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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Point of View: whose story is it anyway?

Cover of Sharon’s short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point. Book Launch Nov. 4, 2012 at The Rivoli, Toronto, Ontario,Canada

What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure

– Samuel Johnson

We writers often get into a kerfuffle about the point(s) of view in our story – short or novel. Maybe it’s because we get so caught up in the plot and characters we do a version of not seeing the forest for the trees. So in one paragraph Suzie and Bert may be talking but Suzie’s thoughts are incorporated with her dialogue and in the next Bert’s thoughts are included with his dialogue. Oops. That’s two points of view in one scene. I call it “jumping heads” (but it’s not nasty like lice).

The reader can definitely get confused with this setup (Picture the reader jumping back and forth from Suzie to Bert; hence the term “jumping heads”).

Often this problem has its roots in the author not being clear just whose story it is?

Let’s look at a brief excerpt from my short story “Gone Missing” from my mystery collection Beyond the Tripping Point. This story features the fraternal twin private investigators, Dana Bowman and Bast Overture. In the beginning, they are in their office talking to a new client.

“The police can’t find her, Ms Bowman,” Robin Morgrave says to me.

Rosemary Morgrave’s gone missing and I’m putting on the brave smile for her twin brother. Robin sits on the other side of the desk in the third floor office of The Attic Agency. Only my twin brother, Bast, nodding, stops me from losing it. Ever since David my seven-year-old son was abducted last August I’ve been living in Panicville. Sure, we got David back, but how much of him returned? He follows Bast around like an investigator-in-training. His brown eyes stare right through my soul. I wish he’d just say how he feels. But since his return, David hasn’t opened his mouth except to swallow liquids and food. He doesn’t even cry. (Copyright 2012 Sharon A. Crawford.Excerpted from “Gone Missing” from Beyond the Tripping Point 2012 Blue Denim Press)

This sets the point of view for this story. Although it might appear to be Robin Morgrave’s story from the beginning dialogue, the second paragraph clearly lets us know that it is Dana’s story – because behind dealing with Robin’s case, Dana is still dealing with the fallout from her own son’s kidnapping and how that affects finding Rosemary. That will be following throughout the story. So, the Point of View is with Dana. You can also see that you don’t necessarily have to start the story with something said about, some narrative about, or something said by the POV character. You can weave it in – as long as it stays in that character’s POV and comes across as such.

So, how do you decide whose point of view to tell your story from? You ask yourself “whose story is it?” which can help… somewhat. There are exceptions, such as Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which is not told from The Great Gatsby’s point of view but from his friend. However, the story is basically about Gatsby. It can get tricky.

There is a way to get around this “whose story is it” when the novel is really more than one character’s story or the story is about something such as catching a serial killer. The latter may involve a couple of police officers, the victim or victims, and even the serial killer. Here you are allowed to use multiple points of view. But there are guidelines. The rule of thumb is each chapter or each scene (if you have more than one scene in a chapter) must be from the point of view of one character only. When you start another chapter you can change the point of view. You just leave a double space to show scene changes.

Short stories are usually told from one point of view, but again there are exceptions. However, it is best to keep it to two points of view maximum as a short story has limited space in which to tell your story. Again, you can use the scene change set-up to go from one character’s point of view to another character’s. You can also segue from one character to another – once – in a scene, not a constant flipping back and forth. This latter is more difficult to do.

My short stories in Beyond the Tripping Point keep to one character’s point of view – sometimes in first person and sometimes in third person. We’ll cover that aspect in a future post. Now, in the rewrite of a prequel novel (to “Gone Missing,” “Saving Grace” and the other two linked stories in Beyond the Tripping Point) I use multiple points of view. You can probably guess from the beginning of “Gone Missing” above what the novel is about. But because it’s a novel with police officers, two private investigators, a little boy and others, I’m focusing on the bigger picture of the story line and how it affects not only Dana, but other key players. My technique here is to put the character’s name at the top of the scene/chapter for point of view – mainly because I put Dana in the first person and everyone else in third person. And yes, I use the scene change technique.

In another post we will also look at some tricks to “get inside” the non POV characters without jumping heads and staying with the POV character.

What is my story now? I’m busy doing pre-book launch PR for Beyond the Tripping Point. That includes an interview appearance on a podcast TV show. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in front of a video camera (or behind one) so we’ll see how it goes. I’ll report in the next blog.

