Same story, different characters: adult vs child

Karalee’s Post #121

This has been a summer to remember, to savor, and to step back and embrace. I’ve been blessed to have experiences far from my regular day-to-day routine. Oh, I have a lovely daily “box” in the beautiful city of Vancouver, Canada. My routine is diverse and I make it a habit to take alternate routes doing errands and having conversations with all the young people coming and going in my house – all in the name of enjoyment and Alzheimer’s prevention! 🙂

Still, nothing beats experiencing the world from a completely new perspective. Check out http://alisonanddon.com/ and see how they’ve chosen a lifestyle of selling up everything in order to become permanent travelers in their retirement! Their blog is amazing.

I know that my writing will be influenced by my summer’s experiences. This thought takes me back to grade school and the teacher assigning the task to “write a story about what you did for the summer holidays.”

Memories of that writing task has spawned my blog today.  Wouldn’t it be fun to write the same experience from two POV’s? One as the adult and the other as a ten year old?

I’ve had two major experiences this summer. One is my daughter’s wedding that I wrote about last week. The other was an amazing trip to Haida Gwaii with women that I used to dragon boat with. That will be my story here.

Day One in Haida Gwaii:

Adult story:

Our guide loaded boxes of food and supplies and our eight dry bags onto the zodiac before helping us aboard. Dressed in thick dark green wet weather gear held tight to my torso by my life-jacket, I laughed as I rolled across the inflatable like a seal into the boat and took a seat at the back.

Haida Gwaii Zodiac and womenOnce the other seven ladies had rolled aboard and found seats, our guide took off at 25 knots with the wind and rain blasting against the faces of the two in the front row. I was wondering how we would fare with four days of traveling in this weather.

The zodiac zoomed along the remote coastline of Moresby Island for a few minutes before our guide from Moresby Explorers stopped at a sight where an old pier jutted from shore. He told us about local logging practices and how Sitka Spruce trees had been taken down to help build Mosquito airplanes in WWII.

We kept going and the sun came out and the skies cleared. Within another hour of our guide drove the boat ashore in a bay and helped us out onto the beach. He led us into the forest on a trail through an abandoned logging site where logger’s leather boots, metal machine parts and tires were strewn about and overgrown with moss. A decidedly ghostly air surrounded our group of eight ladies as we walked along, and when the trail took us through a First Nation’s burial site we were eerily quiet.

I was glad to pop out into the light of day and onto the beach where lunch magically appeared from a cooler and a log became our table and chairs. We ate chicken sandwiches and quinoa salad in a silence, and it wasn’t only because of the ghosts of past loggers lurking in the trees a few feet away.

Hunger. It silences the best of talkers for a short time.

The sky darkened again and rain broke loose from the threatening clouds forcing us to hunker down in the zodiac as we flew along again. Even with two layers of clothes under my rain gear I was chilled. Moresby Island is remote and we drove for a couple of hours without seeing another boat or building, not even a whale. When we turned a corner of land near the end of the day’s light, I was very happy to see the floating lodge through the rain. It was a beacon of light representing warmth and safety.

Steam rose from us as we entered the heated indoors and stripped off our wet clothes. Squash soup never smelled so good. A glass of wine never tasted so good.

Child’s story:

I had to put on these plastic pants and coat and big boots before I could go in the boat. The man got me a life jacket too. The boat went so fast it was hard to breathe and the rain hurt my face. It was fun.

Haida Gwaii pierThe man stopped and talked about history stuff. One place had logs still sticking up from the ocean where fighter planes were made for the second world war.

We drove a long way and the man drove the boat right onto the beach. I jumped out and the water almost came into my boots. I took off all the gear and we went for a walk in the trees. That was fun. There were old boots all over the place like people just left them. Maybe they left them for someone else to use and they had bare feet. Lots of old machinery was sticking out of the ground too with moss on everything. It looked spooky.

Mosquitoes kept biting me and I was mad. Then I saw these crosses and stone graves. The man said it was a graveyard for the First Nations people and we were to be quiet and not touch anything. It was spooky too.

After we came out at the beach and I threw some rocks in the ocean and found some tiny, tiny crabs under the rocks. That was fun.

I ate a sandwich on a log then we went for a long, long, long boat ride. I got cold and there wasn’t anything to see. It was raining. I wanted to get inside.

