the story were, and how a few scenes didn't flow smoothly. So I edited it again and set it aside for about a month. In that month, I read a powerful book on Deep POV (I blogged about it). When I re-read Rebel Obsession again during the proof, I was flabbergasted at how passive the story still was. Using the techniques I learned in the book on Deep POV, I put the manuscript through an intensive final edit and shot it to my editor.

Instant success! Night and day difference. It took that fifth or sixth (I lost count) edit to FINALLY bring the story to life.

I am so unbelievably impressed now with how Rebel Obsession turned out. The editing phase on this one lasted over six months and went through so many edits, I lost track. It's not even the same book it was after the first draft was written. Hell, it's not even the same book as it was after the second edit. And I'm damn proud of it. The loose ends have been tied, the awkward areas have been eliminated, the mechanics have been cleaned up, the characters have been honed, etc. The story has come alive, and the characters have with it. And here I thought it was ready two months ago. Ha! Two more rounds of edits proved me wrong, making me a die-hard believer of the "patient edit," as I'm calling it.

So I encourage all writers to be patient and have faith in the editing process. Fully commit to it, and I promise, you'll never edit the old, fast way again. Oh, and never stop educating yourself on good writing. Read every book you can get your hands on pertaining to the crafts of writing and editing.

Best wishes for a Happy New Year!


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Everywhere I Look, I See #BDSM

WARNING: This post contains strong adult language.

It seems everywhere I turn, another BDSM book has popped up. They're like weeds in a garden, overtaking everything. Is this the Fifty Shades legacy? Is this what we can expect for the next few years?

What's aggravating is that before Fifty came along, I had a hardcore dom character who was just coming to life in my AKM series. People were poised and ready for him. They all wanted to know what Micah was going to do now that the itch to return to his previous legendary dom status had hit him after taking a new mate (Micah is a vampire, hence the unusual wording there). Now I wonder if those who hadn't yet discovered Micah will just think I am a bandwagoner, jumping on to ride Fifty's coattails.

All I can say is that if they read what Micah does as the series progresses and compare it to Fifty, there will be no comparison. No offense to Fifty, but he was pretty tame in BDSM land. Sexy, but tame. He didn't operate like a true dom. Micah is all dom...and he goes to places Fifty refused to go (some of which is to be seen in upcoming books in the series). For example, I just wrote a scene today for a future book (probably a series novella) where Micah engaged in fire play, which was strictly on Fifty's won't-go-there list.

Micah also relishes the mindfuck, and oh, he is gifted with its use. The scene I wrote today had one of those, too, and there's one in Micah's Calling, another novella I wrote for the series. Don't know what a mindfuck is? It's an exercise in psychological terror, and it can lead to a truly remarkable scene in the playroom.

By the way, no, I am neither a dominatrix, nor am I a submissive. I just spent a LOT of time reading and researching BDSM as I prepared to write the characters of Micah and Trace in my series (Trace is a hardcore submissive). 

I guess my point is that everyone is writing BDSM now, and I hate feeling like I'm doing what everyone else is doing. Gee, thanks Fifty. Grrr.

Those of us who are smart will start writing the sweet romances now. I know I am in my non-series stories. I'm working on several "sweet" (but not too sweet—those who know me know my romances always come with a twist and lots of conflict), emotionally charged romances. Because I have a feeling that after a while, readers are going to grow numb to the master-slave theme, and to the unimaginative ball gags, floggers, spanking, handcuffs, etc., and will want something different. Heck, I'm already growing bored with BDSM books, which is why I challenge myself to make my Micah scenes unique and not all about whips and chains and bindings as I work up to Trace's book.

However, sweet romance or BDSM, it's just a matter of time before those who ARE on the bandwagon jump off and leave writing BDSM to those who are in it for more than just the shock value.

Micah looks forward to that as much as I do. 

Happy Reading and Writing! -D

Sunday, December 9, 2012

RT Book Lovers Convention

I know it's still four-and-a-half months away, but I am already super stoked about the RT convention in Kansas City in May. I've been dying to go since my friends swung through Indianapolis for lunch on their way back from last year's convention in Chicago. I met them at Bob Evans and listened to them talk about what an awesome experience it was and how much they had learned and all the free books they got and...well, let's just say it was awesome.

I vowed that very minute that I would attend next year's.

As soon as I learned where the convention was being held, I made my hotel reservations. That was done months ago. And just his past week, I finally registered. My friends convinced me that I needed to obtain some promotional space, so I now have a table along "Promo Lane," where I'll be setting out bookmarks and other swag for people attending the convention. Part of me wants to participate in one of the other promotional events, but the other part of me wants to make sure I don't miss any of the classes I want to attend. And there are a lot of wonderful classes, let me tell you. Classes on marketing, promotion, craft, genre-specific classes, and sooo many more.

I'll be at the convention for five days, and I don't think it will be enough time to do and see all that I want. All the authors, materials, agents, fans, parties, books, and everything else. But this will be my first RT, so it'll get me geared up right for the next year. Because, oh yes, I'm already planning for RT in 2014, because I want to fully take advantage of ALL the promotional opportunities in 2014, and want to unveil the book that all my fans have been waiting for there, as well. Yep. That's right. Trace's novel. He deserves such an unveiling.

And I think I just heard a few of my fans fall over, because now they know when to expect Trace's book. :) And if you want them autographed, come see me at RT in 2014. Wherever and whenever it may be held.

Happy reading and writing.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Rebel Obsession—The Cover! Yes, Io's Book is Almost Here!

My next novel in my All The King's Men series is due out in January, and it's time to unveil the cover and blurb on my blog! Woot!

Former cobalt addict and AKM drug counselor, Io is a male vampire known as much for his abrasive personality as for his playboy lifestyle. In other words, he's not the likeliest to make friends and settle down. Life on the edge suits him, and he lives full throttle, making his own rules, and damn the consequences. What he wants, he takes, and what he wants now is Miriam. If only he can find a way to see her again without getting himself killed, but her father stands in the way.

Miriam is the daughter of the king. Strong-willed and defiant, she feels like a prisoner in her own home and struggles to break free from under her father’s oppressive hold. The king’s law surrounding Miriam is explicitly clear: No one touches her. Period.

In a fit of rebellion, Miriam has turned to cobalt to find relief and freedom, but now she’s a prisoner to addiction as much as to her father’s strict control. What's more, she can’t get sexy Io, who tended to her so gently as she recovered from her first overdose, off her mind. Will she ever see him again?

When Miriam overdoses a second time, she and Io are thrust back together, and all bets are off. Seeing each other was the one thing both wanted, and not even the king’s laws and threats of punishment will be enough to defuse their rebellious obsession with one another now that they’ve found each other again, even if the consequences are death.

Author’s Note: As we follow along with Io and Miriam, new and old enemies begin to emerge, and we get a glimpse of their deranged plans for the vampire race. Traceon’s story continues to develop as new characters are introduced who have had, and will have, a profound effect on his life. As usual, Micah is a dominant force, because…well…it’s Micah. Need I say more? I hope you enjoy this new installment to my All the King's Men series, due out in January, 2013. –Donya Lynne

My thanks to cover model, Zach Tesar, and Joem Bayawa Photography in Chicago. Love, love, love their work!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

It's December? Ack! Bumping Up My Book Release Will Cost Me Christmas.