For information on my book launch (it’s November 4, 2012) go to http://www.bluedenimpress.com and click on “Toronto.”

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Connecting with publishers and agents

Cover of Sharon’s short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point

To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it are the three great difficulties in being an author.”

~ Charles Caleb Colton

Last week I blogged about the traditional way to pitch your book manuscript to publishers and agents. Other ways exist and for some you have to have imagination and nerve. Then there is what Brian Henry said in his workshop last Saturday “Luck” or as I see it – “right place, right time.”

How I got my publisher for my mystery short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point comes under the latter. The Editor at Blue Denim Press used to come regularly to my East End Writers’ (critique) Group when he still lived in Toronto. He is also a writer. Once we traded manuscripts for evaluation (although mine was a memoir, not the short story collection). When he and the other half of Blue Denim Press, his wife, the Publisher, did a presentation about Blue Denim Press and marketing books at a Canadian Authors Association Toronto branch meeting last fall, I approached them and mentioned a collection of short stories. They said send it in during January and February when they look at manuscripts. So I did – but only seven of my stories.

They were interested but needed more stories. So I was writing and rewriting stories right up to and beyond signing my contract with them (but that’s another story).  Something else I found out – the Publisher’s taste in fiction – she reads half a dozen mystery books a week – and my short stories are in that genre. Of course, it helps to write well and have something different about your manuscript. Mine isn’t called Beyond the Tripping Point for nothing. All 13 stories feature quirky characters and as I state in the PR to promote the book:

Murder, attempted murder, sexual abuse, kidnapping, missing persons, vengeance, revenge, suicide, gambling, explosions, vehicular mishaps, indignity to a dead body, even love occur. Like all life’s happenings, they affect the characters–women, men and children–in their journey through life–emotionally, sometimes damaging them, sometimes stalling them in limbo, but often forcing them to reach beyond the tripping point. And to get there, these quirky characters frequently do the absurd and the unthinkable, often with unexpected results. 

By the way, I thought of the title and the publisher loved it.

So, what can we learn from my experience besides the obvious that I did not follow convention?

  1. Network, network and network – a combination of social media and in-person works best.
  2. Network with specific targets and goals. I focused on the publishing industry – trade shows, conferences, writing organizations, and workshops. You will meet a variety of writers, publishers, agents, etc. You might just chat with them for a bit and exchange business cards. Follow up by email.You might also do more (see below).
  3. Join some of these writing organizations and attend their meetings and seminars.
  4. Talk to the people at the conferences, etc. (wallflower acting not allowed) – introduce yourself and what you write. Ask the publisher or literary agent who is the guest speaker/attending the conference, etc. if you could send a query letter/part of your manuscript. Most will say yes, but remember that doesn’t guarantee you they will publish you or represent you. It means they will read your submission (and often they will skip their guidelines and say “just email the manuscript”). Follow-up within a week or two and in your cover or query letter make sure you remind them where you met.
  5. Remember the above can be a two-way street when you network. Sometimes it includes what you can do for them. For example, with writing organizations they are always looking for volunteers. Volunteering with a writing organization can help you connect with more writers, publishers, etc. It is also a good way to learn the ins and outs of the writing business. And it looks good on your bio for future query letters, etc.
  6. Join a writing critique group – this will help you hone your writing.
  7. Social media includes: Facebook, a blog about your book, Twitter, Goodreads, Linked In.
  8. Don’t give up. My memoir is still trying to find a home. (Note: at this point Blue Denim Press publishes only fiction).

Good luck.

The book launch for Beyond the Tripping Point, presented by Blue Denim Press, will take place Sunday, November 4, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. eastern standard time at The Rivoli in Toronto. You are invited if you can make it (well, if you are in say, Australia, maybe not). Guests are coming from northern Ontario and possibly Michigan in the USA. I am honoured and grateful to those who do come to my book launch. More details at http://www.bluedenimpress.com and click on “Toronto.”

For those too far away to attend, Beyond the Tripping Point is available at http://www.amazon.com. Just click on the book cover at the top of this post.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Getting published the traditional trade book way

Book cover for Beyond the Tripping Point

Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.

