Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Few Words of Wisdom on Point of View

I mentioned last week that I recently went to a writing class, which made me feel both stupid and excited to learn at the same time. Ah, to be a student again...

I also promised to share some of what I learned, because it was, all insecurities aside, a really great class. It was called "Picking Your Perspective: How To Make the Best of Narrative Point of View", and it was held by Grub Street. Which, for anyone who lives in the Boston area, as well as for anyone with a computer (they have online classes) is a great organization for writers that's well worth joining, or at least looking into some of their classes. And no, unfortunately, they don't pay me to say these things, so you can believe my non-sponsored enthusiasm.

As I've discussed here on this blog, I'm trying to push the boundaries of my point of view comfort zone: I'm moving away from the comfy, cozy bathrobe of close limited third person, and trying on the maybe-too-tight skinny jeans of first person, and I'm even considering the too-fancy-for-everyday-what-will-I-wear-this-to evening gown of third person omniscient. So, this class was a welcome help.

But enough introductory drabble. Here are some brief notes and thoughts on perspective, straight from the brain of the great teacher, in outline form, 'cause you know that's how I roll:

  • Point of view is all about information, and power. When trying to pick one, consider:
    • Amount and Rate of Information
      • In other words, how much knowledge does the POV you choose give the reader, and at what rate does it give that knowledge? How can you control the release of information, and through whose eyes?
      • As an example, a strict limited third person or a present-tense first person would give the reader a relatively slow rate of information release, since the reader gains knowledge as the character gains it. This is a great choice for a mystery, or a situation where you want to be able to surprise the reader.
      • On the other hand, a first person narrator who is telling a story that has already happened has a lot more power, and can choose to manipulate not only the information, but how to give it to the reader.
      • At the far opposite end of the spectrum from close, limited third, an omniscient third person narrator would have access to all information about everything in your story - including the past and the future - and would also be able to control and manipulate the flow of information as needed. 
    • Language
      • What kind of language do you want narrator to have at his/her disposal? Formal, elevated, immediate, slang, dialect, etc. 
      • As an example, this will be much more limited, but also much more specific, if you have a first person narrator: the voice of the narrator must match that person's background, education, etc., but it's also the only reasonable way to get away with using dialect.
    • Character and Story
      • Given the character you have, what is the best POV choice? If you have a very vivid character - which doesn't necessarily mean a big personality, just a very clear one - first person is a great choice. 
      • Think about the kind of story you'r telling. If you have a sweeping family saga, omniscient third will give you the best access to that long history, and to all of the characters' inner lives.
We also spent some time discussing the different POVs, of course, and then did a common writing exercise, which I do recommend. We took a simple prompt - in this case, "A young woman sits down on the subway, not too crowded of a car, reading a book and frequently looking up at another passenger" - and wrote a brief scene in one perspective. We read and workshopped these, then took a few minutes to rewrite the scene in another perspective. 

Highly informative, to switch things around like that - and because the scene was short, MUCH easier than rewriting oh, I don't know, your entire manuscript, for example. I'm planning on doing the same to some scenes in my WIP, before I write too much, to see if I've chosen the right POV.

I hope this helps! Happy perspective-ing...

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A to Z Theme Reveal and Self-Lovin' Hop

Hello, all! As you can tell by the title of this post, I have VIS (Very Important Stuff) to talk about today! That is, if you translate VIS to mean "bloghops", which I course do: the A to Z Theme Reveal bloghop, and the Self-Lovin' bloghop!

Except... All right. I'm sort of lying to you. Ok, I am lying, because while there really is an A to Z Theme Reveal bloghop, I didn't sign up for it, and...well, they're officially doing it on Friday. But I decided to post as if I'm participating, anyway!

Let me start making sense, here. The A to Z Challenge is a twisted modern form of torture a great challenge for all bloggers, to see if we can post every single day in April, except for Sundays. That translates to 26 days, so we post each day thematically from A to Z (and hence the name). Because, as we've repeatedly established on this blog, I'm a crazy masochist, I thought I would go ahead and sign up for it! So I did!!!!

And today, the totally unofficial day of the A to Z Theme Reveal that I have arbitrarily chosen for myself, I am revealing my theme:

I shall blog each day in April about my Work In Progress (WIP).

Bet you never saw that one coming, huh? TOTAL SURPRISE, since the tag line of this blog is "an inside look into the process of writing a novel", right??

