Focus: For Writers

Remembrance: How to Write an Obituary

A week ago my husband and I, along with our daughter, flew to Missouri for the celebration of the life of my beautiful, loving mother-in-law, Jeri. Jeri was born in Oklahoma but was raised and spent much of her life in Cabool, Missouri (really), a tiny town east of Springfield. It was a wonderful tribute to a woman who lived her life dedicated to her immediate and extended family and her community. The many relatives who’d enjoyed her kindness through the years spoke of her graciousness. She did the right thing, even when others wondered why. I was lucky to have her as my mother-in-law. She showed her love for me and my daughter (who came into Jeri’s life at age seven) in many acts of kindness in her life. One other writers will enjoy is that she was so proud of my having a book published that she bought copies for each of her siblings, whether or not they read much or appreciated humorous mysteries.

Jeri's memorial flowers
Jeri’s memorial flowers

Jeri spent her last years in a memory care center here in Tucson, not her happiest move. She’d had a stroke and couldn’t be independent any longer, so my husband and his sister decided she’d have to move here. Even though she was legally blind and couldn’t read anymore—her favorite pastime— or listen to music—another lost joy—she was always kind to the staff of the center and always welcomed me with love. She introduced me to the staff (many times!) as her daughter-in-law, the author. Not much more you could hope for in a mother-in-law.

Jeri’s death reminded me of an article I wrote some years back about how to write an obituary, so I’m including it here. Now I realize it would be easier to write one after friends and relatives share memories of the departed loved one. For example, a cousin talked about how Aunt Jeri always had lemon drops on hand in her home, something I’d forgotten.  A good obituary provides memories for the bereaved to cherish.

Here’s that article:

What to say in an obituary or other tribute

Writing an obituary for a relative or a dear friend or delivering a eulogy are tasks likely to fall to many of us. How can they be done successfully?

The Obituary

To be certain your obituary includes what you want others to remember about you, write it yourself. Only you know what you hold most dear and which accomplishments and amusing stories about your life should be shared after your death. Doing it yourself also saves loved ones the pain and anxiety of writing your obituary.

Writing an Obituary for Someone Else

Funeral homes will provide assistance in writing an obituary, but their employees did not know the deceased and will include only the essential facts – birth, date of death, a list of surviving family and family members who predeceased the person. They may include other vital information, if you provide it, such as military service, education, honors and awards.

It’s your responsibility to assure all information is correct. Include the full name of the deceased along with any nicknames. Double check the spelling of survivors’ names and cities of residence.

Most newspapers charge by the line for publishing obituaries, so length is a consideration. Given lower circulation, newspapers are desperately seeking new revenue sources, so check before you blithely send off a lengthy obit.

A butterfly at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center
A butterfly at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center

As with any communication, consider the audience. What do you want those who read the obituary to remember about the deceased individual? How would he or she wish to be remembered? Include previous residences in the obituary and consider placing it in a newspaper in that city.

An obituary is not a biography, not a listing of all major life events as they occurred. Sometimes it is better to begin with the person’s distinctive character traits or contributions, or to an event that changed the direction of the person’s life.

If you are not a family member or a very close friend, consider spending a few moments with the family, interviewing them about what to include and what to omit. Try to add something of the deceased person’s personality to the obituary. Someone who went through life with optimism and a sense of humor wouldn’t want to be recalled in a totally sorrowful obituary. Someone who found frivolity a waste of time might not appreciate your amusing anecdotes. Use simple language, short words and sentences. Don’t be flowery or overly formal.

If you wish, include clubs and service organizations the person belonged to, his or her hobbies, and passions. If a woman took joy in teaching her grandchildren to bake, share that. As in any communication, avoid acronyms or other phrasing readers won’t understand.

Include information on where memorial contributions or donations may be made. Also include funeral or memorial service information.

As with any important document, proofread and have someone else proofread it.

Cobbler, Slab, Crisp or Slump?

Some might consider the various terms used to describe fruit desserts as jargon, “insider” language to be avoided. I consider their colorful names words to ponder, and the dishes delicious treats to savor.