 

 

 

The lodge was hot inside. I had soup and hot chocolate and other stuff for dinner.

There was no TV or video games. It was boring and I went to bed.

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Achievements:

  • I had great fun writing these two perspectives. It has shown me that taking the time to do this is can change the perspective I choose to use in a story since each character will see his world in a unique way.
  • Getting back into routine after such a long hiatus. House, garden, working, writing…. It is difficult to balance, especially with 5 young adults living in the house over the summer too.
  • Staying positive! Life is great.

Keeping balance in my life: 

  • Continuing to work on self-development and mindfulness.
  • Start mapping out my day so I can fit in what I need to.
  • Staying in touch with fellow 5Writers every week. Love email!
  • Back to daily exercising. I’m exhausted, but that goes with the territory.

Perspective Photos:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mexico garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy writing!

Another POV: What do you see in your scenes?

Karalee’s Post #106

Sometimes I feel that writers are like jugglers. Or weavers. We need to understand so many aspects of the physical world, human behavior, animal behavior (if we write about animals), history, character back-story and on an on EVEN BEFORE we create our plot line and weave an intricate and entertaining story!

No wonder there are so many stumbling block on the journey to write a novel. With so many balls in the air to keep track of it is easy to let a few fall and roll away and not pay attention to them.

For me, learning the craft of writing was becoming aware of all these aspects and then throwing them up and trying them out like a juggler, then picking them up again and again to study them some more until they became familiar. Familiarity is a key.

Once I reached this point though,  I realized it wasn’t quite enough.

Understanding is a deeper level still. It’s like I can be familiar with and memorize the timetables and still not know what multiplication really is. When I understand the concept, then the whole system makes more sense and can be used with ease rather than a struggle.

POV can be like this.

At first I thought that POV only was for character POV. First person, third person, etc. It took work and practice to become better at writing in a character POV consistently and with enough variability to not become boring or confusing.

As I kept writing and learning the craft, another POV became evident and that’s scene POV. I have been familiar with the concept and wrote about it in a blog a few months ago, Thoughts about POV. You may want to have a look as I won’t rewrite my thoughts here. Since writing this post I’ve come to understand it better, therefore I can use it to my advantage with more ease and expertise.

Understanding why I choose either a close up or farther away scene POV makes the juggling act of keeping yet another writing craft aspect in the air a bit easier. And the more aspects a writer understands, the easier the juggling becomes.

This I believe, is how writing emerges from beginner to intermediate to expert, and stories become fuller and richer.

And of course, the writer is happier with the results too. Keeping all the balls in the air is very satisfying!

You may also want to check out C.S. Lakin’s Shoot Your Novel available on Amazon. She writes the blog Live Write Thrive and has many post on scene POV.

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Writing Progress: Not as much as I intended. I’m away for 3 weeks and will set a word count goal when I get back.

Writing Distractions:  

  1. getting ready for holidays with house preparation, dog grooming, larder stocking for my university going young adults, etc.
  2. Ongoing photo project.

Treats eaten: homemade ice cream – a taste of chocolate .

Movies/TV watched: Agent Carter series.

Books reading: downloaded a few for holidays.

Perspective Photos taken this week:

birdbath

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meeka smell tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy writing

 

 

The dilemma of choosing POV

Karalee’s Post #105

I’m well on my way writing my next manuscript.

My main character is a displaced detective trying her hand in a new business venture. I’ve written many of my major scenes awhile back and over the last couple of months I’ve dedicated time to early preparation for my daughter’s wedding this summer. Alas, my story has sat mostly idle.

That means that I’m catching up with it again and glad to say that I’m loving the story! It amazes me when I leave my writing and come back to it and I get excited all over again. I feel like shouting, “Damn, I can write!” The feeling feeds my passion, and us writers need a boost once in awhile to keep going.

But now I find myself toying with character POV. I know you are probably saying, “Isn’t it a bit late? Why didn’t you decide before starting to put words to paper?”

Well, I thought I had. Rather, I started writing in third person because that’s what felt the most natural at the time. I didn’t really decide up front in my outlining. I guess I let my muse decide at the time.

While rereading my manuscript I’ve realized that, although I’ve written the story in third person, I have my main character in all the scenes and in her POV too. Not even my antagonist has a scene in his POV.

My story could easily be written in first person.

