Friday, April 06, 2018

Writing: Rules and Suggestions

Writers, especially "newbies," are given some rules that are looked on as basic for producing good--i.e., readable--fiction. Keep point of view constant. Avoid the passive voice. Start where the action is. Try not to do an information "dump," but rather work the situation and back-story in as you go. All these are valid suggestions, and I--like many others--learned them as we cut our teeth writing fiction.

Let me talk a bit about one of these rules--the point of view. The best way I know to describe point of view is to imagine a TV camera and microphone perched on the shoulder of the POV character. What he (and the camera) sees, the reader sees. What he (and the microphone) hears, the reader hears. None of this "little did he/she know..." that was popular at one time. Such an interjections goes with the "omniscient" point of view, which imagines that the story is being told by a narrator, often one who not only sees all aspects of the story but is something of a gossip, not hesitating to share his secrets with the reader.

When can we switch POVs? In my writing, I identify the point of view character at the start of the scene, and try to keep the POV constant through that scene. Some authors have one POV character through the whole chapter, sometimes the whole book. Others (and there are a few like me) change  the POV character when they change the scene. However, I like to keep the number of points of view small--three or four at most--in order to simplify things for the reader.

That's enough about POV. I'll close by quoting one of the best rules for writers ever laid down. Elmore Leonard once gave an interview that contained a number of suggestions for writers, but the one I like best is this: "I try to leave out the parts the reader tends to skip." Do that, and you'll keep your reader turning pages, which is, after all, what we try to do.

Tweet with a single click: "What is point-of-view, and how can you tell whose it is?"


Priscilla Bettis said...

Thanks for the POV tips. As a newbie, I think I've finally gotten a handle on POV, but I'm having trouble making each POV character sound unique. And so I keep working on it!

Richard Mabry said...

Priscilla, that comes from getting inside your characters' skin. Don't tell anyone, but with the last two or three books I've written, I've had to write about 20,000 words each time to see how the characters were going to react and how the plot unfolds. And I had to throw out about half those 20K words when I started over. I'm sure there are some folks who write books easily, but I'm not one of them. Thanks for your comment.

Patricia Bradley said...

I can remember my first manuscript. I was in every head but the waiter's. :-) But I learned better. I learned that it confuses the reader when an author head hops and it's hard to identify with a character if the author is constantly switching points of view.

And I love the Elmore Leonard quote!

Richard Mabry said...

Thanks, Patricia. I suspect we all have manuscripts hidden away somewhere, some on our computers, that mark our learning curve.
And I plan to use that Elmore Leonard quote again in one of my Friday blog posts.