We all know what a pie is, but why all the other creations and the many names? A 2013 article by Kim Severson in The New York Times, “Sonkers, Grunts, Slumps and Crumbles: What You Call Your Pie Depends on Where You Live,” begins with the search for an authentic recipe for a sonker and ends with a helpful glossary.

Many of the dishes were created to stretch the use of fruit that wasn’t ready for display in a tart. Food author Amanda Hesser maintains that the various names disguise “plain desserts that have been well marketed with good names. Who doesn’t want to try a slump?”peaches-869386_640

A slump? A sonker? Give me a pinch of patience and I’ll describe them. Let’s start with the ubiquitous cobbler. Severson said that what you call a cobbler depends on what you grew up with.

Here in the West, pioneers brought their recipes with them, so a cobbler may be interpreted in several ways in the same state. A 1984 fundraising cookbook from the Owyhee County, Idaho,  Senior Citizens, Country Cooking, shared a recipe for a cobbler with a crumbly top, while a cobbler in a 1970 cookbook by The Idaho Historical Auxiliary had a pie crust-like topping. Some cooks top their cobblers with biscuit dough; others consider that an outrage and stick to batter or pie crust toppings. My stepfather made a great peach cobbler, notable because I believe it had more sugar than peaches. Pandowdy is another colorful name for the cobbler, so named perhaps because of its dowdy appearance.

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Gluten-free Cobbler from King Arthur Flour

Some say the biscuit toppings resemble cobblestones and give the dish its name. Others say it is cobbled together.

Fruit crisp or crumble: In this Northeastern favorite, the fruit is topped with oatmeal and brown sugar. Again, however, the 1970 Idaho cookbook sprinkled flour, cinnamon, margarine and brown sugar over apples and called it a crisp. The same cookbook contained a Rhubarb Crunch. Rhubarb, a plant in the buckwheat family, that is neither fruit nor vegetable, is covered with an oatmeal crumble and baked.

Brown Betty: made by layering fruit and buttered bread crumbs.

Apple slab: A pie made in a 9 x 13 rectangular pan, easier to divide and serve than a round pie.

Buckle: Made with more batter, a buckle is more cake-like. Some top it with streusel.

Slump: Similar to a grunt. In these American cousins of British steamed puddings, stewed fruit is topped with batter or biscuit dough, which is then steamed into dumplings.

Sonker: Specific to Surry County, North Carolina. Some cooks in the county insist that sonkers are made only with sweet potatoes and buttermilk, but others allow it can be made with fruit. The sonker is made in a large, deep pan, ideal for feeding big farm families and their crews. Some cooks insist it be covered with a pie crust, others opt for batter.

Severson quoted Alma Venable, one of the cooks who believe that a proper sonker is made with a crust. On what separates a sonker from a cobbler, Venable said, “You have the violin and you have the fiddle. The sonker is the fiddle.”

Tears, Joy and Awe in Africa

Ever walk out of a movie, chuckling at the same time you’re wiping tears of emotion from your eyes? That’s what it was like for me when my husband and I visited Africa this summer. And each time I tell someone about our marvelous adventure, I fight back tears. It was without doubt the most memorable, rewarding and moving trip in my life.

We spent ten days in Kenya, visiting the staff, students and directors of Caring Hearts High School, in Nguluni. The school is about a ninety-minute drive on bumpy, crowded roads from where we stayed in Nairobi. Our host was Dr. Vincent Kituku, president of Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope, the force behind Caring Hearts High School.

Dr. Kituku grew up in nearby Kangundo, Kenya, and now lives in Boise, Idaho. I met Vincent in Boise through Toastmasters and later edited many of his articles and two of his books.

Classrooms at Caring Hearts High School
Classrooms at Caring Hearts High School

A visit to his native Kenya in 2010, where he saw the horrendous toll AIDS and poverty were taking, prompted him to take a hiatus in his career as a professional motivational speaker and become a fundraiser. When he realized that providing scholarships for girls and boys still didn’t help those most in need, he began the quest to buy a boarding school for girls. There they could be safe and nourished.