I didn’t consciously do this. I’ve written many stories and all in third person multiple POV’s. All that is, except one. The last novel I wrote I tried out first person. I enjoyed the close in-your-head perspective and maybe I continued in this manner without actually planning it.

Now I seem to be in-between the two! Should I make the switch to first person? The reader would be closer to the main character. But then I’m restricted to only her POV, although I could still write my antagonist in third person without a problem. That could be a good option.

I need to give my story more thought and decide if I want another POV character. Will I have a better story if I do? Should I give the antagonist his own scenes? One thing I can say for sure, writing is never an easy task!

My options are still open.

How do you decide what POV to choose when you write?

As it happens, Nathan Bransford has a post today about POV called 4 tips for handling multiple perspectives in a third person narrative. It’s worth checking out.

Next week I will address another perspective to be aware of in our writing.

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Writing Progress: Good progress reviewing my very rough first draft. Considering my POV choice.

Writing Distractions:  

  1. One thing leads to another and I found myself with paint brush in hand and touching up the baseboards and door-frames in my old and now my new office and the hallway between! Not in my original plans for the week, but it looks great!
  2. Vancouver’s winter is so mild that the crocuses and daffodils are blooming. The garden called very loudly and I spent a day cleaning out old foliage to make way for new. Oh, I also went to a garden shop and got some primulas. Gardening is my other passion….
  3. Ongoing photo project. I’m digitizing old photos at home on a scanner and have sent video tapes off to be digitized through Costco.
  4. Got my tax stuff done. Awesome!

Treats eaten: homemade apple crumble after said tax stuff done!

Movies/TV watched: Happy Valley on Netflix, catching up on Downton Abbey.

Books reading: Gabor Maté’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, books on writing. I’ve downloaded a few from James Scott Bell.

Perspective Photos taken this week:

puddles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

venza mirror

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy writing!

Thoughts about POV

Karalee’s Post #34

I was walking my dogs on Jericho Beach in Vancouver last weekend and a yellow kayak was pulled up onto the rocks and sand, its owner somewhere on land.

kayak1

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At first it almost blended in with the scenery.

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kayak2

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Then it was a definite part of the scenery.

kayak4

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And closer up, it became a major part of the scenery.

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kayak5

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Even closer, it is the scenery.

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Of course this made me think about writing and what we have our characters actually focus on in the scenes we write.

In general, the less intense the scene is the more of the surrounding world (as opposed to the close-up view) our character can be aware of. That said, if a sniper is on a building a block away, a long-shot view can be very intense indeed.

No matter the focal point, the world is seen through the eyes of the point-of-view-character. I’m blessed with the ability to envision that perspective with vivid imagery in my head. My tendency is to be too precise, too focused, and not bring in the outside world enough to capture the sounds and smells and all the other senses of where my character is.

For some reason this walk on the beach drew my attention to how the world really does look different at a distance versus closer up and all the in-between stages. Now, take two characters in your book on the same walk and they would each see their world differently. To me that is the essence of developing our characters; how they view their world depends not only on their physical characteristics, but also through their past experiences and how they have dealt with them.

Of course I already knew this, but don’t we all have those “aha” moments when the obvious becomes, well, obvious? It’s fun too, to look at the world and know that you know how to describe it from various points-of-view. Every one of them will be right, but only one will be the right one  for the scene we’re writing.

Now that is where the skill of a writer lies.

I read a blog http://www.livewritethrive.com and the author addresses the topic of Shoot Your Novel. It’s a good read. Topics the author includes are :

Sometimes just taking a walk with no expectations (other than to enjoy the beautiful sunshine and watch my dogs have fun) allows the mind to wander and notice things a bit differently. Now I can use that yellow kayak in my mind’s eye as a vivid reminder of who is focusing on what in my writing. Then, as a more experienced writer, I will ask myself if that point-of-view is the right one for the scene or is there a better one?

Happy writing.

Getting some perspective on perspective

perspective

Silk’s Post # 27 — This is a short trip into the murky territory of ‘perspective’ and ‘point of view’. These terms are often used interchangeably in general discourse, to describe some combination of outlook and opinion. However, they have more esoteric meanings to the writer of narrative fiction. Still, most people would probably say it’s pretty clear what these words mean.

But should they?

