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Monthly Archives: April 2016

Point of View clarity important in writing fiction

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

Currently I am reading a mystery novel where the characters’ points of view are all over the map  – in one chapter without a scene change, in one scene, Even in one paragraph the point of view switches from one police detective to the other. They are police partners, but this “jumping heads” (as it is known in the editing business) is not only ridiculous and annoying it is distracting from the story. And it is an interesting story.

Looks like the author’s editor was asleep at the computer. I blame the editor, not the author because as an editor I find that 85 per cent of my fiction clients mess up the point of view. And, yes, if the author mixes up points of view, then it is his or her editor’s job to fix it.

So, what is acceptable in fiction writing (unless you are going for experimental fiction, which this mystery novel is not)? Here we go with the standards:

In novels it is acceptable to have multiple points of view as long as it isn’t overdone. Do we really need to know what minor characters A and B think?

Up to five points of view are the limit in my opinion.

Keep the same point of view within a chapter or a scene. Next chapter or next scene you can change the point of view. For scenes this is usually indicated by extra line spacing and starting the first paragraph flush left or separating the scenes with an asterisk. Read Peter Robinson’s mystery novels. He usually has three points of view and does a superb job of it. He uses the change of scene change of character POV method with extra line spacing.

Other authors indicate change of character POV by putting the character’s name at the top of the change – this can be with a new chapter or new scene. I use this method in my latest Beyond book, the mystery novel Beyond Blood. The story is told from four different points of view – Dana Bowman, Bast Overture (the two fraternal twin PIs), David Bowman (Dana’s six-year-old son), and the mysterious “Him.” I put the character name and the date and time (a word on that in a sec) just before the character POV change. This change usually occurs with chapters but I do have it within chapters – change of scene change of character POV with the above-mentioned indication.

It is not necessary to always use time and date unless it is relevant to your novel. I’m not the only author who does this. I do it because Beyond Blood is a fast-paced mystery that occurs during eight frantic days in August 1998. Often when I switch point of view what is happening with that character is happening simultaneously with another POV character. And that is another reason to switch POVs.

Switching POVs is also a good way to heighten suspense – if you end one scene/chapter with one character left out on a limb and the reader does not know what will happen with him or her next. Instead they go on to another character – more waiting to find out/more suspense. And it also allows plot development that just might not be possible using one character’s POV>

Switching points of view in a novel also allows the author to get deeper into each main character – and gives the readers a more intense looksee at the characters.

My POV on POV anyway.

Cheers.

Sharon

Click on the Beyond Blood icon at the top to find out more about my Beyond books.

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Electronic mania versus telling a good story

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

We are bombarded with electronic devices in our daily lives and that includes TV shows. Sometimes the story gets lost in all the “bells and whistles.” But what about books? In particular novels set in present time? Should authors overwhelm the reader with smart phone usage, social media and the like?

A story in the May 2016  issue of The Walrus writes about this conundrum. Here writer Naben Ruthnum, discusses how some authors like best-selling author Joy Fielding skirt around it. While summarizing the story lines and acknowledging that the story is important, Ruthnum wonders how long this approach will be relevant in our digital/social media obsessed society?

Ruthnum writes “By ignoring the contemporary reality of instant communication, authors such as Fielding are preserving the nail-biting satisfactions of their art. But how much longer can these books provide escapism-seeking readers with relief given that their trick of withholding details is in direct conflict with our expectation that information always wants to be free?” (bolded part is mine).

That’s a big point with mystery novels – readers get temporary relief from a mad mad world and that includes overdoses of electronic media leading to overwhelm.

Yes, mystery novels do imitate reality. But the reality is what the story is about, the story’s setting and its characters. As in real life, not all people are digitally proficient; nor do they all immerse themselves in the whole digital/social media life-style. So, Fielding and other authors have to be true to that. And they are.

Personally, after all the over-abundance of bells and whistles on some TV shows set in present time (not futuristic and not fantasy), I prefer a somewhat toned-down digital presence in the novels I read (and write for that matter).