Hee hee, ha ha, ho ho! That's not Santa Claus. That's my delirious laughter. The manic sound of having too many things to do and not enough time in the day to do them. I'm so busy I have to remind myself it's December and that Christmas is only 21 days away. I might have time to celebrate the February or maybe March of next year, right after the Super Bowl, but right now? Not gonna happen.

My next book is due out in January, and I'm on a tight deadline to get the last edit —which was a proof until I decided to deepen my POV, based on what I learned and posted about in my last blog post—finished. Now I'm trying to cram in a final edit AND a proofread in only a couple of weeks so I can have the manuscript formatted and ready to publish by December 31. Talk about pushing my luck.

I had initially announced that Rebel Obsession (my next book) would be out on January 15, but due to a miscommunication between my assistant and I, my blog tour got scheduled for the first half of January instead of the second half, so now I'm trying to get the book ready two weeks early so the release can coincide with the tour. It would be kind of a waste to miss out on all the excitement the blog tour will generate by not having the book available for purchase, so now my holidays will be spent putting in double-time to finalize the manuscript.

Consequently, my blog series on Showing vs. Telling is being temporarily set aside along with everything else in my life until I get my manuscript ready. Sleep? Who needs sleep? And my husband is probably going to slit his wrists by the time this book is released, because he's having to do most everything around the house right now while I lock myself in my office and hunker down on corrections, swag orders, and promotion...and did I mention corrections?

This is the longest book I've written to date at 111,000 words, and as I trudge my way through the manuscript, which I've read in its entirety at least five times now, it's not something that can be done in one night. Not even two. Not even five if I want to make sure I'm being thorough. Proofing is not about "reading." It's about looking at each individual word and punctuation mark, and it takes a great deal of brain power to proof properly, which means once the eyes and mind grow tired, you can't plow ahead. You have to stop so you can bring a fresh mind and a fresh set of eyes back later. Ugh. I don't have time for my eyes and brain to grow tired, know what I mean?

Stress? Yes, I'm there. But in January, it will have all been worth it.

Hope everyone else is having a less stressful and mroe enjoyable December than I am. :) Happy Holidays and roasting chestnust and all that jazz!

Oh, and as always, happy reading and writing!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Go Deep! Deeper! YES! Deep POV Rules in Fiction.

I'm in the final stages of preparing my next manuscript, Rebel Obsession, to be released on January 15th. I've edited, given the book to my beta readers, edited, edited some more, and now I'm proofreading.

So, what's wrong? Nothing really, except that I went and read a new writing book called "Rivet Your Readers With Deep Point of View," by Jill Elizabeth Nelson. Excuse me while I hang my head and plant my palm over my face.

Why, why oh why did I go and read a writing book at this stage of finishing my manuscript? I'll admit that I was researching POV for a series of blog posts I want to write, but don't I know myself well enough by now to know that I'd be so motivated and inspired by the words of wisdom in this book, especially, that I'd want to go back to my manuscript and tear it to pieces as I thought of new and better ways to convey the scenes in the story? Apparently not, because silly me, I read said book, and now I'm in a mad dash to liven up areas of my manuscript using the new arsenal of knowledge this book taught me.

Not that the manuscript was flat. My beta readers loved it, and my editor said that Rebel Obsession is her favorite story in the series so far, but now that my mind has been stretched with this new knowledge of Deep POV, I can see where my story can be even better. Granted, I do have a tendency to write in Deep POV anyway, but this book taught me how I can go even deeper. And in this case, deeper is definitely better.

This small book—a handbook really, at the length of only sixty pages—teaches you all you need to know about this somewhat-elusive POV and writing skill. And, yes, most definitely, writing in Deep POV takes skill. I thought I was doing well before, but even I'm struggling to fully grasp how to change my shallow POV areas to deeper ones.

Okay, so what's the big deal about Deep POV and why should every fiction writer know about it and strive to utilize it in their manuscripts?

Here are the highlights:

By its very nature, Deep POV takes your narrative to "showing" rather than "telling," and as writers we all should know how important showing the story over telling it is.

Deep POV is more respectful of your readers' intelligence than Omniscient POV, where every little thing is explained to the reader from a distance, and which by its nature is "telling" rather than "showing."

Deep POV creates first-person intimacy when writing in the third-person, so hooray hurrah!

"Author intrusion," where the author consciously or unconsciously inserts an invisible narrator between the character and the readers, is removed by use of Deep POV.

What is Deep POV?

As quoted on page 17 of the handbook, this is one way to look at Deep POV: "The narrative should read like the thoughts going through the character's mind but without the need to italicize as in direct thought quotations."

Sounds simple enough, right? That's what I thought. I was wrong. There is an art to writing Deep POV, as I've found, and the skill has to be acquired through lots and lots of practice, as I'm also finding.

Another way to think of Deep POV is that it keeps the story/character/reader firmly rooted in the now. It's great for high action scenes and for taking a trip into a character's psyche during a contemplative moment; however, Deep POV is not where a character goes on "nattering" to himself endlessly about things that don't propel the story forward or that have nothing to do with the action taking place.

Okay, let's get to the nitty gritty. Maybe the following four sections will break Deep POV down in a more understandable way.

Phrases and Words that Scream "Shallow POV" as Opposed To Deep

Following is a list of phrases and words to avoid and/or rewrite if you want to pursue Deep POV. These words create narrative distance, putting a reader at arm's length as opposed to planting them squarely inside the character's head. Reader at arm's length = bad. Inside the character's head = good.

He/She thought...
He/She felt...
He/She knew...

In all the above examples, as Nelson points out in the book, a narrator is required in order to say that a character knew/felt/thought/wondered/etc. something. In our own minds, we don't think like that. We don't say to ourselves, "I think the wall looks dirty." We think, "The wall is covered with dirt. Who did that?"

More examples, borrowed from the book:

Shallow: "She wondered how she would get through the next day."
Deep: "How could she possibly survive the next day?"

Shallow: "I wished I hadn't said that."
Deep: "If only I hadn't said that."

Shallow: "He thought a good bath wouldn't hurt the dog."
Deep: "Whew! A good bath would do this dog a world of good."

See how we transport more fully into the character's head with the deep examples? Don't you feel more involved? Maybe even more emotionally vested? Because you can identify with the Deep portrayal better than the Shallow one, because Deep is how we, ourselves, think.

I'd like to add a couple of other phrases to the above list: the air
...filled the air
...couldn't help but to...

Shallow: "Noxious fumes filled the air."
Deep: "Was that sulfur? Her nose scrunched and she pinched her nostrils closed with her thumb and index finger as she held her breath." [it's pretty clear the fumes are indeed "in the air." There's no need to tell us that.]

Shallow: "He couldn't help but to wonder how Jessie was coping."
Deep: "How was Jessie coping?" [Notice that "couldn't help but to" naturally wants to precede one of our to-be-avoided terms, such as feel, wonder, think, realize, wish. So, by removing the offending phrase, you also remove teh offending term and make the sentence fall into deep POV. Additionally, the deep example automatically implies that he is wondering and that he couldn't help himself from doing so. There's no need to tell the reader those things.]

When you see these phrases, you're telling, not showing. You can go deep to remove most, if not all, occurrences of these phrases and more effectively engage your reader.

The Five Senses...If You Tell Us the Senses, You're Not Deep Enough

Here's another list of phrases/words to remove from your manuscripts if you want to go deep:

He/She saw
He/She tasted
He/She heard
He/She smelled
He/She could see, taste, hear, smell

These are called sensory tells. Key word: tells. Guess what you're doing when you use them. That's right, you're telling. When you use these in your story, you're inflicting narrative distance again, pushing your reader away from the action and the character. Think of it like this, when you drink spoiled milk, do you think, "I'm tasting spoiled milk."? No, you probably think, "Ew! Yuck! How old is this milk?" That's how you want to think when you're writing Deep POV.

