Loads of notes to go, so be prepared for tips, tips, and MOARRR tips!
WHY DOES POV MATTER?
POV is the lens through which your story is being told. It’s the battery of the story, it’s what drives the story in the first place. POV can make or break a story. Let’s start with Harry Potter (because as Kate and I know, Harry Potter is the best example for everything).
Why is Harry the POV character? How does Harry provide the right lens? How does Harry provide the battery? With Harry we have an outsider so it seems natural for Harry to have things explained to him—which in turn are explained to us. If it was the POV of, say, Ron Weasley, he wouldn’t wonder about the magic of his world because he grew up with it.
Let’s go over the types of POVs:
FIRST PERSON. It is the most common in youth fiction. But it can be easily flubbed. Some of the pros are you can be right in the character’s head and feel what they feel. But some of the cons are your story is limited in its perspective. Even though first person is common in youth fiction, don’t automatically default to it. Take time to weigh all the options and decide whether this perspective is actually best for your story.
But before writing in in first person, learn how to do 3rd person well FIRST!
SECOND PERSON. Unless you want to continue on writing some Choose Your Own Adventure books, don’t. Just don’t.
THIRD PERSON (omniscient). In this POV, the narrator can see all things at all times. It commonly moves between heads. The master narrator knows all.
WARNING: Today’s readers aren’t familiar with it. Which means, especially for newer writers, this is a very dangerous road to tread down. Avoid omniscient unless: 1) You were born by 1920, 2) You have the other POVs down, 3) You have a publishing track record and fan base will stick with you, 4) Your last name is Sanderson (as in Brandon Sanderson).
NOTE: Most new writers mistake third person omniscient for the ability to headhop. This is NOT third person omniscient. For a good example of TPO, read Watership Down.
THIRD PERSON (limited). You are in one character’s head at a time. You can vary it by changing how close the mental camera is. It is the most common POV today. When in doubt, use third person limited.
Okay, you’ve chosen third person limited, but exactly how many characters can you narrate from? How many is too many? A good rule of thumb is just two or three but not more than four at the max. The reason for this is your reader’s need someone to empathize with and root for. If you have too many characters they need to get to know they won’t be able to build up a connection with any of them and won’t have any interest in the story overall.
When picking the right POV for the story or the scene ask yourself: who has the most to lose in this story/scene?
But DON’T CHEAT!
Use only ONE character’s POV per scene. It’s too confusing for readers if you headhop. And more often than not it will break the flow of your story. Remember, nothing should be thought/seen/revealed that the POV can’t know.
When switching POVs, make sure you insert a physical break. This can be done a number of ways, but it’s recommended you put in some asterisks or some kind of indicator so the reader definitely knows this is a break. Make sure also when you’ve switched POVs that you establish you’ve switched. If it’s a chapter, make sure reader knows you’ve switched.
Point of view is really about CHARACTER.
Ask yourself a few questions when writing scenes. What does your POV character notice? Equally as important, what DON’T they notice? Think about what they specifically would say or do.
What does your character think? How does she behave around others? How does she react to events/things/people? What motivates her?
And remember to give the villain the same treatment. Don’t make them flat. Even though we don’t see what they’re doing all the time, have them doing something. Remember, the villain thinks he’s the hero. Give him goals and motivations too.
SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT: Writing Dialogue
Dialogue should do multiple things at once. It should always move the story forward. It can create or add to existing conflict. And it can foreshadow.
What’s the secret to write great dialogue? It comes from knowing your characters so well that you know what they will say and how they will say it when faced with specific people or specific events.
Write your dialogue in such a way so that it was the only possible thing the character could say.
“Dialogue is 90% of character.” -Kay Stockham
SHOW, DON’T TELL & NETWORKING WITH EDITORS/AGENTS
Telling is the biggest red flag that signals a new writer. Everyone says don’t tell, show, but what does that mean? Think of telling as giving exposition/narrative. Showing is creating scenes with dialogue, action, and bringing in the five senses.
To show more: change a word or two. For example, a dog didn’t run in front of your truck, a black lab did. Don’t give the most detailed description ever like you’re running an autopsy, but drop in a few details to help paint a better picture for your reader.
Typically, when you start using “was” or “were” a lot, it means you are TELLING instead of SHOWING.
Ex. Julie was embarrassed. Take out the “was” and replace it with vivid details. What does embarrassed look like? Do her cheeks get hot? Does she hide her face behind her hair? Does tug at her clothes? Don’t tell us she was embarrassed. Show us.
