Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Whose View Is It Anyway?!

Have you ever started reading a book and find you feel like you’re in chapter five and you swore you were reading chapter three?  Suddenly the room changes and you’re not sure if you got lost somewhere or if your eyes are playing tricks on you.  Maybe the author and publisher have some pages out of sequence and you scramble back a few pages to see what happened.  This is generally due to an unexpected point of view shift in the characters in the story.

What is point of view?  It’s the thoughts and ideas of (usually) the main character (hero).  How many should there be in a story?  That depends on the length of the story.  If it’s a short story, I recommend one viewpoint.  If it’s a novel, I recommend one viewpoint, too.   It seems to be all the rage now to have many different POV’s these days, but it tends to shipwreck the reader, in my opinion.
We go to movies to be entertained and there’s sort of an omniscient feel to a movie.  You're overhead, you’re on the side, you’re peeking around the corner with the camera lens.  You’ve devoted two hours to this and you hope it will be good and you can take something decent home with you afterwards, not just popcorn crumbs.
But reading a novel is a longer commitment.  How many times have you picked up a book and put it down again because it wasn’t what you were expecting?  Sadly, this has happened to me recently, several times; I feel overworked when I wanted to be entertained.  But what's making the work?
When we read a book we want to connect with the main character, if we’re going to put a few days of our time into it, right?  If there are a ton of characters peopling the streets of the story, we have to pick one and hang on.  If there’s only one main character, the author has chosen for us and we can then decide if we want to spend our time in this character's head before we even start to read. 
When you write, it’s tempting to play God, because you, as author, know EVERYTHING… but the reader does not want to be you.  The reader wants to be strung along and have the story unfold.  There’s nothing better than a mystery that has clues all over the place and in the final chapters the author pulls it together.  Whether you’ve guessed it or not, you remember the clues, and the red herrings and you say “Aha!  I saw that!”
Don’t ruin the mystique of your novel by having more than one hero and/or one heroine.  Professionally, I’d say one POV is enough, two is ok and three is pushing it.  After that, you’ll lose your reader.  It’s not so much they may throw your book away, but it will become forgettable.  Of all the most requested authors at the library, Elizabeth Peters continues to be on the list after decades of dazzling her readers with her stories.  People actually steal her books from the library!  I had the pleasure of reading one of her novels recently and it was fabulous.  At the end I realized there was only one POV throughout the entire 200 pages. 
Yes, as writers we can let the reader in on what everyone is thinking but why not follow your high school creative writing teacher’s advice; one POV per story or as close as you can get, if you must add more.  I think you’ll find your writing is more enjoyable to others.  You won’t hear from readers saying, “Wow, love that one POV throughout your book!” but you will hear things like “The story was easy to follow.”  “I fell in love with the main character.”  “I can’t wait to find out what this author will write next.” 
Please feel free to email me for tips on how to pare back from multiple POV's to one or two.  It's not hard and actually a bit easy just by changing a word here and there. 
Karen McGrath is the author of Primordial Sun, The Heart of the Amazon, from MuseItUp Publishing in April 2011, as well as Love in the Time of Mortals (August 2011) and The Vagabond Prince (December 2011).  Please email her at karenmcgrathauthor(at)gmail(dot)com and visit her blog and website at http://karenmcgrathauthor.blogspot.com and www.karenmcgrathauthor.com

photos courtesy of morguefile.com and museituppublishing.com

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How Can You Find a Topic for Your Novel?

You want to write a novel for kids, but you have no idea what to write about. The problem is there are so many novels out about vampires and werewolves or paranormal worlds with fantasy settings that you might get lost in that genre. First you need something about which you know more than a little bit and that touches you. If the thing you are writing about is not genuine to you it will come out on the page.

When I needed to write a story for a workshop a situation was happening in my own life that lent itself to a story for teens. I decided to use this and of course changed a great deal for the story. However, the bare bones of the topic were there. I had to research a great deal, because this had not happened to me personally, but instead to someone close to me. Also I decided to increase the intensity of the situation and the research allowed me to write from other people's experiences. By that time I was already thinking of expanding to a novel.

I put a call out on the internet within my message groups that I was looking for people who had this problem and I started getting emails back with the most amazing information. I had told everyone that the information was going to be anonymous so they were very willing to disclose very personal experiences and feelings. I put a lot of these almost word for word into my story.

But this was for my secondary character. For my main character her situation was a little different and again I pulled from my own life's experiences, because her story is so close to mine. So I started the novel with my main character a little unformed. It's always good if your main character can grow during your story. But you have to be careful. You want the reader to identify with the character almost immediately, even if he or she, and in my case it is a she, has issues that make her a little different.

Also, you have to give your main character a goal that will resonate with readers and allow them to root for the character. My character has the goal of wanting to be a cheerleader even though she is not the best in tumbling. She wants to be popular, but her body is "too large for fashion." How will she do this? See you are already asking questions about her, which means the topic is working. The other thing is this topic has to continue throughout your story, so you don't want everything to happen too quickly.

If you are lucky, your story will flow and you will complete your novel in a timely fashion. If you aren't lucky, the story will bog down somewhere while you figure out the plot for your secondary character. You have been concentrating on your main character and suddenly her story seems to be decided, but there is your secondary character who has not gotten the attention she deserves. If you can write through this and figure out the plot by yourself that is great. But if in my case you have a problem with this there are always people available to help you. I went to The Children's Writers Bootcamp for help and it worked. After that my story continued without any problem.

