Tag Archives: point of view

Why Conversational Writing is the Hot Trend

 

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For the past number of years, I’ve seen commercial writing shift from third person point of view to first person. At first, I couldn’t stand first person. It seemed somehow less than third. Perhaps this was because in some ways first person is more limiting than third person.

Third person point of view allows readers to see more of the world. They’re not trapped in one person’s mind. However, first person allows for an in-depth view of that individual. Plus, readers get to experience every facet of that individual’s personality.

Riding along with first person point of view was a more conversational tone. The writing was less formal; instead opting for writing that sounded the way people would speak. This meant stretching or breaking some grammar rules, which for a person who spent much of school studying Romanticism and learning about various style guides from APA and AMA to MLA was more than an irritation. This breaking of the rules would chuck me headfirst out of a book.

But, somewhere along the way, I began to enjoy the more conversational writing style. I discovered that I enjoyed breaking the rules—if there was a specific, vital reason—on occasion in my writing.

I found that conversational writing has some enormous advantages.

  • It’s easier to comprehend. While I’ve read and enjoyed many dense and literary books, I often find I develop a headache while reading them. My mind has to constantly work to understand the subtle messages buried in layers beneath the overt descriptions and statements. A conversational writing style foregoes this. Instead, it conveys the message directly to readers. Readers are able to more readily enjoy the book, and in today’s world, where fast reads are popular, conversational style is key.
  • It creates an instant relationship with readers. Since conversational writing often occurs with first person, readers feel like the protagonist is talking directly to them. They feel that they can relate to the protagonist as an actual person. With so many people stating that they read to escape reality, being able to relate quickly to a character is vital in drawing readers into a story. Plus, readers are much less likely to put down a book, if they feel they share commonalities with the protagonist.
  • Readers see it as more credible. A conversational style is almost like the protagonist is talking to a close friend. The protagonist is confiding all her thoughts and emotions to readers. Oftentimes, what the protagonist thinks is also what readers see on paper. Readers become an integral part of the story. They’re connected through the protagonist’s natural, authentic voice.

One of the best ways to create a conversational writing style is to speak aloud what you’re writing. If the words feel awkward on your tongue, then they’re going to be even more blatant on paper. However, one word of caution is to watch out for being too conversational. Many times in conversation people jump around from topic to topic. We’d probably all experienced having a conversation with a friend, where we’d talked for an hour or so, and then have no idea how we got onto the topic we finished the conversation with.

In writing, there has to be a clear line connecting bits of conversation. When readers become confused, they’re pulled out the story. Each time a person is jolted from the story, she is likely to put the book down, instead of continuing reading.

What are your thoughts on conversational writing?

(Photo courtesy of aj-clicks.)

Thinking like a Filmmaker: Writing a Novel in Terms of Camera Shots

filmmaking-sillouhetteWe live in a world where television shows and movies play a big role. How many hours of television or movies have you watched in the past year alone? With having so much experience watching, we are accustomed to the style of movies and television. We recognize the elements within film and TV, and expect them. In many ways this has transitioned over to literature.

Many authors now write novels keeping in mind their novel’s ability to be adapted into script. Writers pay attention to the visual elements of a scene. What makes a great scene? What makes a scene flop? Can you picture where each character and prop is within a scene?

Film and TV have only a short amount of time to relay all the important information. They have to grab your attention and hold it. Plus, they have to make viewers feel the emotions occurring within each scene based on character movement, expressions, etc. Added to that, they have to have specific set directions, to know where each character and prop in the scene is.

There are certain steps you can implement to create a very visual, riveting scene.

  1. Think about POV. If you think of your point of view as the camera, imagine where the camera needs to be for each scene. This doesn’t mean POV has to change, rather your POV character is in the optimal position in each scene to see the vital elements occurring within that scene.
  2. Know your key moments. Each scene gives readers something, whether it’s new information or a new insight based on old information. Scenes have to move the story along, and within each scene are specific moments. Without these moments a scene cannot occur. Think of each moment as a different camera shot, and all the camera shots add up to a scene.
  3. Pay attention to sensory details. What sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and physical sensations are important to the scene? It’s a good idea to have at least two senses stand out in every scene. Are there trains nearby? How about the smell of lavender? Or the feel of the humidity pressing in, warning of a coming storm? How about color? In film and TV, color is very important. Each color connotes a different meaning. Infuse the scene with time and place, weather, texture, etc. How do these sensations relate to the character, the story?