Sunsets are fatal… Don’t begin your book with a lengthy description. If you are setting the scene, it must be SHORT, or applicable to the conflict that you are introducing. Typically in early drafts we writers tend to drop in all the details we think a reader would need to know at the beginning, otherwise known as info-dumping. It’s okay if this happens in a first draft, just make sure you edit it out and weave that information into your story in later drafts. No info-dumping.
When you begin a book, consider starting with dialogue or action. Start it with something happening already.
Rules of Thumb for Description
When you read other books, what do you tend to skim over? Cut out what you skim when reading a book. What description is necessary and interesting to readers? (This will vary according to each story and scene). Something that may help is asking yourself what description ups the ante of the conflict?
And that’s the end of the pre-conference workshop notes. Coming tomorrow, the main conference notes begin. Lots of good stuff people. Lots of good stuff.
These notes were a mix of a multiple presentation given by: Heather B. Moore, Josi S. Kilpack, Annette Lyon, Lu Ann Staheli, and Julie Wright. Click on their names and check out their blogs for even more tips on writing.
Learn anything new? Anything you would add? Anything you disagree with?
16 thoughts on “LUW Conference – Notes Part 2”
Great writing tips.
I think choosing POV can be so hard, and in general I think you’re right about the number of POV to include. The one exception I can think of is George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, where he has, like, a million characters, all with their own POV. For him, it works. I know if I tried that, it would just be a mess of character soup… 😉
I think she did add a George R.R. Martin caveat. I still haven’t read his stuff, I should, at some point. Hearing everyone constantly complain about Game of Thrones keeps it at the back of the queue. 😉
Tee hee, I like that: character soup.
Ahh, POV, my old nemesis, with whom I eventually team up in true superhero style!
“Avoid omniscient unless: 1) You were born by 1920” – aww, man, only 75 years out! xD
Would I be right in thinking that omniscient is more fluid, whereas head-hopping is, well, head-hopping: Janet thought it was cool, Jane was thinking she’d rather avoid it.
I’ve actually read some quite good limited thirds with an entire cast – however, they might work for the YA genre more than NA or above.
I think omniscient is like you sharing your experience when visiting a foreign land without including yourself in it, which is why it so rarely works. Readers today want to get close and personal with someone or a few.
Yeah…that is a bit odd.
While I understand a lot of modern books do not use an omniscient narrator, I think it is problematic to dismiss an entire type of writing.
I think of an omniscient narrator as something more stylized, and probably better for a shorter work. Third person limited and first person are a tighter, faster, more commercial type, but omniscient could be a good experiment.
True. The context is most of the people attending the conference are first-time writers and probably not best to start a debut novel with omniscient. They constantly stressed, know what you’re doing—that’s if you’re looking to trad pub.
If anything it reminded me to read Watership Down. I don’t know how, but I never read it in school.
I need to read Watership Down as well. My brother has read it and really enjoyed it.
And yes, I agree a novice writer would be wise to wait before diving into omniscient narration.
As for George R. Martin’s POV hopping, he had been a writer for decades before starting the Game of Thrones series – so he has enough experience to do his work. (Also, I tried reading the first book, but could not get past the various um… R-rated scenes packed in the first 50 pages – well-written, but too much for me.)
Good to know about GRRM’s books. Whenever I get to them I’ll read cautiously.
“SECOND PERSON. Unless you want to continue on writing some Choose Your Own Adventure books, don’t. Just don’t.”
Ha ha! I totally agree with this. It’s so jarring to come across this POV in books. Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus,” which I disliked (this is the one I told you about before with a lot of atmosphere but a weak plot), uses all three POVs. The second person parts just didn’t sit well with me.
Yep, I dislike 2nd. I’ve really got to read this Night Circus. Sounds like it’s a great bad example. 🙂
I would love to know your thoughts on The Night Circus! You actually might end up liking it. It was one of those books that everyone loved except for me! Seriously, it was on just about everyone’s top 10 list from last year. It’s an atmosphere book that features a very interesting world populated by bland or unintentionally creepy people (in a purposeless battle). It could have been a good book if the author had developed the plot a little bit more. You might disagree with me, though!
I’m big on plot being good, so… who knows? I’ll definitely let you know once I get around to it.
Awesome, as usual. Do you think beginning with action also is true for MG fiction, or is it more important to set the scene?
Probably for MG as well. Although action doesn’t have to be the epic car chase, fight to the death, etc. It can be small contentions between characters or fear of a bully, etc.