So to summarize how you can find a topic for your novel. First choose something you know about or can get information about without too much difficulty. Second, decide if you are emotionally involved with your topic. Third, choose a main character and a strong secondary character who will keep the story going. Fourth, choose a goal for your main character. Fifth, choose a goal for your secondary character. Of course, in between you are going to want to make sure you have a good character description for both characters. Then it is only a matter of sitting down and writing your novel. It may not go like clockwork, but it's best to go with the writing. If suddenly a character doesn't work or a situation doesn't work you can always get rid of it. But the best is when you are looking at the finished first draft!!!

This is basically the frame for my first published YA novel coming this September from MuseItUp Publishing called If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor. The main character, Carolyn Samuels has body image issues and the secondary character who bullies Carolyn, Jennifer Taylor has an eating disorder. Mainly it's about keeping secrets and guilt. :)

Oh yes, did I say this was only the beginning of preparing your novel? My novel had nineteen revisions.:) But that is a topic for another blog.:) Please feel free to ask me any questions or make any comments. I will answer them.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How a character can springboard into life from a throw-away line

There are many ways novel characters are created. Sometimes they are servants to the plot and never rise above their role. Sometimes they start out shadowy and insubstantial and they grow and flesh themselves out during the writing process. And sometimes they bound to life in one giant leap. Let me tell you about one such.

His name is Jebbin, he is an apprentice to the village wise man and in his first appearance in Crimson Dream, he says. "No, master. The sun hangs in the low in the eastern sky and those who are called to serve, must serve."

After writing the sentence my first thought was: who jumped in front of me and wrote those words and from from which mental institution did they escape? I reached rapidly for the delete key but I restrained myself. It's a first draft; no editing allowed. So, I continued writing, content that the line would be jettisoned on the first run through.

When I returned in editing mode, my fingers hovered over the delete key, but I paused to consider. Jebbin was studying the old histories and myths of their people. These stories could have archaic poetic language such as the line above, so Jebbin would be exposed to similar phrases. But what kind of person would use those words in general conversation? Would he be pompous? Book smart but not emotional intelligent? Perhaps egotistical? Dutiful to the letter of the law rather than the spirit? Slightly overbearing? I think the line can suggest all those things and more.

So now we have a flavour of Jebbin's character. And how do we tell the reader all these things about Jebbin? It's already done; they just have to read that line of dialogue. So, in a chapter that bares little resemblance to its original form, that line (so close to disappearing immediately) remains untouched. "No, master. The sun hangs in the low in the eastern sky and those who are called to serve, must serve."

And now, Jebbin speaks again. Behold, my people for a joyous occasion is upon us. The mighty tome, Crimson Dream, springs newborn into the world.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Valentine's Day with a twist: The Killer Valentine Ball

Forget all that mushy heart and candy stuff. What's better than a good old scare for Valentine's Day?

I love scary, and not just for Halloween. Besides writing some fun mysteries and short stories, I also like to read, and write, stories that make your heart leap a little.

That's rule one as an author: write what you enjoy reading. Here are a few other writing tips:

1. Start Small

Big projects can sometimes be overwhelming. If you don't finish a projected word count, don't discount what you have done. Even one paragraph or page is one more than you had before, and 500 or so words closer to your final word count.

2. Believe in Yourself

Your inner muse can have a dark side. Ignore those self-recriminations that every writer gets at one time or another. Believe in you. Get rejected? Move on and send that story out again. . Think on what you've accomplished and move forward. One rejection is just that. Having at least a few stories circulating (some say 10 or 12 if you can) will prevent you from obsessing over one.

3. Learn From Others
Success comes from listening to others who have already been there. Check out the experiences of other writers in your genre. Study the works of writers you admire to see how they did it. No matter how many years you've been writing, there is always something new to learn.

4. Make Goals
Goals keep you from stagnating, but make them reasonable. Start with one goal, like planning to get published in a new magazine in your genre, or working on a story in a different genre or field. Keep moving forward and don't stress over how long achieving that goal may take. It isn't a race. Work at the pace you feel comfortable with.

5. Don't Fear Mistakes
You'll make mistakes; you'll write less than stellar stories. We all have. It's one mistake. Even if you make the same mistake, it's not the end of the world. Learn from them. Every mistake only makes you stronger.

Most of all? Enjoy yourself. Relish that first or next publication as you move towards your goal!

Valentine's Ebook: THE KILLER VALENTINE BALL by (C.A.) Christine Verstraete

A party at a day camp; a blind date on Valentine's Day. Can you say loser? But this is no ordinary party. The Killer Valentine Ball has more thrills than Jess ever expected--or will ever forget.


As they walked into the shadows, Jess noticed that things weren't quite as they appeared. Sections of the room lightened for a moment before being cast again in deep shadow. What Jess thought she saw in that split second made her heart race. On the dance floor, the same three couples stood, clasped to each other. Jess stared. She swore they never moved.

The music played quietly in the background. When the shadows brightened, Jess caught a quick glimpse of one of the couples. The young man's mouth gaped open. His partner's gown glistened with streams of dark ribbons. The light flashed again and Jess gasped. Those weren't ribbons! The girl's dress shone with dark glimmers. Like-like blood, she thought. No, it can't be! She looked back at Dylan, who shook his head and urged her on.

"Light tricks," he whispered. "It's not real. It's Halloween stuff, like the movie. Don't worry."

*BUY it at the MuseItUp Publishing bookstore, or get it on Kindle