Within commercial literature, readability and visualization are vital. Thinking like a filmmaker will help bring those elements to the forefront of the story. Making deliberate choices as to camera angle, which sensory details are placed within the scene, which camera shots are used and the order they’re placed in, POV, etc. all create a specific environment that adds to the story, a story that will stay with readers long after they’ve finished reading it.

What is your opinion on thinking like a filmmaker?

(Photo courtesy of f-stopacademy.)

That Critical First Page: Grabbing Readers Attention in Seconds

The first page, whether it’s a novel, short story, research paper, proposal, etc., is extremely important, if not the most important page in a piece of writing. The first page paves the way for all the other pages. It’s what grabs readers’ attention, or turns them off.

The first page sets the stakes, tone, pace, voice, and setting. It lays out the mood for the entire piece of writing. If you’re writing about a world that has magic, the first page will have magical elements to it.

Similar to how agents spend about three seconds reading a query letter, readers spend seconds on the first page. If the story hasn’t grasped their attention by the end of page one, they’re unlikely to keep reading.

The first page should:

  • Set up point of view. Is this first person, third person, second person? Is there one point of view, two, three, more? (If you are writing a multiple point of view story, it’s usually better to write in third person.) Is the point of view more limited or omniscient?
  • Article Lead - wide62398472115ew6image.related.articleLeadwide.729x410.115eyw.png1413437505967.jpg-620x349Show setting. A story begins where and when it does for a specific reason. If the opening page shows your protagonist standing, staring out the fourth floor window of a hospital, while it’s raining and the entire world seems a wash of gray, why is she there?
  • Give conflict. This is what’s at stake for the main character. Without conflict there is no story.
  • Establish the protagonist. Is the protagonist female or male? How old is the protagonist? What’s her name? Age? Why is she the protagonist? You don’t have to get into the specifics of what the protagonist looks like on the first page, but readers should know what the protagonist looks like very early on.
  • Present the tone. Is it unhappy, comical, sassy, peaceful, depressing, angry, or hopeful? There can be layers of tone within a story, especially in novels, but the overall tone remains consistent.
  • pacing trIntroduce pace. Pace is the speed at which a story occurs. Look at detective novels, events in that type of book moves quickly. However, in historical fiction, the pace is generally slower. In Young Adult literature, the pace tends to be fast, while in adult works the pace can be a little more unhurried. Does the novel jump straight into action and drama or does it meander there?

Since the first page is so crucial, it won’t be perfect the first time through. In fact, writing the best first page possible probably won’t happen until you know the entire story. So much of making a story suspenseful and surprising is hinting at what’s to come. Sometimes the foreshadowing is obvious, while other times it’s very subtle, but it’s there. And the only true way to hint at what’s to come is to know the entire story, and the better you know your story, the clearer picture you have of all those elements the first page should contain.

How do you go about writing first pages?

(Photos courtesy of The Sydney Morning Herald and Fiction University.)

First Person vs. Third Person POV: Which is Better?

The debate of third person vs. first person point of view (POV) has been around for some time. It can make things challenging when you’re trying to figure out which POV to write from, especially if you’re partway through your short story or novel and decide to switch POV.

First person POV is where the main character is telling the story through their eyes. The protagonist talks in terms of “I,” “I said,” “I went,” etc. (The blond guy in the below photo is the “I.” He acts as both protagonist, narrator, and reader.)first

Third person POV allows readers to get a larger picture and to see the thoughts of multiple characters. “He,” “she,” “he said,” “she said,” etc. are used in third person. (The auburn haired girl in the following photo is the “she.” The ghost-looking guy is the narrator and reader.)limited

Your writing will turn out differently depending on whether you use first person or third person.

Choosing one over the other doesn’t mean your writing will be better than someone who chose differently. What makes a piece of writing good is the quality of the writing and if people are drawn into the story.

But since the first person vs. third person debate exists, let’s take a look at it and see if one POV is better than the other.

In first person, everything has to be filtered through your protagonist’s perspective. Readers can only know what the protagonist knows. Nothing more. Nothing less. This means that the protagonist’s personality directly effects how the story is told. In other words, what readers are reading is biased information.

However, first person allows for a direct connection between readers and the protagonist’s emotions and thoughts. I.e. – Divergent, The Hunger Games, etc. This is usually the reason why people who prefer first person, prefer it. Many say they feel more connected to the main character in first person.

On an interesting note, those who primarily read YA tend to prefer first person. Many state they can directly relate to the main character through first person because they consider first person more intimate than third person. Another reason is that many feel they become the main character in the story, like the story absorbs them into the plot.