— Cicero

I’m off to another public reading for my just released collection of mystery short stories Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). It’s all part of the book promo and it is and has been busy, what with trying to get book reviews, nailing TV and radio appearances, etc. My publisher shares this marketing, which really helps.

But before you get into this book PR, you have to land your publisher or literary agent. And that can seem daunting. There are so many unpublished authors with talent, many more than “publishing spaces.” E-books are creating more readers (and more publishing space), but some authors are going the self-publishing route and I say more power to them. But what about those who prefer the traditional route?

You can’t just dump your novel or short story collection on an agent or publisher. They don’t have time to read the whole story unless something about it grabs their attention. Your job is to get their attention – right away.

One way is through query letters, synopses, and sample chapters. Some agents and publishers want this whole package; most prefer the query letter only and then if that gets their attention, they will ask for more.

A good query letter has to hook the agent or publisher with the first sentence. Starting with the obvious “I’m looking for an agent to represent my novel” will put the agent to sleep. Grab the agent with a wowee sentence about your book. Here’s an example. “When Abigail Cooke reunites with her birth mother, she has no idea that her new family connection will lead to buried bodies, psychosis, and the Mob.”

There are variations to the “when setup,” which focus more on the characters, the time period – whatever is most pertinent to your novel AND will grab the agent’s or publisher’s attention.

In your second paragraph you get to expand – a little. In this mini-synopsis you give the highlights of your novel’s plot and main characters. Pick the attention getters. Don’t do it resume style – it has to flow – and watch for boring summaries starting with “Abigail Cooke is a tall, slim blonde who teaches kindergarten.” Yawn. What does that have to do with your beginning sentence? The agent or publisher wants to read on from paragraph one. It also is a good idea to give the title of your book. Better would be “In Can of Worms, Abigail Cooke, a young schoolteacher who was adopted at birth, has always found something missing in her life – her birth mother. After agonizing the pros and cons, she starts searching online and finds her birth mother, Sara Tusani. The two begin an email correspondence. Despite Abigail’s apprehension about Sara, which she puts down to “just nerves,” she agrees to meet Sara in her native Rome, Italy during her summer vacation. When she’s met at Leonardo da Vinci Airport by her mother’s chauffeur, but not her mother, she ignores her gut feeling of apprehension and relishes the luxury. When she arrives at Sara’s mansion on the outskirts of Rome and meets her mother’s brother-in-law, Luigi Tusani, a philandering alcoholic and her half-brother, Giuseppe Tusani, a computer nerd who hibernates in the attic, she has second thoughts. But her mother seems normal, gracious and friendly…at first. As the day turns to dark, loud bangs and a haunting caterwauling in the mansion wake up Abigail. The next morning’s questions give her only “you must be imagining things” answers. That night when the noises come, Abigail is ready. Grabbing a hairbrush for a weapon, she leaves her room, walks along the hall and goes downstairs into the kitchen, sees the basement door open, and takes the stairs down…”

You would add a sentence or two, supplying a bit more information. Depending on your storyline you can have a summary sentence that perhaps goes back to your first paragraph’s sentence, for example, “Abigail finally realizes she should have listened to her instincts and now must lose her new family or risk losing her life.”

Paragraph three covers your background – published writing (books, stories in journals or magazines, newsletters, especially if you’ve won any writing contests or awards). Not a published author? What about your education and expertise? Is it related to your novel? For example, for Can of Worms if the author is adopted and tried to find her birth mother, is or was a school teacher, and has travelled to Rome (in order of importance to the novel – all not necessary), you can use that to establish credentials for writing the novel.

Some agents or publishers want a little marketing information from you, so you could either put it in a second sentence in paragraph one or write a short fourth paragraph (better). Focus on how your novel is different from what’s out there. Be specific, including naming another novel. Also state who your readers would be (thirty-somethings, seniors, adoptees, etc.).

Your final paragraph is The Thank You and the Ask. Thank the agent or publisher for their time, ask if they would like a synopsis and sample chapters and you look forward to their reply.

Your query should be only one page but with most sent by email you can cheat – but just a little – no equivalent to one and a half to three pagers. Another suggestion: check submission guidelines on the agent’s or publisher’s website and follow them to the well, query letter.

