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The first week, I wrote (wrote ... stole from Algis Budrys is more like it) a bit on how stories are about characters, in a context, with a conflict. Last week, I suggested that before you get too far along in plotting out the nature of that conflict and how you're going to wrangle with it through 300 or more pages of manuscript, you should first get a solid handle on your characters. So this week you might expect that I'll move on to context or conflict.

Fooled you. Instead I'm stepping into the invisible but all important territory that falls between character and context. I'm going to talk about viewpoint and its close cousin, voice. By the way, I will now proceed to use the two terms in an intermingled way that would not pass 8th grade English. Fortunately, I've already passed the 8th grade (though we called it "intermediate hunting and gathering" back then), and I don't care.

Before you run away mumbling about third person subjective, levels of omniscience, dialect and other painful experiences from your own time in lit classes, don't worry. I'm not going to thumb through all the possible combinations. I'm only going to ask a question: who is telling this story? I know that sounds like a trick question. You're the author, you're telling the story. But viewpoint and voice can serve as your mediator, a proxy to slide between you and the reader. Just as some actors welcome the opportunity to slip on a mask or makeup that helps them disappear into the character, viewpoint is a way that you can choose to present yourself to the reader.

You can step back to Olympian heights and peer down on the ant-like scurryings of your characters from chilly dispassionate distance. You can hover close at hand, wincing at every moment when they turn away from the best option. You can even put on the mask of one of your characters, playing your role in the pretense that you don't know what's happening in the rest of the world where you are god.

Finding the right viewpoint and voice for a book isn't just one of the most important steps in making the book enjoyable for the reader, it's probably the most important step in making the book fun for you, the writer. When I was writing the novel Devil's Tower, I always thought of the story as being told to me by an invisible man who tracked along close behind the boot prints of my main character, Jake Bird.  This fellow was older than Jake, more worldly. Sardonic, but not unkind. And in my ear he sounded just like Sam Elliot. Who wouldn't want to listen to that voice, especially when you have to wrangle nearly 1,500 pages of manuscript in a novel and two sequels? That viewpoint—inexorably attached to Jake, but free enough to make judgments about the situation that might not pop into Jake's 18-year-old skull—shaped the book, drove the story, and made it possible for me to sit at the keyboard for 40+ page jags while feeling as if I was just transcribing.

The right voice and viewpoint is the difference between typing THE END and saying "thank god," and getting there with an "aww, that's all?" The right viewpoint turns your book into a collaboration between you and your characters. The wrong viewpoint turns it into a daily fight. So for your own sake, don't just dive into third person subjective because it's the most common viewpoint on the shelves, and don't think you have to write first person just because the last bestseller you picked up did it that way. Think about who you're going to be working with for the next few months. Think about the mask you want to wear. Think about how f'ing hard this is going to be if the story you want to tell, and the mouth you've designed to tell it, are always at cross purposes.

Granted, if you're writing certain kinds of books, the viewpoint is almost writ in stone. For example, cozy mysteries (and to a lesser extent, hard-boiled detective novels) tend to be first person. They are told from the viewpoint of the detective character, or that character's Watson. There's a good reason for this. It works. A cozy almost always works against a frame of personal background, unlikely involvement in a crime, and quirks, quirks, quirks. This kind of story is just flat out easier to relay in first person. The voice of a cozy is the voice of it's lead character, so hopefully you and that character are simpatico.  Oh, and if you happen to be a schlubby old guy writing from the POV of a 20-something woman, prepare to get some funny looks when you walk into the bookstore for a reading. (Side note: when naming your cozy mystery series, including some repeating gimmick in the book titles is no guarantee of repeat business. I only got three states into my "state name + monster" series before the publisher pulled the plug).

Okay, example time. Here, read this.

People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.

Here is what happened. We had clear title to 480 acres of good bottom land on the south bank of the Arkansas River not far from Dardanelle in Yell County, Arkansas. Tom Chaney was a tenant but working for hire and not on shares. He turned up one day hungry and riding a gray horse that had a filthy blanket on his back and a rope halter instead of a bridle. Papa took pity on the fellow and gave him a job and a place to live. It was a cotton house made over into a little cabin. It had a good roof.

If you've been to the movies in the last couple of years, you probably recognize these words. It's the opening of Charles Portis' novel, True Grit. It also happens to be one of the best American novels ever written, a thing of near perfection.

What makes it work so well is the absolutely thundering first person voice of Mattie Ross. This book is entirely inside the head of Mattie. So entirely that you don't even learn Mattie's name for a chapter and get a real description of her not at all. Mattie tells you what Mattie wants to tell you, and it's a helluva story. Mattie is opinionated, tough, judgmental, double-tough, and unforgiving. She's rarely sentimental, quick to seize on any fault, and about the hardest hard ass who ever graced the page of a novel in English. Oh, and as the book goes on it becomes increasingly clear that Mattie's judgments aren't just harsh, they're also often wrong. She is unreliable as a narrator, far more interested in giving her opinion than the facts. And three cheers for that.