Third person may not be as obviously intimate as first person, but intimacy can be created. Harry Potter wasn’t written in first person. Neither was Daughter of Smoke and Bone or The Mortal Instruments, yet readers are incredibly attached to the main characters in all those stories.

Third person isn’t claustrophobic like first person. It allows for a more objective and well-rounded point of view. Also, if you have a story told from multiple POVs, third person is usually the way to go, unless you’re very good at creating different character voices. There are a few first person, multiple perspective novels I’ve read where I couldn’t tell the difference between the characters voices. Those are usually the novels I don’t finish.

The vast majority of adult literature is written in third person.

Both types of POV have their merits. Both have their downsides. First person jumps right into the protagonist’s head, making readers feel like they’re an integral part of the story. But first person is severely limited. You’re stuck in the protagonist’s mind, and so, if readers don’t like the main character, they won’t read the story. In first person, you don’t get the whole picture.

Third person has a lot more flexibility. You can choose to take on a more omniscient role or simply keep the protagonist’s thoughts slightly hidden.

Think about it this way. In third person, the reader sees reality, while the character’s reaction is slightly hidden. This doesn’t mean the character is an emotionless automaton. It means that the character’s emotions aren’t so blatant readers are unable to use their internal empathy and reading skills to infer a character’s emotions, motivations, etc.

Writing in third person doesn’t mean you can’t show a character’s emotions or thoughts. It’s more about leaving some distance between the outside world and the inside one, giving readers a chance to deduce what’s going on inside a character…and know that the world they’re seeing isn’t greatly skewed by a character’s emotions.

For instance, if the protagonist has a massive crush (I’m talking major infatuation) on another person (think Twilight, Obsidian, etc.) the protagonist’s entire world is going to circulate around that one individual. In reality, the world isn’t circling that one person, but to the protagonist it is.

In first person, all readers see is how the world revolves around that one individual. Readers don’t know any better because the protagonist doesn’t know any better.

In third person, readers know the world doesn’t revolve around that one person. They’re conscious of how skewed the protagonist’s view of the world is.

An elementary way to compare first and third person POV is by thinking of them in terms of opposites. In first person, the inside is readily shown on the outside, thus coloring the entire world in a blanket of the protagonist’s emotions. In third person, the outside world is seen, while a little bit of the inside is kept inside.

Personally? I don’t have a preference, though I do think it depends on the story. Some stories are better written in third person, while others are better written in first person.

Bottom line: If the story keeps my interest, I’ll read it regardless of what POV it’s written in. (Though I will admit when first person POV started gaining popularity, I wasn’t all that thrilled. It took some time to adjust from third person to first person. Now, if the story is good, I tend to forget if I’m reading first or third person.)

What do you think? Do you have a preference for third or first person POV?

(Photos courtesy of writingxmu: http://bit.ly/1KDFfkS)

Look Over Here, No Here: The Art of Commenting

Writing isn’t just about writing. Yes, that’s a huge component of it, but if you want to improve your writing skills, you have to do more than write. One way that helps is to comment on other peoples’ writing.

I’m not talking about simply stating whether you liked or didn’t like something. And I’m not telling you to edit someone else’s work, or try to improve their work based on what you’d do if their story were yours. Look at someone else’s work on its own merit. Work on figuring out what that one, individual story is trying to do.

The goal with commenting is to help create well-crafted stories. You want to help other writers improve their work, and in doing so, yours will improve. Be honest…not mean. If you say something that’s a great idea, but makes the writer defensive, your comments won’t be heard.

It’s always nice to say something positive about the work. It’s easy to get on a rant about what’s negative, and though you should be honest, you don’t want to throw the writer into a black hole. Think how’d you feel if someone was so brutally honest with you, you wanted to crawl under a rock and never see the light of day again….Not a great feeling.

There are different types of comments you can give to other writers. I’ve listed some of the areas below:

  • The View From Above. From an overall perspective, how did you feel about the story or the chapter you just finished reading? What aspects stayed with you? What were the best and worst parts?
  • Let’s Get Technical. How was the plot of the story? Of the chapter? Was there a flow from beginning to middle to end? How were the setting, dialogue, and voice? How about the point of view? Where there some parts of the story much slower than others? Was the writing too choppy or flowery? Did the structure of the story or chapter make sense?
  • The Individual Moments. Were there any specific points in the novel that delighted you (this could be a positive emotion, like overwhelming happiness, or a horrible one, like feeling as if you’d experienced a character’s loss first hand – both of these would be good scenarios)? Was there a section that made you doubt the validity of a character? Was there a part that left you wanting more or less?
  • Think About Those Sentences. How’s the sentence variety? How about the word choice? Are there some words that don’t make any sense or throw you out of the story? Is the voice active or passive? Wordy? Too dense? What about the use of figurative language?
  • Why Continue Reading? What makes you want to read on? Do you want to read on? If you’re looking at a chapter, do you have a sense of where the story’s going?