I thought I had a perspective on narrative perspective until I started doing a bit more research online. That was an hour ago, and it wasn’t an illuminating hour. (Since I’m on the road I’m without my library of writing books that have whole chapters on this topic).

I found many more references covering ‘perspective’ and ‘point of view’ in literature than I had time to read. Some seemed to interpret these terms as ways to describe the same phenomenon, others insisted they were distinctly different things. Some declared there were only four points of view in literature, or knocked off an appealingly simple definition (did you know there is actually a Point of View in Literature for Dummies online?). Some were mind-numbingly dense academic lectures. I concluded I could spend many more hours trying to interpret the various interpretations, and retreated to write my post in a state of only partial enlightenment.

It made me wonder how I wrote a whole book without really knowing the finer points of this stuff. But then, it would appear that a good many of the online references I consulted really don’t know them either.

Narrative perspective is a quicksand that can really suck you down when you dip your toe into the murky region of personhood: First Person, Second Person, and the whole Third Person family, which includes the pesky narrative voice triplets – Third Person Objective, Third Person Subjective and Third Person Omniscient – who like to fool writers by impersonating each other.

And let’s not even talk about Alternating Person View. About halfway through my first book, the eagle-eyed Karalee observed in one of our critique sessions that I had already created eight POV characters. Executions followed (of some characters, not of Karalee).

If you really want to drive yourself nuts, you can contemplate the differences between Third Person Omniscient and Universal Omniscient (sometimes referred to as the “Little Did He Know” POV). Or you might wish to converse knowledgeably about whether Third Person Objective is really better named (as some insist) Third Person Dramatic. And, of course, you’ll want to be aware that if you are using the Third Person Subjective narrative voice for only a single character in your book, it’s more properly called Third Person Limited.

Not only that, there are other, even more rarefied narrative voices to choose from – antiquated or black sheep POV cousins such as the Epistolary Voice (who speaks through letters or documents), and my personal favourite the Unreliable Narrator Voice (who obviously speaks with forked tongue).

Now that I’ve led you into this swamp, I wish I could pull you to shore with some nice, crisp definitions of all these POV variations on narrative perspective. Sorry. I’d love to help you but I’ve completely lost perspective.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that each of these POV varieties comes with its own set of strict rules, which must be absolutely followed except when they can be broken, and which often sound exactly like the rules for some other POV variety with the exception of some slight sub-rule?

[Sigh].

Breaking the rules

rule bookSilk’s Post #26 — Everybody ‘writes’. (Let’s leave the very real literacy problem aside for the moment and concede that writing is a pretty commonplace activity.)

We all express ourselves in written words, somewhere, somehow, for some reason.

But becoming a ‘writer’ is quite a different matter. The decision to take up writing as a profession, even when (or maybe especially when) it’s a second career, takes a mole hill and turns it into a mountain. The simple, familiar, natural act of putting words on paper (or on screen) becomes a sometimes bewildering challenge.

You read a book – probably many books – and you become seduced. You think: I can do that, how hard can it be to tell a story?

Of course, very few would admit to thinking that naive thought, especially somewhere around chapter five of their first book. But surely most of us must have privately entertained a similar notion at some point. Otherwise, would we have set out on the Writer’s Journey at all?

Would-be novelists do not get very far down this road before they find themselves anxiously looking for road signs to tell them where they are and how to get to where they want to go. As soon as we realize we’re probably lost, we hunt for a friendly filling station where we can find a map, and maybe buy a guide book. We grab what help we can find, and top it off with a large coffee to go.

Once you understand that knowing how to put words on paper is not the same as knowing how to tell a story, what you really want to know are the rules of play. You have an idea for a novel, but where do you start? How do you move the plot forward? What do you do at the end? It all seemed so obvious before you faced that blank page. Now you cast your eyes skyward and beg for some reliable commandments that will get you to writer’s heaven.

Fear not. Apart from tax accounting, there is probably no field of endeavour so richly endowed with rules as the enterprise of novel writing. Many centuries of English etymology have yielded a whole universe of rules on usage, vocabulary and grammar, with such a mind-boggling array of exceptions to every rule that just navigating the language is an epic quest in itself.

But that pales in comparison with the rules of storytelling that must be followed if you want to turn your idea into a bestselling novel. Let’s start with the rule that there are only Seven Basic Plots. Or perhaps there are five. Or twenty. There is no real general agreement on this rule.