Yeah, so I can be a little predictable sometimes. But in all honesty, and to be serious for a moment, I was trying to find a way to make the challenge something that would help with my writing, instead of something that would take time away from it. Like all of us, I have a day job and family and friends and commitments, and finding time to write can be very challenging. I try to protect that time like a ferocious mother bear. And with this theme, I think I may be able to do that.

One more little note about the A to Z: I am planning, of course, on visiting as many participating blogs as possible, and leaving comments there, but the sheer number of blogs (that sign-up list is up to 1,322 blogs!!!!) means that I'm going to have to cut something else: I decided that I'm not going to respond to comments here, on my own blog, in April. So, know that I will read every single one (I always do), and that I love comments, and that my lack of response has no relationship at all to how happy it makes me when people take the time to drop a line.

Now on the Self-Love! I really DID sign up for this bloghop. According the wonderful Tara Watson, who created it, I'm supposed to talk about something that I'm good at. I was totally on board with this idea - we writers do tend to be an insecure bunch, and I suppose it's possible that my posts have a slight tendency towards self-deprecation - until I went to a writing class a couple of days ago. It was an amazing class, and I learned a ton (which I will share with you, but not 'til next week. Because this post is a wee full already), but I also realized a) how very long it's been since I was in a writing class, b) how very much I needed to be in the class, because c) I came across as a MORON in said class whenever I tried to answer the teacher's questions.

Ok, maybe "moron" is a bit strong, but you get the general idea - the class made me feel VERY VERY INSECURE, so now it's a little difficult to stop obsessively listing and categorizing all of my weaknesses, and focus instead on my strengths. Which, it occurs to me, is probably the entire point of this bloghop in the first place (Tara, you smart lady, you!)

So, self-love: I am a fast reader. Yup. It's a simple thing, but I value it. I don't really know how I picked up the skill, but I can read a book in a day - if that given day doesn't involve anything else. If I'm sick in bed with a good novel, I can tear through it. I fully recognize that I am lucky to have this skill, and therefore I value it even more.

Hmm. I do feel a little better.

I guess it worked.

Thanks, Tara! Everyone else, go check out the linky and visit a few of the other blogs in this hop!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Writing Love Stories For Dummies (Like Me)

This week's blog-post-brainstorming started with a good, old-fashioned dither. I'm still researching Tibet, you see, so - hmm, how to say this nicely - my current process is REALLY EFFING BORING.

Not that the research is boring; not at all. As I've mentioned, I love research (most of the time). It's just that telling you about that process is rather akin to forcing you to sit through a dull lecture by a professor who sounds like the teacher from Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

So, I dithered. And then I thought: WAIT! I'm not just researching Tibet; I've also been researching love stories!

Why? Well, part of my advice to people when they're struggling with plot (besides go back to your characters, of course) is to look for some way to frame the plot; some plot-skeleton to hang your story-flesh off of, if you'll excuse the unsettling metaphor. This can be literal - when I was writing Cloudland, I used Joseph Campbell's monomyth - or it can be thematic. You know, some kind of writing prompt, or jumping-off point, like, in the month of April I'll write blog posts for every letter of the alphabet. Or something.

For this WIP, since a) it's about love, and b) it follows souls through multiple lifetimes, I thought I might be able to structure each lifetime around one of the Great Love Story Plots.

Except, erm, I didn't know what they were. What?? I've never claimed to be an expert on writing romance. Far from it, actually. This is where all of you romance writers point at me, and laugh, as well you should. But I really did do some research on it.

So, for all of you non-romance writers, who, like me, freeze in panic when they have to write a love story, I want to share the most helpful thing I found in my research thus far: a fantastic old blog post by one Margo Berendson, listing her idea of the 13 standard love story plots, with examples for each.

For those who don't have time to click on the link, here's a little user's guide to the love plots I'm going to mention, quoted from her blog:

  • Reluctant love: "where two people are forced by circumstances into a betrothal or marriage. Sometimes both are reluctant partners; sometimes one is willing, the other reluctant. As the reluctant one comes to know her partner better, they genuinely fall in love"
  • Love Torn Apart: "the opposite of a happily-ever after, where love reigns for a while, but then is torn apart by circumstances" 
  • Love Forsaken: "a pair of lovers where one rejects the other (usually because of unequal status or to honor the family), and then regrets it"
  • You're the Last Person I'd Ever Love: "two characters start out disliking each other, often quite intensely, and then fall in love as they get to know each other better"
  • Forbidden Love: "Romeo and Juliet, Lancelot and Guinevere, Paris and Helen" and so on. 