Kenya is a country of social and economic inequities. According to Unicef, 42 percent of its 44 million people live below the poverty line. Access to basic services such as health care, education, clean water and sanitation, is a luxury for many people. Yet everywhere we visited, we were greeted with warmth and food and entertainment, and usually left bearing gifts.

On our first afternoon at Caring Hearts, the students thrilled us with a remarkable display of talent and energy—singing, dancing and

Welcome to Africa!
Welcome to Africa!

recitations. We heard from their formidable, live-in principal, Miss Pamela, and from other local board members. They,

CHHH Principal, Miss Pamela
CHHH Principal, Miss Pamela

and of course, Dr. Kituku, had inspiring and encouraging words for the girls.

We were amazed at how hard the girls work and by the sheer volume of their course load—11 subjects a day. They rise at 4:30 a.m. to work on personal studies (homework) and are in class or other structured activities, including sports, drama and music, until

Dr. Kituku on dreaming big
Dr. Kituku on dreaming big

lights out at 9:30. They may even sneak in a few minutes for TV, but I’m not sure when.

Despite their rigorous schedule, these girls are happy—they smile and giggle a lot! One day I served them lunch and couldn’t believe I needed to dole out the entire pot of Githeri, a yummy staple of

lunchtime-2
Githeri: yum!

beans and corn, for one table of hungry teenagers. They set me straight.

We spent a morning working in the garden with the students and another collecting trash with them in Nguluni, the nearest community. There the conversation was more relaxed and we got to chat about the

Me, delivering manure!
Me, delivering manure!
trash-pickup-2
Collecting trash in Nguluni

differences between our country and theirs. And laugh a lot. When Mark and I asked one girl to summarize a story she’d told in their opening entertainment—we had a little difficulty hearing and understanding it—she recited it again. When Mark said, “Wow. You’re only a sophomore. Imagine when you’re a senior—you’ll be a star! She smiled with pride and said, “I’m already a star!” And indeed, she, and the other young women we were fortunate to meet, are stars. Stars that represent hope for a country mired in corruption and poverty.

 

giraffes-4-small

eland
Eland, zebras and buffalos

Later our group trekked six long hours by van over yet more bumpy roads to visit the Maasai Mara. The bumps were forgotten as soon as we began to see animals. Lots and lots of them

One day our adventure may be fodder for a novel. Today, it is food for my soul. If you want to learn more about Caring Hearts High School, visit their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/CaringHeartsandHandsofHope.

What about you? Has a trip or a project changed you in a significant way?

Lions
Lions

 

 

 

 

Fit or Flat: Getting Your Novel in Shape Part II

Let’s chat about sagging middles. Pilates works at strengthening the body’s core, creating a taut, attractive, strong middle. That’s what we want in our writing, too.

exercising womanOne way to create that taut core in a novel is to strengthen the connecting tissue by applying tension and conflict. That strong line of tension and story question pulls you through to the end.

Throughout the story arc, your protagonist must face a series of obstacles. Things must get worse, then worse yet. Oh, and even worse, before she uses her wits and talent to resolve those problems.

But each chapter, each scene, also needs tension. An argument between the main characters isn’t necessarily conflict. Or at least not compelling, page-turning tension.

In each scene, the focal character wants something. You can create tension by making it hard to achieve that objective, by putting up obstacles and by showing the emotions created in your point of view characters as they struggle to achieve their objectives. Even better? Show the emotions created in the non POV character in the scene, as observed by the POV character.

Pacing creates tension. Taut, rapid fire dialog without tags and with lots of white space on the page moves the scene along. Contrast that pace by using telling details to stretch a physical act beyond what you’d normally expect, or by allowing your character a moment for reflection. A moment. A brief moment. Too much internal thought drains tension.

You want to make sure your protagonist is not getting what he or she wants from the scene. Nor is the reader. And that creates fat-30252_1280tension. And tension is like a girdle for a sagging middle.

