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Category Archives: Point of View in Fiction

Writing a new short story finally

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

I am finally writing a new mystery short story. And I am amazed that I actually found time. Despite my good intentions to try to tame time, except for perhaps a couple of areas, it has not been working. Most of the blame is what I refer to as “outside crap.” Included in that is even more and new computer problems. I won’t go into the sad saga here now, except for the one that is connected to this author blog.

WordPress in its “infinite wisdom” has a Set Featured Image feature. Technically (pun intended) it should work for only the actual blog post you are writing for the image withing the actual post and is not the image (my headshot) that appears at the side outside all blog posts. That one stays. But if it the image is in a blog post and you set it as an “Update” you now have two photos the same side by side on your live post. If you delete one from the one post when you are in Edit Post for update mode, it deletes all the same image on all the posts that have it. Those with another image in the post seem to keep that image.

What were the WordPress designers thinking?

For the ongoing computer crap problems, you will have to check my personal blog, for future postings on it. Meantime, my son the computer techie will be helping me remotely to resolve some of these computer issues later today.

As for the time management plan – the actual writing is getting in there, although not as much time each day as planned and hoped for. I have cut back my email time to 20 minutes a day (using a timer), except for family. All email replies and even new ones with promised information are being prioritized according to content date. So, something happening the end of the month doesn’t get priority over something happening today. I use a timer. So I can write. We writers are driven to write.

Someday I’ll write a noir satire mystery on computer problems and time management, but not in this new story. The story does take something from the news (no, not Trump’s election to the US presidency) but something else that has already been satirized on satire websites. So, I’m not doing satire here. I’m taking the news item and going on a “what if such and such happened? What if the character was like such-and-such?.

And so the story goes. But I’m not writing a fiction based on fact, something writers have to clarify when they are writing; Just because I’m writing fiction doesn’t mean I don’t need to do research. Besides the news stories, I have to research the laws connected to their content, medical issues connected to content, police procedure and most important develop my characters. I have two – a new one and the Toronto Police Service Homicide detective Larry Hutchison from “Missing in Action,” one of my short stories in Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012),  Both stories take place in the same time period – NOW. I have wanted to put Detective Hutchinson in more stories, so this is my first go at that. .

I am also trying something new for me. Telling the short story from two different viewpoints – the new character and Hutchinson to develop the cat and mouse suspense.

It is interesting. I have to follow the fiction rules – one character’s point of view per scene with extra line space and/or asterisks in between scenes.

In some future posts I’ll go some more into the ins and outs using two characters points of view in short stories.

For now, it’s back to writing the actual short story…I hope. There better not be any more computer problems.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

And for this post, the Beyond Blood icon a the top does take you to Beyond Blood at Amazon.

 

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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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Let your fiction characters evolve

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

How relevant is your original concept of your fiction characters? You do an outline of their traits and how they act, talk, etc. Then as you write your novel something happens.

Your characters have the nerve to change. They don’t act according to your plan, your concept of them. And worse, the little devils want to take over your novel.

Excuse me. It is their novel too. Without them you don’t have a novel or at the most, you have a bare bones plot with some iffy and maybe characters.

If you remember, last week’s post dealt with guest characters wanting to take over https://sharonacrawfordauthor.com/2015/04/16/fiction-characters-who-want-to-take-over-the-story/ so let’s take that a step further. But first we have to step back. You and your friends and family did not suddenly stop changing and growing (and not just physically here) at age five, age 20 and so on. You evolve; you change; things happen.

Same with your fiction characters. As you write your novel, no matter what you put in your outline for characters and plot, something is going to change if for no other reason than the original idea, the original concept, just won’t work.

I’ll give you an example from my recently published mystery novel Beyond Blood. One of the biggies was changing the POV characters from one – private investigator Dana Bowman, PI – to also her fraternal twin and PI partner Bast Overture, Dana’s six-year old son, David, and the mysterious Him. That sure opened up the plot. It also meant getting inside four, not one, characters’ heads.

And dealing with their development, their actions and their demands. Sure it puts the writer on edge. Would this change work? Should I do this or should I do that?

I’ve found when you get to a point where you have to deviate from the original plan, it works best to write spontaneously and see what happens. Each character will invade your mind and make demands. You may not use all of what they want, but listen to them. And just write. You can make more changes later.

That’s what I do even though it means scrolling to and from different parts to fix something that doesn’t seem consistent or make sense. And I do it when my characters insist.

Remember, characters are real to you and to your readers. Just like you, your family and friends, characters evolve over time.

Let them.

