Tag Archives: POV

Timing in fiction…

There are actually two types of timing in fiction – the pace of the story and the passage of time in the story. They are not the same.

Pace has to do with how quickly one event follows the other. For example, in an action story, events tend to follow each other like a ten car pile up, with very little ‘slow’ time in between. On the other hand, in character driven stories, the action is always precipitated by some kind of internal motivation. For example, the serial killer had a rotten childhood and maybe has a flashback prior to choosing their next victim, who may bear some resemblance to their childhood tormentor. Or you could have a more literary style story where the motivation is the story and the action, what there is of it, simply illustrates the character of the protagonist. In these kind of stories, the pace is generally slow, but the immersion is deep.

By contrast, the passage of time in a story has nothing to do with the characters. It’s all about how the Reader perceives the passing of time.

One oft used technique is to provide the Reader with actual dates. For example, in the short prologue to Miira, I used the date and title of the news article – ‘September 22, 2101 – Three dead in Stradwick‘ – to place the Reader squarely in the future. I did something similar at the start of Nabatea – ‘…the voice of the AI seemed unnecessarily loud as it confirmed brain death at 1:46 pm, Sunday the 25th of December, 2101.’ but I was a little sneakier about it.

And that provides me with a neat segue into why writers shouldn’t use dates too often – they don’t always work. I’m pretty sure the date of Alex Tang’s death would have registered with Readers, but I suspect most people would have skimmed over the date at the very beginning of book 1.

A far more effective way to show the passage of time in a story is to make the Reader feel it. Yes, I know, easier said than done. Before the evolution of the current fast paced, smack ’em first and smack ’em hard style of writing, authors used to be able to get away with things like:

  • And two weeks later, Joe Bloggs did XXXX
  • Two years before, when Mary Bloggs did XXXXX etc

There is a place for this kind of technique, but it is [excuse the pun] dated. A more cogent reason not to use it is physiological; the human brain builds memories by creating multiple connections to them. Teachers know this by the name of ‘repetition’. The word strikes terror into the hearts of all students, but repetition does not have to be dull and boring.

Want the reader to see your Main Character as blond and blue eyed? Then show them, every now and then, by some oblique reference that may not register at a conscious level but will register at the level of the subconscious. I sometimes think of this kind of gentle, subtle repetition as painting a portrait in layers of colour and shape and edges. As writers, we have to apply those layers using words instead of paint, but the building of layers remains the same.

Making the Reader feel the passage of time is a bit more complicated than building the image of a face, but changing the chapter and the POV [Point of View] acts as a circuit breaker. The steady, sequential flow of events stops, and the Reader is suddenly elsewhere, looking out through someone else’s eyes. When the story eventually returns to the first character, there is a sense of distance, of time having passed…as in fact it has.

But be warned, constantly jumping from one character to another can be incredibly disorientating. Yes, there may well be a sense of time having passed, but the technique could also cause a nasty case of confusion. Changing the POV just to simulate the passage of time is not such a great idea. Simulating time should be one of many different techniques used to tell a story with the Reader in mind. What does the Reader need to know and what is the best way of presenting that information?

I like using multiple POVs, but I know that some of you prefer to tell stories from the perspective of just one character, so I’d love to know how you tackle the problem of time.

cheers
Meeks

p.s. the free period for Nabatea ends tomorrow at midnight, February 20 for Northern Hemisphere people, or about 6 or 7pm February 21 for Southern hemisphere bods. 🙂

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Characters – how close is too close?

I just finished a scifi space opera that could have been very good, but wasn’t. A big part of the reason was the author’s over use of internal monologue. I left a 3 star review, something I haven’t done in years, and a long explanation of why I felt the story only deserved a 3, but it’s still annoying me, hence this post.

For those who don’t know what I mean by ‘internal monologue’ it’s the character, talking to herself, but not out loud, hence ‘monologue’. In books, this internal monologue is usually shown in italics, to distinguish it from spoken dialogue.

When used properly, internal monologue is a powerful tool that betrays the character’s true feelings without the author having to say so. For example, I could say:

Jane smiled sweetly at her boss, but inside she was seething with rage.

Or I could make it more ‘show’ than ‘tell’ by changing it to:

Incompetent fool! Jane thought as she smiled sweetly at her boss.

The internal monologue of the second example provides an inside-outside view of the character that can be very powerful. Unfortunately, like all powerful tools, it should be used sparingly, and only when it actually serves a purpose. The story that earned my 3 star review used internal monologue almost constantly, for the most trivial of reasons. Something like:

Jane walked into the party and surveyed the crowd. Oh my. She was familiar with most of the party goers and did not like them. Then she spotted Tom. Thank god. Someone intelligent to talk to. etc etc etc

In the actual book, sentences like this were not exceptional. They happened with monotonous regularity, even during action scenes when the last thing you want to do is slow things down.

There’s another reason internal monologue should be used sparingly – a character with too many ‘warts’ is rarely likeable. Instead, they come across as whiny and self-obsessed, or arrogant smartarses. This can also happen with First Person POV – i.e. where the character tells the story from her own perspective saying things like “I did this” and “I felt that” etc.