Shallow: "He heard a car pull into the driveway and froze."
Deep: "A car pulled into the driveway. He froze."

You don't need to tell us (tell) that the character tasted the milk or heard the car. Just show us the character tasting the milk and hearing the car. By going into Deep POV, you naturally do this. Does that make sense?

Avoid Naming Feelings and Emotions If You Want to Go Deep

Much like in the phrases above, naming emotions and feelings for your characters also puts readers at a distance and interjects a narrator's voice.

Shallow: "Tony closed his phone, frustration and fury surging through him."
Deep: "Tony slapped the phone shut. If steam could escape his pores, he'd be a toxic cloud."

See the difference? Nelson does a good job showing us in this example from her book exactly how we can portray frustration and fury by taking us inside the character instead of just telling us the character is frustrated and furious. Did you catch that? Telling. A narrator tells us that Tony is frustrated in the shallow example, but Tony himself shows us how he feels, which conveys his frustration naturally, in the deep example.

Another example from the book:

Shallow: "Hot jealousy flashed through me."
Deep: "Heat boiled my insides. If that wimp could win a trophy, where was mine?"
Any and all emotions and feelings can be inserted for "hot jealousy." Joy, happiness, sadness, anger, despair, terror, fear, aggravation, boredom. Happiness flashed through me, sadness flashed through me, terror flashed through me. *YAWN-boring* But when we go deep, each Deep POV, showing method will be unique: "The moment I saw Jeff emerge from the burning house, my body relaxed and I looked to the heavens, tears trailing down my cheeks. He was safe. My husband was safe. Thank God." "The air grew heavy and my body wilted as if the act of staying upright was too much work. Someone was talking, but I couldn't hear them. Jeff? Dead? He hadn't survived? Had I heard the officer correctly?" "My skin prickled and I searched the darkness, my breath locked inside my throat. 'Who's there?' Someone was watching me. Someone evil. I could feel it."

The lesson to be learned here? Remove the name of the feeling or emotion and replace it with a description of how, in your mind, your character would experience that feeling or emotion.

Prepositional Tells - Ditch 'em

A derivative of the previous section is the prepositional tell, where a preposition precedes the naming of an emotion, attitude, or thought. Examples: "...of happiness," "...with excitement," "in need."

As with the previous section, remove the prepositional phrase and replace it with a deeper description from within the character's POV.

Is going deep easy? No, but it's not hard, either, and it gets easier the more you do it. Using Deep POV takes work, and my suggestion is to write your first draft without even thinking about it and go deep in the editing process.

The purpose of the draft stage, where you're writing your manuscript from scratch, is to simply dump the story and scenes from your head onto paper (or computer screen) anyway. Writing takes place in the right brain, so when you're writing, you shouldn't be worrying about editing, which takes place in the left brain. Write first, edit later.

Furthermore, a first draft should never, NEVER, ever be what you publish. In fact, the first draft should only marginally resemble the finished product if you're editing correctly. Unless, of course, you're a professional author who's been writing books for the big leagues for twenty years. But then, if that's the case, this blog isn't for you. :)

Once you've brain-dumped your manuscript in the draft, you're ready to edit. Manipulating and correcting your manuscript is what edits are for. This is where you will go through and find all the offending shallow phrases pointed out in this post and correct them to be deep. As you do this more and more, you'll get better at including Deep POV in the draft stage so that it becomes more of a natural way for you to write. But reaching that stage could take years...although it will be worth it.

Be patient and never stop improving your writing.

Happy Reading and Writing!

Note: Examples and terminology used in whole or part from Jill Elizabeth Nelson's book, Rivet Your Readers With Deep Point of View.

Monday, November 26, 2012

What Would You Do if You Won $425 Million?

The Powerball jackpot has reached a record: $425 MILLION. That may not be 100 trillion, but it's enough. But enough for what?

What would you do if you won the jackpot? Seriously.

Have fun with this one.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Purpose of Scenes - Show vs. Tell - Part 2

In my ongoing series of Show vs. Tell, I'm bringing you a run-down of Chapter One of Showing & Telling, by Laurie Alberts, where we dive in to the most basic component of showing: the purpose of scenes. Until you understand why scenes are used, you can't have a full grasp of the concept of showing your story.

First, we need to understand what readers want. Why do they read fiction? Why do you read fiction? We read fiction "to be transported out of our own skins into the lives of others—we read to expand our emotional awareness," according to Ms. Alberts. Scenes are the means by which authors fulfill this reader objective.
"To be truly engaged in the lives of characters, events must be dramatized rather than simply reported; for dramatic impact we must be grounded in place and experience the illusion of real time passing, which only occurs in scenes. We must live the moment along with the characters, especially moments of change." -Laurie Alberts
Remember from Part I of this series, Scenes vs. Summaries, scenes take place in the moment, whereas summaries refer to something taking place (or that took place) outside the moment. Scenes show; summaries tell.

Okay, so how do you use scenes to show? By understanding the purpose of a scene, which is covered in chapter one of Ms. Alberts' book.

The Purpose of Scenes
Scenes are used to:

  • create an emotional connection between character(s) and reader
  • dramatize events
  • move action/plot forward
  • introduce or intensify conflict (and we'll talk more about conflict when we discuss the different types of scenes, but conflict is THE single-most important element to moving your story forward)
  • build suspense
  • create change over time
  • introduce or reveal character
  • introduce themes
  • establish mood
  • provide resolution

Scenes make characters seem real, which naturally leads to an emotional connection with your reader. One of the best compliments I've gotten on my AKM novels is that readers feel so strongly that the characters are real that they fantasize about them, make up stories in their minds about them, and want to go to Chicago just to see if they will bump into them. I've heard this from a few of my readers, and when I receive a comment such as, "I daydreamed all day about Micah and Trace and couldn't even focus on folding my laundry," I know I've created an emotional connection between those characters and the reader. You can't fantasize about someone you don't envision as being real.

And why do my readers feel like Micah and Trace are real? According to Ms. Alberts, "The 'real' feeling comes from the reader going through the experience with the character as it's happening in time, complete with sensory detail." In other words, my scenes are so powerful and evocative, readers feel like they're in the scene with the characters, living it, seeing it, and experiencing it right alongside them. That is what you want to bring to your scenes.

Let's look at the rest of the items on the list after reading an example from Rise of the Fallen, my first AKM novel, since that's easier than trying to find a sample written by someone else, or retyping the one in Ms. Alberts' book.