And if you want to hear a bit about the point of view changes I made, I will be reading from Beyond Blood this evening when I join 15 other Crime Writers of Canada authors reading at the Arthur Ellis Short List Party. We each get three minutes to read – I can just squeeze in my two pages of Prologue – one from Him’s point of view and one from Dana’s.

After the readings all the CWC authors short-listed in the various Arthur Ellis Awards categories will be named – out loud. If you are in the Toronto or GTA area in Ontario, Canada, please join us from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Indigo Book Store in the Manulife Centre at Bay Street and Bloor Street West. It promises to be fun.

Cheers.

 

Sharon A. Crawford

Sharon A. Crawford is the author of the Beyond book series. More info at www.samcraw.com and www.bluedenimpress.com including a link to a radio interview at http://bluedenimpress.com/authors/sharon-a-crawford/ Online TV interview from Liquid Lunch is at http://youtu.be/i2bBaePIWgY

Beyond Blood Book cover at the top of this post links to my Amazon author profile. If you buy a  copy there, please do a review on amazon.

 

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Short Story and Novel Writing with series characters – Part 5 – Point of View

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.'s short story collection

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.’s short story collection

Moving series characters between novels and short stories gives the characters a chance to speak. With short stories you are limited to one character’s point of view to tell the story. Novels give more leeway but you still don’t want too many characters jumping in. The reader will be confused and possibly annoyed and you, the author may lose the plot thread. Or more realistically have too many plot threads that end up in a tangle.

You can take a major character or a minor character in your novel and write a short story with this character as your point of view character. So, let’s say your novel has three major characters – Angela, the person being stalked; Detective Walkins the police officer working on her case, and Jude her boyfriend as the three point of view characters in the novel. However, there are several minor characters: Janet, the nosey old neighbour across the street, Ben, Angela’s co-worker, Angela’s daughter, etc. etc. All of these characters have their stories, their life, their idiosyncrasies, their voice. In you novel they appear only as they are seen by one or more of the three main characters.

Give one, or all of these characters, their own short story. It can have little or nothing to do with the novel. Perhaps the story has to do with something else in their life. The nosey neighbour, for instance – just how did she become nosey and butting into everyone else’s business. Maybe she is a former investigative reporter who messed up and had to move on to another profession. But she misses digging up the dirt, so she puts herself into her neighbours’ business. Or Detective Watkins – he may have other cases, that one-by-one could generate several short stories – maybe even a novel.

You see where all this can get you?

You can read about my characters and their stories in my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). Click on the book at the top and it takes you to Sharon A. Crawford’s profile – including book reviews – at http://www.amazon.com. The book is available there in print and Kindle. For Kobo e-book go to http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/beyond-the-tripping-point or go to any bricks and mortar store and order in a print copy. Spread the word.
More info on Sharon A.’s upcoming gigs, workshops, guest blog posts, etc. at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html
Sharon A. Crawford’s prequel novel Beyond Blood, featuring the fraternal twins will be published fall 2014 by Blue Denim Press. Stay tuned.
Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

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Backstory using flashbacks

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford's mystery short story collection

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford’s mystery short story collection

One of my many theories about short stories is that their titles and first lines ought to be memorable, because if not memorable they will not be remembered, and if not remembered the stories will not be reprinted (because no one can find them).

– Damon Knight

I’m posting one day early this week only because I’m at the MagNet magazine publishing industry conference all day tomorrow. The time setup to fix a date and time to publish a post later is nowhere to be found on WordPress.com. Hope you enjoyed Rosemary McCracken’s guest post last week.

And now as promised (albeit a week late) – some ideas on using flashbacks for your backstory.

You have to be careful with flashback so you don’t overuse  it because it can take away from your main story’s thrust. For a novel a bit of backstory could work in a short prologue. But even better is to weave in your flashback(s) with the present day story. The latter can work for short stories which don’t usually have prologues.

In my short story “Porcelain Doll” I blend in the flashbacks – and there are actually two time periods of flashback. This is somewhat unusual for short stories. The story begins in the present with:

 I can’t stop staring at the porcelain doll in the window. It sits among old tea sets and silver candleholders in Hanover’s newest antique shop. I keep trying to look away, but I can’t, despite my heart dancing inside my chest and my breath trying to keep time with it.

 

Right after this paragraph I transition into the most recent time flashback with:

I have no business coming back to this area. I should have left the past with Mama when she died last fall from a tumble down the cellar stairs. But when I sorted through her clothes, a newspaper clipping fell from a dress pocket. Of course I had to read it.

