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Beginnings: Person-ality

One of the more crucial decisions that needs to be made when starting out working on a novel is to choose what point of view you’re going to use for the work. There are many choices, each of them have strengths and weaknesses.

First Person always seems easiest and most natural for me. However, it does limit me in many ways. The reader can only experience other characters’ emotions and thoughts from the protagonist’s point of view, which isn’t always accurate, and it can be much harder to surprise the reader. If the protagonist does something “off screen,” the reader might rightfully feel cheated. This is especially true in genres in which readers expect to be able to either puzzle out the ending before it arrives, or enjoy looking back and seeing how the ending was inevitable from the first scene.

I never write in Second Person. It’s too weird for anything other than “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, and maybe porn.

In Third Person, there are technically several choices, but practically these days, there is only one, namely “Third Person Limited“. Third Person can lack the immediacy of First Person, but in my experience it’s less prone to telling instead of showing. It also allows you the ability to dive into the thoughts and feelings of multiple characters. However, to do it right, you need to limit it to a small number of characters (unless it’s one of those million-page epic fantasies), and they each need similar amounts of “screen time” to make it feel balanced. If your antagonist is one of your viewpoints, it can be hard to introduce him or her early and not give away too much of the plot.

(There is, of course, , but that’s really fallen out of favor lately. Books written in that point of view always seem quaint and old to me, like they were written in the time of Charles Dickens or F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s worse when the author takes on a very personal narrative voice, addressing the audience as “Dear reader” and so forth.)

It’s important to give a lot of thought to this choice as you set out with novel planning. If you choose poorly, you could find yourself having to rewrite significant portions of the novel mid-stream. It’s a lot of work, and I’d rather avoid it if I can.

So, day one of a new work, and as I’m writing up my plot point cards, I’m thinking of how I’m going to tell the story. What to choose, what to choose….

First Draft Complete

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

 

I forgot to mention that I managed to complete the first draft of a short story on Saturday morning. I celebrated with an impromptu walk around a local lake followed by meeting with my writers’ group. I’m not planning on editing it, or starting the rewrite for a while. I think I’m going to let it sit for a month or two so I can get some distance from it.

 

After my writers’ group, I sketched out a few thoughts for the next story that I will start writing tomorrow morning. This one involves the Saturnian moon, Titan. So, with the TV on in the background (with one of my favorite writing inspiration shows, “Castle,” playing), I’m reading up on the interesting geology and chemistry that is found on that far off place. I didn’t get any writing done today due to an early morning meeting with my tax preparer, but I have confidence I’ll get some more words on paper in the morning.

 

A couple of years ago, I set a goal writing a short story every month. I didn’t know then if that was even possible; I just wanted some kind, any kind of goal. Now I’m beginning to think that it’s possible. Two weeks to write, and then at some date in the future, another two weeks to polish and get ready for critiquing. Of course, this will require me having a backlog of ideas waiting. Good thing I always carry around several different means of taking notes. Hi, Siri! 😉

 

Short Stories

Helen Bradley held captive by the Centaurians,...

Helen Bradley held captive by the Centaurians, from the Astounding Stories cover by Howard V. Brown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I get back into my routine following my volunteering time with FOGcon, I’m reflecting on the art form that is the short story. Many (though not all) authors in the science-fiction and fantasy genres write short stories. In fact, many of them got their start in this particular form of storytelling, and then eventually move into writing novels. It’s a time-honored traditions.

I’ve tried writing short stories before, without much success. At one time I would have said that everything I know about crafting stories applies only to longer forms, not the brevity required for a good short story. The couple of times I’ve tried writing a short story have resulted in critiques that generally say, “This is a synopsis of a novel, not a short story.” That said, the stories I build for my church’s Solstice celebrations definitely qualify as “short stories.”

While at FOGcon, I talked with several published authors all of whom write short stories. I also did a little bit of reading on the web from people who write about the structure of a short story. And, of course, I thought a lot about what I’ve always read about the craft of writing. And I’m realizing that many of the short stories I read in magazines don’t follow the rules that I’m told always have to be followed. It’s a bit perplexing, honestly.

I’ve recently read two novellas from an issue of Asimov’s from some time last year, and neither of them really had a central conflict, or if they did, it wasn’t the conflict of the main character. The evident protagonist was an observer while someone (or in one case, something) else went through the conflict development and resolution process. Character development is also rather lacking in the stories I’ve read. So I’m beginning to wonder if my inhibition around writing short stores is self-inflicted by trying to follow all of the advice I’ve heard and read over the years.

With that in mind, I have decided to give writing short stories another try. Playing with a random brainstorming app I found for iOS, I came across a phrase that was interestingly evocative. I struggled for a bit to try and find a conflict, and then tried turning the conflict requirement on its ear like the stories I’ve been reading. And viola! A plot quickly came to mind. The writing is going well, and I have no idea how long this thing will run word count-wise. It’s all a grand experiment yet again.

(If I seem to jump around with my writing practice a lot, it’s true, I do. This week I want to write a novel. That week I want to write short stories. The next week I just want to agonize over worldbuilding. It’s not a good trait, and I want to be more focused. But first I need to know what I want to focus on, and that’s not yet clear to me.)

Adrift

EmptyUm, hi, blog. Long time no see. Oh, no, no, it’s not you, it’s me. I’ve been a slacker. But with NaNoWriMo time upon us, I’m thinking about you again. I’m not doing NaNo this year (I think I’m kind of past that kind of insanity now), but something about this time of year sends my thoughts drifting to being writerly again.

One of the things that’s been keeping me away from the keyboard lately is a complete lack of inspiration. When I was young and foolish, dreaming of a day when I would be a writer, stories seemed plentiful “What if” was always at the tip of my tongue. Once I decided to get serious, though, that fount of creativity has dried up.

I have a few projects in the back of my mind. But I’m not making progress on any of them. Two of them are intentionally derivative, and one is in a well known and highly trademarked universe. Working on those is interesting, but ultimately non-productive. Two other projects are hovering in the back of my mind, one high fantasy, the other space opera, yet when I sit down to outline either of them (a process I find vital to my own writing practice), I get bogged down in plot problems that seem insoluble.

There are always writing exercises I could do, and that would get me writing, but those likewise feel unproductive. They’re just random prompts that might inspire a few hundred to a couple thousand words, but it’s just practice, nothing that’s going to lead to being published.

I suspect that what has happened is that my inner editor is subconsciously editing out the formerly freely flowing fount of ideas based on whether it thinks I could make a real, publishable story out of them. He’s an evil bastard, my inner editor. You’d think with all of the NaNoWriMo wins under my belt, I would be a master of sending him packing, but I don’t think I am.

I will one day find a way to be a fount of ideas again. Probably about the time I finally give up the dream of ever becoming a published writer…

Good Night

Titan RGB 9-24-10

I had a good night writing last night. As I responded to a writing prompt, a workable short story came together in my mind. I got most of the first act written before bedtime, and at some point this morning I want to outline the rest. If I can complete it this weekend (possible with the three-day weekend) I’ll be ahead of my goal.

I cannot express my joy at having a workable short story idea come to me so easily. It’s always been such a struggle. It would be great if I could figure out what made it possible this time so I can make future attempts as successful.

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