Posts Tagged WANA International
foolishly graciously handed her blog over to me today while she is recovering from the flu and is locked up in her NaNoWriMo cave.
But Marcy! I don’t want to go on the cart!
If she hits her word count, we can slide a gluten-free brownie to her through the bars later to get rid of the taste of that horrible Mucinex.
But I feel HAPPY! I think I can go for a walk!
Um, one minute. *hushed voice* Fine, you don’t have to go on the cart but get off Facebook and back to writing and let me do the blog for you so you can rest and write. Okay?
But I just—
Cart? *stern face*
Yes ma’am. But could you please get Jami Gold to stop tweeting BRING OUT YOUR DEAD! It’s freaking me out. I think she has it automated with my name in it.
If you would get off Twitter and write, Jami wouldn’t be bothering you, would she?
*sticks out tongue and slinks off with blankie* I WANT BROWNIES! *slams door*
Oh, sorry about that. She’ll be fine. Where were we?
Since Kristen is in captivity, that means no one is around to stop us, so I think it’s time to pull back the wizard’s curtain and reveal a secret to POV. For those who may not know, POV stands for point of view and almost always should be limited to one character at a time or things get very confusing.
Why POV is vital for your story is this is how you are going to slip your reader ever so subtly into the skin of your characters. Get your readers so comfortable they never want to leave. When we make POV errors? It shatters the fictive dream. That is why getting really good at POV is vital. We must maintain the magic.
Here’s the secret that a lot of writers don’t realize about POV.
Many point-of-view errors are simply the flip side of telling rather than showing.
What is telling when we’re writing about our viewpoint character becomes a POV error when we’re writing about a non-viewpoint character. So if we understand the difference between telling and showing, we’ll be better prepared to also spot point-of-view errors.
It’s almost as cool as being able to juggle plates while circling a hula hoop. (Actually, I’d settle for being able to do either of those alone. Tips anyone?)
Let me give you a little refresher on showing and telling first before I explain how telling and POV errors are dopplegangers.
Showing vs. Telling
Showing happens when we let the reader experience things for themselves, through the perspective of the characters. It presents evidence to the reader and allows them to draw their own conclusions, while telling dictates a conclusion to the reader, telling them what to believe. Telling states a fact.
Bob was angry dictates a conclusion. It’s telling.
But what was the evidence?
Bob punched his fist into the wall. (This is showing.)
The Black Plague ravaged the country dictates a conclusion. It’s telling.
But what was the evidence?
We could describe men loading dead bodies covered in oozing sores onto a wagon. Our protagonist could press a handkerchief filled with posies to her nose and mouth as she passes someone who’s drawing in ragged, labored breaths. Either of those details, or many others, would show the Black Death ravaging the country.
(If you want to learn more about showing and telling, you might want to take a look at another post I wrote for Kristen about How Star Trek Helps Us with Showing Rather than Telling.)
So How Does This Help Us Catch POV Errors Again?
POV errors happen any time we’re in a limited point of view where we’re supposed to stay inside one viewpoint character at a time and we write something that our viewpoint character couldn’t know, wouldn’t have experienced, or wouldn’t be thinking about.
At first this doesn’t sound like it has much of anything to do with showing vs. telling. Which means it’s time for some examples so we can see it in action. I’ll put the POV error/telling parts of our examples in bold.
Eric was too angry to listen to any more.
When Eric is our viewpoint character, this is telling. We’ve told the reader that he’s angry. We haven’t shown his anger.
When Eric isn’t our viewpoint character, this is a point-of-view error. Our viewpoint character can’t know that Eric is too angry to continue to listen.
Let’s look at another one.
Kate realized she’d locked her keys in the car.
When Kate is our viewpoint character, this is telling. We’re dictating a conclusion to the reader. What do you experience? We can’t see “realized.” We don’t know how she knows her keys are locked in the car. There’s no picture here.
If Kate isn’t our viewpoint character, this is a point-of-view error. How does our viewpoint character know what Kate is realizing?
A version of this that I see all the time in my editing work is something like:
He thought about that for a minute.
