The Difficulty of Writing From Multiple POVs

This one is a doozy for me, especially since my novel has five different point of views (POVs) that I am telling the story from. There have been many, many times where I question my decision as to whether I really need to be inside five different heads. Can’t I just manage with my main character? Because it sure would be a lot easier and my novel would be done long by now. But I keep coming back to the answer of… yes.

My story is such that it’s bigger than the main character. It’s more than just about the people. It’s about the world they live in and the choices each person makes and how those choices affect the bigger picture. And because of that, the reader really needs to get a front row seat with each of these five major players.

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Putting More Emotion Into Your Writing

Recently, a friend of mine emailed a question about how to let the reader in on what another character other than the main character is feeling. I promptly answered, and then realized it would also make a great topic for a blog post. I haven’t touched on emotional writing for awhile, so here we go. Let’s dive into how to become an emotional writer.

Ever read or written a sentence like this…..

“You can’t be serious? How could you do that? Roger replied angrily.

OR

“Wow. Would you look at that?” Madison said. I could tell she was surprised.

On the surface there’s nothing really wrong with these sentences. But from a creative writing standpoint, well… they aren’t that spectacular either. Mostly, because these sentences are telling the reader what’s going on instead of showing it. The reader doesn’t want to be told how the characters are feeling, they want to feel it for themselves. One of the best way to accomplish this is to give emotional cues.

What’s an emotional cue?

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Writing Filters to Use: The Big Picture Filters Part 1

fountain_penOkay, so the initial first draft of your short story or novel is completed. Congratulations! Throw a big party. Pat yourself on the back. That was a lot of hard work. Then things calm down, and you decide to sit down to work on draft number two. You take a gander at your masterpiece to discover it isn’t as glamorous as you first thought. Sure, you knew it needed work, but not that much! Where to begin? What to do? The text before you becomes blurred. It gets hard to breath, and you wonder if maybe this might be what insanity feel like. But before you commit yourself to an insane asylum, there’s hope, and it’s as simple as just a little focus.

That’s where writing filters come in. It’s the process of keeping a few things (usually 2 to 4) in mind while going through subsequent drafts of a story. These “filters” help narrow things down so you can focus on what needs to be done instead of having a panic attack. Sure, there might still be a few panic attacks here and there, but at least you can move through the muck of your jumbled mess. There is a light at the end of the tunnel somewhere, and using writing filters can help distract you until that light can be glimpsed.

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Character/Scene Tracking With Scrivener Tags

This is a great article on character arc and how to track characters using the novel management software Scrivener (which I use and love, love, love).

John Castle

One of the fundamental applications of tagging in Scrivener is one that I haven’t touched on yet, but it’s extremely powerful.

Most writers know the power and utility of character arcs. Readers want to see not so much what happens to our protagonist and stakes characters but what they do about it — but the real meat of the story, what really delivers on the premise and what readers will either love or hate about your story when all is said and done, is how these characters are changed by what has happened to them and what they’ve done about it.

Example: Steve Rogers isn’t Captain America at the beginning of Captain America: The First Avenger. He isn’t even Captain America after Dr. Erskine whammies him with the super-soldier serum. Even after he’s met his original goal of being deployed and is hawking war bonds on stage in his costume…

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Using Body Language to Tell Your Story

I recently took an online class through my friend and fellow writer Michael Knost on body language, and wanted to share some of the highlights that I found helpful. This was a topic I knew some about from other writing sources, but his class really brought everything into prospective for me.

Body language is essential in creating believable characters. It’s the subtle things like a smile in just the right place of a conversation, or a small touch of the hand that can change the whole way a reader perceives a character. When you show a character through their body language, you are allowing the reader to size up the character without spoon feeding information that might push the reader from the story. The reader wants to feel intelligent as he or she comes to their own conclusions. It’s the writer’s job (you) to be invisible enough to help lay out the signs or clues that get the reader to where you want them to go.

Check out some of these statistics…

55% of communication consists of body language
38% is expressed through voice
7% is communicated through words

Yeah, I was kind of shocked by the only 7% is communicated through words. Kind of made me feel small and unimportant with all my writing, which then made me realize that it’s all in how you express those words. That’s the key ingredient to really great writing. So my next thought was… how do my own characters express themselves?

There are 4 major ways for a character to use body language to express themselves…

  • Facial Expressions
  • Gestures
  • Body Posture
  • Space

What are the eyes of your character saying? Is your character fidgeting from boredom or restlessness? Is your character sitting forward to soak up everything another character is telling them? Or is your character in someone’s face for something that made them angry?