If you found those helpful, I highly recommend checking out the original post. Just sayin'.

Anyway, thanks to that post, I'm off and running, and GOD does it feel good to have a sense of the overall structure of this monstrosity that I'm working on. And because I'm me, and I am incapable of doing anything simply, I want to combine these plots to make new stories. Yes, one lover might be headed towards an arranged marriage, and therefore a reluctant love plot, but suddenly another character arrives in the story, of the wrong race or gender or social class (or all of the above), and now we have a forbidden love story, with a dash of love triangle and great potential for love torn apart. And THAT is fun to write.

For example, I'm thinking my Ancient Greek story will combine jealous love and love torn apart (yes, I made the first one up, but I like it. Think crazy jealousy ruining everything, like in Othello), and my modern London story will be an amalgamation of you're the last person I'd ever love and love forsaken, with a possible, unusual, modern twist on forbidden love.

Silly? Maybe, but it's working, and I'll take that over dignity any time.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Guest Blog: Establishing Yourself Online

Hi all, I'm taking a break from my normal routine to post on a Friday - I know, I'm a wild and crazy gal! I'm guest-blogging over at Natasha Hanova's site today, to give some hard-learned tips and ideas about how to get started in social media and blogging. This is the stuff I wish I'd know in May, when I launched this old blog. It's also my first guest post ever, so come on by and say hello! And thank you so much to Natasha for letting me steal her blog for the day :)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Insecure Writers: Writing the Unknown

NOTE: It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for The Insecure Writers! For those who don't remember, it's an online group created by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers. You, too, can join us anytime!

Before I get started, I just wanted to say that I'll be doing my first-ever guest post this week, on Friday. So, stop by on Friday for the link and info!

First I just have to say, thank goodness for Shell Flower. I logged on today to write my blog post, and would have totally missed the fact that it was IWSG day if I hadn't seen her post, first. So, thank you, Shell, for dragging my brain out of Ancient Tibet, and into March 2014!

For any newcomers (and hello and welcome to my neurotic ramblings), my current WIP is a journey through Ancient Greece, Tibet, South America, India, London, and Australia. Which means I need to heavily research all of these places (yes, I am insane. As I said, welcome to my neurotic ramblings.)

So, I've had my nose buried in Tibet all week. I'm reading a book called, appropriately enough, Tibet: Its History, Religion, and People, by Thubten Jigme Norbu, a Tibetan monk who also happens to be the older brother of the current Dalai Lama. It's a lovely, if rather dry, read, full of actually useful information (something new for me) about the daily life and religion and outlook of normal Tibetans - not just kings and gurus, but peasants and nomads, too - and I'm very grateful to my local librarian for pulling it off of the shelf and pressing it into my desperate little hands.

It's also a lot. I mean, it's a lot to take in. I'm attempting to understand the world view of a character that's vastly different from my own, and whose culture I am mostly ignorant of - and let me tell you, Tibetan culture, history, and religion are not simple. The country is thousands of years old, with a complex animist religion at the time my character was living (500-600 CE); I've never met a single Tibetan person or been to Tibet; and unlike Ancient Greece, whose culture and mythology form the foundation for much of our own, Ancient Tibet is something I've only barely touched on in my life's learnings so far.

Now, I would never say that writers should only write about their own culture, race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. Because really, if I did that, I'd be writing novels full of me, talking to me, interacting with more me. How BORING (not to mention alarmingly self-involved.) I think it's important to go outside of what is familiar; to reach into the unknown, and hope to bring back something to share; something that illuminates, even in the smallest way, what it means to be human. To find not only what makes us different, but also what unites us.

I do believe that. But I'm also nervous. What if I really mess this up? What if I offend an entire nation, for God's sake?

This insecurity, I know, is understandable, but I have to find a way past it. Because right now, it's stifling. Part of what I'm trying to do is find my characters and plot through this research, and the fear is totally stopping me. I have no ideas. I am blank, blank, blank. Every time I try to come up with an idea, my brain starts going, oh my god no I can't make the character a jerk because then people will think I'm RACIST, and all creativity comes to a screeching halt.

So that's my insecurity for the month (year; decade; all known time; whatever.) Next week, I hope I can report back on my plot progress... but at this rate, I may just end up sharing some interesting facts on Tibet. Le sigh