In fact, right away you discover that you’re going to have to choose among competing rules.

And there are many prescriptions for what a writer must, or must not, do. The aspiring writer, eager to learn, is given to understand that the penalty for breaking the rules is a rejection notice. Career suicide. Eternal obscurity. Among the most conventional of these rules (listed from memory after a couple of years of seeing them over and over and over) are:

  1. Show, don’t tell
  2. Write what you know
  3. Avoid too many adjectives, and all adverbs
  4. Write in active, not passive, voice
  5. Don’t go on and on and on and on and on
  6. Put conflict on every page
  7. Banish boring backstory
  8. Mind your POV
  9. Keep the writer’s presence invisible
  10. Don’t use exclamation points (for much more than you ever wanted to know about this topic, see my earlier post, “I miss the exclamation point!”)

Did you notice how I made a neat list of 10 rules? I’m following a literary tradition here. The gurus who give writing advice, many of them writers themselves, like to come up with pithy lists of rules.

Elmore Leonard has Ten Rules for Writing, as Paula noted in her post “Deja vu all over again”. So does Etgar Keret (plus a few hints about nose-picking). Neil Gaiman managed to edit his list down to Eight Rules for Writing. The great Robert Heinlein’s Six Rules for Writing are some of the tersest and wisest.

But that’s just a tiny sampling. There are pages and pages full of rules to learn. Books full. Seriously, there is no end to this overflow of wisdom. It’s an industry.

But there’s a catch. And it’s a big one.

Nobody ever wrote a great book by following rules. 

I’m not suggesting all this rulemaking and advice is not helpful. Rules encapsulate broader lessons that writers need to learn, and provide useful (if sometimes confusing) signposts along the road to from “Once Upon a Time” to “The End.” However, I’ve been forced to the conclusion that following rules is certainly no guarantee of success, nor is breaking them a guarantee of failure.

I offer evidence from two very different points in the literary spectrum.

Exhibit 1: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.

girl-with-the-dragon-tattooThe blockbuster book. The hollywood movie. The phenomenon. Together with the two other titles that make up Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, this series racked up 65 million sales worldwide in a little over five years, and spawned three darkly dramatic Swedish films and a star-studded Hollywood remake.

I have yet to talk to anyone who started the series and did not get sucked into it. I also have yet to talk to a reader who doesn’t claim they almost abandoned it as they laboured through the slow-moving, backstory-riddled, unexciting first few chapters.

“Why the hell is everybody raving about this thing?” was my first reaction. But I stuck with it. Millions did. And we were rewarded with an original and daring saga, driven by unforgettable characters.

Flawed? Certainly. Perhaps if Larsson hadn’t dropped dead at 50 and had polished it further with the help of a good editor, it would have been a better book. Or maybe it would have been “fixed” by rewriting it into a forgettable formula suspense-thriller, or never have been published at all.

If Larsson has a biographer, I hope they’ll name the book The Man Who Broke the Rules.

Exhibit 2: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.

midnight's-childrenThe Booker Prize. The art film. The critics’ darling. This 1981 saga of India is an enduring work of literature that became a movie 31 years after it was published. Critics lavished praise on Rushdie’s second novel, the sale of which prompted the author to quit his part-time job as an advertising copywriter and become a full-time novelist.

“An extraordinary novel … one of the most important to come out of the English-speaking world in this generation.”      — The New York Review of Books

“Huge, vital, engrossing … in all senses a fantastic book.”   — The Sunday Times

What most people know Rushdie for is his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, which earned him a different type of notoriety: a 1989 fatwa calling for his execution issued by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini for what was judged to be the book’s irreverence in its portrayal of the prophet Muhammad.

But while Rushdie’s work made him an outlaw in the Islamic world, it made him a superstar in the literary world. Midnight’s Children was awarded the “Booker of Bookers” prize in 1993 for the best novel among Booker Prize winners for fiction over the prize’s first 25 years. In 2008 it went on to win the “Best of the Booker” by popular vote.

I defy anyone to dive into the rich, thick soup of Midnight’s Children with anybody’s list of writing rules in hand. You will be overwhelmed with the wanton breakage of virtually all of them. There’s tell-tell-telling that doesn’t at all feel like telling. Bizarre, lurching changes in POV, concurrent with dizzying shifts in time and space. The book is littered with odd punctuation, so that it often feels like you’re reading a song with some hidden rhythm rather than a piece of prose. It’s difficult. A book to give an agent ulcers. Yet the whole thing is utterly engulfing.

