POV

Determining which point of view or POV you’ll use for your story is a major decision. After all, it’s a decision that affects every sentence and it can really make or break your story. So how do we decide on POV? Let’s look at first and third person POVs.

First, you need to assess your story to see if it’s plot driven or character driven. If your novel is character driven and revolves around one protagonist, then first person is the way to go. But if the action revolves around a cast of characters and is plot or action driven, then third is perfect for your story.

In first person, everything that occurs is filtered through the narrator’s perspective (what they see, hear, know, witness, etc.) and those actions are shaped and tempered by how the narrator experiences and interprets those events. The story revolves around the “I” in the story.

Third person has several different categories within it, such as omniscient and limited third person. Using third person allows the reader to know more information, but it causes emotional distance between the reader and the characters. Although in third person limited you can develop the same character connection as you can using first. Third person omniscient is the all-knowing, all-seeing narrator. It uses s/he and the narrator knows the thoughts and feelings of all characters. Third person limited still uses s/he pronouns, but it closely follows a main character, allowing the reader access to that character’s thoughts and feelings. Third person limited is often used to follow more than one character.

Still having trouble deciding? Here are the pros and cons of each POV.

First person pros: This POV allows deeper connections between the character and reader and allows the reader to immerse themselves into the story. It can also be used to build suspense since the reader learns information only when the character does. And it’s very easy to convey internal thoughts when using first person.

First person cons: Some descriptions of characters or settings are hard to make from this limited perception. Most people don’t describe their appearance or people or places we’ve known for a while so trying to describe these types of things can be awkward and unnatural. And since the reader knows only what the character does, it can be hard to give the reader additional information. Most importantly is that the narrator absolutely has to be relatable and likeable. Your reader won’t invest in the story of someone they can’t stand. This doesn’t mean the character has to be perfect, they should be flawed and complex like all your characters, but they have to at least hold the readers interest. Also, using first can lead to a lot more telling than showing since it’s easy to just list what the character is thinking and feeling. Finally, it makes switching between characters more confusing.

Third person pros: This POV is very common and therefore, readers feel comfortable reading it. It also means the reader has access to more knowledge than the characters which is a great way to increase suspense. POV switches are very easy to make and understand. Finally, there is more showing and less telling in this POV type.

Third person cons: Internal thoughts are more difficult to show in the third person omniscient POV. It also has more emotional distance between the reader and characters in omniscient. In third person it is easy to infodump and you have to be careful not to give your reader too much information and kill your suspense.

Which POV do you prefer and why? Comment below and happy writing.

 

Julia

Outlining

I’ve been seeing a lot of questions lately on how to outline and plan your novel, so I decided to do an early blog post about it. Some of you may wonder why you should even bother with outlining, but there are lots of good reasons to plan ahead. First and most importantly, it absolutely destroys writer’s block because you know exactly what needs to happen in your story. Second, it gives your story structure which will only make it stronger. And finally, it saves you a lot of pain and time in rewrites since you won’t write yourself into any corners.

What you’ll need (to follow my method): index cards, a writing utensil, paper clips or rubber bands (for organization), and a story idea.

First I’d like to say that for most of my life I was a diehard pantser (one who flies by the seat of their pants when writing). I couldn’t even fathom making an outline and never knew what was going to happen in the next scene let alone at the end. And if I did know, I just kept all my ideas bouncing around in my head. My method was chaos and most times no method at all. And I never finished a story. The stories would all lose steam and peter out. That is, until I started outlining. Now I’m forever reformed.

So how do we plan ahead? I’ll break down my personal method step-by-step for you, so grab your index cards and let’s get started.

First you want to get a good idea of what your general story is. I borrow the beginning of my process from the snowflake method. The first thing to do is write a one-line synopsis of your book. This is your sixty second pitch. Do not include character names. Try for fifteen words or less. Show what’s at stake for your character and what their trying to achieve. Learn from reading other one-line blurbs on the backs of books or online to help perfect your pitch. This pitch will also come in handy when people ask you the dreaded “What’s your novel about” question. After this step, you’ll finally have something to say.

Next expand your pitch to a paragraph or five sentences. Snowflake calls for three disasters, or crises points, plus the ending. And this should be describing the plot. This is more for your use in figuring out the story, but can be used when querying if the agent wants to know the exact plot of your story.

Then it’s time to develop character sketches for each main character (characters that drive the story forward). You want to include character motivations, desires, flaws, weaknesses, etc. to make them well-rounded and relatable. To a lesser extent, make a quick sketch for minor characters, still giving them goals and flaws.

Now is where the fun begins, the scene list. You can start by just jotting down scenes you’ll include in order, but this is where I prefer index cards. For each scene, grab an index card. Write one sentence detailing the action that happens (Tom meets Daisy). Then write a sentence for the conflict or tension that action creates (Jenny gets jealous and bullies Daisy). Do this for each scene. Now lay each card out and shuffle them around. Which order provides the most excitement while still making sense chronologically? Where are there holes and what can happen to fill them in? Where is tension lacking? Am I following a certain structure? The great thing about index cards is they’re easy to add or take away as your story emerges and super easy to shuffle around to get the perfect order.