In this scene, Samantha is tending to an injured Micah, who she isn't aware is a vampire. She just knows he is badly injured, excruciatingly thin, and has seen that he has been self-mutilating his arms by cutting them. She is about to treat a shoulder wound by cleaning it with alcohol, which is the "white heat" Micah refers to in the third paragraph that brings him out of his mostly-unconscious state:


Micah had been in a semi-lucid state, aware of everything going on around him but unable to rouse himself. He had felt the woman cut off his shirt, had felt her sure, confident hands ranging his chest and torso before her gentle fingers caressed his face. She had talked to him, too. Well, not really to him, but sort of. Her voice was smooth and low, sultry. He just wanted her to keep talking. The sound of her voice was a balm, an audible salve to soothe his soul.
But then she had grown quiet and sucked in her breath. Micah touched her mind and realized she had seen his self-mutilation. Shame flooded him as his long-absent conscience reappeared, chastising him for what he had done. For some reason, he didn't want this woman seeing the damage he had done to his own arms.
And then everything shattered into white heat as fire stung his shoulder.
Intense hunger raged like wildfire. Micah couldn't recall ever needing to feed this badly. In an instant, his eyes flashed open and shot to the woman tending him. Terror erupted in her expression, but all he could see, think, feel, smell, and breathe was blood. Glorious, life-giving, hunger-sating, Heaven-sent blood. With graceless impropriety, Micah yanked her wrist to his mouth like it was a sandwich and he had gone way too long without food then bit down with unceremonious impatience.
When was the last time he had truly fed?
The woman struggled as he locked his hands around her arm and lurched upright with her wrist clenched in his mouth. Her blood flowed like a river of life into his belly, and he moaned in ecstasy even as he fought to restrain her. He had been too wrapped up in his need to feed to compel her into submission, and she grappled, squirmed, and struggled against him, gasping and protesting for him to stop.
Blood. All he could think about was drinking her blood. She swung at him with her free arm, kicking and trying to pull away, but he stayed with her, using one hand to deflect her haphazard punches, turning his body to avoid her kicks. All the while, his fangs kept her wrist locked in his mouth and her blood spilling down his throat.
He finally overpowered her and bent her back and down to the floor. Crouched like a man kneeling in prayer, his gaze ranged up her arm that stretched between them, linking her to him like an umbilical cord as she continued to struggle. His feral gaze locked onto the pools of clover green in her eyes as his chest and abdomen heaved lustfully. Blood lust. Strong and pure and all-consuming, it gnawed at him like a jackal on a bone.
The woman tried to cry out, but he slapped his hand over her mouth, stifling her scream, taking his fill of her blood as her body finally stilled beneath his.
It was only then that Micah realized she was crying. Tears streamed her cheeks as horrific sobs convulsed her chest. As his senses ebbed back into him, he gently lifted his hand from her mouth, keeping it close in case she tried to scream again.
"Please, please stop. Don't kill me."
Her fear smelled like sulfur as the words clubbed him. Kill her? He didn't want to kill her.
Where was he, anyway?
Micah's eyes flitted around the room and suddenly it was clear he wasn't in Kansas, anymore. What was this place? He had never been here before. Nothing was familiar. How had he gotten here? His eyes darted back to hers.
After releasing her wrist with a gasp, Micah fell back like he had just seen Jesus wagging a judgmental finger at him, and he ass-planted on her generic beige carpeting.
"Where am I?" he said.


We start the excerpt with a brief summary that transitions us from Samantha's POV to Micah's, but once we get past the summary and into the scene, you emotionally connect with Micah's pain and humiliation, his hunger, and eventually, his dismay over his whereabouts. You can connect emotionally because the scene is rendered dramatically. I didn't just tell you what was happening. I showed you. The action moves the story forward by bringing Micah into awareness and introducing him to who will ultimately be his reason for living, Samantha. Suspense is built because now Samantha knows there is something very different about Micah. Hell, he bit her, for crying out loud. And drank her blood! What normal dude does that? And how will she react when everything comes out about who and what Micah really is? How will these two embark on a relationship when she's human and he's a vampire? I can't say this scene creates change over time, but it is the beginning of a changing point for Micah as he progresses from a suicidal state of mind to one where his survival becomes of the utmost importance. We're not introducing characters in this scene, but we are revealing a bit more about Micah and Samantha. The theme of never give up or lose hope, because hope could be just a step away is introduced in this scene. And, maybe it's just me, but I think mood is clearly established for both Micah and Samantha—one of fascination and intensity. The relationship between these two characters, as well as throughout the book, will be severely intense. No resolution has been provided.

Scenes won't encompass all the bullet points on the earlier list, but they will illustrate at least some of them. If you have a scene that doesn't fulfill any or only one of the above purposes of a scene, you might want to consider removing it, because that's a sign it's probably not necessary and the information can be better included elsewhere.

A word on theme, plot, and action, as defined by Laurie Alberts:

Theme is not plot. Theme is what the story or essay is about on its deepest level. The theme could be as simple as "look before you leap" or more complicated, depending on the story. Ms. Alberts uses the following example in her book: "It took an accident for Sally to discover that she wasn't cut out to be a kindergarten teacher and that she needed to keep searching for her true calling."

Action refers to the events that happen in a scene and in the narrative as a whole—this happened, then that happened.

Plot, however, is action with a cause-and-effect relationship—this happened because that happened.

According to E.M. Forster:
Action = the king died and then the queen died.
Plot = the king died and then the queen died of grief.

Next time I'll talk about the types of scenes, which may take more than one post, since conflict is one type of scene that's so important, it might need its own post just to emphasize just how important it is.

Until then, happy reading and writing!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Scene vs. Summary - Showing & Telling - Part I

Authors hear a lot of "Show, don't tell," but do they really know what that means? I'll admit that while I do know what it means, I struggle to explain it to others. Well, not anymore. As part of my birthday/Christmas gift to myself, I ordered a batch of writing books, including one called Showing & Telling, by Laurie Alberts:

What I've struggled to put into words, Ms. Alberts makes simple, and this book is so inspiring that I've decided to write a series of blog posts based on the concepts outlined in the book, starting today with the introductory matter. I would highly suggest that if you're serious about your writing, you pick up a copy of Showing & Telling and follow along...or not. I mean, if you buy the book, you'll be golden and won't need my synopses. :)

First, good writing uses both showing and telling. The trick is in knowing when to use which and how to use them (which, as this blog series continues, should become clearer, especially if you buy the book). What an author should strive for in a story is balance between showing and telling, or scenes and summaries, which are the two basic components of writing. That doesn't mean you need equal amounts of both. No. In this case, balance means knowing when to chill on a scene and give us some summary to keep us connected between scenes and to give us a dose of your character's distinct voice.

Scene vs. Summary
This is just another way of saying Show vs. Tell. In fiction and some nonfiction writing, such as memoirs, you have two means of story-telling: scenes and summaries.

Scene: Scenes allow us to enter the action and feel the emotions of the characters. They take place in the moment, within the scene. Scenes are essential for breathing life into your work. This is where you show the action to the reader. Think of a movie, which is built completely out of scenes (unless you have a narrator who pops on once in a while, such as Bella in Twilight or Deckard in Bladerunner). If the actors just sat in chairs and told you about the scene, that would be pretty boring to watch, right? But they "act" out the scene, thus dramatizing it. That is how you need to think when writing a scene in a book. Think about "action" and how actors would show that action on the big screen.

Summary: Summaries are the material between the scenes and contain background exposition, character thoughts, reflection, or even—gasp—an actual summary of events that occurred over time or long ago. In summary, time is compressed. You're not experiencing it in the moment as you do in a scene. Summaries give context to scenes, meaning that scenes can stand on their own without the summary, but the summary enriches the scene by providing more information the scene doesn't offer. Lastly, summaries are often where distinctive character voices are created. By delving into past events and going inside the head of the character, we learn more about that character than what a scene can show on its own.


Scene: Pinned to the bed, Micah's hands holding her arms down, Samantha gazed up into dark navy pools of heat that stared at her hungrily. Her heart raced, pounding with such force that she could feel the pulse of her carotid at the side of her neck. Micah's gaze darted to the same spot, almost as if he'd read her mind, his eyes narrowing as his tongue barely darted out to wet his lips.