What to say about an author so given to rule breaking and prize winning? He’s a survivor. A creative voice that has persisted despite death threats, assassination attempts, multiple marriages, the commercial obsession of the publishing industry, and every writing rule book. Oh, and the advertising business.

So let me ask Colson Whitehead, New York Times Sunday Book Reviewer to wrap up this rule-breaking point for me:

“There are no rules. If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?”

The monkey see, monkey do trap

Andel I

Silk’s Post #14 — I can’t write and read at the same time.

This is different from the jokey problem of walking while chewing gum. It’s not that I can’t multi-task, god knows. That’s all I do is multi-task. In fact I think the only thing I do without the distraction of three or four other balls in the air is sleep.

No, my problem is: I mimic.

When I read a good action thriller with lots of short, punchy, three-word sentences, I begin to write short, punchy, three-word sentences. When I read literature with long complex sentences and five dollar words, I start writing unstoppable sentences that turn into paragraphs with a hundred commas. When I read Ian Rankin, I begin to write as though I speak with a Scottish accent, and when I read Bill Bryson I suddenly seem to sound funnier — and slightly, if awkwardly, British. (I only wish I could mimic Martin Cruz Smith).

You see my dilemma?

Writers – and the large galaxy of people who seem to make a pretty good living coaching writers on how to write – are always talking about how important it is to read, read, read if you want to write, write, write. Don’t any of them have my monkey-see-monkey-do problem?

But if I admit it (and you know that’s a writer’s way of warning you they’re about to admit something), I have a deeper problem with reading while I’m writing. It all sounds so much better than my own work. Probably not all of it really is better, but there it is in ink, on a page – and there’s my work in pixels, on a screen. Ink gives a certain je ne sais quoi to writing. A certain intimidation factor. For one thing, it’s no longer deletable, and that seems to add to its substance and legitimacy.

This second reading problem, however, is pretty clearly a psychological one. Writer’s self doubt. The remedy for it would seem to be getting published (though I suspect that from time to time even some well-respected, published authors still wrestle with the dark conviction that they’re actually frauds and it’s only a matter of time before they’re found out).

But back to mimicry.

Agents are always going on about how they’re looking for a fresh voice. By that, I’m quite sure they do not mean writers who’ve cleverly learned how to sound like other writers. (On the other hand, watch how a surprise runaway bestseller will send them scrambling to sign up exactly that … the next J.K. Rowling, for instance).

So what is “voice” exactly? This post is definitely in my voice. You can probably hear me speaking it, see the expressions on my face, and “read” my body language. The eye rolls. The resigned grins. The hand-wringing and the head wagging. The devilish sparkle in my eye. I actually find it easy to project my “voice” when I’m the first-person “protagonist” in expository non-fiction. I’ve been practising it for a long time as a writer in the commercial marketplace.

But applying this to fiction is a very different challenge. No doubt, there’s a little bit of the author in every memorable protagonist, but too much of the author on the page – as we’ve all been warned in the strongest possible terms – is one of the cardinal sins in fiction. “Author intrusion!” must be second only to “cliché alert!” as an often seen, and always dreaded, margin note.

Joe amused and intrigued us with his post about “becoming a 16-year-old girl” so he could write in the voice of his protagonist. And here’s where mimicry can be a boon. Observe, listen and learn from real life, and if you’re a good mimic you can become a character who is nothing like the real you. If you’re really empathic, you can begin to see the world through your character’s eyes and think with your character’s brain.

So this mimicry thing is actually a pretty useful skill. In the right circumstances.

The problem, for me anyway, comes when I’m reading another author and being sucked into the head of someone else’s protagonist while trying to write from the viewpoint of my own hero. It’s like trying to listen to two pieces of music at the same time. I lose my beat. And I’m guessing that when Joe was writing his YA fantasy, he didn’t have a couple of Jack Reacher thrillers on his bedside table for his nighttime reading.

I have heard at least one well-known author claim to eschew reading while writing, to keep the “voice pollution” out of his head. The question then becomes: when do you read if you’re writing all the time?

An interesting dilemma, this monkey-see-monkey-do trap. Can you read and write at the same time?  If not, how do you deal with it?