When commenting, it’s important to address different areas. You want to be thoughtful and thorough. Explain why you said what you said. If you only state what was good and what wasn’t, the author won’t know why something works and another thing doesn’t. The author won’t know how to go about changing sections that didn’t work. So take the time and explain your thoughts.

How do you go about commenting?

I See You: The Basics of Point of View

You get that small flash, that inkling, that spark for a story. But how do you go from that idea to a full-blown novel?

One major aspect is point of view.

Point of view (POV) is the relationship that’s established between you, your character, and your readers in a story. It’s one of the most basic elements of fiction.

There are two major concerns for POV:

  1. Whose story is it? What character will be telling the story? Is it Nancy, a 43-year-old waitress, who’s losing touching with reality? Is it Michael, a 25-year-old lawyer fresh out of law school? Is it Kate, a 15-year-old runaway? All three of these characters may be in the same book, but whose story is it? Is it Nancy, Michael, or Kate’s voice readers will be hearing?
  2. From what perspective will you tell the story? Which POV will the story be told from? First person? Third person? Omniscient? How about second person?

POV is a choice, and each POV has its advantages and disadvantages.

First Person

First person POV uses “I” or “we.” It gives the impression of the story being more real because it implies intimacy and immediacy. In first person, the author is pretending to be the character. (But be careful, make sure the character doesn’t morph into the author.)

First person works best in stories where voice is the most important aspect. It can make an otherwise unappealing character interesting because readers can see inside the character’s head. Also, events in the story don’t have to be as dramatic, or dramatic at all really. It’s the character’s internal process, his narration that shows the significance of the events. For instance, A&P by John Updike is about a boy quitting his job because three girls walked into the store. Doesn’t sound very interesting? But it’s a famous short story, one people comment on over and over again, because readers see into the protagonist’s mind. And what we see in there makes the story very interesting.

However, the success or failure of a story depends on voice. If the “I” in the story doesn’t attract readers, then they won’t read it. On a similar note, first person can make a story seem claustrophobic since the “I” can be very limiting. It’s a close up shot, where everything that is experienced, is viewed, felt, tasted, etc. through the main character.

Nowadays, first person seems very popular in young adult literature. Some examples are Twilight, The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, Thirteen Reasons Why, Delirium, and Vampire Academy.

Second Person

Second person POV is where the author makes the reader the character. The author addresses “you,” instead of “I,” “we,” “she,” “he,” or “they.” Second person is not common in today’s literary world. One more current example is Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City. (Excerpt from the novel’s opening: “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this in the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.”)

Second person can seem intrusive. It can provoke readers, which sometimes it a good thing. Many authors hope to incite questions, especially self-questioning. However, second person breaks down that wall between the fictional world and reality, and many times readers pick up a book because they want to escape for a little while, not be put on the spot.

Warning: There are some editors who say they’ll never publish a second person story because they think it’s gimmicky.

Third Person

Third person POV is the “he,” “she,” or “they.” It’s the POV where the author is hiding, so that readers aren’t aware of the author’s presence. Third person is one of the most common types of POV in literature.

There are two types of third person POV:

  1. Third person limited. The story is told from the character experiencing the action, the unfolding of events in the novel. The character must be present for any dialogue or action to occur. However, there is more wiggle room in third person limited than first person. Third person can pull away some, as well as incorporate multiple voices. Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy takes advantage of this.
  2. Third person Omniscient. This type of POV is where the author is sitting on top of a mountain with the reader and they’re watching all the little people below. With an omniscient POV, information, histories, futures, etc. can be related to the reader, even if the characters in the story aren’t privy to that information. Omniscience creates distance between readers and the protagonist. An omniscient narrator knows everything that’s happening, has happened, and will happen, as well as what all of the characters are doing and thinking. Read Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens’.

What’s great about fiction is that the author can choose which POV to tell his or her story from. And what’s truly important is figuring out which POV is best for the story you want to tell.

What type of POV do you tend to write from? Why?