In that scene, we're in the moment. We are living each step as Samantha lives it. Seeing it as she sees it. Now, let's look at a couple of summaries that could shed light on what else might be going on. Remember, summaries add context to scenes and enrich them.

Summary #1: Who was he? All Samantha knew was that his name was Micah. When he had barreled out of that alley and grabbed her, his friend had called him by name. The other man had come after them, shouting in some strange language that sounded Russian but not quite. Romanian, maybe? Micah had turned and snarled—actually snarled at the guy. What the hell was up with that? And why was he now staring at her throat like it was his next meal? 

Okay, so maybe my example isn't the best in the world, but the point is, in the summary, we're no longer in the moment. We're back in time. Maybe only a few minutes or a few hours back in time, but back in time we are. This summary enriches the scene by giving us more information, and we getting a clearer sense of Samantha's "voice," as well. [Note that at the end of the summary, I pulled you back into the moment of the scene by use of the word "now." We'll talk more about transitioning from summary to scene in future posts.]

Summary #2: Earlier, Micah had teased her relentlessly, playfully restraining her arms as she'd made dinner. He'd become more dominant like that lately, holding her hands behind her back as he assaulted her neck with his mouth, pressing her back against the wall as he kissed her. She should have seen this coming. Micah liked being in control in the bedroom, didn't he? And he certainly liked that she liked it, too.

This gives us a whole new idea about what's happening in our scene, doesn't it? Now, we no longer see that Samantha is in danger. Nope. We see that she and Micah have known each other for a while and that things have been building up to this moment...and she likes it. We still get a sense of her "voice," and we obviously are not in the moment in this summary.

And if we're not in the moment, we are not in a scene. We are in a summary.

Pretty easy, huh? I had never heard anyone put showing and telling in such an easy-to-understand context before. Show or tell. Scene or summary. Those are the basic components, and you need both to bring a story to life.

Think of scenes as the muscles and bones of a body, and summaries are the connective tissues. Without muscle and bone, the body is nothing. However, without the connective tissues, which connect the muscles and bones to one another, the body can't move. But there is far less connective tissue than muscle and bone.

In Part II of the series, we'll begin looking at Showing: Making Vibrant Scenes. We'll also look at the purpose of scenes.

Until then, happy reading and writing!

P.S. Yes, I am still working on a short series of posts regarding POV (omniscient, third person, etc.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Law of Karma According to Chopra

I've borrowed today's post from I thought the message was powerful and pertinent, especially at this time of year when we're giving thanks and reflecting on the year about to be put behind us.

The Law of Karma

The Law of Karma: Every action generates a force of energy that returns to us in like kind. What we sow is what we reap. And when we choose actions that bring happiness and success to others, the fruit of our karma is happiness and success.

I will put the Law of Karma into effect by making a commitment to take the following steps:
  1. Today I will witness the choices I make in each moment. And in the mere witnessing of these choices, I will bring them to my conscious awareness. I will know that the best way to prepare for any moment in the future is to be fully conscious in the present.
  2. Whenever I make a choice, I will ask myself two questions: "What are the consequences of this choice that I'm making?" and "Will this choice bring fulfillment and happiness to me and also to those who are affected by this choice?"
  3. I will then ask my heart for guidance and be guided by its message of comfort or discomfort. If the choice feels comfortable, I will plunge ahead with abandon. If the choice feels uncomfortable, I will pause and see the consequences of my action with my inner vision. This guidance will enable me to make spontaneously correct choices for myself and for all those around me.

Daily Inspiration

"The distance isn't important; it is only the first step that is difficult." -- Marquise du Deffand


I've recently made some big decisions, one of which that affected others, as well as me. The consequences of my decision for me were positive in the long-term, but pretty hard to take in the short. But I knew that I wouldn't be happy and find true fulfillment until I made the decision, as hard as it was.

The consequences for others—well, for one person in particular—were a lot harder. But under the circumstances, that couldn't be avoided.

So, when I go back and ask, "Will this choice bring fulfillment and happiness to me and also to those who are affected by this choice?" my answer is yes and no. I am fulfilled and happy with the decision, and when I asked my heart for guidance (which I did before making my decision), the answer I got was that I will experience a brief, short-term discomfort from the inevitable reaction of the other person, but that in the long-run, I would be much more comfortable (in this way, my life is a mirror of the above inspirational quote), so I did, in fact, "plunge" ahead with abandon.

But for the other person, she was clearly not fulfilled and happy, and my decision was clearly uncomfortable for her. However, in hindsight, this person brought all that on themselves through their actions over the past two years, so even though some of her friends have implied that Karma will come back to get me for what I've done, I can't help thinking that my decision was Karma coming back on her for her own actions.

Many people weren't aware of what those actions were, but I was. I was privy to a lot of behavior that made me morally and ethically uncomfortable to the point that I no longer trusted this person. Is that my fault? And even though my decision affected her badly, does that mean Karma will make me pay for what I've done? Or is this simply a case of Karma coming back around and now the slate is clean and I no longer have to carry the burden the knowledge of her actions and behavior put on me?

I guess only time will tell, but in my heart, I know I've done the right thing. If Karma sees otherwise, then I can't stop it from coming back on me later, but what I did came at great sacrifice to me, because I suffered for months before making this decision, and I suffered because I kept trying to find other ways of dealing with the situation than to do what I knew I had to do. Finally, I could no longer avoid the inevitable and "plunged" ahead.

However, going forward, I am going to keep the above Law of Karma posted on my bulletin board and will strive to live and make my decisions according to it.

Happy Reading and Writing!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pulling Weeds Out of My Life Has Disturbed My Soul's Soil...Temporarily

First of all, I want to apologize to my readers. My recent posts have taken on a negative air, and I'm sorry for that. Maybe this post will explain part of the reasons for what has been happening to put a cloud over me recently.

With that said, I'm already thinking about my New Year's resolutions. In 2013, I want to do more right than wrong, I want to be more positive, and I want to correct a few mistakes I made this year, which means I need to start thinking now about what I want to accomplish in 2013. And it also means I need to start preparing in other ways.

One way I've started preparing is that I've ended my writing partnership with someone who I felt I could no longer work with. She didn't react well, but it needed to happen. But the ending of this partnership had put a heavy burden on me for months as I struggled with making the decision. This burden put an enormous amount of stress on my mind, body, and heart, and I began lashing out in negative ways as I dealt with that stress.

I originally planned a long-winded expose on this subject, but I've changed my mind, simply because at this point, what's done is done. The partnership is over, but my decision was sound, with well-founded reasons, and I know it's just a matter of time before the stress finally ebbs and I can get back to normal.

However, the point to be made is that with the end of the year upon us, and a new year just around the corner when we can get a fresh start, it's time to start clearing the weeds out of our gardens. Weeds are toxic people who are holding us back. They are choking the life and health out of us. And there's no reason to keep them around if they are no longer a constructive, positive force, especially if they never were to begin with.

I recently told a very dear friend of mine over lunch that from time-to-time, we need to pull weeds out of our lives to keep ourselves healthy. Sometimes those weeds are small, and at others, they're deeply entrenched, having spread through the soil like crabgrass or ivy, choking off everything else. As with a garden, when we pull those weeds, the soil will be disturbed for a while, and the bigger and more established the weed, the more disturbed the soil will be. But eventually, the soil settles again, freeing the good plants to grow healthier and stronger once more.

