Thursday, March 10, 2016

Through the character's eyes

Unless you use your author voice as a narrator in your story, general wisdom says the narrative should be written in the voice and through the eyes of the viewpoint character. The reasoning behind this is first to avoid confusion for the reader. The character doing the thinking should always be clear. Second, using a single POV per scene should make the reader’s experience stronger and help generate stronger feelings for the character. 
Point of view gives us insight into the character. Narrative should show us the world through the character’s eyes and experience. Avoid showing things that character wouldn’t know or notice. A child wouldn’t walk into a living room and describe the red silk upholstery on the Louis XIV settee. A man who’s lived his life at sea is unlikely to rattle off the names of the plants in someone’s garden, and if he does, the reader needs an explanation: Sam, still getting used to being on land again, paused to study the lush garden. He recognized azaleas and bluebells, favorites in his mother’s yard, but most were nameless. Colors rose and fell, red to pink to white and back again, much as the swells of the sea. Okay, not great writing, but it shows how Sam sees the garden and how it relates to his experience.
But if I wanted to show Sam being familiar with the plants and landscape features, I’d give him some background to explain it. Maybe he kept a worn book on gardening in his cabin on the ship and dreamed of solid ground and an English cottage garden. Or his mother owned a nursery and he remembered helping her plant similar flowers.
There are many ways to do it; just keep in mind who the beholder is and how the scene will look through the character’s eyes. What will be important or stand out? Tie the scene to the character.
Can you think of any examples where the narrative didn’t fit the character describing it? Do you do it? I have to go back and check, and often I have to make changes. I find I was the beholder, not the character.

As Nathaniel Hawthorne said, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

POV and Dialogue with Billy and Redge

Here's something I was thinking about that's often a problem--scenes with no clear point of view or image of what's happening.
Consider the following conversations between Billy and Redge. Which is easier to picture or gives you a visual image of the two brothers and what they’re feeling?
“I got to tell you something, Billy,” said Redge.
“I killed Mooney,” he said with a nod.
“You did?” Billy asked with a look of awe. (This implies it's Redge's POV)
“Yep,” Redge said.
 Well, you know who’s speaking, but what are they feeling? What’s the mood of the scene? Liven it up and give a visual image by adding some beats, or actions.
Redge searched the bar for any listeners. He spat a plug of tobacco, then lowered his voice and pulled his brother close. “I got to tell you something, Billy.” (Redge’s POV and sets the scene in a location)
“What?” Billy, catching a whiff of Redge’s breath, jerked away. (Shift to Billy’s POV) OR
“What?” Billy wrinkled his nose and blinked, turning his head away. (Still in Redge’s POV because this is what Redge sees)
“I killed Mooney.” He puffed up his chest and stood straighter. (Shows that he’s proud of what he did)
“You did?” Billy’s eyes bulged.  

“Yep.” Grinning, Redge rocked on his heels and pulled a gun from his pocket.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Haunting Refrain,
This is an excerpt from Haunting Refrain, suspense with a little romance and a touch of paranormal. 

 Martin looked sick. “Do you have any feeling about the person strangling her? Was it someone she knows?”
“A man, I think. I couldn't see, but I have an impression of size and strength that suggests a man. That's all.” She looked up at him. “Please tell me what this is about.”
“Only one more question. Could you tell what time of day it was?”
“What does that matter?” she asked. “It was dark. Night. Now whose is it?”
He took a deep breath and held out the card. “The sweatband belongs to Kelly Landrum.”
Kate reached for the card, wondering where she’d heard the name. “Kelly Landrum? Who's—”
“She's the girl who's missing!” Venice cried, catching the cup as it slipped from Kate's hands. She took a quick sip and choked.
Kate snatched the card, needing to see it for herself. She read the name. Kelly Landrum. A spot like a teardrop blurred the blue ink. An omen? Please, don’t let it be true.
“Yes, she's the student who's been missing for four days.” Martin kept his gaze on Kate's drawn face. “Her picture is on every newspaper and television screen in South Carolina. Someone found her car here on the campus. The police have been all over the place since then. We should call them, Kate.”
“No! I haven't seen anything that could help them, and I'm not touching that thing again.” Kate retreated into the chair, pulled her knees up under her chin, and wrapped her skirt around her legs, holding herself tightly. If she didn’t, she might fall apart—the image was so strong, so immediate. She touched her throat. And if it was true . . .

"Quirky, engaging characters .... Both Venice and Kate are charmers!" -- Romantic Times 
"The interaction between Kate and her friend, Venice, is priceless." A. McGraw
"...this first novel [is] a good choice for readers who like a bit of the paranormal in their mysteries." -- Library Journal

Saturday, October 3, 2015

What makes memorable characters?