This isn't a story being told by a teenage girl, it's a story being relayed by a hardened, one-armed, spinster retelling her best "when I was a child, it was 10 miles to school, and it was uphill both ways" story. I love Mattie Ross. Love her. If you should encounter a character whose voice so completely swallows your novel as Mattie does this one, marry her. Quick.

Now, without leaving the west, here's something completely different.

When Augustus came out on the porch the blue pigs were eating a rattlesnake — not a very big one. It had probably just been crawling around looking for shade when it ran into the pigs. They were having a fine tug-of-war with it, and its rattling days were over. The sow had it by the neck, and the shoat had the tail.

"You pigs git," Augustus said, kicking the shoat. "Head on down to the creek if you want to eat that snake." It was the porch he begrudged them, not the snake. Pigs on the porch just made things hotter, and things were already hot enough. He stepped down into the dusty yard and walked around to the springhouse to get his jug. The sun was still high, sulled in the sky like a mule, but Augustus had a keen eye for sun, and to his eye the long light from the west had taken on an encouraging slant.

Evening took a long time getting to Lonesome Dove, but when it came it was a comfort. For most of the hours of the day — and most of the months of the year — the sun had the town trapped deep in dust, far out in the chaparral flats, a heaven for snakes and horned toads, roadrunners and stinging lizards, but a hell for pigs and Tennesseans. There was not even a respectable shade tree within twenty or thirty miles; in fact, the actual location of the nearest decent shade was a matter of vigorous debate in the offices — if you wanted to call a roofless barn and a couple of patched-up corrals offices — of the Hat Creek Cattle Company, half of which Augustus owned.

His stubborn partner, Captain W. F. Call, maintained that there was excellent shade as close as Pickles Gap, only twelve miles away, but Augustus wouldn't allow it. Pickles Gap was if anything a more worthless community than Lonesome Dove. It had only sprung up because a fool from north Georgia named Wesley Pickles had gotten himself and his family lost in the mesquites for about ten days. When he finally found a clearing, he wouldn't leave it, and Pickles Gap came into being, mainly attracting travelers like its founder, which is to say people too weak-willed to be able to negotiate a few hundred miles of mesquite thicket without losing their nerve.

Tell me that wasn't fun. It's no surprise that this is the opening of Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. It's also one of the finest examples I've seen of skating the edge between third person subjective and omniscient viewpoint. It's not any version of "limited omniscient viewpoint" I was ever taught. In fact, within the first chapter the book gives insights plucked straight from the minds of every person at the nearly cattle-free Hat Creek Cattle Company. The camera roves back in time to fill in back stories where needed. It lingers close by main characters for long stretches, then darts off to follow someone new. It does all the things you're usually told not to do, all the things that readers find distracting, things that make books seem cold and distant. But Lonesome Dove is never less than personal, never less than involving. McMurtry manages to drift his eye across half a continent, and never make you feel like you've lost touch with the characters or their emotions. And yet this viewpoint is also unsparing. Unlike Mattie, it reveals the good and bad qualities of friend and foe alike. It's simply a wonder.

Even if you've never read a western in your life. Even if you think you hate westerns, you need to read these two books just to see what can be done. A sharp-tongued first-person narrator who reveals as much in what she doesn't say as what she does. A unflinching omniscient viewpoint that is nonetheless as warm as the Rio Grande in summer. Two great examples of books that would be something very different, and probably something much less, without that magic combo of viewpoint and voice.

So go find yours.

My update for the week:

Not so good, I'm afraid. I've barely limped through a chapter—a pace that won't see me complete this book on time. So I'll be at the keyboard tomorrow for extra hours, trying to catch up.

I mentioned last week that my book has three primary characters. In the opening set of chapters we hang in third person subjective, just over the shoulder of each of these three, watching as they get recruited into the unlikely enterprise that makes up the bulk of the novel.

For Air Force Captain Scott Bearing, that recruitment comes at King Khaled Air Base in Saudi Arabia, on the brink of the Persian Gulf War. Scott has just finished the exhausting work of jockeying an F-117 into position for the coming conflict. We first meet him horsing the plane onto a blacked out runway. Afterward, he knows he should go to sleep, but he's tangled in a mixture of bone weary exhaustion and nerves about the upcoming conflict. Restless, he staggers out to the most secluded section of the massive "air city."

It was just possible to make out the a salmon-tinted glow on the horizon in the direction of Hafar Al-Batin City, but it wasn't enough to dim the vertebral sprawl of the Milky Way overhead. For just a moment, Scott saw a string of stars flicker as another Nighthawk slid in toward the base. The air was heavy with the harsh odor of jet fuel and the lingering smell of warm blacktop, the familiar smells of any air base anywhere on the planet. But when a sand-laden breeze cut in off the desert to the north, Scott could also detect the scent of unfamiliar spices and the redolent smoke of a dung fire.