For those of you in the Toronto, Ontario, Canada area, Brian Henry is running a workshop on Getting Published which includes writing a query letter and a literary agent as guest speaker. This workshop is sponsored by my East End Writers’ Group and will be held at The World’s Biggest Bookstore in downtown Toronto from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, October 13, 2012. Check for more details and how to register at http://quick-brown-fox-canada.blogspot.ca/2012/06/how-to-get-published-workshop-toronto.html

Next week we’ll go into another way of getting the attention of agents and publishers, including how I got my publisher for Beyond the Tripping Point.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Workshop your writing – join a writing critique group

Parts of Sharon’s short stories were originally critiqued by members of her East End Writers’ Group

Half my life is an act of revision.

                -John Irving

I run the East End Writers’ Group a writing critique group in east Toronto (http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/EastEndWriters.html). I’ve brought pieces of my stories from my collection Beyond the Tripping Point when they were in rough shape and received excellent suggestions on how and what to fix. In turn I have given some advice to other EEWG members on possible ways to make their manuscript sparkle. (My writing/editing/writing instruction business motto is “We make words sparkle.”)

The fact is we writers view our own writing very subjectively. A phrase or sentence or plot sequence may appear brilliant in our eyes but read out loud (with plenty of light) around the writing circle, the flaws start to show up. As we learned in last week’s post, reading out loud does this, but so much more when there are other ears besides your own hearing it.

I’m not trying to be negative here. One of the goals of writing critique groups needs to be pointing out the strengths and weaknesses in a positive, helpful and friendly manner. Giving suggestions for how you can improve your story is even better. Sometimes the group members agree on what needs fixing; sometimes they don’t. What you are receiving is a number of options to consider. I find that if many people agree on one point, a change is probably necessary. And with other eyes and ears on your manuscript, the feedback is objective. No tunnel vision.

For fiction, some of the areas we look at are:

In General – Is the beginning a reader hook? Is the lead at the beginning or later in the story? Does the story flow? Is there a point or theme to the story? What is the story’s biggest strength?

Plot – Besides grabbing the reader in paragraph one, does the plot contain suspense? Foreshadowing? Have a mixture of narration, dialogue, action and inner thoughts appropriate to the story? Is the story credible? Have some resolution at the end?

Characters – Are characters distinct? Three-dimensional? Believable? Interesting? Do they have character tags? (for example, jiggling keys in a pocket when nervous), Is there a protagonist? Antagonist? How do they interact? Dialogue appropriate to the characters? Further develop the plot and characters?

Point of View (more coming in a later post; I promise) – Too many points of view? Is POV used the best POV for the story? Whose story is it?

Writer’s Style – What is the style? Laid-back? Moody? Simple (as in simply told, not stupid)? Lyrical? Literary? Fast-paced? Light and humorous? ). Are word choices and phrases unique?

Mechanics – spelling, grammar, punctuation (including my two favourites – verb tense mix-up and incorrect dialogue setup).

Now that you have some idea what writing critique groups do (or should do), how do you find a suitable writing group? Consider if you want a group exclusive to fiction or whatever you write or to cover all writing areas. (EEWG is the latter). Consider if you want in-person or online. If the former, consider the geographic distance. Is it free or is there a charge? (EEWG is free but participants bring a gluten-free snack for our networking-snack break. We like to talk and eat.) What type of critique setup do you want? Some groups require pre-submission of manuscripts; some only critique one manuscript per session; some groups have page and time limits for reading. Some meet weekly, bi-weekly, monthly. (EEWG meets one evening monthly except July, August and December. We have a 10-minute reading limit, so length is up to six-pages double-spaced, copies for others and no pre-submissions.)  Check out local library branch websites – many library branches run writing groups or know who does. Check local writing organizations. When you find a group, try it out a few times and if it doesn’t work for you, move on to another group. Can’t find a suitable group? Start one yourself. I did 12 years ago.

If your schedule is tight already you might want to go the online critique route. For example, in Canada, the Canadian Authors Association (http://www.canauthors.org) has a Virtual branch for its members. Google “writing critique groups” and see what you get. The beauty here is you can pick one not in your geographic area. But remember, most online groups require give and take – for every critique you get you have to do one (sometimes more) critique of another person’s writing. That’s how we learn – from each other and each other’s writing.

Happy writing and happy critiquing.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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