Friday, August 28, 2020

Point of View: Who’s Telling the Story?

More to the point: Who should be telling the story? I often see the comment from agents that they are looking for writers who have a “unique voice”. Therefore, simply develop an original voice. Right? But what exactly does that entail? First, decide who is telling the story. The point of view of the main character or characters has everything to do with voice. It’s not your personal voice but that of the character in your story.

For instance, this is one of the most important things in writing a successful young adult novel. It does not mean that you must write only from a first person point of view. However, teenage readers often respond well to a first person narrative. But voice has to do with choice of vocabulary and style as well. My YA novels, STACY’S SONG, THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, and WITCH WISH are written in the first person from the main character’s point of view. Stacy has a sharp sense of humor as does Val while Danna is sensitive and artistic. These things influence how they tell their stories. Tip: It often helps to read your writing out loud.

With traditional romance, there are generally two viewpoints that move from female to male, usually written in the third person. They need to be distinctive from each other even in third person POV. I think it’s important for the hero or male protagonist to be represented in viewpoint. In HIGHLAND HEART, now in pre-release from Luminosity, the POV is weighted toward the heroine who is the key character, but the hero’s viewpoint is presented about forty percent of the time. In SINFUL SEDUCTION the viewpoints are equally weighted.

 Mystery varies more. Often these days, the first person viewpoint is the unreliable narrator who may not be telling the truth for a variety of reasons. It sets the reader up for the surprise or twist ending. Most common is the third person narration. This has the advantage of varying point of view with ease. But multiple viewpoints have one important disadvantage: they may cause the story to lose focus if mishandled. I prefer to write my mystery stories and novels from the third person viewpoint. In BLOOD FAMILY, my latest Kim Reynolds mystery, most of the novel is seen from Kim’s viewpoint since she is the central character/sleuth.

With short stories, it’s best to set the point of view with just the main character. Have a clear focus as Poe recommended. Decide in advance who that key character will be and then present from that viewpoint.

Sometimes authors have multiple first person POV while others will use multiple third person. But changing viewpoints too often can confuse readers causing them to reject the work. Readers need to respond with a sense of connection to at least one character. So that character must seem real and matter to the reader on some level. When the POV of a key character resonates with the reader what happens to that character is something the reader wants and needs to know.

In the 19th century, omniscient narration was popular. The all-knowing third person narrator informed the reader. Occasionally, writers will still use second person narration as well, addressing the reader directly using “you” and “your”. We don’t see much of either one of these in modern fiction writing. However, an article in THE THE WRITER newsletter observes a “reason writers might strive for second-person point of view: They’re looking for immediacy. One example that springs readily to mind is, of course, the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series of YA/middle-grade books.”

Cross genre novels can be tricky. My novel DEATH PROMISE is a romantic suspense mystery thriller. The novel is mainly presented from the POV of the two main characters who balance each other. Did I manage it effectively? If you read the novel, let me know what you think. I’d love input and feedback.

As observed, in regard to short story fiction, editors tend to prefer one POV. Multiple viewpoints don’t work well because of limited length. The short story works best with a single focus.

With multiple POV the readers see and hear things from the unique perspective of the various characters in a story or novel. That is why you always have to consider the different style and vocabulary each narrator presents if you want to create the semblance of reality, verisimilitude, in your work.

Your thoughts and comments, as always, welcome here.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Fun with Secondary Characters

My guest blogger this week is award-winning author Leslie Wheeler who writes the Miranda Lewis Living History Mysteries which began with Murder at Plimoth Plantation, recently re-released for the first time as a trade paperback, and the Berkshire Hilltown Mysteries, which began with Rattlesnake Hill and continues with Shuntoll Road. Like me, Leslie is currently published for mystery fiction by Encircle. 
Secondary characters can be fun to write and fun to read about, because they don’t bear the burdens of the main characters who not only have to solve crimes, but are often struggling with personal issues. Two secondary characters that I enjoyed creating and that early readers of my new mystery, Shuntoll Road, appear to have enjoyed also are Maxine Kepler and Grandma Waite, aka “Crazy Scarlett.”