Also consider this… does your character’s actions match their words? Readers will believe body language and tone over what someone says. If a character says they’re open to a new idea, but crosses their arms or turns their body away, what the reader really sees is a character who is closed and rejecting the message, but not willing to admit the truth. This sort of “mixed signal” can be used to add to the character, or story. It can also take away from the character and story, if not done correctly.

When using body language it usually helps to build it up to a series of actions, because some body languages (like smiles, fidgeting, or no eye contact) can mean several different things. Writers should give about 5 clues within a scene to show context of an emotion (through body language) without coming out and saying it. This will help lead the reader to make his own conclusion.

Body language is your character. Make sure that that all body language is important, if it isn’t, cut it out. Also get rid of overly used gestures, or body language like… she sighed or he winked. Find new or better ways for your character to express themselves. Remember that too much of a good thing can tip your hand to make the writer visible to the reader. Great writers disappear as their story comes alive.

Description Part 2: 6 Pitfalls of Description

It has already been determined some of the positive elements of good description (see Description Part 1: 3 Elements of Good Description), but there are some pitfalls of description to be aware of as well. Here are six to keep in mind.

  1. Never use description that will serve the character, instead use description that will serve the story. That means don’t throw in description for the sake of just having it. If the description doesn’t enhance or move the story forward then cut it out. It will only serve to be a distraction.
  2. Description slows down a scene, so avoid describing a story element in the midst of an action scene unless you want a pause in the momentum. An alternative if you want description in an action scene would be to vary the sentence structure to include the details, but ultimately you should strive for shorter sentences in an action scene.
  3. Stay away from the clichés. One of the biggest clichés in description is for the author to put a character in front of a mirror and describe what he or she sees in the mirror.
  4. Be specific in your description, but not too much. Do not let the details limit the reader’s imagination. Be vague enough to let the reader paint a picture for themselves.
  5. Avoid purple prose, or overly flowery descriptive language. This sort of writing might be deemed acceptable for some types of works, or in older writings, but readers these days are looking for direct and concise writing.
  6. Unless a character’s clothing has a direct link to the characteristics or the story, it should be avoided, because it is nothing more than a distraction.

Example: The man sat across from me in the crowded diner. It was hard to ignore the gut wrenching stench coming off of him and the splattered stains on his tattered clothes. It was obvious to any as if he had a neon sign around his neck reading, “I’m homeless.”

This example shows a vague picture what the man is wearing, but it is used to describe his situation more than anything. The reader doesn’t need to know if he was wearing blue jeans or red T-shirt. It is enough to know that he has a stench about him, he has stains on his clothes, and the clothes are in tatters. The reader will use his/her imagination to fill in the blanks.

Check out the last part of this series…
Description Part 3: The Secret to Good Description

Description Part 1: 3 Elements of Good Description

Description allows the reader to visualize the people, places, settings, and objects in your story. Description is important because good, effective description paints a vivid picture that immerses the reader into your story, which allows for a deeper experience for the reader. A well written description moves the story forward and adds to characterization. There are three main elements of good description.

  1. Specific well written detail– Be specific about what you want to say. Less is more, so find the right word or words to show detail. Stay away from ambiguous descriptions like suddenly, look, like, good. These words aren’t giving you the biggest bang for your buck. (For more about words to avoid check out Grammar Guru: Words to Avoid.) Also go a little deeper and use sensory detail. The use of sensory detail detail is a key element in good description. Try to use all when writing; sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.

Note: Do not rely too heavily on sight itself, instead try to use some of the other four for variety and depth.

  1. Revelation of the characters inner life– A story will be more balanced and descriptive of the characters if their inner life or struggle is depicted. Go inside your character’s “head” and show the reader what’s going on, what thoughts are going on.

Note: When choosing whose point of view to write in, remember that describing something from a certain character’s point of view can change the whole feel of a story. Figure out who will make the story more lively and entertaining to read.

  1. Motivation, the impulse that drives the character– Motivation is essential to convincing the reader that they should care about your character. It is when you can reach out to the reader and show them what lies beneath.

Want to be more descriptive? Look around you at the people, places, and things in a new way. Notice not just the obvious details, but the less obvious, subconscious details. Keep a notebook of the things that stand out and you’ll be amazed at how your new look at the world will reshape the way you write.

Check out the next 2 parts of this series…

Description Part 2: 6 Pitfalls of Description
Description Part 3: The Secret to Good Description