Many mystery novel authors handle this digital business very well. Marcia Muller’s PI Sharon McCone has a nephew who handles all this digital stuff so only what is necessary to the story is told. McCone gets to do what she does best – personal investigation while her nephew helps out on the digital end.

Mystery novel authors like Peter Robinson, acknowledge the digital aspect – his police officers have smart phones (they are called mobiles in England) but his main character Alan Banks doesn’t investigate by being glued to his smart phone or sitting in front of his computer (which some consider passe these days). He does what police should be doing – gets off his butt and interviews people, as well as following suspects in his car.

And yes, Robinson makes use of one current technology available to police in most cities world wide – CCTV- the police surveillance cameras on public city streets.

And I do the same in my Beyond books. Perhaps the short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point is the best example as stories in there take place in different time periods – 1965, 1980s, 1999 and present day. So for the first two – no technology-infested society. In 1999, where my fraternal twin PIs, Dana Bowman and Bast Overture are introduced, technology is relevant to the time – so I have cell phones (that have antenna and fold closed), Polaroid cameras for “instant” photos, and dial-up Internet connection, but with email functions. (Note: in Canada DSL didn’t get going until late 1999 – after the four “twins” stories in BTTP. I should know. My computer techie son’s computer business at that time was testing one of the DSL’s in 1999 and in late fall1999, my son hooked up my computer o one of the first DSL’s provided. Dana uses a computer for basics such as email and leaves all the computer technology to her brother. So in my third Beyond book (which I’m still rewriting), which is set in November and December 1999, I have computers – desktop and laptop – using DSL. There are also onlinr forums involved which Bast accesses – but it is all part of the plot and the twins’ investigation of a case. And birth record searches (which is part of the novel’s plot) were not online then (I checked with Service Ontario on this one), so Bast has to go into the Ontario Government dept. office to do an in-person search.

My BTTP stories set in present time do use electronic realities such as CCTV and smart phones. In fact one story, the main character is obsessed with using her device but that is part of the plot. The plot, the story is never buried in electronic devices.

Which is what Peter Robinson and many other mystery novelists do. Use the current technology (or technology for the time period of your novel) as it applies to  your story. Don’t make the technology the story unless that is your plot.

A happy medium often works best. Besides, we mystery novel readers need a rest from the over-indulgence of digital on TV in other areas of our lives. And that’s one reason I like reading from my Kobo (I do still read print books). Not a lot of flashing digital nonsense. And the print size is bigger – better for my fading eyesight (left eye)

Our eyes and brains need this respite, this escape from too much digital.

What do you think?

And on another note, I will be part of a panel (along with Ali Cunliffe and Susan Viets) about Self-publishing from both authors and editors perspectives. Hosted by the Editors Association of Canada, the panel/seminar will be held in Toronto Tuesday, April 26, from 7.30 p.m. More information on my Gigs and Blogs page here and also on Editors Association of Canada website.

Cheers.

Sharon

Again click on the Beyond Blood icon at the top to find out more about my Beyond books. At least we have this digital function today.

 

 

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Write something else besides your main project

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

Sometimes a writing diversion is good when you get bogged down in a long and intense writing project. Or in my case, not only are you rewriting a novel (yes, again) but it’s income tax time.

Even the novel rewriting has been put on hold, except for ideas flooding my mind when math calculations and other income tax nonsense aren’t. Unfortunately I can’t afford to pay someone to do my taxes and because I have a writing and editing business there is a bit more than the regular tax returns to do. So, although I am a senior I can’t use the free tax clinics for seniors at library branches because these clinics don’t include small businesses. These tax professionals should wake up. It’s 2016 and many seniors are also entrepreneurs. At least I have some bookkeeping background. But I’m slow at it as I am more creative than math-oriented.

Okay, off my soap box.

When I’m fed-up with tax stuff, I switch over to another area I write in – memoir/personal essay. This latter is one I’ve decided to get serious about (yet again) and try to get some memoir essays published and get paid for them.