Another cause of the sagging middle is including too much back story. We’ve learned that you need to delay back story until after the first 50 pages. That’s a good lesson. It doesn’t give you permission to dump back story, like a four cheese lasagna, into your middle. It will sag. Sprinkle the bits of essential back story throughout the middle and avoid the back story bulge.

Make things difficult for your protagonist, season lightly with the right details, show the emotion that each obstacle, each event, creates in your characters, and don’t drown your reader in back story. You’ll avoid flabbiness and achieve a tasty, toned tale.

How do you keep your writing trim? Please share your tips.

 

CONFLICTED ABOUT CONFLICT? A guest post from Conda V. Douglas, short story maven

Today I welcome Idaho writer Conda V. Douglas. Conda’s had more than 100 short stories published and has written a great book on writing short stories, Write Short to Succeed. Recently she mentioned to me how many stories lack real conflict, so I asked her to share her thoughts here. Welcome, Conda. And congratulations on The Mall Fairies: War winning the Epic eBook Award 2016 for children’s/young readers!

Now to the conflict.

Write Short to Succeed - Conda V Douglas front coverConflict: that most necessary element of writing anything and yet sometimes the most difficult for authors to grasp. Conflict: often the easiest way to construct a story and yet sometimes the most difficult for authors to use. Conflict: a tool that every author needs to know how to use.

One way to learn what conflict is and isn’t is to deconstruct a story or article. For this post, I’m using common romance. Why? Because romances are one type of story that it’s easy to confuse the different elements, conflict with plot, for example.

Most romances are “Girl gets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy back.” This is not conflict. This is the plot. The conflict is inherent in the plot. Where is it?

Three questions can lead to finding the conflict:

“What’s the problem?”

“What’s the goal of the main character?”

“Are the stakes high?”

The problem is: Girl loses boy and wants boy back. This is the conflict. She wants what she doesn’t have. The conflict always raises questions. Will the girl be able to get the boy back? How? What will she do to accomplish that?

Her goal is to get the boy back. What she does to accomplish that is the action of the story. When the goal is thwarted—what the girl tries doesn’t work, that leads to more conflict. Now what will she do? Will that work?

The stakes are high because she’s lost the love of her life. It will be terrible if she can’t get him back. The higher the stakes the more conflict there is.

This is why writing coaches always advise to make it as hard as possible on your characters. The more problems, the higher the stakes, the bigger the goals and the harder to achieve those goals, the more conflict there is.

Conflicting questions? Conflicting answers? Let me know in the comments!

Here’s a little more about Conda V. Douglas:

CVD crazy photoConda glories in writing both short and long, always with oodles of conflict. She credits winning the Epic eBook 2016 award in children’s/Young Reader for her title The Mall Fairies: War to using conflict! (And no, it’s not the war that’s the conflict, that’s the action.) Her latest book, Write Short to Succeed, in which she devotes an entire chapter to the vagaries of conflict, is out now. On May 3, 2016, Conda will teach a class in Hows and Whys of Writing Short for Boise Schools Community Education, more details here.

Fit or Flat: Getting Your Novel in Shape: Part I

Just like the people who pen them, novels in progress (and some in print) are subject to several physical ailments:  flabbiness, sagging middles, lack of tension and tone, and just plain old flatness, no zip.

And as we do for our bodies, certain practices or exercises will help get them into shape. In today’s post, I’ll give my take on ways to control flabbiness. Possibly because flab has been on my mind (and above my waistline) of late. Next time we’ll tackle sagging middles.

sunset-163479_640Beware. While walking the dog can help tone you and the dog, what Margie Lawson terms “walking the dog” in your novel can lead to flabbiness and bored readers.

When you include every detail of your protagonist’s life, from the alarm’s pealing to the kind of shower gel he uses to the cracking of two free range eggs into a cast iron skillet, you’re walking the dog. TMI, too much information. And then…and then…and then….sounds like the report of an excited kindergartner, who assumes the listener wants to hear every moment of the day.

eggs-932189_1280Details are effective ONLY when they provide useful insights into your character’s personality or the problem he or she faces. Details mean more when they are specific, and have meaning to your character. Possibly some of the facts in that first sentence told you something about the character, but I would only include it if, say, I wanted my reader to know my protagonist uses iron skillets because he’s deathly afraid of using aluminum.