When thinking about structure, I like to follow the fichtean curve.  We start with the  inciting incident. Then we have two to three crises moments that follow in succession building up to the conflict. Finally we have the climax and then the falling action which leads to resolution. Having crises moments that lead up to the conflict ensures your readers will be hooked and your pacing will be fast and exciting.

Using index cards will show you where you need to shore up your plot and fill plot holes, decide on your order of events, and help you when you actually sit down to write the scene. Now that you have a working scene list to guide you, you’re ready to write that first draft. One bonus step for your scene list would be to list the goals for each scene (show relationship between Tom and Jen, foreshadowing the ending, introduce plot device, etc.). Now you know exactly where you want to go in each scene.

I promise the planning beforehand will save you heartache and trouble when you start writing and especially in revisions. You’ll also be able to focus on higher order concerns like adding theme, adding foreshadowing, and adding other connections between the beginning, middle, and end. Also, feel free to jot any story ideas you get on your index cards. Use paper clips or rubber bands to organize similar ideas together. And really have fun with the planning process. I love the feeling I get when I have new ideas and figure out my plot. Using your scene list, you can even skip around when writing scenes to keep writer’s block away and come back to troublesome scenes later. There are tons of benefits to this method of planning.

How do you usually outline? Do you have any tips that I left out? Comment below and happy planning!

Julia

What Makes a Poem a Poem

This week’s blog is about poetry. Now poetry is a subject that is near and dear to me, but is a confusing subject for a lot of people. The following is what I have learned about poetry from my poetry classes and from what doing my senior thesis in poetry has taught me.

Poetry is something a lot of people struggle to comprehend and it’s something that is not taught well in school. So a lot of people have misconceptions about what makes a poem a poem. One common misconception is that poetry rhymes. However, a lot of poetry doesn’t rhyme and a lot of things that rhyme aren’t really poems. So unless you are writing a sonnet or another structured poetry form, you shouldn’t worry about rhyming. It often seems amateurish and doesn’t focus on what makes a poem strong.

Another misconception is that if
you break up
a block
of text, line
by line, well
then it must be a poem,
right?

Wrong. It’s prose that you’ve arbitrarily broken up into different lines. Line breaks does not a poem make.

So what does make a poem a poem? My answer is imagery. At its heart, imagery is the stuff poems are made of. Now it’s really easy to focus on images, or describing visual cues, but imagery does and should include all five senses. Describing sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings will strengthen your poem as it invites the reader to really immerse themselves in the poem.

Another important aspect of imagery is how to describe it. Most people automatically write adjective+noun combinations, instead of metaphors and similes, like white clouds, fluffy clouds, blue sky, pregnant boughs, etc. These adjective+noun combinations equal weaker writing. And most of the time, they tend toward cliché images (fluffy clouds, blue skies) that are overused and flat. To get more poignant descriptions, steer clear of these combinations.

Instead of “blue sky”, use “sky the steely blue of factory smokestacks puffing in winter, dreary with sleet”. See how that gives a very specific image to your reader? Your descriptions don’t always have to be this long, but they should be specific. Also note that adj+noun combos do appear inside my description (steely blue) but it doesn’t comprise my entire image.

Instead of using “pregnant boughs”, use “the trees were weighted stars, laden with ice and gravity. Or use “the limbs were weighted dancers, worn down and heavy long after curtain call”. There are two different descriptions for the same phrase but they better convey the specific aspect you want to describe.

The last example: instead of using “white clouds”, use “the clouds were feathered across the sky”. Once again a stronger image for your reader to picture.

Another important thing to keep in mind when using imagery in poetry is using tropes. Poetry uses metaphors and similes in imagery, but you should have a unifying trope or overall theme for the poem that ties all your metaphors together. If you use flowers as a metaphor for describing a sensation of happiness, you don’t want to use a balloon metaphor in the next line; it’s jarring and disconnected. You don’t want your poem to become a string of random images. Using an overall theme strengthens your poem and tightens it up. You can use more than one metaphor as long as you tie them together. For instance, in my latest poem, I use feathers for metaphors ascribed to the “I” in the poem and rocks for the “you” in the poem. They contrasted each other, showing the connection between the two, and that’s why they worked together.

Now some will say that poetry is subjective and, therefore, anything goes, but I vehemently disagree. Good poetry does certain things and doesn’t do certain things and that’s what makes it good. Learning these guidelines helps us to write stronger poems and while taste in poetry may be subjective, quality isn’t. But if you keep these tips for writing stronger imagery in mind, your poetry will level up and you can watch your poems bloom like the tulips shivering off dew as they open to the sun.

This is the prompt we did in my writing group to practice getting away from adj+noun combinations: Create five lines of imagery avoiding adj+noun combinations. Bonus: include at least two senses. This proved to be a little tricky for my group, but it’s great practice to change the way you think about descriptions.

What do you think poetry has to include? Comment below and as always, happy writing!

Julia