Right now, my soil is definitely disturbed, because my ex-partner had become deeply entrenched in my life, and I am living with a load of regret I didn't end the partnership sooner. But the weeds needed to go if I was ever to become healthy again, and it's better that I ended the relationship later than not at all. Hopefully by New Year's Eve my soil will begin to settle again so that 2013 can see a lot of healthy growth.

Thank you for being here this year.

P.S. I may not post much between now and the end of the year as I continue sorting things out over what happened with my ex-coauthor, and as I get ready for the new year. I hope all my readers bear with me through this, but I've realized that my posts have become more negative over the weeks since all this with my ex-partner came to a climax. My deepest apologies for that. That's not what I want to take into 2013, so I need to reboot my brain and clear out the rest of the weeds. Much love. XO.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Is Head Hopping in Books the Same as Watching a Movie?

The other day, I posted about head hopping. One of my readers commented that head hopping wasn't all that bad and compared it to watching a TV show or movie, alluding that head hopping goes on all the time in movies and TV shows, so why not in books? I've been thinking about that comment every day since, trying to reconcile head hopping to watching a movie. I've even googled it (I didn't find anything substantial).

Being that I'm interested in all sides and want to look at all angles, I took this reader's comment seriously and have dug into this concept in an effort to either put merit behind it or debunk it, in a manner of speaking.

Before I continue, I will say that after reading other blog posts about this subject, I think a lot of people, authors and readers alike, misunderstand what head hopping really is. Head hopping is not when an author uses a break (either a scene break or a chapter break) to change from one character's point of view to another. That is simply referred to as a POV shift. Head hopping is where an author does NOT use a scene or chapter break and instead jumps from one character's POV into another's without warning the reader, oftentimes mid-sentence or mid-paragraph. Call it whiplash.

[NOTE: For those who try to say they're not head hopping but writing in omniscient, think again by reading this post by Jami Gold.]

I've always been told I think too much, but 1) I can't help it, and 2) how can someone think too much when we only use 10% of our brain power to begin with? and 3) I love thinking and debating sides in my own mind, which is why I'm thankful for the reader's comment on this subject.

I've heard this head-hopping-is-okay-because-they-do-it-in-the-movies argument before, and it has never sat well with me, stewing on my mind as I've tried to figure out what doesn't make sense about it. So, anyhoo, now that I've thought about this and read a bit more on the subject, and tried to give it an objective mind-scouring, here are my thoughts on how head hopping in novels is not the same as watching a movie:

To begin with, when we watch a movie, we are receiving input to one of our senses that doesn't get to partake as deeply when reading a novel, our sense of sight. While reading, we see the words, but that's as far as our sense of sight goes. With movies, our sense of sight is allowed to feast in a way it doesn't get to at many other times.

Following is an example of how powerful visual images in movies are:

A couple of years ago, I caught a scene of the movie, No Country for Old Men, as I was flipping through the channels. I ended up watching for about fifteen minutes, and I think only two lines of dialogue were said. Fifteen minutes of nothing but images on a screen, no dialogue, and no music. However, I knew exactly what was happening. I had never seen the movie before, and have yet to see the whole movie today, but through visual cues alone, I was totally transfixed and was able to figure out what was happening.
Why? Because the medium a film uses to convey the story is mostly visual images. Powerful visual images that show the reader exactly what to think. There is no guesswork. There is no need to ask, "Who's talking?" We see who's talking. We see who's taking off their shirt or loading the gun. We can deduce by the acting and film direction what the story is. But, if you take away the visual images and rely solely on just the dialogue and the sounds of that scene I just mentioned from No Country for Old Men, you'll have no clue what's going on.

With novels, the medium of communication is words, not visual images. Try doing in a novel what No Country for Old Men did in that scene, and take away the primary medium of communication (words). Try using no words whatsoever, only blank pages, to convey to your reader what is happening, and see how successful the book is. As with a movie where the visual images are taken away, readers won't have a clue what's going on if you give them blank pages, or even mostly blank pages with just a couple of lines of dialogue on them.

My point? Simple. My point is that readers read your words and create the pictures in their minds from what you tell them. If you can't paint clear enough word pictures, they will lose interest. We, as authors, must convey through the written word what is happening, because we don't have the luxury of visual images and movies in our books. We must paint that picture in our readers' minds through words alone. Otherwise, readers will not be able to see our stories, and they will not engage. Additionally, if you lose them through poor storytelling or poorly structured scenes, they will not engage, and a disengaged reader is bad, bad, bad, because they're the ones who don't finish your book and may never buy another one. And, like it or not, hopping from POV to POV is disruptive in the written medium, especially if it done poorly (see the link I've included below for more information).

As I was researching this topic for this post, I came upon a blog post written by Jami Gold, and she hit the nail on the head in more ways than one and said it better than I ever could:

Jami Gold - Why Is Head Hopping Bad?

After reading Jami's post, I found myself saying, I agree. Before I learned what head hopping was, I didn't consciously notice it, but I did subconsciously, and I remember being uber-aggravated by it more than once. I remember reading books where I got so lost in who was doing and saying what that I gave up trying to figure it out.

One of Christine Feehan's books did that to me, and I remember going back and re-reading several pages at a time more than once to try to figure out who was talking and doing the action. I never read another Feehan novel after that, because that one frustrated me so badly that I didn't think it was worth the trouble. I'm not even sure I finished that novel, but I do remember being extremely irritated. At the time, I had no idea what head hopping was, but I clearly reacted to it in a negative fashion. So, I agree, a reader doesn't have to know what head hopping is to be frustrated by it.

My other observation about head hopping in movies is that I really can't see how it's possible. We are the fly on the wall watching those characters on the screen as the action unfolds. We aren't inserting ourselves into one character's head and then into another's and another's and back-and-forth we go. We are made aware of only what the director or writer of the film (because, yes, movies start off as written scripts) wants us to know when they want us to know them. We are led by visual storytelling, not word storytelling.

Additionally, movies do have scene breaks. Equate them to chapter or scene breaks in a novel. Both movies and novels flow from one scene to the next and so on. And when those scenes break, oftentimes, a different character's POV becomes more dominant than another's, both in books and in movies. John McClane in Die Hard is likely the dominant POV character in the scenes he appears in, but he still interacts with other characters in those scenes and can deduce by their actions and words what's going on. But that is not the same as head hopping. Dialogue with those characters is not head hopping, nor is watching another character unbutton her blouse or answer a telephone call, which is more a result of POV, not head hopping.

In fact, we lose more POV and inside information in movies than in books, which, if head hopping were taking place, would not be the case. This is one of the biggest complaints of books-turned-into-movies. How many times have you heard someone say, "The book was better."? They say it was better because they were able to see more of what was going on inside the character's or characters' thoughts in the book than in the movie.

So, you can look at this a couple of ways: If you believe head hopping is going on in movies, and yet books are more often than not better-received than the movies they're made into, then obviously head hopping doesn't work very well. Or, head hopping really isn't taking place in movies, and the clearly defined POV shifts in books work better to tell the story.

Let's look at Twilight as another example, because it is both a book and a movie, too, much like No Country for Old Men. The book was written in first person POV, from Bella's perspective. In the movie, we get to see her POV come to life, and we get to see the action, whereas with the book, we could only imagine it.

So, is the movie still in Bella's POV or not? Are we, in fact, head hopping in the movie, whereas in the book we were firmly fixed inside Bella's head?