Jack Nicholson, always memorable
Why do some stories touch us so much that we return to them and the characters again and again? Why do the characters come back to visit our dreams many times?
Maybe part of it is the way each character’s story resolves itself—not necessarily happily but in a just and satisfying way. Sometimes the resolution isn’t what we expect, but if it seems to fit, if it’s what the character has earned, we’re pleased.
In my favorite books and movies, the characters grew. Each one developed in some way that made us cheer. Not all the characters were likable, but they were interesting and each elicited an emotional response. We cared. 
The point is that we should try to do the same thing in our stories. But how?
A book that never lost its appeal
We need to give each of our main characters some weakness or undeveloped trait and then impose conflict and circumstances that force the character to react. From those reactions, the characters should learn, gain confidence, and move along their path. This doesn’t have to be a positive path, but if it’s your protagonist, he or she will probably then need to overcome the negative aspects—unlikely in a short story because it takes time to show so much change.
Placing the story in a foreign or culturally different setting imposes change and provides opportunities for the character to react according to her personality and outlook. “Foreign” could be anything different from the norm. An egocentric, in-charge character might become a patient in a hospital. A timid, indecisive soul could find himself in charge of a group of children in a hostile environment. Those are extreme examples, but forced change is a good way to do it. 

In Cold Comfort, Claire is an ordinary woman who becomes a killer’s target, forcing her to move outside—way outside—her comfort zone. Riley, because of a personal failure, hates working with women, but a debt of honor forces him to help Claire.

There are many ways to do these things, limited only by our imagination. Do you consciously think about making your character grow? How did you do it? What vehicles or devices have you used?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Writing Action Scenes

Grizzlies play fight, San Francisco Zoo
n an action scene, one in which the emotions are high and the reader is on the edge of the seat, the mood is tense, the writing tight. Use all the senses, the coppery taste of blood, the cold sting of the rain, the smell of old fish. Limit the number of adjectives (descriptive words). Cut any that aren’t absolutely necessary. Find strong verbs and let them do the work. Avoid adverbs ( –ly words).

The pacing in an action scene is fast. There’s no room for background or description, which will slow the action. Save these things for slower scenes and when you want to give the reader a little time to catch her breath.

In action, every word must count. Vary the length of your sentences, using short, terse statements and fragments mixed with longer sentences. Keep paragraphs short. Eliminate “and” as much as possible. Don’t use words that dilute the meaning, such as “almost,” “seemed,” and “nearly.” Make it hard and fast; give it some punch.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Oh, those flying body parts!

Have you ever heard the term “flying body parts”? Flying body parts occur when the parts act independently of the person.

Most of us are guilty of occasionally writing them into our work. They do slip in, especially with eyes. Her eyes swept the room. We all know what that means, but such statements conjure up bizarre pictures and can take the reader right out of the story. Do you see the eyes floating around, controlling the broom? Magic of an unintended kind!

If the person (as opposed to the body part) performs the action, the logic doesn’t jar the reader so much. If body parts, usually hands, feet, or eyes, perform the action, they can create a weird image of the part acting independently of the person. They’re often called flying body parts. 

Her eyes flew upward to the crows. Better: She glanced upward at the crows.

His foot kicked the ball. Better: He kicked the ball.

Her hand reached for his. Better: She reached for his hand.

Even though readers know what the sentence means, these images can yank them out of the story. Read those body part lines carefully to see if they convey the correct image.

Sometimes, even when the person performs the action, the verb doesn’t work. She shot her eyes at him. It makes the reader wonder how, with a sling shot? She tossed her hand in the air, dismissing him. She can toss her hair but not her hand, or she could wave her hand.

Have you ever been guilty? Have any good examples to share?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Winter Hummingbird

Cold weather is here and the lights that warm our hummingbird feeder failed. We made it fall a year ago when Thumbelina, a female rufous hummingbird, first showed up. She came every day from November 7 through April 11, then moved on to her summer breeding grounds, possibly in the Northwest. Rufous Hummers have been seen in summer from Oregon to Alaska. 
Map from Cornell's site

They're usually on the West Coast all year, so she's a real wanderer. More and more are seen in the East in winter. They've adapted pretty well to the cold weather.  

When it’s above freezing, she eats insects. We often see her darting back and forth, usually in our holly tree. We know it’s Thumbs because nothing else can change direction in mid flight that way.

They've adapted pretty well to the cold weather.  When it’s above freezing, she eats insects. We often see her darting back and forth, usually in our holly tree. We know it’s Thumbs because nothing else can change direction in mid flight that way.

Christmas tree lights in a plastic tub

The temperature is going down to 15 degrees this week, so we dug out another set of lights and re-rigged her heated feeder. Appropriate for January 6 and the Feast of Lights, don't you think? This is also Epiphany, when the wise men visited the babe in the manger.

Thumbelina, Nov 13
We’ve been watching for her and she came back November 13. Here she was on that bright, sunny day. We didn't attach the lighted container until the first freeze.

When the temperature reaches mid forties, we turn it off as the liquid (1 part sugar to 4 parts water) starts to thicken if too warm.
I managed to get a bad picture of her while ago, so she’s doing well.
Thumbs, Jan 6

The lively and entertaining Shehanne Moore, author of some excellent steamy historical romances, nominated me for the Drum Beat Award. Visit Shehanne's blog! She's funny, nice, generous, and always interesting. 
“This is an award created by Sue Dreamwalker to pass along to bloggers who are sharing posts which are helping show our empathy, Love and Kindness, or who Highlight injustice who beat their own Drum to bring awareness to the world”.
Drum Beat Award