Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What's your Point of View (POV)

For the first of my discussions on “da rulz,” I decided to tackle point of view (POV). I think most, if not all the people following this blog have a good idea of what POV is, but in my reading up on the subject I found some new information that expanded my own understanding. So I hope this will be informative for both novice and seasoned writers.

POV is a huge topic. In my writing library I have several books that devote at least one chapter to it, if not more. I have one book that focuses solely on POV. (At the end of this post I’ll give a list of these books and some links if you want to purchase them.) It’s also the one writing technique that most fascinates me, because so much can be conveyed in a story through effective use of point of view.

Because there is so much that can be said, I’ll break the discussion of POV into several posts. At the end of each one I’ll have a little exercise y’all can do. Remember, everyone who posts comments to this blog will be entered into a drawing at the end of the month!

The basic definition of point of view is, “Who is telling the story?” Whose head are we in as we move through the action of the story. In school we all learned that there are several different types of point of view: first person, second person, third person, and omniscient. First person narration uses the pronoun, “I,” second person uses “you,” and third person uses “he/she.” Omniscient POV is an authorial voice, as if the narrator isn’t actually in the story but is recording the events from a distance, like a reporter. Knowing this much, we could identify the method of POV any author uses to tell a story.

Of course, writing effective POV is much more than deciding which pronoun to use or engaging in a simple recording of the events. POV is a powerful storytelling tool, with each form having benefits and pitfalls that must be carefully considered by the author. Alicia Rasley, in her book, The Power of Point of View, wrote that POV is “the vehicle your reader uses to travel through the story … ‘driven’ by one of the characters.” This is more than a clever description of the technique. Think about how you drive a car, compared to how your mother drives a car, compared to how a professional stunt driver might drive a car. Every ride is different.

Likewise, the way your POV character tells the events of a story will be different from every other character would tell the same events. Each character has his/her own voice, perspectives, opinions, experiences, and emotional reactions to what’s happening to or around them. It’s this voice we must tap into, these perspectives and opinions we must explore, these experiences and emotions we must use to propel the story forward. And in so doing, we give the reader a ride through the character’s world. We allow the reader to experience the story vicariously through the character’s mind and senses. Through the use of POV, our stories are more than a straightforward conveying of things that happen.

It is my opinion that POV is the most important technique a writer should master, because it is through POV that our writing moves from a sequence of grammatically correct sentences to an adventure we invite the reader to partake in. 

In my next posts I’ll examine each of the three major types of POV (second person is almost never used for fiction), and explore the benefits and pitfalls of each. In the meantime, I have a couple of questions for you. 

What form of point of view have you chosen for your current project, and why did you choose it?

Books I will be using for this topic:

Alicia Rasley, The Power of Point of View: make your story come to life, Writer’s Digest Books, 2008

Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages: a Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, Simon and Schuster, 1st edition, 2000

Sol Stein, Stein on Writing, St. Martin’s Press, 1995

Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel, Writer’s Digest Books, 2001

Orson Scott Card, Characters & Viewpoint, Writer’s Digest Books, 1st edition, 1988

Nancy Kress, Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint, Writer’s Digest Books, 2005

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Uh oh, it's "Da Rulz!"

This year I entered three contests for unpublished writers hosted by different chapters of the Romance Writers of America. My novels are not romance, but each contest allowed for other genres, and the young adult entries did not have show romance elements. I had varying success. Won first place in one, finaled in another (winners not yet announced), and did not final in the third. All for the same story.

Any contest coordinator will tell you that the scores are based on the subjective opinions of the judges, and I readily accept that. I was eager, though, to see what the judges in that third contest had to say. It turned out they all said pretty much the same thing (which I won’t go into here, because my intent is not to dispute their opinions). But it all came down to a particular “rule” in writing that they said I needed to work on.

Their comments got me thinking about all these “rules” that we latch onto in the hopes of becoming better writers and getting published. I recall at a writers conference a couple years ago I sat in a cabin with a group of hopeful writers under the mentorship of a well known, multi-published, award-winning author. We talked about the “rules,” and I commented on a feeling had been rolling about in my mind.

“I think we latch onto these rules because we think, ‘if I just do this right, or that, then I’ll get published.’ But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about understanding the reasons for the rules and using them as guidelines for better writing.”