Spring thaw uncovers man’s skeleton near Hanover in the Lake Huron area. Contents of a wallet found nearby indicate the man could have been one Charles Holden who disappeared 16 years ago….

It was dated April 14, 1981, two months before Mama married Eric Luftus and seven and a half years before her death.

 

Then I bring in a bit about the present and transition back to the late 1980s when Mama died.

I pilfered the newspaper story and took it home with me.

The doll’s eyes seem too blue, too real. Or maybe I’m just wrapped too much in old memories. They began seeping from the nether area of my brain while I watched Mama lowered into the ground.

There are a few paragraphs more about this time right after Mama’s funeral and leading back to the present (seven months later) with Sarah (the main character) still looking in the window at that porcelain doll. Then I transition into the main flashback, which is a big part of the short story, with

I press my nose to the shop’s window. The doll’s eyes seem to suck me right in and spin me back 24 years. In the whirl, I see another porcelain doll, Daddy dealing cards, and my last train ride. It feels more like a roller coaster ride, and I shudder.

That 1965 train trip started much the same as any other summer’s trip. (All excerpts from Beyond the Tripping Point, copyright 2012 Sharon A. Crawford)

The story does eventually wind its way back to the present including some backstory about Eric and Sarah’s mom with the latter part focusing on the present to finish up what started back in 1965.

If you read through the excerpts closely you will see that anything in the past (1965 or 1981 or 1989) is written in the past tense while anything happening now is written in present tense. This is one way to help your reader keep track of time.

In novels, another way is to keep backstory and present in separate chapters with the year and possible month(s) or season(s) at the beginning of the chapter.

Or you can weave in the backstory for each main character whose point of view is used to tell your story. But watch that it doesn’t come across as an expository resume. Connect it to something the character is doing or about to do, another character they are going to see, talk to. What is some of their history? Are they long-time friends from what and where? If the characters have had a falling out, bring this in here just before they will meet. How does the point of view character feel about this? Will it affect how they are going to act?

Sue McGrath (of the alphabet mysteries: A is for, etc.) does this very well when she brings in her main character’s (Kinsey) family backstory – many members whom Kinsey is estranged from or never met. But McGrath doesn’t drag in these family members until the novels where Kinsey is actually going to have to connect to them. If you are writing a mystery novel, you don’t want a lot of unnecessary family backstory cluttering up your plot.

So make sure your backstory connects to your plot in some way. It is also not necessary to give every character’s backstory – just the main ones where it will affect the plot and what these main characters will be doing and saying.

You don’t want to lose your readers to the past.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Beyond the Tripping Point is available at www.amazon.com (just click on the book cover at the top) and for those in Canada at www.amazon.ca  – both in print and e-copy. Or you can go into a bricks and mortar bookstore and order in a print copy.

 

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Making your fiction funny

Click on the book cover to go to amazon.com

Sharon A. Crawford’s book. Click on the cover to go to amazon.com

The funniest things are the forbidden … The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it.

— Mark Twain


I use humour in many of the short stories in my mystery collection Beyond the Tripping Point. My goal is not necessarily to be funny but the characters and their situations need humour, often the black comedy type. My characters are a little off from normal and get themselves in spots where they well, go beyond the tripping point in life and then have to sort it all out. Throw in crime and some of these characters need to go on the light side of life.

One of these stories “The Body in the Trunk” focuses on two close friends, Kelsie and Sally. Kelsie wants to dump her cheating husband but the normal divorce route doesn’t sit well on her shoulders. As she tells Sally,

“Divorce?” cried Kelsie when I’d said as much. “I’d have to split the house, the cottage, the golf set, the home entertainment centre, the BMW and,” she glared at me, “the dog. How do you split a dog? If Harry gets prison for life, he gets nothing and I get everything. And I really want that BMW.” (Excerpted from Beyond the Tripping Point, copyright Sharon A. Crawford, 2012).

\So Kelsie drags Sally into her plan so that Harry will… You didn’t really think I was going to tell you the story, did you? You’ll have to get the book.

Basically I created an original situation which is humorous and had my characters act in offbeat ways that are funny. For example, in a few scenes in the story Kelsie wears a clothespin on her nose. But it ties in with the plot and Kelsie’s character.

So, if you want to create humour in your fiction, your characters must be funny in character. None of this having a character tell jokes unless the character is a stand-up comedian. Otherwise it is forced humour and will fall flat on your reader’s eyes and mind.