Somewhere out there, not so far away, there were still men who crossed this desert on camels. Men for whom the national borders Scott was there to defend were less than a line in the sand.  He found that thought strangely encouraging.

And that probably tells us everything we need to know about Scott Bearing. A couple of paragraphs after this, Scott is going to meet an unfamiliar man in a suit and start a journey that will take him first back to America, then a lot farther than Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Kat Essex is unlocking the doors to a house she owns south of the Beisenweg in a suburb of Amsterdam. She knows she shouldn't be doing this--selling pot in Amsterdam circa 1992 is legal, growing it is a lot more of a gray area. Kat would definitely not be showing off like this... if the guy was not so cute.

"Brace yoursef," she said. Then she put her palm against the warm metal door and pushed it open.

The first thing that escaped from the house was light. There was a filmy tapestry hanging behind the inner door, but it did little to diminish the astonishing glare that came from the room beyond. It wasn't just bright compared to the hallway; it was bright compared to the autumn sun outside. It was so bright that it took Kat's eyes several seconds to adjust well enough to see the rank upon rank of fixtures that were producing the blaze.

By then the room had delivered a second blow--one composed from equal measures of oppressive heat, cloying humidity, and nauseating odor. The smell was deeply organic. A connoisseur of noxious fumes might have noted notes of manure, overtones of rotting moss, and a lacing of something sharp and spicy. Mostly, it was the smell of almost ten thousand marijuana plants growing in a very small space.

Doesn't sound all that pleasant, does it? But Kat really is proud of the place, and that's why the cute guy is actually there to semi-shanghai her for a new job.

These two are solidly hooked into the story by the end of chapter three. It's the third member of my crew that's still giving me trouble. The guy whose hobby involves pumping the blood out of dogs and replacing it with cold salt water. Somehow, I'm having a problem finding a hook that lets me get this guy on stage in the right way.

But for now I'm plunging on. Scott Bearing has just landed in Albuquerque and picked up a rental car that will take him to a religious compound on the outskirts of Durango, Colorado. That's where our trio will start to learn what's really going on. And hey, they'll finally meet each other after nearly 100 pages of text. About damn time.

Funny, I didn't realize when I was writing those chapters that the book is literally stinky. Hmmm.

Originally posted to Devil's Tower on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 03:15 PM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  First or Third? (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MsGrin, SeaTurtle, texasmom, high uintas, G2geek, sb

    First, I love the smell description.

    In your opinion, which is easier to tackle, first or third person narrative?

    •  It very much depends on the book (12+ / 0-)

      It 's easier to relay insights and emotions from 1st person, but hard to deal with an expansive scope. It doesn't mean you can't tackle a "big" novel first person, especially if you've found the perfect voice, but it does present challenges.

      •  I think it also gets into the omniscience question (4+ / 0-)

        At a certain point TOO many viewpoints can make the writing almost unintelligible.

        Not saying it can't be done, but it's easy to do badly.

        One of these days, I'm gonna learn that I'm only really good at convincing people when I'm being a wiseass.

        by detroitmechworks on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 05:45:21 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  personally (0+ / 0-)

          I find it pretty irritating and/or distracting and confusing. Even when a book is broken into separate sections, each one telling the story from a different person's perspective, I usually feel ripped off. I can't think of any book utilizing that approach that didn't bug me, even if it was good in other ways.

      •  how'bout multiple first-person? (2+ / 0-)

        Mark a character's thoughts in italics, in the context of the character speaking, and with some narration.  


        "I'm trying to get to a concert," Jane pleaded, "someone is there who can help me go to college."  Nobody gives a hoot about violin any more, I should just go work in a burger joint.  She looked at at the cop, who looked at her violin. I'm going to end up getting arrested for curfew...  "You're not going to arrest me, are you?"

        "Of course not.  Hop in the car, I know the back routes."  He opened the door for her, then got back into the driver's seat and picked up the microphone.  "Unit 54 to Dispatch, I have a lost child I'm taking to her teacher."  They're going to wonder why I'm not taking her to her parents.   Sure enough when the inevitable question came, he answered, "She said she's late for a college interview."  That's better than explaining about concerts and violins.

        "I thought you were going to arrest me or something."

        "That's what everyone says.  But sometimes we get to help people out when they're stuck.  That's what makes this job worthwhile."  Besides, I have a thing for classical music.  "Besides, I have a thing for classical music."  

        (Segue to the two of them talking about classical music on the way, and Jane getting her inspiration back.  When she jumps up on stage and plays, it's with a combination of fierce determination, anger at having gotten stuck along the way, and inspiration from an unexpected fellow music lover.  That combination proves to be especially powerful with the teacher from Juliard.)


        There's no way to mistake whose thoughts are represented in each of those paragraphs.  It seems to me that one can get away with this, so long as it doesn't become excessive, or the back-and-forth too rapid.  

        The other thing I did there was use repetition in a way that writers are warned specifically to avoid.  Seems to me that doing it that way occasionally can lighten up the mood just a bit.  

        What says you?  