Telling details, as they’re often called, tell us something about the character or the scene. Showing the character cutting her food into tiny pieces and moving it around on the plate instead of consuming it provides more insight than her hair color, body type and facial characteristics.

In description, include details that are important to your point of view characters, details that evoke their emotions. Don’t just catalog the scenery because you like your setting. Make it count for your characters and it will compel your readers to keep reading.

How much detail do you think works in the books you read and/or write?

Avoid Embarrassing Goofs

I’m working on a book that compiles many of the articles I wrote for The Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider when I lived in Boise.  I’ll be posting them throughout the next months and welcome your comments and corrections.

Before you hit “print” or “send” on any document, you need to be sure it is as free of errors as possible. This is most important when dealing with words with a longer life span, such as website copy, but mistakes weaken any communication.

First, for fun, let’s define grammar, punctuation and mechanics. Grammar is the way words are put together to make units of meaning. Punctuation refers to those symbols used to help people read sentences the way we want them to be understood.

Mechanics refers to the arbitrary “technical” stuff in writing: spelling, capitalization, use of numerals, and other conventions.

Usage is the way language is used. Usage evolves and changes with time and attitudes. Usage affects grammar, punctuation, and/or mechanics.  write-2400px

Let’s move on to ways to check our documents. The best proofreader is someone else, because it is hard to find our own typos. But if you don’t have that luxury, try these hints.

1.) Print your document instead of proofreading it on the computer screen. You’ll find more errors.

2.) Read the document backward. You’ll see words you’ve skipped.

3.) Pay attention to, but don’t blindly obey the spelling and grammar checkers on your computer.

4.) Use the auto-correct feature in your word processor to correct words you consistently mistype. Add your personal bugaboos to the program.

5.) Read your work aloud. If you are bored by your voice, consider trying a free program such as Text Aloud, which converts any text into spoken words. Standard voices are free, premium voices come at a fee. I don’t know exactly what a premium voice is, but perhaps sultry comes at a cost.

6.) Use the tip of a pen or pencil to physically touch each word (on the printed page) to force yourself to read each word. Try putting a ruler under a line. Or (idea thanks to Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing) cut out a small rectangular window on an index card and slide it over your copy as you read. I think the hole would be hard to cut. Maybe a notch in the top?

7.) Several automatic editing  programs may provide the help you need to  check your manuscript for style: overuse of words, unvarying sentence lengths, clichés, too many “ly” adverbs, passive voice, ending with a preposition (not always wrong), misused homonyms, repeated words (close together), common misspellings (such as mispel) and other flaws. Some are free; most give free trials. Google automatic editing for reviews and try them. I’ve tried a couple and they do indeed find errors. I don’t always agree with them or have the patience to use them. However, some people love these programs.

Error-free may be a dream, but these hints will lead to fewer typos and a better finished product.

How about you? What’s your best hint for avoiding those embarrassing goofs (the kind on the page)?

Rorters, spruikers and malarkey

While researching the art of the long con for a new novel, I came across an article from Australia and was introduced to two delightful words: rorter and spruiking. Exploring them led me farther astray. What a great way to procrastinate.

A rorter is generally considered Australian slang, and is a noun meaning a swindler, a small-time confidence trickster or cheat. Say it out loud, with or without the Aussie accent. It simply sounds cool, nicely insulting.hog in meadow

The same article referenced spruiking, which means speaking in public, especially to advertise. Ever visit North Beach in San Francisco? No doubt you’ve heard spruiking from the people trying to lure you into the strip joints. The term also is used—by the opposition, no doubt—to describe political speeches. Proponents call it orating.

A rorter might be found spruiking near a bank, hoping to snare a mark with a pigeon drop scheme. A pigeon drop is a confidence trick in which a mark or “pigeon” is persuaded to give up a sum of money in order to secure the rights to a larger sum of money, or more valuable object. In reality, the scammers make off with the money and the mark is left with nothing.