Your whole plot can be something offbeat and lend itself to humour (as does “The Body in the Trunk”). And you don’t necessarily want all characters to be funny. Kelsie is, but she is balanced by Sally who while thrust into the ridiculous situation, is not a funny person. The formula for humorous skits applies here – the funny person needs a straight (and I’m not referring to sexual orientation here) person to play against. Of course, there are some humorous skits where both characters are funny. Some of you may remember the skits on the old Carol Burnette TV show. Of course Carol Burnette just has to appear on stage and she gets laughs, but until your characters get well-known in the reading world, it is better to play the funny one against a straight character. The Janet Evanovich series featuring bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is a good example. Stephanie is always getting herself into situations and the humour bounces off the pages.

Which bring me to Point of View – tell the story from the funny character’s POV or another character’s? That depends on who the funny character is – a main character or minor character, protagonist or antagonist, or in the case of mystery-crime stories – one of the suspects. With novels you can have multiple points of view (one POV per scene), so there is some choice. You can get into the funny person’s head and/or the straight person’s head   – with the latter you can get their take on the humorous character. If it is short story you are writing, you need to tell the story from one point of view but either the funny person’s or the straight person’s could work. Unsure which? Try writing your story twice – once from each character’s POV. Then read each out loud and see what seems to work best.

Whatever way you use humour in your novel or short story, make sure it isn’t forced. Readers will pick up on it.

One good thing with humour in book fiction – print, e-book or audio book – readers don’t have to suffer from that awful canned laughter on TV sit-coms…not yet anyway.

And I’m going to relent a little; you can hear me read the beginning of “The Body in the Trunk” from my reading on Liquid Lunch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgOKYgBfAwY&feature=youtu.be

For Sharon A. Crawford’s upcoming events with Beyond the Tripping Point, go to the Beyond the Tripping Point page– http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html I continually update it.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Book Review of Unblock Writer’s Block by Paul Lima

Cover of Paul Lima's Unblock Writer's Block

Click on Cover of Paul Lima’s Unblock Writer’s Block for Paul’s blog and sale places

The desire to write grows with writing.

–          Desiderius Erasmus

In Unblock Writer’s Block: How to face it, deal with it and overcome it, Paul Lima not only debunks some writer’s block myths, but provides some creative exercises to get writers writing. He compares his former writer’s block to “walker’s block,” i.e., not exercising, his situation until his wife got a dog. He started walking daily and the story ideas began arriving – a good thing for a freelancer with 35 plus years of experience writing newspaper articles, corporate, and fiction, who  is the author of 12 books, including the best selling How to Write a Non-fiction book in 60 Days. Lima also writes prolifically and quickly to deadline.

If you are doing other things to avoid writing, Lima says you are procrastinating, not suffering from writer’s block and you need the equivalent of a dog – writing exercises – to get you going on the write track. Lima emphasizes when you write the draft, ditch the editor in your head and just write. He also gives the option of “cherry-picking” exercises to get the most die-hard blocked writer going – a good idea because of the large and varied selection. When reading Unblock Writer’s Block, I kept flipping files to create story ideas. Lima recommends starting with  how you are feeling because you have to have emotion in your writing to connect to your reader. He has exercises for unlocking emotions focusing on the individual and his past, followed by three chapters with activities on freefall writing, directed free-fall writing and clustering – the three parts Lima advises readers do.

Ensuing exercises deal with the actual craft of writing such as plot, characters and point of view in fiction. My favourite exercise is one that could help POV problems. Lima suggests readers write a letter of apology to someone wronged and then switch POV to the other person and have him or her write back and perhaps letters back and forth will follow.

Although Lima uses examples from other authors such as novelists Margaret Atwood and Alistair McLeod (the latter’s cheese story is funny), I would have liked to have seen more Paul Lima stories, although the one where Paul apologized to a telephone pole when he bumped into it (Note: apologizing for everything is a Canadian trait) is priceless. The other bits of humour interspersed add spark to the writing wisdom presented.

Unblock Writer’s Block fulfills Paul Lima’s intentions, i.e.

“Our goal throughout this book is simply to do some writing—to see that we have the ability to write over, around and through whatever may be blocking us. You may not have produced anything you want to continue writing about. You may not have written how you want to write. But that’s not the point. The point is to write no matter what, and to be open to where your work may (or may not) lead you.”

Unblock Writer’s Block is available in paperback and e-copy. To find out where and more about Paul Lima and his books, go to  http://www.paullima.com/books/wb.html.

For Sharon A. Crawford’s upcoming events with Beyond the Tripping Point, go to her Beyond the Tripping Point page– http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html I continually update it.

Today (Thursday, March 28), from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. I talk about where my characters come from and read from Beyond the Tripping Point at the Leaside Branch of the Toronto Public Library. (See the above BTTP link for more details.)

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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