So far this year I’ve written/rewritten two and sent them off for possible publication. Now I’m working on a third and am finding it very satisfying. That may be because it marries two of my big loves and interests – writing and gardening. Without giving away details about the memoir, I have learned a few lessons about writing it. These can be applied to most any types of writing, including fiction.

I read out the memoir at my writing critique group the end of March. Because I’m aiming for a specific Canadian magazine to start, one of the other East End Writers’ Group members suggested I change my US research to Canadian. She suggested I go to the Toronto Botanical Garden library for information.

Which I did last week. And despite my harrowing bus trip to and from on Toronto’s public transit (read about that on my very personal blog here), the actual visit to the library was very productive and helpful. The librarian helped me choose books to check out, brought me old and older copies of a Canadian horticultural organization specific to my topic to look through and check out, and while I was there he did some research online including contacting colleagues at the Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, Ontario and one in New York. The result was two documents which he emailed me. One in particular was very helpful with Canadian history.

Back home, I read through it all and returned to my memoir for more rewriting. I’m still rewriting, but unfortunately today and tomorrow I have to return to the dreaded income tax returns.

So, if you are going bonkers with your main writing project, be it fiction or non-fiction, take another writing break. Write something else completely different. A poem, a journal piece, an essay.

You never know where it will lead. And when you return to your main writing project you will do so with more vigor.

And probably more ideas. Just let them flow in your head. Even when doing something else – other writing or the dreaded income taxes.

At least in Canada we have to May 2 to get them in (as long as post marked that day if sent regular mail), because this year April 30 falls on a Saturday.

Cheers..

Sharon

And again to find out more about my Beyond mystery books, click the Beyond Blood book cover at the top of this blog.

 

 

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Can fictional characters teach readers something?

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

Readers read novels to be entertained. However, life isn’t all about entertainment. We want to learn more, to grow, to live a better life.

Can fiction help here? I think so. If you have credible fiction characters who live lives like readers. And it doesn’t matter what genre the novel is written in. For example, science fiction can present us with a future we might just not want, with the underlying story of just how it can play out. This requires believable characters who deal with these situations. Built into a good sci-fic story are elements of present time – such as law enforcement professionals and your every-day person like divorced parents, seniors, etc. Sometimes the professionals and the single mom are one and the same person. Although the characters have problems peculiar to a future  time period to deal with; like us now, they have common day-to-day problems as well. So the reader can identify with the story and the characters and get a satisfied read. A science fiction author who does this very well is Robert Sawyer. Read any of his books to see how he handles it. And many of his novels also have murder in them.

In the mystery genre, there is a series by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts pseudonym) where the novels are set in the future. So the reader not only gets policing in the future,but also something many of us now balance – a career and a marriage.

In somewhat current time (in the late 1990s), my novel Beyond Blood, has characters that are representative of real-life characters. I have the fraternal twins (which may not be so common) Sebastian (Bast) Overture who is gay and Dana Bowman who is a divorced mother of a six-year old boy. Readers have told me that it is this relationship between mother and son that they relate to because they find it not only interesting but compelling. Of course, not all six-year olds are kidnapped (thank God), but here I have taken a universal relationship, that of a mother and son, and escalated it into the “what if?” area, where a mother is pushed to the edge to find her son before it is too late. And because Dana is human she may try to forge ahead as a professional PI and push her fear and other feelings back inside, we know that in real life this just doesn’t happen. She is conflicted, and yes she does lose it at times.

And that’s the key to writing fiction to teach a lesson. You need both realistic characters that readers can identify with and a plot that grabs readers.You need characters that are human, because we are human. This way you can show readers what your characters are like, what they are made of – but heightened to situations beyond what you would deal with in your life.

Remember, readers want to also be entertained.

You can read for yourself how Dana Bowman handles all her problems with her son’s kidnapping and all the complexities that occur, from an ex-husband who shows up as a suspect, to the stuttering Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding whom she is attracted to, to ….well, you may just have to read Beyond Blood to find out. Click on the book icon at the top for more info.

And I have a new website with a much different website design, thanks to Martin Crawford, computer software expert and Juni Bimm, graphic artist. The website text is purely my doing. So take a look here

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

 

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