        "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

        by G2geek on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 08:28:04 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  2nd Person Plural (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mark Sumner

      ...but only Italo Calvino can do it...

      "The attack on the truth by war begins long before war starts and continues long after a war ends." -Julian Assange

      by Pierro Sraffa on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 08:03:07 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  maybe (0+ / 0-)

        I've tried reading If On A Winter's Night A Traveler about half a dozen times. The 2nd person doesn't bother me nearly as much as the sudden shifts between story lines. Just when I'd be getting into one of them, he'd interrupt to say the pages were missing. I've never been able to hang on past the first half. It just pisses me off, even though I admire many other aspects of the writing.

        I like it when the writer is more or less invisible. Kurt Vonnegut could put himself into his books, and his voice was consistent from one book to the next. Felt natural, not intrusive.

      •  Very familiar to me growing up in New York, (0+ / 0-)

        as in "Geddadda heah, alla youse!"

        The hungry judges soon the sentence sign, And wretches hang, that jurymen may dine.

        by magnetics on Sun Jan 15, 2012 at 12:06:29 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  It was a dark and stormy night.... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The hungry judges soon the sentence sign, And wretches hang, that jurymen may dine.

      by magnetics on Sun Jan 15, 2012 at 12:04:43 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Just saw this diary and learned re. yr series (9+ / 0-)

    and have now read your other diaries with great interest.  Great interest.  I have a question/comment that is about fiction writing in general and would appreciate any help here.

    Okay?  This may sound nuts... but have you ever had the experience of your characters taking over the story?  Bringing in much more background and texture to their characters and stories than you originally planned?  That you don't want to lose?  I am stuck structurally because of this....  I planned a row boat to carry them and they are now demanding a ship!

    And I have been stuck for a long time trying to figure out how to make the transition, without shortchanging the other characters.

    I belong to the “US” of America, not the “ME,$,ME,$,ME,$,ME,$” of America!

    by SeaTurtle on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 04:33:35 PM PST

    •  It's usually something you hope for. (13+ / 0-)

      When those characters get up and walk, and all you have to do is follow them around with a notebook, it's usually great.

      Just beware of characters who insist on telling you their backstory back to third grade, moping over ex-girlfriends, and complaining about their unsatisfying jobs. All of that makes for interesting background and helps you define the character, but unless that's the focus of your book, only so much of what they have to tell you needs to end up on the page.

      That said, let the words flow in first draft. There's always editing.

      •  terrific. Thanks. Help Really Appreciated! (5+ / 0-)

        'first draft' is what I have to keep in mind....

        yeah.  I like that:

        When those characters get up and walk, and all you have to do is follow them around with a notebook, it's usually great.

        And also to keep the focus on the 'focus' of the book... ta...

        Actually, what I have written is a collection of short stories around a central theme.  Now these characters in the first story (in every sense of the word!) want more time on stage!  (Begrudgingly I admit that I really like what they have brought to light!)  But, in the process, they have screwed with the perfect harmony and balance and symmetry I have constructed (cough, cough..) to hold all the other stories together in the book..........  Sibling rivalry is being fought within the pages of my 'stories.'  If I give them the space they want (and maybe deserve,) what do I do with the other characters in the other stories who are more well behaved and polite?


        I know, I know... keep writing... keep writing....

        (this is fun; never imagined I would be talking about this on DK..... tx a lot.)

        I belong to the “US” of America, not the “ME,$,ME,$,ME,$,ME,$” of America!

        by SeaTurtle on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 05:14:39 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  similar experience (5+ / 0-)

          some of the characters are really bossy

        •  let it happen, then go back and edit. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          bluebird of happiness, SeaTurtle

          Per Mark, it's often the case that one can get in the groove and just transcribe as if watching reality unfold and trying to keep up taking notes.  New-Agers call it "channeling," and various other subcultures have their own words for it.  I call it "running on autopilot."  

          That's good, and some really good stuff comes out that way.

          Then you edit it down to the essentials needed for the story.

          At some point later, you could always assemble a bunch of that material into another publication all its own, and title it something along the lines of "Backstory of (character name) and (character name)."  If you have a following, they'll want to read that stuff.  Those who aren't part of your following won't be motivated to find it.  So at worst it can't hurt.  

          "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

          by G2geek on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 08:33:40 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  I've bookmarked this and am going to come (3+ / 0-)

    back to read it.  Looks great. Thank you!

    “The only thing that happens in an instant is destruction … everything else requires time.” ~ First Lady, Michelle Obama

    by ParkRanger on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 05:03:22 PM PST

  •  don't get it? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    high uintas, G2geek
    Funny, I didn't realize when I was writing those chapters that the book is literally stinky.

    Are you referring to the smell of the jet fuel and the smell of Kat's place?  Just hope you are not being negative re. your story?

    By the way, your third character makes my blood run cold. (hee, hee,)  I can't imagine what a character like that would do; he sounds very explosive; like a wild card...... unpredictable...