If he’s our viewpoint character, we’ve told the reader he’s thinking, but we’re not showing them the content of his thoughts.
If he’s not our viewpoint character, there’s no way the viewpoint character can know what he’s thinking about or even that he’s thinking at all.
Elizabeth went to the woodshed to get the axe.
When Elizabeth is our viewpoint character, this is telling. We’re told why she planned to go to the woodshed, but we don’t see her actually get the axe.
When Elizabeth isn’t our viewpoint character, this is a point-of-view error. Our viewpoint character can’t know for sure why Elizabeth went to the woodshed. Maybe she was going in there to cry. Or maybe she planned to crawl out the back window and run away.
One of the things I love most about writing is how everything we learn works together. When we get better at one part of writing, other parts start to slide into place as well.
*COUGH COUGH COUGH*
Yes, it’s Kristen. Just give me a sec before Marcy boots me out. As an editor POV is a HUGE deal. So many new writers screw this up and if you mess up POV your reader will be left feeling like she’s been strapped to Hell’s Tilt-A-Whirl. What is REALLY insidious about POV is, unless you get some training? You won’t see it because you are the creator.
So what often happens is we end up with a bunch of bored or ticked off readers who couldn’t keep in the story but even they can’t articulate WHY. Guarantee you very often the problem was POV. It one of THE most COMMON blunders even I see when I edit.
So please check out Marcy’s book and class because she is a ROCKSTAR at teaching this stuff. And now I am going back in my hole.
I WANT BROWNIES! *slams door*
Need More Help With Point of View?
Check out my book Point of View in Fiction. Point of view isn’t merely another writing craft technique. Point of view is the foundation upon which all other elements of the writing craft stand or fall.
In Point of View in Fiction, you’ll learn how to choose the right POV for your story, how to avoid POV errors, how to choose the right viewpoint character for each scene, how to know how many viewpoint characters to use, and much more.
Add some LIVE teaching to go WITH that book. I’m running a W.A.N.A. International Webinar How to Master Point of View on Friday, November 20 so sign up and learn how to make story MAGIC!
The webinar will be recorded and made available to registrants, so even if you can’t make it at the scheduled time, you can sign up and listen later at your convenience.
Thank you Marcy!
I LOVE hearing from you, especially when I have guests which is why all comments on guest posts get double-suck-up points. Hey, Marcy is doing me a solid because yes, I am on the mend from the flu, but I still had/have the flu and Hubby is lucky he is cute for getting me sick.
To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.
Today, we are going to take a bit of a sideline from our acrostic. Over the holiday weekend, I was resting up from a nasty bout of bronchitis and puttering around Facebook. I’ve been long frustrated with this new culture of “Everyone’s a Winner.” Back in 2005, my young nephew was in soccer. I recall being horrified that everyone received a trophy.
What was the point for working harder? What gain did it give my nephew that I ran extra drills with him after school and off the practice field? He “won” the same trophy as the kid who showed for one game out of the season.
Trying is all that matters.
We see all over the news where schools are attempting to cancel Honors events because those kids who didn’t achieve honors “will be sad” because they are “left out.” We can’t honor the kids who traded video games or time with friends for extra work, far more difficult work.
We can’t reward those who sacrificed because those who didn’t might have their delicate sensitivities permanently bruised. We’re seeing flyers being sent home to parents that Field Day isn’t about winning, athleticism or competition and promising that “the urge to win will be kept to a minimum.”
In a world that lives and dies by competition, how is this healthy?
I can appreciate the desire to protect and shelter our young. I’m a mother. But life will not hand out trophies because of attendance. And this is all I’m going to say about that nonsense because it’s just the tip of the spear.
Sunday, I ran across something that chilled my blood. As writers we should be frightened of this new trend.
The Culture of “Special”
Yes, every person is a special unique snowflake. I wholeheartedly believe this. Every one of us is gifted with talents, drives, memories, passions that are uniquely ours. There will never be another YOU or another ME. WANA is dedicated to cultivating those gifts.
But, lately, this social disease of “Everyone is a Winner” has made me want to scream. Yes, everyone is given a set of gifts, but rewards are given based upon action. What do we DO with those gifts?