A sense of place

Silk’s Post #10 — Ooh, ooh, ooh, stop! Slow down, slow down. This is where I want to be. I want to enjoy this, explore everything. Oh please … I don’t want this to end …

Not dialogue from a sex scene in my novel. This was me talking to my husband Sunday morning – not in (ahem) our bedroom, but in our car as we drove south on Interstate 5 in the driving rain, on our way to California for a whirlwind family Thanksgiving rendezvous. What got me so exercised as I stared out the shotgun seat window, watching the exit signs slide by?

University of Washington

Pike Place Market, Seattle

We were driving right by my novel’s locations, the ones I’m burning to explore, understand, become intimate with. Seattle, Whidbey Island, the University of Washington campus, Puget Sound, Deception Pass and so many other tantalizing venues.

I ‘know’ these places. But I don’t KNOW these places the way I need to. I want their smells in my nose, their sounds in my ears. I want to know the shortcut from my protagonist’s apartment to her favourite restaurant, and what – exactly – she might see if she walks that route in the dead of night. I want to see the view from her window, sit in the transit shelter where she catches a bus, stand on the beach west of her family’s Whidbey Island home, and see the road where her brother had his accident.

For me, place is always one of the most important characters in any book. When I took the plunge and wrote my first novel (the one calling to me from the depths of my computer files, where it awaits a strenuous rewrite), I took the advice of many writing gurus and wrote what I know … at least in terms of location. And what I know is my adopted island home. A place locals often refer to, with fondness, as Planet Saltspring. I know my own island so well I can tell you which patch of bigleaf maple trees along the Stewart Road route from the south end to Ganges village has the best show of golden colour in the fall. And I can describe about 90 per cent of the fascinating items you’ll see at the colourful Saturday Market in Centennial Park.

I want to know the locations of my new story this well. But I wanted to stretch out beyond Saltspring. It was time for me to ‘leave home’ and write about a different setting. Seattle and Whidbey Island are not dramatically different from Vancouver and Saltspring Island, that’s true. But every place on Earth is unique, like a fingerprint. And to be a dynamic, memorable – perhaps even haunting – ‘setting character’ for a novel, that place must be authentic. A living thing.

And here we were, speeding down I-5, right past it all. No time to stop because of our breakneck schedule. I could have wept.

I am always mightily impressed by writers who can create an authentic sense of place when setting their novel in location where they’ve never lived. Maybe never even visited. What supreme confidence! To craft a memorable setting – a setting essential to the story and its characters – by drawing on research and imagination alone.

This is, to me, perhaps a more daring feat than the kind of creative world-building that makes fantasy or science fiction so appealing, as awesome as that may be in its own right. The simple reason: no one alive can really complain about how wrong you got it. With real places, every hint of inauthenticity stands out like London Bridge in the middle of a desert to a person who actually calls that place home.

World-building takes magic. Writing about real places before you really know them intimately – that takes crust.

So, as I watched my new novel’s landmarks disappear in the rearview mirror on Sunday, a sense of longing and promise gnawing at me, I made a vow. Like General Douglas MacArthur, shall return. Like the Terminator, I’ll be baahk. I will walk in my characters’ footsteps and look through their eyes at the inspiring, nuanced world in which their story plays out. I will learn what makes this ‘setting-character’ tick, experience its resonance. Bring it to life so that no one could ever mistake it for someplace else.

But not now.

Now, I just need to write and keep writing. Write, right or wrong. Take my best shot. Invent what I don’t really know. Screw stuff up, maybe. Describe things I’ve never seen and paint my settings with colours I know may be off a shade – or even laughably inaccurate.

And then, as Joe described in his fabulous Las Vegas Rewrite blog, I will revisit the scene of the crime and find out how close I came. Or didn’t. And fix accordingly.

Ah, the joys of rewrite. Another bridge to cross.

Deception Pass Bridge, Whidbey Island

Battle of the sexes

Paula’s Post #9 — If you’ve been following this blog, you may have figured out by now that both Joe and I are writing YA novels.

In his post last week, Traitorous Doubts, Joe wrote:

Pages written: 125.

Seriously?

Joe, Joe, Joe… you’re killing me!

Those words terrify me. I want to throw down my outline and write. I can’t possibly keep tinkering, ad infinitum, with my outline’s sagging middle and murky ending.