The wise—or bitterly experienced— passerby will recognize the con artist’s spiel as malarkey and keep passing.

Malarkey. Ah, yes. Love the word. Malarkey is defined as foolish words or ideas, or bunkum. Another great word. While the origin of malarkey appears murky, bunkum has a specific and colorful history.

Around 1820, U.S. representative Felix Walker, from Buncombe County, North Carolina, rose to make a spDSC01016eech during a debate. He spoke on and on. And on, refusing to stop, even though most of what he said was irrelevant and foolish. He maintained he was speaking for Buncombe. Because it was not used as an intentional delaying tactic, it was not filibuster, a technique and a term introduced a few decades later. It quickly transformed into bunkum and took on the general meaning of nonsense or balderdash. Balderdash originally meant a jumble of liquors but now means a senseless jumble of words, or claptrap.

Claptrap, according to an online etymology dictionary, originated showy stage action designed to trap applause or claps and has evolved to mean nonsense.

A quick search for synonyms reveals a basket of words—beans, blarney, blather, blatherskite, bosh, blither, drivel, codswallop, fiddlesticks, humbug, guff, taradiddle, and more. Is this because we encounter it so often?

Have you encountered a flim flam man (person) or written about one? What’s your favorite film about con artists? I figure watching several could extend my procrastination for weeks!

 

National Day on Writing

Today, October 20, is the National Day on Writing, a day championed by the National Council of Teachers of English to honor the role written words play in our lives.

If you tweet about it, the sponsors suggest using the hashtag #WhyIWrite write-2400px

For many of us, every day is, or we wish it would be, the day for writing. But not often do words get national attention, so, hey, let’s celebrate!

I found out about this day at my very first visit to the Tucson Writers’ Table. Writers get together and write in silence for two hours, no chatting. Another writer teaches at the University and mentioned it. The official hashtag (#WhyIWrite) prompted me to think about why I write.

Many writers say they have always known they were writers; that they must write. If that is true for me, why then did I need to come to The Writers’ Table to force myself to write for two hours? I am hoping that taking this weekly time will help me achieve focus when I’m away from the group; will help me at the very least get started on a few projects I’ve been pondering but have yet to commit to words.

Because, despite blithely professing, “Oh, I’ve always known I’d be a writer, can’t help but write,” few people accomplish the productivity and creativity that statement suggests. Even those born writers encounter blank pages, are interrupted by the responsibilities of daily life, or simply lose their direction and impetus in writing.

At a recent meeting of Tucson Sisters in Crime, two speakers focused on what keeps us from writing and ways to overcome those obstacles. One helped us probe and approach our fears in general and our fears about writing (and how writing what we most fear can strengthen our words); the other provided hints for achieving writing (and life) goals and getting into the “flow,” of our activities, whatever they are. In regard to flow, she cited Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who contributed pioneering work to our understanding of happiness, creativity, human fulfillment and the notion of “flow” — a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work.

I can recall times when I’ve been in flow when writing: when I lose track of time, ignore distractions, and generate lots of words. Sometimes those words evoke tears or laughter. Ideas come to me as gifts instead of hard sought. Those times of flow are too rare for me, so I’m hoping my time at The Writers’ Table with a group of focused writers will help me find it more easily.

Book5Back to why I write: I love words and have enough ego to think others might enjoy the way I use them. I love lying with impunity. Writing about offbeat characters and their misadventures gives me a chance to explore behaviors the good girl in me won’t allow in real life. Because I was blessed with parents who read and who read to me and who loved words, I grew up with a love of reading and an ability to articulate my thoughts.

Silly me. I thought that’s all I needed to write great fiction: a facility with words and a few ideas. I’ve found learning the craft of writing novels and stories a lot harder than I ever imagined. Yet still I continue. I think one reason is the joy of getting into “flow.” Another is the desire to improve. I won’t ever be a great distance runner or a professional tennis player, but with hard work and practice, I might turn my love of words and story-telling into some passable writing.