    I belong to the “US” of America, not the “ME,$,ME,$,ME,$,ME,$” of America!

    by SeaTurtle on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 05:27:27 PM PST

    •  smell is a powerful sense because.... (3+ / 0-)

      ..... it, along with taste, are the two "chemical senses" that go directly to parts of the brain that our culture doesn't do a good job of wiring into the verbal parts.  

      We have huge vocabularies for visual stuff and tactile/kinaesthetic stuff, less so for sound, and much less so for smell and taste.   So any good use of smell/taste words, provided they aren't arcane technical jargon as might be used by chefs, wine reviewers, and so on, has potential to immediately make a scene become more vivid.  

      "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

      by G2geek on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 08:39:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Cool... actually got a few pages done last night! (5+ / 0-)

    Involving MRE's and how they were the tastiest food a certain soldier had had in years.

    Yes, It is possible...  provided the guy was on the street before he enlisted...

    One of these days, I'm gonna learn that I'm only really good at convincing people when I'm being a wiseass.

    by detroitmechworks on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 05:43:36 PM PST

    •  heh, convergent memes. (0+ / 0-)

      Years ago in something I was writing, there was a brief item about a college student who had dropped out for a year due to a financial crisis, and one day snuck back into the cafeteria with friends, and remarked that the food he'd once complained about was a hell of a lot better than he'd remembered, now that he was usually only eating two meals a day.

      The MRE angle is very interesting.  That could be a contagious meme in these times.

      "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

      by G2geek on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 08:36:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  just out of curiosity... (6+ / 0-)

    Why would anyone pump the blood out a dog and replace it with salt water? That does not sound like the sort of career one dreams about while sitting in an 8th grade classroom. When I grow up I want to pump blood out of dead dogs. But the book sounds interesting.


    I'm glad you're here because it's helping me find an anchor to my week, keeping me going. I spent hours this week working on my book, night after night, hating it, despising loathing and detesting this uncooperative annoying pile of crap. The word count hasn't changed, they are just different words. I'm having texture problems.

    For one thing, I can't figure out why it is so easy for me to spew my emotions onto a page in a journal - endlessly - for thirty years - and also easy to crank out a 2000 word essay in about three hours - but when I try to write fiction, translating images into words really screws me up. I can't grasp the narrative flow I can get into so easily elsewhere. Could be a "voice" thing or could just be that writing is easy, imagining is hard. But some days a scene will rise up from a strange place like a cloud, with its own agenda. Other times all I get is dialogue.

    Hence, the question of who is talking in the story is an important one. Unfortunately, I can't answer it. First I tried writing in first person. Then I decided I needed an omniscient narrator because the behind-the-scenes stuff with other characters needed to be known. Next I found myself revealing the inner lives of too many people, and decided to take some of that stuff out. I'm struggling with what adds to the story, what takes away from it, what's neutral, what's truly essential. At some point I thought - what if the dead person in the story was the narrator, but I rejected the idea because 1.) she's a bitch, and 2.) it's been done. It's a very bleak story. I don't know who would tell it. Probably a bitter, angry person who drinks way too much caffeine. Not that I know anyone like that.

    Le sigh.

    •  You are having my trouble (3+ / 0-)

      I can't stop editing.  From what I've been told by people who know what they are doing the first draft should be uncritical.  After that come the scissors.  But the idea is that what is unnecessary will show itself even if it is something you thought was going to be central.

      Thanks for the diary.  It's funny.  For the past few months I've been going through my bookshelves and discarding many.  But I've also been rereading some of my favorite writers and really analyzing the voice in their books.  One of my favorite warm and cozies is Jane Langton, who is like a narrator in a dream - there are often several points of view including the villain's, but her tongue is firmly in her cheek as she brings her characters into place.  (Do other people's dreams have narrators?)

      Old people are like old houses - lots of character, but the plumbing leaks.

      by ramara on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 07:54:40 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Your comment reminded me of the use for (3+ / 0-)

      a coach in athletics. The coach helps work through the athlete's unknown unknowns.

      -- We are just regular people informed on issues

      by mike101 on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 07:56:07 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  that's what kills me (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mike101, lotlizard

        I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm incredibly bad at judging my own work. If I try to get fancy, it usually falls flat. I end up having to stuff it away in a drawer for six months in order to see clearly what I actually wrote. I get way way way way way way too close to it.

        This is a good argument for not editing during the writing process.

        And I wish I had a coach. I'm ADHD, and if I don't have an external trigger, I won't do anything, at all, ever. It is the opposite of being a "self-starter." Incredibly frustrating.

        •  It sounds like you have some idea. (2+ / 0-)

          The writing process is called the writing process for a reason...write. Get your story out. Just write it. You'll come back later and put the trim on.
          Get your story out, get it out now.

          -- We are just regular people informed on issues

          by mike101 on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 09:55:17 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  You might find this site helpful (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          bluebird of happiness

          It has monthly writing contests, venues for feedback and plenty of room to write your next novel.