Showing up is the basest of requirements.
What I’m about to say might be unpopular, but I’m a writer not an Ad Man. Leave the propaganda to the bureaucrats and sheltered academics. Writers have always changed the world. Why? They were fearless enough to point out the unpopular. To shine a light on an ugly reality and maybe even extend some logic of how a social cancer might spread if left unchecked.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
There is a terrifying movement popping up in our universities. In my opinion, it’s the “shot across the bow,” the seed of the Thought Police.
If PC wasn’t bad enough, the new political flavor of “Everyone is so special they should never feel any discomfort” is Empathetic Correctness. According to a recent post in The Atlantic, Karen Swallow Prior explains:
While political correctness seeks to cultivate sensitivity outwardly on behalf of those historically marginalized and oppressed groups, empathetic correctness focuses inwardly toward the protection of individual sensitivities. Now, instead of challenging the status quo by demanding texts that question the comfort of the Western canon, students are demanding the status quo by refusing to read texts that challenge their own personal comfort.
I didn’t believe this when I read it and dug deeper and yes, this IS happening. Some of our most prestigious universities are calling for literature to be marked with “Trigger Warnings” to point out any areas a student might feel uncomfortable or traumatized.
In a New York Times article, Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf and other literary staples are in the EC crosshairs. Issues like slavery, oppression, misogyny could be “traumatizing.” Such literature might make students and young minds “feel bad” and thus students should have the option of reading something less distressing.
I know The Diary of Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel’s Night, The Scarlet Letter, The Red Badge of Courage, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, Brave New World, Mrs. Dalloway, The Hours, and even The Hunger Games changed me. These works disturbed me, made me weep, and most of them made me more than a little angry.
But isn’t that the point?
My fiction isn’t about rainbows and unicorns and the world holding hands. I don’t write My Little Pony. I strive to write about regular (often innocent) people thrust into the bowels of darkness who through sheer force of their humanity confront evil, grow into heroes and WIN.
I even write works that challenge what we believe about our world or ourselves. What are we capable of under the right circumstances? My short story Dandelion is raw, viscous and utterly heartbreaking.
It was meant to be.
The High Cost of “Higher” Education
Higher education is supposed to expose students to other people with differing beliefs, ideas, and opinions…and live to tell the tale. Perhaps they might even learn to think critically instead of parroting. Heck, maybe they’ll even realize they’re really blessed and that there are plenty of people on the planet who’d gladly trade places and not B%*$# that the wi-fi is slow.
That is a mark of becoming an ADULT.
When I attended TCU, one of my closest friends was a refugee from Uganda who fled to the US for asylum after her father (a teacher) was brutally executed during a regime change. My other best friend’s family lived in a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, Syria (where I went to briefly live after college).
My university exposed me to the brutality of the “real world” and made me angry enough to want to change it. So this white girl with blonde hair and a big mouth hopped a plane to the Middle East instead of Cabo San Lucas the day after graduation.
I traded a tan on a beach for a hijab. I wanted to understand even when it scared me half to death. I wanted to see if someone like me might make even a little bit of difference. To at least try.
Maybe we are offended or traumatized, but maybe we should be. Perhaps that’s what is going so wrong.
And to add an increasing burden to teachers, exactly how are they suppose to thread the needle between PC and EC?
As Chester E. Finn, Jr. points out in a recent post in Politico Magazine:
Does the history professor refrain from mentioning that Hitler killed homosexuals as well as Jews? Does the English teacher shun James Baldwin and George Eliot because one was gay and the other was a woman using a man’s name? Avoid Toni Morrison because one of her books includes a rape scene? Not teach astronomy because just two of the 23 best-known constellations are recognizably female?
I suspect why this is so disturbing to me is right now there is pushback. But what about in ten years or twenty?
Orwell predicted a world where thoughts would be controlled, and we laughed. Should we be laughing now? Alduous Huxley predicted we’d eventually live in a world driven by the Orgie Porgie Feelies of the Centrifugal Bumblepuppy. Pillars of truth would be buried under mountains of meaningless. All that would matter is “feeling good” even if there was no depth or substance. The human spark would snuff out since we only find our greatness in the crucible.