No, I don't think we are head hopping. What is happening is that we are seeing in the movie what Bella saw in the book. We aren't hopping into Edward's head and changing POV in the movie. We are merely seeing the action how Bella saw it, hearing the conversations with Edward and Jacob and everybody else the way Bella heard them. That is not the same as head hopping, otherwise Edward would give away to the viewers immediately that he is a vampire and we would never get to the big scene in the woods where she finally announces that she knows what he is and he says, "Say it. Out loud." Pause. "Say it!" then goes on to call her his own personal brand of heroin after the cat's out of the bag about his vampirism. If head hopping was going on in the movie, we'd know all about Edward early on, and the climax of the big announcement would be more or less a tiny squeak of insignificance.

There is a scene in the movie where we get to see the trio of bad vampires kill Charlie's friend, but again, that is not the same as head hopping. Bella couldn't see this scene in the book, but she was made aware of what had happened by talking to her father and Edward, so we were able to find out in the book from her POV that this had happened because Edward and her father told her. In the movie, we actually get to see that scene rather than just read about it through conversations with characters who know what's going on.

Christine, by Stephen King, is another book-turned-movie. Written from the first person POV of Dennis, Arnie's best friend, there are certain scenes in the movie that weren't "really" in the book, because Dennis wasn't present during those scenes. But the author's vision can come to life and take a few liberties in film, showing viewers what had actually happened in "real time" through visual images rather than through conversations between characters "after-the-fact," which is how it's usually done in books. However, once again, this is not the same as head hopping.

So, does head hopping really happen in movies or not? I don't think it does, and I don't think using that as support for head hopping in books is a good argument. Furthermore, comparing film techniques to book techniques is like comparing apples to oranges. Both films and books are ways to entertain people, but each goes about creating that entertainment in two very different ways. What works in movies won't work in books and vice versa, because each uses extremely different media to entertain.

In five or ten years, the rules might change and head hopping could be all the rage in fiction, but I'm not betting on it at this point, simply because I firmly believe it takes real talent to pull off the head hop without disrupting the reading experience for the readers. But that's just me. If head hopping becomes the vogue thing to do, I doubt I'll be able to do it. Like readers who love to seep themselves into a good book, I love seeping myself into the POV character I'm writing from. It's fun, and I use POV as my "twelfth man," as I wrote about in my last post, working POV like an extra character to elicit specific reactions from my readers and to reveal things in a logical sequence for the best effect.

Opinions? Thoughts? Can anyone show me an example of head hopping in a movie (I'm an avid movie-goer and can't think of any where actual head hopping occurs)? If anyone has other knowledge that I'm not aware of, I am greatly interested in seeing it. Thank you.

Happy reading and writing.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Point of View - An Author's "Twelfth Man"

In football, the fans in the seats are referred to as the "Twelfth Man." Each team is only allowed eleven players on the field at one time, but the crowd becomes the twelfth. A well-trained crowd, such as the one Peyton Manning trained here in Indianapolis to be quiet when the offense is on the field and to get rowdy when the defense is, can create turnovers, cause penalties, and even help the home team score a touchdown. They are a critical factor in every game, which is why home field advantage is so coveted. The home team feeds off the energy of the crowd, and the visiting team has to overcome the noise of the crowd to prevent turnovers and penalties. You football fans out there know what I'm talking about.

Much like the twelfth man in football, point of view serves as the "twelfth man" in your book. Point of view, when used skillfully, can become a character in and of itself, and it can bring the entire story to life. Point of view is what allows your readers to immerse themselves into the story. It allows readers to feel what the characters are feeling, to see what they're seeing. Point of view (POV) is what brings tears to your readers' eyes, makes their hearts race, and makes them curse the bad guy. It is a living, breathing entity that acts as an extra character to make things happen that otherwise wouldn't without it.

In short, POV is a vital weapon in your writing toolbox.

In my last blog post, I talked about head hopping, which is directly linked to POV. If you didn't read that post, you might want to take a moment to do so. Head hopping involves jumping from one POV to another to another without showing the readers where that shift in POV is occurring. You show this POV shift through the use of blank lines, asterisks, chapter breaks, or some other "marker" that serves to inform your readers that a change in POV is taking place, but without that "marker," the reader doesn't know the POV is shifting, thus a head hop.

The problem is that I think there are some major misconceptions and misunderstandings about what, exactly, POV is. For example, as I stated yesterday, I used to be a head hopper. And I used to be the worst kind, because I didn't even know I was doing it. I didn't understand what point of view was or how to write using clear POV. I didn't understand the concept of head hopping, and I had even taken some pretty hefty writing courses. How did I not fully understand POV and head hopping with all the training I'd had? I "sort of" grasped the concepts, but I was more or less throwing darts in a dimly lit room, hoping I was hitting the target. But I didn't give up, and I continued to read and study until finally POOF! I got it.

Was point of view and head hopping simply my kryptonite? My nemesis? Every writer has at least one area they really have to work on, so is POV mine? Or, is the concept of POV simply that confusing and hard to understand? In my post yesterday, I mentioned that I have talked to other authors who seem to hold the same confusion over POV that I used to have. They have been told so much about the different types of POVs they can write in that they're a mental mess over whether they're writing first person, third person, omniscient, close third person, limited omniscient, and so on.

So, here goes. I'm going to make this super simple for those of you who struggle with POV and how to use it:

There are three main types of POV in writing, and only two that dominate in fiction:

1. First Person (I need to go there. I saw him pull a gun. When he yelled, I trembled and ducked my head.)
2. Second Person (This is not a POV used in fiction. It's used primarily in nonfiction, where the author is addressing "you," the reader, so you can scratch this from your fiction arsenal.)
3. Third Person (Trace tried not to grin when Micah opened the box and pulled out a revolver. He knew how Micah felt about guns, preferring his blades to a bullet any day. And if Micah did use a gun, he preferred his semi-auto with the wide grip. But the way Micah's lip curled and his nose crinkled broke Trace's resolve, and he threw his head back, laughing loudly. Trace felt for Adam the next time Micah saw him. He really did.) [Note that every character was referred to as "he" or by name. Even the POV character, Trace, is referred to in that way.]

Screw omniscient and close third person and whatever other fancy POV names you've heard. First person and third person. That's all you need to know right now. Those two POVs will suffice in every story you want to write, and they're the safest place for new authors (and the majority of indie authors) to live.

NOTE: In stories, we refer to character POV, meaning, "What character's point of view are you writing from?" Stephenie Meyer wrote Twilight in first person POV, but her first person POV was Bella's, not Edward's or Jacob's. I write in third person POV in my stories, and I write third person from the points of view of Micah, Samantha, Traceon, Arion, Severin, etc. So, POV is a two-parter: 1) Will you write first person or third person? and 2) Which character will be your narrator, or point-of-view character, for the story or a particular scene?

The benefit of first person POV is that it allows your reader to become deeply ingrained inside the main character's head, which allows readers to see and feel the story more actively. The pitfall of first person is that you are relegated to one character's POV for the whole story. You can't go into another character's thoughts, because then you have broken the first person POV rule: How does character A know what character B is thinking? You would use first person if one character's POV is all you need to tell the story, as well as if you are comfortable writing first person, which some authors (me, for example) are not.


I held John's hand as we walked slowly back to my dorm. I was nervous. Would he kiss me when we got to my door? Or would he simply walk away?