I have to start writing.

Except I’m beginning to have my doubts about a few things.

Doubts so big, my target YA audience might even label these doubts ‘ginormous’. And while we’re on this rant, why doesn’t spellcheck recognize ‘ginormous’ as a perfectly good, highly descriptive adjective? How can I write a great YA novel when spellcheck doesn’t know the word ginormous exists?

But once again, I digress.

Suffice it to say that my ginormous self-doubts are so seminal to my novel, so important to every nuance of plot and subplot, I know I can’t possibly start writing until I decide whether to listen to those nagging little twinges of ‘self-doubt’ and make a HUGE CHANGE to my story, or just tell the nasty little buggers to scram and shove them head first into the nearest trash can.

So what are these ‘ginormous’ self-doubts

This weekend, almost half way through the 5writers challenge, I suddenly started to doubt whether my protagonist, my main point of view character, the kid on whose shoulders my entire story rests, should, in fact, be male, not female.

Ack, Ack, Ack! This can’t be happening.

Months ago I decided on a strong female protagonist. Teenage boys don’t read fiction. Sure, there are exceptions, (I’m guessing Joe is one of them) but apparently not enough to make agents and editors want to take a chance on a book with a male protagonist.

I get that.

But now that I’ve got the whole book more or less mapped out, I’m starting to doubt whether my characters and storyline will appeal to girls. Rather, I feel that I may be writing a novel that is more likely to appeal to boys.

And if so, how do I reconcile my Catch-22 dilemma? The one that says: don’t make your protagonist a boy, since 75% of all YA readers are girls.

Writers talk about having ‘beta’ readers. I’m only at the outline stage, and I’m out-of-town right now… 2500 kilometres away from my 5writers buddies. I have only my husband off whom to bounce ideas. Sure, I could call or email my 5writers buddies and seek their feed back on this dilemma, but to do so I’d have to divulge much of my plot, and that is something we 5writers more or less decided we would not do.

So I’m stuck with my husband as sounding board.

He’s a boy.

He reads.

His verdict? My protagonist should be male.

But after seeking his advice, I still felt conflicted. After all, how often do you take advice from your spouse?

For me, there is a lesson in all this: outlining has its virtues, but at some point, I feel I just have to start writing the damn book, even if I don’t quite know the ending yet. I need to find out where my characters are going to take me…

…oh, and what sex they’re going to be!

So yesterday I started writing. I now can clock in, just like my hero Joe:

Pages written: 19

Pie’s eaten this week: 0

Sex of Protagonist: Female…

…at least for now.

Traitorous doubts

(Or How To Lose A Day of Writing)

Joe’s Post #8 — 

Number of pages written to date: 125

Number of movies seen: 1 (Flight)

Number of pages I should have written today: 10

Number of pages written today: 0 (reason below)

Pies eaten: 0

This week: I could see it coming.  A wall.  A big one.  Thick and tall and very, very wide.  I tried to ignore it, but the faster I went, the farther down the road I sped, the larger it loomed.  I spun the wheel, braked, swerved, then wham, bang, crash, clink, clink, clink.

I’d hit a wall.

AKA: writer’s block.

How did I hit it?

One simple question.

Had I made the right POV choice?

Oddly, it was something the other writers have written about this week.  YA, like most genres, has rules.  One of them is that it should, but doesn’t have to be, written in 1st person.

It’s actually a style I’m quite comfortable with, but one I didn’t choose for this book.  Why?  I have three stories to tell and two of them would get left out if I went only with 1st person POV.

But then the idea of 1st person POV wormed its way into my head like some sort of vile maggot.  Now I know there is a ton of dead tissue up there for the thing to feed upon because as the day wore on, the more I tried to get back to 3rd person POV, the more the maggot of doubt grew.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are books out there that use 3rd person POV.  Harry Potter, for goodness sake.  Wings.  The Inheritance Cycle.  So maybe I’m just bugging on this too much, but like it or not, that doubt ate at me all day.

Maybe it’s part of the process.  Maybe there are some days where I need to question my choices, to reinforce the decisions or reverse them.  But I hate that doubt.  Hate it!

Hopefull, by tomorrow, I will have resolved the issue one way or the other, but today, oh man, today, I lost a day of writing because of a single nasty bit of doubt.