I’m not laughing.
And I suppose why I bring this up is what is the long-tail of this thinking? Years ago, I blogged about the dangers of Amazon and their strong-arm tactics. It was a level post praising Amazon but also cautioning what could happen if we failed to appreciate their past business behavior (and more than a few people called me a nut). Yet, lately it seems so many people are surprised that BUY Buttons can disappear. And this is Amazon’s business and not really my point.
My point is this: In a virtual world, books are “allowed” to exist.
Let’s take Amazon out of this and let’s speculate that another business comes along and uses Amazon’s business model and improves upon it. Fluffy Fairy Dreams takes over and does it better…and embraces EC.
What “warning labels” would be on your books or mine? With enough political pressure, could our writing disappear? If universities press down this path of making everyone happy and comfortable, will there be generations who no longer remember works like Huckleberry Finn or The Merchant of Venice? Or find them so “distasteful” the BUY buttons vanish?
We no longer need to burn books when we can just “delete” them.
I know today’s post is disturbing. It was meant to be. Maybe it should have come with a warning label 😉 . Yet, the duty of bloggers (who are a form of journalist) and writers is to start the conversation. This Brave New World scares me. Yes, The Digital Age of Publishing is wonderful. Works nearly driven to extinction by the print paradigm are springing back to life. Writers can reach new audiences and emerging markets abound.
But we must remain vigilant. Who would have thought in 1980 we’d take pictures with our phone? What was laughable then is now commonplace. If we scoff at the idea that books can vanish…?
What are your thoughts? By the way, I never mind anyone disagreeing with me so long as the disagreement is respectful. Maybe I do need a tin foil hat. I’ll own that. But, maybe I don’t.
What warning labels would be attached to your writing? Did you find healing from past trauma through literature? Maybe realizing you weren’t alone? Are you writing on a delicate subject hoping to encourage a dialogue, understanding or catharsis? What do you think about this trend of being “empathetically correct”?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
If you need help building a brand, social media platform, please check out my latest best-selling book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.
Kristen here, and we’ll continue our acrostic for VICTORY next post. I’m interrupting for a Writer Public Service Announcement. Great dialogue is paramount. Readers can overlook a lot of things if we have fabulous dialogue.
Dialogue can make or break a book. We can have the most brilliant story ever imagined in human history, but if the dialogue is weird, stilted, or redundant, that’s a good place for a bookmark.
As an editor, I can attest that this is one of the BIGGEST problem areas for the new writer. Dialogue can often sound stiff, like two kids playing with Barbies or fighting with action figures. Or, characters can become “talking heads” who all sound the same.
Great dialogue should give us a peek into the psyche of the character. We know we’ve done it properly when readers really don’t need tags (though use them where appropriate anyway for safe measure). When we nail dialogue, our characters can become so rich and vibrant the reader knows who’s speaking simply by the way they speak, what they say or even don’t say.
A fantastic example of this is J.E. Fishman’s latest book, “A Danger to Himself and Others.” Fishman did an astonishing job of characterization through superb dialogue. When I read this book, I always knew who was talking. This helped create characters so real and a world so rich, it drew me in and didn’t let go.
***I believe the Kindle version is free right now, so I recommend this book for a study in this area.
So, today to give you guys some quick tips on FAB dialogue, I have our WANA International instructor, Marcy Kennedy to guide you.
Take it away, Marcy!
In my years as a freelance editor, I’ve worked with clients all the way along the writing path—from newbies who are just starting their first book to seasoned veterans with multiple books on the market. I can now guess with a high level of accuracy where a writer is along the path based on the types of dialogue mistakes they’re making.
Newer writers tend to use creative dialogue tags or allow their characters to speak for paragraphs (or pages!) at a time without interruption. I once edited a novel where a character spoke for 63 pages solid. No joke.
But new level, new writing devil.
As writers gain experience in the craft and stop making the newbie mistakes, they run into a new dilemma. They’re told their writing still isn’t ready.
And one of these dialogue death sentences is probably playing a role in killing their chances at publication success.