Our mentor nodded, smiling.

Writing great fiction is about so much more than adhering to a set of rules. The rules (or guidelines, if you like) are important, but they won’t sell our books. Most readers don’t know a thing about Deep POV or Goal/Motivation/Conflict. They probably aren’t concerned about showing narration versus telling narration. And they might not recognize a weak or passive verb if it limped off the page and shook their hands. These “rules” we hold to so desperately do not promise great fiction.

But they are important.

Because even if a reader doesn’t understand all the nuances of point of view, she may feel jerked around and unsettled if the author does a lot of head-hopping. And a character without a goal is likely to be one we’re not too concerned about, and so won’t follow through his humdrum existence for two or three hundred pages. And most readers will smile, get a catch in their breath, or reread just for the pure pleasure of it, when they come across a sentence that is exquisitely worded.

So, over the next several weeks, I’d like to dissect some of these rules, examine why they exist, why they’re important, and, despite all that, how often they’re broken in published books that readers still love. And how breaking the rule can work.

December Giveaway

Funny, after talking about knowing and breaking the rules, I’m going to give away a book about… rules! This month’s book is Description and Setting by Ron Rozelle, part of Writer’s Digest’s Write Great Fiction series. I’ll also include a little Starbucks gift package… because it’s Christmas. Leave a comment, and your name will be entered into a drawing at the end of the month.

Have a blessed Christmas, y’all!


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Is it really December already?

Thanks to everyone who commented and signed up to follow this blog!

I prayed before drawing a name out of a big shopping bag... let the book go to someone who can really use it or who can pass it on to someone who can really use it. And the name I pulled out was...

Joshua! One of our teen writers!

So God answered that prayer in a sweet way.

I'll have another gift to give away by the end of this month, drawing from all the folks who leave a comment in December. I'll announce what the gift is... after I've gone shopping. LOL

Speaking of shopping... Did y'all get out for "Black Friday?" I didn't. It's not that I don't mind getting something on sale. Who does? It wasn't even the idea of fighting traffic in the parking lots and standing in long lines to check out. It's that commercialization of Christmas thing. I don't think there's anything wrong with giving gifts to our loved ones, but we get in such a frenzy this time of year and forget... we're supposed to be still... and know that He is God.

How much we talk about this! How many "spam" e-mail messages are sent out that encourage people to seek God, to reflect on His goodness and the grace He freely gives us. How many promises do we make to ourselves and to God. Stuff like, "This year, I'm going to read the whole Bible. Sit down every day and do it."

As writers, we strive to say something worthwhile about God in our stories. Some people might argue that the Bible itself is enough. It should be, I suppose. But God is wiser than we are and He knows us. Jesus spoke in parables because the stories engaged His listeners minds. They related to the people in the stories. And God has called us, as writers, to do the same. We've been given an awesome privilege and responsibility to convey to our teens something about God that is also Biblically sound, in a way that engages them. Not to replace the Bible, but to stand behind it.

So, I've got some questions for y'all. What are you trying to say about God in your WIP (work-in-progress)? What do you want teens to know about Him through your writing?


Friday, November 19, 2010

Let's git dis pah-ty stah-ted!

We've talked about it, had a vision for it... didn't know where to go from there. I guess the easiest thing is to start with what we already have and let it grow.  I'm a terrible blogger on my own. Just don't know that I've got much to say that anyone would really be interested in reading. But if this blog has a goal and a plan, then I can go with it. So, I'm "officially" opening this blog up to all writers or anyone interested in young adult fiction. You write for teens, you read teen books, you're involved in mentoring teens or you're a teen pastor... you're welcome here! But we will focus on writing-related topics. Not just techniques, but also brief online critiques (like, send us your novel pitches!), fun writing exercises, guest bloggers and interviews (agents, editors, authors, ministers), occasional giveaways, topical discussions, publishing news, and whatever else seems interesting and fun.

I'm going to start us off with a giveaway!

Listen up, y'all! You can win somethin'!

We need more followers! So for the rest of this month (November, 2010) all new followers will be entered into a drawing to win a copy of From the Inside Out: Discover... Create... and Publish the Novel in You, an excellent workbook by Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck. Also, anyone who leaves a comment will be entered.

So tell your friends, send out the link, and let's get this party started!