          My last contest entry was "Gothzilla" in the high school contest. I added a bit since to see if it's a story I want to get into. My writing is probably typical of what you'll find there. Seeing the flaws in other people's writing makes it easier to see a lot of the flaws in mine.

          Elmore Leonard had some helpful hints for aspiring writers.

          •  this is awesome (0+ / 0-)

            Thanks. I like the Elmore Leonard article. I probably talk about the weather too much, and yes for the sake of atmosphere, but since the story takes place after the polar ice caps have melted, it's kind of important in terms of describing the world the characters live in. Worth being careful about, though.

            I dunno about contests, unless they motivate me to get cranking.

            Feedback scares me, because it's so easy to get discouraged. And in my limited experience with writer's groups, they tend to be populated by horrible writers who think they know everything and are mean about it.

    •  Who said... (4+ / 0-)

      the dogs were dead? That's actually kind of the trick here -- putting the blood back. Later. Much later.

      In any case, yeah edititis is a far nastier disease than vanilla writer's block. As many times as you tell yourself "I can always come back," it's hard to not give just one more pass.

    •  don't have any answers for you Bluebird, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bluebird of happiness

      but you sure as hell can write a great description of your frustration!

      Good Luck!

      I belong to the “US” of America, not the “ME,$,ME,$,ME,$,ME,$” of America!

      by SeaTurtle on Sun Jan 15, 2012 at 07:40:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Come strong. (0+ / 0-)

    You have opinions, you have attitudes.  JUST SAY THEM.  This wimpy shit like the style of this diary ain't gonna cut it; it's worse than uninteresting.

    You seem like a really intelligent person.  Come strong!

  •  Poesiden Adventure? (0+ / 0-)

    The remake is in the works on CNN.

    I haven't flipped on my television-set since yesterday, but am I right?

    Effective activism requires Activists -- Effecting radical change demands Radicals

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 07:12:54 PM PST

  •  i have an opus (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    high uintas

    i'll write someday

    -8.25, -7.13 "Well, on second thought, let's not go to Camelot -- it is a silly place." "Right"

    by leathersmith on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 07:28:24 PM PST

  •  thanks, interesting and helpful (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    high uintas, Melanie in IA
  •  Has anyone mixed 1st & 3rd person? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    high uintas, Angie in WA State

    I couldn't imagine writing that way when you need more than one point of view. Say you need to show the POV of three main characters. That means all of them have to be written in third person.

    Has any author ever written one of the characters in 1st first, then switched to 3rd person for the rest? I recall that Faulkner in As I Lay Dying had all the characters in 1st person, which was jarring at first.

    •  Yup (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Angie in WA State, bluicebank

      Often in alternating chapters where one person is carried first person, and another in third. I know there are some successful examples... Which currently elude me.

      •  I am currently devouring an English author's books (0+ / 0-)

        (Elizabeth Chadwick,) because I adore the way she uses language.... I frequently reread her descriptions and dialogues to savor her mastery.  (Pretty predictable in plot, but interesting enough.  And besides I am studying the medieval period about which she writes.)

        Anyway, she alternates voice per chapter and it doesn't bother me one bit and I really, really like the way she does it; to me it really adds to the story.  I too have tripped and more than stumbled over 'voice' problems, so I appreciate the issue.  

        She uses another device which I like a lot:  If it is relevant, she will place a date and place at the beginning of a chapter.  In that way, it is a lot easier to follow her and I feel included in the passage of time and place.... e.g. Hastings, 1066 or Normandy, Summer, 1012, etc.

        I belong to the “US” of America, not the “ME,$,ME,$,ME,$,ME,$” of America!

        by SeaTurtle on Sun Jan 15, 2012 at 07:51:31 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  The Help. Three characters telling the story. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      One in each chapter, until the end and that was done in omniscient because they were all at the same party.  You knew it because there was a vertical line down the side of every page in that chapter.

      . . . from Julie, Julia. "Oh, well. Boo-hoo. Now what?"

      by 88kathy on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 09:29:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  some do (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bluicebank, cskendrick

      I find it disruptive. I think to make it work, you'd have to have a good reason why it's that way - sometimes it feels like people do it as a kind of gimmick, because they think it's arty....

      Who can do it? Well, Margaret Atwood did it in Oryx and Crake, sort of. But I think it was all third person, been a while since I read it - jumping back and forth between two groups of people - and then in the next book taking on a whole different group of people.

      •  I'm trying to juggle it (2+ / 0-)

        Specifically, third-person limited (one main and two secondary threads), rotating between combinations of about ten primary characters (really, three with sidebars) and a single first-person limited for the protagonist's flashbacks.

        The story is about a fugitive who is on a journey of atonement. At the outset, she forgets why she is on the journey in the first place at the outset (which makes her a much more sympathetic character) but gradually she regains (an appalled) awareness of herself and has the tough choice of accepting that identity and returning home to own her decisions.. or starting with a fresher, more ethical perspective but staying on the run forever.