Maxine Kepler is loud in voice and dress. She’s described as rarely speaking below a shout and favoring bright colored clothing—attributes that, as a short person among taller people, she uses to call attention to herself. Also, as a single woman in her forties, she is engaged in a perpetual search for “Mr. Right,” whether he happens to be a someone else’s boyfriend or not. And she never misses an opportunity to flirt with a man she considers attractive, even in the midst of an emergency phone call.
Grandma Waite, aka “Crazy Scarlett,” is far from being your typical warm, fuzzy granny, as her nickname suggests, though she is fiercely protective of her great-granddaughter and namesake, Scarlett. A beauty in her youth, she dresses all in black and her Shirley-Temple-style curls are dyed jet black. Regarded as a witch by many in town, she spies on her grandson and his family who live across the street, interrogates their visitors, and makes frequent, ominous pronouncements about trouble to come. She is definitely not a person you want to mess with, as another character discovers when she descends on him “like an angry crow,” shrieking at him to leave immediately. When he refuses, she pounds on the cab of his truck with her umbrella until he finally does and ends up driving smack into a huge pothole.
Both Grandma Waite and Maxine Kepler provide some of the more amusing moments in the book. Still, as characters in a mystery novel, where everything needs to advance the story, each also serves a serious purpose.
Maxine is a long-time friend of Gwen Waite, who next to Kathryn is the most important character in the novel. A fellow New Yorker, Maxine is a link between Gwen and her past life, a past that included another friend, Niall Corrigan, who, as a successful real estate developer, has come to the Berkshires ostensibly to build an upscale development but with a hidden agenda. Both Maxine and Niall are privy to the secret event that caused Gwen to leave the city. And when drama queen Maxine persists in putting air quotes around Gwen’s “accident” that left her in a coma years ago, Kathryn begins to suspect it wasn’t a bad car accident, as Gwen claims.
Maxine also serves as an intermediary between Niall and Gwen in his efforts to have a romantic relationship with Gwen, who isn’t as happily married as she’d like people to believe. Determined to find a partner for herself, Maxine has set her cap for Earl Barker, Kathryn’s boyfriend, and pressures Kathryn, who has returned to the Berkshires with the goal of seeing if she and Earl can rebuild their all-but-shattered relationship, to make up her mind, “because if you don’t grab him, someone else (Maxine herself) will.”
As for Grandma Waite, she gave me the opportunity to weave in a colorful bit of my fictional town New Nottingham’s history (stolen from the history of the real-life Berkshire town where I have a house) in that she’s rumored to be a descendant of a notorious madam who ran a brothel in the tiny hamlet of Gomorrah that was once part of New Nottingham. More importantly, Grandma Waite’s uncanny ability to recognize evil in other people is crucial to the climax. But to say more would be to risk giving away the ending.
Buy Links:

Barnes and Noble




Barnes & Noble

Readers: Do you use secondary characters to provide humor even if they serve a serious purpose? If so, please share.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Reader Reviews: Do They Matter?

As a reader you might think that your opinion of a book or short story you’ve read doesn’t matter, but you’d be wrong. Not only does your opinion matter to the author but it matters to other potential readers as well. Writers who can’t build a readership because they remain unknown are likely to become discouraged and stop writing. So if you do respect and/or enjoy a book or short story, voice your opinion. Give that writer some encouragement and publicity. Amazon is one place to do it and so are Goodreads and Library Thing. But there are many other sites as well. 

 For those authors who are published in print, major editorial reviews only matter as much as they do because the reviews offered in such publications as: The New York Times Book Review, Booklist, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus etc. are what acquisitions librarians consider when they place their orders. Librarians are often referred to as gatekeepers, but this is not quite true. For the most part, just a few publications control what books will be purchased worldwide. But these review pubs merely voice the opinion of single reviewers, and these reviewers don’t know more than the average person in regard to what should be available to readers. If a book gets a rave or starred review from these all important publications, then in essence that is what readers will find available in libraries and bookstores. 

 Unfortunately, a great many fine, quality books will be ignored and get no reviews or publicity because they aren’t offered by the big publishers who heavily advertise. It appears that the major review publications give special preference to the publishers who advertise with them—not at all surprising. Readers should check out some of the internet review sites for buying recommendations. Also, why not request that your library order books from smaller, independent publishers that you think might be a good read. 

 The internet is now offering readers real alternatives. This is wonderfully democratic. A great many small independent publishers are making a variety of books available to readers. If you read a book you like, speak up and be a reader reviewer. Tell other readers why you would recommend a particular book. Write and be counted! Your opinion matters! But one caution: take this is a serious responsibility. Of late, it has been noted that some individuals bash books, sometimes books they haven’t even bothered to read. This is highly destructive, much in the way that hackers attack the internet. So be a responsible reader reviewer and help others make good choices.

I personally review many of the books I read on Goodreads. Here is a sample.This is an excerpt from my review for Pamela S. Thibodeaux’s soon to be released novel MY HEART WEEPS:

 “Partly based on the author’s own personal experience of losing her husband, My Heart Weeps is a touching story of overcoming grief. It appeals to all human beings who must come to terms with the death of a loved one. This novel offers a positive, uplifting experience.” 

Your thoughts and comments most welcome.