Suddenly John stopped. Right there in the middle of the sidewalk. When he turned to me, he saw the way my eyes sparkled and stared down at my lip gloss-moistened lips, wondering how they would taste. 

Obviously, we are NOT in John's POV in this excerpt. We are inside the thoughts of whoever he's with. Let's call her Julie. Would Julie know that John was seeing how her eyes sparkled? Would she refer to her own lips as lip gloss-moistened? Would she know that John was wondering how her lips would taste? No. In Julie's POV, she would probably think something like: When he turned to me, the way he stared first at my eyes and then my mouth made me frown. Did I have something on my face? Was there dried mustard on the corner of my mouth from the hot dog he'd bought me earlier at the carnival? Why was he staring so intently at my mouth? Would I taste like dried mustard if he kissed me right now?

See the difference? If we're writing from Julie's POV, all she can do is speculate about what John is looking at and why, as well as what his thoughts are. When you're writing in first person, you can't hop out of Julie's head into John's unless she's psychic or a mind reader.
Think about in real life: When you're standing in line at the grocery store, do you know what the guy in front of you is thinking? No. You can use visual cues to make an educated guess, for example, if he turns and scowls at the twenty items in your basket and then glances up at the sign that says "Express Lane - 12 Items or Less," but you can NOT know exactly what he is thinking. In the first person POV, this might be written as, "As I stood flipping through the latest gossip trash, I glanced up at the man in front of me. He was glaring into my basket, his head bent down in an almost accusing nature. Pointedly, he looked up at the sign over the register. 'Express Lane - 12 Items or Less.' Then he turned back and scowled at me. Apparently, the guy was the Gestapo of express lanes, and I could feel him mentally flogging me for committing a cardinal sin of the express checkouts everywhere. Setting my jaw, I felt like saluting the bastard with my middle finger, but kept my composure as I offered a stiff smile and squared my shoulders, not to be bullied by his passive-aggressive abuse."

I didn't have to fall into the Gestapo's POV to convey his thoughts and feelings. The POV of our first person narrator was able to do that.

NOTE: These examples show you how you can use your "twelfth man," POV, as a tool to create suspense, drama, characterization, and even comedy. I bet you even smiled at Julie's dried mustard musings or our checkout vigilante's middle fingered salute, didn't you? And wasn't Julie's POV so much more interesting than John's because of her mustard obsession, because she has no idea what John is seeing and thinking. That's how POV can become a living, breathing counterpart to your characters.

In third person, you are now writing a character's POV from a little bit of a distance, but through their eyes. The benefit of third person is that it allows you to step into the minds of multiple characters within one book. The pitfall is that it puts a measure of distance between the reader and the character. If multiple POVs are crucial to your story, this is the choice you must use, whether you'd like to use first person or not.


Julie's POV
Julie held John's hand as they slowly made their way back to her dorm. She was nervous and wondered if he would kiss her once they reached her door or if he would simply walk away.

Suddenly, John stopped and pulled her to him. His gaze ranged her face, from her eyes to her mouth, and for a moment she wondered if dried mustard was stuck on the corner of her mouth from the hot dog he'd bought her at the carnival. Just her luck if it was. She always had bad luck like that.
God, he was going to kiss her. She could tell. It was in the way his eyelids half-closed and he gazed at her mouth. Please, please, she didn't want to taste like dried mustard.

When his lips pressed against hers, all thought stopped, and it was just the two of them, kissing under the light of the full moon.

John's POV
Julie's hand felt good in his. Small, delicate, even kind. How did a hand feel kind? He didn't know, but hers did. And her palm didn't get all sweaty like other girls' hands did. She was perpetually dry, even though he could sense her nervousness.

He liked that she seemed nervous. It made him feel more chivalrous for some reason, as if she were a shy rabbit ready to skitter away even as he held out a carrot, hoping she would take it and snuggle up against his hand.

More than anything, he wanted to kiss her. He had wanted to kiss her all night, and to hell with caution, he couldn't wait any longer. Stopping in the middle of the sidewalk, he turned toward her and pulled her close, catching the way her eyes sparkled under the nearby streetlamp before letting his gaze drop to her heart-shaped mouth, pink and moist from the lip gloss she had applied earlier. Would she taste like strawberries or watermelons? Perhaps cherries? He needed to find out. Lowering his head, he let his lips embrace hers, drawing in the faint taste of...yes, watermelon.

See how much difference a change in POV makes?

This is where it gets fun. Whose POV do you use? Well, you use the most important one to the scene and/or overall plot. If Julie's neurotic behavior is what is most important, you would use her POV, but sprinkle in bits of John's through dialogue or through Julie's observations of his behavior. On the other hand, if John's romanticism is more important, you would use his POV and may not even need to delve into Julie's.

This is where the work of being an author comes into play, and it's why I get a little frustrated with authors who say, "Both POVs are important, so I'm just going to use omniscient or head hop. Maybe both." Both POVs may be important, but you can convey both POVs without head hopping and by sticking to the "one POV at a time" rule, as I've demonstrated in a couple of these examples. It just takes a little more work, but nobody said writing was easy. You do have to work at it. I've written plenty of scenes where multiple POVs were relevant, but instead of head hopping, I looked at each character's POV in turn, one at a time, without letting the action and chronology of the story suffer, while still conveying everything that needed to be conveyed to the reader and moving the story along. Yes, it required forethought and a little cognitive input from me. Yes, I had to rewrite a few scenes into another character's POV during edits when the original scene didn't work. Yes, I had to work at this. But that's what I have to do to make sure the story is reader-ready. It's what all authors should have to do if they care about their readers.

Furthermore, you don't want to "spill all" immediately and from every character's point of view all at once. You want to draw out the action and keep some suspense. Using POV skillfully helps you to do that. By keeping one character's POV silent, you can use another's to get the reader thinking about what's going on inside that other charcter's head. Is he the killer? Is he a witness? Did he sell the murder weapon to the killer and is afraid to speak up? Does he have a shady past that puts him in jeopardy? If we go into that character's POV, we'll be giving some of that information away, and that could be detrimental to the story. And if you use omniscient POV but keep the murderer's POV silent, readers will see the ploy and get a bit upset about it. I guess Agatha Christie did this, and it didn't go over, so she abandoned her omniscient POV experiment and returned to a more basic method of writing.

So, yes, writing POV is an art, and it can make or break your story.
I want to say to the authors who take the easy way out and head hop instead of utilizing strictly one POV at a time: You are missing a fabulous writing tool by not employing and using POV to help you tell your story. This is your twelfth man, for God's sake! Use him to build suspense, drama, conflict, and to let the reader in on the joke when the punchline is relevant! By skillfully utilizing POV shifts, you can have a powerful influence on your readers' reactions and can create a much more dynamic, multi-dimensional story that pulls your readers along like a current in a river, making them practically salivate to see what's going to happen next.

Most authors just don't know any better, though, like me when I was struggling to grasp the POV concept. They don't understand it, so they don't know how to use it. That's not their fault. They just need more practice and guidance. They get themselves tangled up in all the advanced literary jargon and confuse themselves, which is so easy to do. But this is why I try to post on my blog what I've learned, so that I can help those who want to be better writers achieve their goals.

When it comes to POV, keep it simple: use first person or third person, and stick with one character's POV at a time. See the world and tell the story through one character's eyes until it's time to switch to another character's. Once you master this method, you can experiment with more advanced POV methods...or not. You might find this is sufficient and perfect for your needs. Either way, with practice, you'll get there.

Happy reading and writing!