        The challenge for me has been in developing a redemption process that is both quick in story time and captures that we are are coming in at the tail end of a long long coming-around.

        Just for context and flavor: This story takes place in a future where memory and personality manipulation technology is barely less ancient that smart phones and a lot of safeguards against having one's mind hacked are built into the culture. One of them is no one can make you "accept" a memory backup or update.

        A bigger question bandied about by the story is: Who is the criminal - the mind that conceives the act, the body that completes it, or some of both? Where is the accountability? Are copies accountable, edited and redacted ones as well? What does punishment - say, capital punishment - mean in a world where people have massively redundant versions of themselves socked away?

        Basically think "The Quantum Thief" by Hannu Rajaniemi, Charles Stross's "Accelerando" or Dan Simmons ' "Ilium", but on a path where Humanity taken not one but two major paths toward symbiosis with its younger, super-brilliant AI siblings - two rival clades (one Terran, one Martian) that have spread their co-dependent feud out into the stars, to the dismay of the rest of the cosmos.

        It's also a milieu where faster-than-light travel is an illusion: It's actually passing from one universe to another, essentially identical one. This is one answer to causality violation. The other is... not all of you comes with you. Complex quantum states of any kind are rolled back in time according to a formula that has many twists but the raw form is, the faster, farther and more of "you" (in terms of quantum complexity) that is being shipped, the less of "you" gets there.

        This poses certain operational challenges for people on the run.

        Tipping the cards: The protagonist is a war criminal by any measure of the term (she destroyed a planet with six hundred million people on it and destroyed their backups so they're really, really dead). For some reason, people back home got cross about that. Thus, she has been on the run for a thousand years, each flight into the dark setting her a little farther into her own past.. she can recover memories but it takes time in one place to come to a decision to "accept" her memories. This is not a technical rather an emotional bottleneck. And it gets worse and worse - imagine if you were fifteen years old and told by your now-eerie half-AI sisters that you were really twenty five hundred. Oh, and a monster. And, "Could you please just click your ruby slippers three times and wish yourself back already? We're on a schedule, here."

        And, no, that line is not in the actual dialogue. :)

  •  PoV is a wonderful tool (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    high uintas, old wobbly, deep, SeaTurtle

    in the hands of a thoughtful writer.

    The first person PoV in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn yields buckets of ironic meaning that a preachy omniscient narrator would never deliver.

    Just for one example.

    First person seems easy, but it's limiting, unless you've got nerve and verve and a sense of irony.

    Playing with PoV is fun and teaches you the real secrets of your narrative. What seems like one thing to one character is another thing entirely to another. If you can gracefully expose several points of view in a novel, conflict naturally intensifies, without characters having big overt confrontations, or a narrator stepping in to explain characters' psychology to the reader.

    I like the Aubrey/Maturin novels of Patrick O'Brian for their fluidity of PoV. There's an observer narrator who manages the overall movement of the narrative and sets the physical scenes, but main characters' heads are slid into -- subtle changes in language use [voice] signal the shifts as do chapter and scene breaks. It's a method I currently seek to emulate.

    When I grow up I'd like to find a character like Huck and let him show me how to tell his story, first person.

    "I've had all I can stands, and I can't stands no more." - Popeye the Sailor Man

    by congenitalefty on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 07:55:00 PM PST

  •  Tree of Smoke (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Angie in WA State, 88kathy

    ..was the best novel I consumed this month.

    Authors have a way with words. Alas, I just snark successfully on occasion.   I can recognize good writing when I see it though.


    Effective activism requires Activists -- Effecting radical change demands Radicals

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 08:01:22 PM PST

  •  I went back (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Angie in WA State

    and read the story of Sara Jane.  It's a good story, and it could happen that way except for one detail, and I'm stuck on that detail.  If Itzhak Perlman stand up, he is holding on to canes and cannot applaud.  If he applauds, he is sitting.  As a violinist I can picture the rest of the story, but not that.

    Which I'm sure misses the point.  But then, when I saw the film One Potato, Two Potato many years ago, in spite of crying my eyes out, I was (still am) troubled that the child did not get older after what must have been at least 2 years.

    Maybe that's why writing fiction is so hard for me.

    Old people are like old houses - lots of character, but the plumbing leaks.

    by ramara on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 08:16:41 PM PST

  •  "who said the dogs were dead" (0+ / 0-)

    OK, so I'm officially chomping at the bit to read this thing.


    (quietly) woof


    * * *
    I like paying taxes...with them, I buy Civilization
    * * *
    "A Better World is Possible" - #Occupy

    by Angie in WA State on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 08:59:58 PM PST

  •  Should I self publish? (0+ / 0-)

    I just finished my second novel.  I have written and published seven non-fiction books, and am on the verge of a contract for an eighth.

    Meanwhile, I have tried to go the agent route for my novels and can't get any love, so I'm feeling a little discouraged about it.