In fairness I have to say that while I don’t generally like First Person POV, some of my favourite stories have been written from that very close perspective. C.J. Cherryh does it with the Foreigner series, and Audrey Driscoll did it with the Herbert West series. It can be done, and it can be done brilliantly, but First Person POV requires a mastery of the tool that far too many new authors do not possess.

The author of that 3 star story did not use First Person POV. Instead, the story is written in what’s called ‘Close Third’ – i.e. “She did this and she felt that”. There is distance between the character and the reader, but we get to see more of the internal workings of the character’s mind.

One of the tools used to create closeness is, of course, internal monologue, but it is not the only tool available to us. Describing a character’s body language can be a far more effective tool because it allows the reader to picture the scene and come to their own conclusions about what the character is doing or feeling. Showing the character from the perspective of another character is also very powerful because they can often see us as we really are instead of as we see ourselves…

-sigh-

And this is the point at which I have to say…’in my not so humble opinion’. I don’t often write process posts because I truly do not believe there is only one ‘correct’ way of writing a story, but sometimes I can’t help myself. This is one of those times.

Does this annoy anyone else, or am I being a ‘difficult woman’ again? lol Would love to know, but feel free to add any of your own pet peeves as well. 🙂

Meeks


LMAO – a dog’s pov of US!

My thanks to Scottie for posting this hilarious video!

Happy Monday my friends!

Meeks


When is close too close?

This will be a post about POV – point-of-view – in writing, so if this kind of thing bores you to tears, look away now. For everyone else, I have a question:

Do you enjoy First Person POV – i.e. the type of story that is all about what ‘I said’, ‘I saw’, ‘I did’, ‘I thought’, ‘I felt’?

The reason I ask is because I’ve never particularly enjoyed First Person POV, but I didn’t actively hate it until I began reading the second book in First Person POV in almost as many days.

The first story I read was actually pretty good. It had a lot of the elements I look for in a good sci-fi story. But it also had a heroine I simply could not ‘like’. She vacillated between ridiculously wimpy not-quite-adult and hardcore, kickarse hero. The motivation was there, but it was almost too much, along the lines of ‘familiarity breeds contempt’.

I like characters that aren’t perfect. I like them to have quirks, weaknesses, flaws. I even like them to be ‘broken’ because then there’s the hope that they will heal and grow. What I don’t like is seeing them from the inside.

I won’t name the story or the protagonist because I’ve suddenly realised that these are criticisms I apply to almost all First Person POV fiction. There have been exceptions [C.J.Cherryh’s Foreigner series is one], but they are rare, imho.

This issue crystalized for me when I started reading the second ‘Me, Me, Me’ story. It was even worse. Just a few chapters in and I couldn’t read any more. Not only did it have editing issues, it had a main character whose motivation can only be described as schizophrenic. This particular character spent virtually the whole first chapter being paranoid, for no real reason. Then she did a complete about face and…

Enough. I doubt that the author concerned will ever read my blog, or this post, but I don’t want to say anything that might identify the story because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Writing is hard. Publishing is harder, and none of us need other authors criticising us in public. That’s why I never leave reviews of books I’ve hated. Sadly, I hate this one.

Moving on. So what do I like?

I like Close Third Person POV – i.e. where we see the character from the outside, but also get some thoughts and feelings.

I also like reading more than one POV – i.e. where we get to see the story through the eyes of two or more characters. Importantly, we get to see the main character[s] through the eyes of other characters.

I know that some of you find multiple POVs distracting, and I can understand that; you’re reading along happily and suddenly, bang, total change of POV, of scene, of story arc etc. Unless you enjoy that particular technique, multiple POVs can be hard work. Nevertheless, don’t you think we get a more truthful version of the main character when we see them through the eyes of others?

I know I’ve been surprised by how others see me, sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. When I’m honest with myself, however, the change of perspective usually makes me grow as a person.

I’m not saying that I lie, to myself or others, but I’ve learned that we all see ourselves through the prism of some sort of bias. Confident people generally see themselves as hero material. Less confident people may focus on their flaws to the exclusion of their good qualities. Outsiders, however, can often see things we are incapable of seeing in ourselves.

Just as I believe this ‘outsider’ view is healthy for real people, I also believe it can work for characters in fiction. I think it helps to balance out the internal distortions of ego, providing a more realistic, and often likable, character.

Coincidentally, this outsider view also allows the author to avoid the necessity of writing that awful mirror scene. You know the one:

‘Look at me. I’m looking at myself in the mirror/pond/reflective glass so I can describe what I look like to you, the reader’.

That technique is a tool, and like any tool, it has its time and place, but like all the other tools in the writer’s bag of tricks, it shouldn’t be abused. And it shouldn’t be…predictable.

Okay, that’s probably more on writing than I’m comfortable with, but I would like to know what everyone else thinks. I really am open to persuasion. 🙂

Agree?

Disagree?

‘Yes but…?

‘You’ve just been reading the wrong books…?’

‘Boooooring…?

cheers

Meeks


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