Maybe it’s like parenthood. Women can give birth to children, with assistance from men or science, but parenting those children well takes dedication, practice, hard work, patience and wisdom, and arguably an innate propensity or talent for parenting.

Okay, celebrate the role words have in your life. And share with me why you write! It’s our day.

Point of View Pointers

kathymc_cover for twitter
Make me squeal with delight!

Before my post, let me remind you that my campaign on KindleScout for a contract with Amazon is coming to an end. I need all the nominations I can garner in these last few days. It ends on September 19th.  It’s easy to nominate books and if they’re chosen, you get a free pre-release copy. Just go to KindleScout and read more about my book and others.

Let me know you nominated Foul Wind, and I’ll be sure you get a free ebook whether or not I get the contract.

Okay, that’s my point of view. Now on to some thoughts on point of view. From, of course, my viewpoint.

Stories are told from some point of view. Somewhat like the different lenses of a camera, the viewpoint can be distant or very close. Omniscient point of view sees and reports on the characters and the action from some point where “all” is known and can be seen. Stories told in this point of view can share descriptions of setting and characters and the thoughts and opinions of all characters, because the narrator/writer knows all and sees all. This point of view can get up close and personal with a character’s emotions or remain distant.eyeglasses

Second person is written using you. “You go to the dermatologist and she tells you those ugly age spots are ‘wisdom spots,’ and you want to throttle the thoughtless tadpole.  Or tell her to wait until she turns into a frog.”

Third person point of view, and I am simplifying a lot here, tells a story as if one person is reporting on the action, in “he ate three potato chips,” style.

First person point of view tells the story from one person’s viewpoint. “I felt like a French fry among scalloped potatoes in my elegant family.”

The protagonist of a first person novel knows only what she sees or hears or is reported to her by others. The reader’s knowledge is also restricted to that which the POV character knows.

A strong, close point of view helps tell a stronger story.  When you reveal a scene through the eyes of the character who cares most about its outcome, the scene takes on power and emotion.

A story can talk about a hanging, let’s say. In omniscient point of view (POV), the narrator would describe a crowd of onlookers, andnoose[1] tell us they are watching because they’re pleased that a notorious killer is meeting justice. Tell us about this hanging  from the eyes of the daughter of the killer’s third victim, and we care more. Tell us from the eyes of a woman who escaped his knife and helped in his capture and we perhaps care even more. We’ll see different details and feel deeper, stronger emotions. If we’ve had the chance to meet the daughter or the would-be victim before, seen her do something that endears her to us, we’re likely hooked. She need not save a kitten. She could simply exhibit a few natural emotions and frailties that we can identify with. We’ll want to know what happens next.

Writing point of view can be tricky. You need to restrict what the point of view character observes only to what is outside that character, and through the eyes of that character. For example, if you’re in the point of view of a self-conscious teen, you might not want to write, “Cara shook her long, lush curls free from the restraining scarf.” More likely it would be something like, “Cara dragged the stupid scarf from her head, snagging her hair and leading no doubt to yet another mare’s nest of split ends in her mouse brown mess of curls.” And you’d have to consider whether a teenager would use the term mare’s nest.

To better understand point of view (and if you enjoy historical romance), you might want to read a few of Lauren Willig’s fun “flower” novels, beginning with THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE PINK CARNATION. Romance, espionage, history, and humor abound in the series.

What I found fascinating is how the shifting point of view of a character portrays an almost totally different person. I’ve always known that the villain is a hero in his/her eyes. In this series,  one character is “foiled” in achieving her goal in one novel, and appears rather frivolous and ill-intentioned from the point of view of the protagonist of that novel.  In the next novel, the “bad sister” becomes the heroine and the writing is from her point of view and she no longer seems villainous.  Behavior that seems tacky from one point of view becomes justified, thoughtful, normal from within that character.

Novelists these days take liberties with the old rule of choosing a point of view and sticking with it. They may include one section that’s in first person and add others that are in third person, or mix it up even more.

The objective is to tell a good story and not confuse the reader.

I’ll save my rant against head-hopping for another post.

I’d love to know the POV you choose and why.

I’d also love your nomination on KindleScout!