    So I see only tatters of clearness through a pervading obscurity - Annie Dillard -6.88, -5.33

    by illinifan17 on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 09:10:35 PM PST

  •  successful first-person narratives (0+ / 0-)

    Two I thought of immediately were Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow, in which it is clear that the narrator is not the author, and Alice Hoffman's first novel Property Of. Kurt Vonnegut did that a lot, but it was as if he personally entered his own books - and somehow got away with it.

    But there are also third-person narrations that feel like first person because they focus so strongly on the main character and are so juicy, as in Michael Chabon's novel The Yiddish Policemen's Union. One of the few writers who can use metaphor relentlessly and make it work. (If I do that, it starts to sound like comedy.)

    One issue not covered: In POV, does it always have to be past-tense or is present tense OK?

  •  I've almost finished reading (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley (p. 198 of 260, but who's counting?). Because I've been reading it after getting in bed at night, and it's so dry, I've had to read some pages over and over for a week as they've put me to sleep and I wake up in the morning not remembering a thing I'd read. But, I've just finished a good section on multiple third with some fascinating examples from C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. What a master of POV he was.

    I've fallen behind in writing this week because I spent four days on the phone with Dell tech services trying to get a System Check virus off my husband's computer. They managed to get the virus off the first day and the next three were wasted as they tried unsuccessfully to install a new virus program, System Mechanic, which they high-pressured me into buying and which I saw today for half the price at Target. Anyway, the whole thing ended up costing about $300 (including a different overpriced virus checker) because Dell's "limited" warranty does not cover  software (including Windows) and virus removal.

    Good thing my husband does lots of nice things for me or he'd owe me big time.

    Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction. -- Blaise Pascal

    by RJDixon74135 on Sat Jan 14, 2012 at 09:49:40 PM PST

  •  A book I will read (0+ / 0-)

    This isn't the first time that Mark/Devilstower has recommended True Grit, but I will read it this time. The John Wayne version of the movie is, for reasons I can't really explain, one of my favorites, and Mark is just about my favorite contributor to this magazine, and so, I'm just going to have to read it.  Yes, I like the Kim Darby story and the happy ending, which probably isn't in the book, but I don't care.  I'll take his word and go read it.  Right after I get done with this Delillo on my beside.  

  •  Wow. I'm really not a writer, but this series can (3+ / 0-)

    help to make me a better reader--I think.

    Sure, sometimes I bang out a few words; mostly for my own amusement, of course. I don't have any particular "talent," but I've always had the mindset of craftsmanship. At least I enjoy the process of improving where possible.

    Maybe some day I will surprise myself, using some of the tools and techniques that are being explored here. I know I will be better able to examine the reasons other writers have made the choices they have and to understand why and how they have done so.

    This kind of reminds me of Penn and Teller showing their audience how one of their illusions works and then doing their own brand of "magic" despite everyone understanding how the trick works. It really makes it more impressive, in a way.

    I don't look forward to these diaries so much as get a little jolt each time I discover another one. Consistently a treat.

    It matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever. Henry David Thoreau, in Civil Disobedience

    by Had Enough Right Wing BS on Sun Jan 15, 2012 at 06:25:49 AM PST

  •  Stinky? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bluebird of happiness

    The olfactory sense in largely neglected in most novels and other works I've read, aside from crime novels with their metallic scent of blood, or the putrescence of rotting flesh. Oh, and Jitterbug Perfume. And Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. And Proust, of course.

    Enough with the counter-examples, before I change my mind.

    I think it's because we have an insufficient vocabulary for this ancient, highly personal and idiosyncratic sense.  And smell is different from other senses, in that a single note may elicit a predictable response (e.g. putrescine), unlike a single note, or wavelength, or touch.

    Dear Ayn Rand fans: Please, would each of you just go all John Galt, immediately? Thank you.

    by CitizenJoe on Sun Jan 15, 2012 at 06:40:01 AM PST

  •  Thanks for this (0+ / 0-)

    It is exactly what I have been thinking about as I am reading three books to review for the Monday Night Mystery Series.  

    It will also help me with my novel, Death of a Marionette, which has 50 pages so far.  Rather than voice or point of view, I am struggling with "tone," trying to balance the serious stuff of the book with humor.  I am aware that the humor must arise out of conflict/situations which should produce irony, but might also produce amusement, even laughter.  I think I need to just write it and revise with an eye to excising gratuitous stuff that appears to be an attempt at cleverness.

    Really interesting diary.  First time to read your posts, but I will be back for more.  

    Just waitin' around for the new Amy Winehouse album

    by jarbyus on Sun Jan 15, 2012 at 09:02:12 AM PST

  •  OK, I didn't know if I was up to this... (0+ / 0-)

    but I've written two pages (in one day), plus a bunch of notes on character detail.  Not sure if this is a novel or short story, but I'm doing it.  Thanks Mark.

    The thing is, you see what you want to see, and you hear what you want to hear. Dig? - The Rock Man

    by BalanceSeeker on Sun Jan 15, 2012 at 07:26:56 PM PST

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