Death Sentence #1 – Redundant Dialogue
Redundancy happens when we repeat something in our dialogue that we’ve already written in either narrative or action.
He shook his head. “No.”
Unless our character needs to add extra emphasis to their denial, the action or the dialogue alone is usually enough.
Let’s look at a sneakier example of redundancy.
Rob glanced at the clock on the wall. Three at last. Time for him to go. He popped his head into Joan’s office. “It’s three. I’m heading out. Want me to lock up?”
The redundancy here isn’t as exact as in the previous example, but it still makes for boring, flabby writing. We could tighten it to read…
Rob glanced at the clock on the wall. Three at last. He popped his head into Joan’s office. “I’m heading out. Want me to lock up?”
Redundancy can also happen big-picture. If, for example, we’re going to have a character cracking a safe, we don’t need to have them explain the whole process to another character before it happens. That makes it boring for the reader to then have to sit through the description of our character actually cracking the safe (even if something goes wrong).
We shouldn’t bore our readers to death by redundant dialogue.
Death Sentence #2 – Orphaned Dialogue
Any time we confuse the reader, it’s a bad thing because we destroy their immersion in the story. If we confuse them enough times, our book goes in the donate pile or gets deleted from their e-reader and they move on to someone else.
When it comes to writing dialogue, one of the most common crimes is to leave our dialogue orphaned, with no one to claim it.
This abandonment comes in two types.
(A) Dialogue where we’re not sure who’s speaking.
I suspect this usually happens because, as writers, we know exactly who’s speaking. We forget the reader can read only our words, not our minds.
If we have more than three lines of unattributed dialogue in a row (dialogue without a tag like said or an action beat), we can risk the reader losing track of who’s speaking.
If we have a scene with multiple speakers, we need to be certain it’s clear who each line of dialogue belongs to. An unattributed line of dialogue could belong to anyone present.
But the sneakiest of all is when we write about two characters in the same paragraph and then tack on a line of dialogue at the end.
Ellen waved her arm above her head, and Frank sprinted towards her. “I’ve missed you.”
Who said “I’ve missed you”? It could be Frank or it could be Ellen, and the reader has no way to tell which one it really is.
(B) Dialogue where we don’t find out until then end who’s speaking…and we probably guessed wrong about the speaker’s identity.
AVOID dialogue like this…
“We have come to witness our finest warriors compete. Scythia offers their best to us, so we offer them no less,” the queen said.
By the time the reader reaches the tag at the end, they’ll have consciously or subconsciously made an assumption about who’s speaking. If they guessed wrong, it throws them off balance.
When we have long passages of dialogue, it’s usually best to either begin with a beat, so readers know who’s talking before they start, or to place a beat or tag at the first natural pause.
“We have come to witness our finest warriors compete,” the queen said. “Scythia offers their best to us, so we offer them no less.”
Don’t leave dialogue abandoned on the side of the road. It’s just cruel.
Need More Help With Dialogue?
Check out my book How to Write Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide. In it you’ll learn how to format your dialogue, how to add variety to your dialogue so it’s not always “on the nose,” when you should use dialogue and when you shouldn’t, how to convey information through dialogue without falling prey to As-You-Know-Bob Syndrome, how to write dialogue unique to each of your characters, how to add tension to your dialogue, whether it’s ever okay to start a chapter with dialogue, ways to handle contractions (or the lack thereof) in science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction, and much more!
If you prefer live teaching, I’m running a webinar called Say What? Techniques for Making Your Dialogue Shine this Saturday, May 17th.
This 1.5 hour live webinar will…
* cover the seven most common mistakes when it comes to dialogue and how to fix them,
* explain how to ensure your dialogue makes your story stronger,
* show you how to create dialogue unique to your characters, and
* answer some of the most frustrating questions about dialogue such as how to handle dialect, should we use contractions in historical novels, science fiction, and fantasy, and is it okay to begin a book with dialogue.
As a bonus, all registrants receive an ebook copy of my book How to Write Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide.
The webinar will be recorded and made available to registrants, so even if you can’t make it at the scheduled time, you can sign up and listen later at your convenience.