Writer’s Wednesday Guestblogger Terry Odell with Tips on Point of View

Today we welcome romantic suspense author, Terry Odell. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of editing several of Terry’s novels, including Where Danger Hides, which won the the 2012 Romantic Suspense Holt Medallion Award. To learn more about Terry’s novels, visit her website at: http://terryodell.com

http://terryodell.com/blog1/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/portrait3_200x300.jpg Terry Odell was born in Los Angeles, moved to Florida, and now makes her home in Colorado. An avid reader she always wanted to “fix” stories so the characters did what she wanted. Once she began writing, she found this wasn’t always possible, as evidenced when the mystery she intended to write rapidly became a romance. Although her genre is labeled “romantic suspense”, Terry prefers to think of her books as “Mysteries With Relationships.” Her titles include her Blackthorne, Inc. series, her Pine Hills Police Series, as well as other stand alone titles. Look for her newest release, NOWHERE TO HIDE, a spinoff of her Pine Hills Police series.

 

Point of view (POV) is the vantage point from which we show a section of the story to the reader—and it’s one of the hardest things to deal with when we write.

Usually, we only tell the story through the eyes of one character—or at least one character at a time. When we switch back and forth, the reader is jerked from one person’s head to the other, and it’s hard to develop empathy for either character.

Using POV

If we’ve chosen to use our heroine’s POV, then the reader will see what the heroine sees, hear what the heroine hears, and know most of what the heroine’s thinking.

The reader won’t know what anyone else is thinking, or what’s happening behind the heroine’s back, or what’s said after she leaves the room. If the heroine doesn’t see it, hear it, smell it or taste it, then it can’t happen for the reader—not in that scene, at least.

So how do you show the other character’s state of mind (like the hero)? We’ll know his state of mind by what he says, what he does, how he acts, and what the heroine thinks about it.

Let’s try an example. Sally’s the heroine, and she has just confronted Joe, the hero, about a lie she thinks he’s told her. Sally’s the POV character.

  • Include Sally’s words. (“Why did you lie to me, Joe?”)
  • Include her feelings as she works herself up to express herself. (Should she say it? Her head feels like it’s going to burst. Maybe it would be better to stay silent because he’ll only lie to her again.)
  • Describe what she sees. (Joe’s jaw sets. The corner of his mouth twitches. He looks away instead of straight at her. His knuckles go white.)
  • Include what she thinks. (He’s looking away rather than at me, so that must mean he’s admitting he was lying, or he’d look me in the eye.)

In Sally’s POV, we never include what Joe’s thinking—we don’t know if he’s feeling guilty for lying, or upset because he has been unjustly accused—and we don’t need to know. Knowing what everybody’s thinking will throw all the suspense right out the window. We know what Sally thinks, but we don’t know whether she’s right. And that makes readers want to keep turning the pages!

Types of POV

The most commonly used in fiction are first person (where the character tells the story as if talking to the reader) and third person (where a narrator describes what’s going on, sort of like a radio announcer doing the play-by-play of a basketball game).

Most romance novels use third person (Jane walked down the street), though chick lit often uses first person (I walked down the street).

In general, in a romance you’ll alternate between the hero’s POV or the heroine’s throughout the book. In longer books, you may go into the head of a significant secondary character who’s the pivot point of the story. But if a character only shows up in one scene, then it’s unlikely we get to hear her private thoughts. We’ll only hear what she actually says, or see her actions. The rule of thumb is that the POV character is the most important character in the scene.

Mystery novels often use first person, and the story is told from the POV of the detective. This is closest to reality, because the reader doesn’t get to know what’s happening until the detective does. However, third person also works well in mystery, especially when the author uses a deep POV.

Finally there’s a POV which tells everybody’s thoughts and actions. It’s called omniscient POV. Trouble is, the reader knows too much about what’s going on inside everybody’s head, and at the same time the reader doesn’t have a personal connection with any one of the characters. That’s why most entertainment fiction is written from one POV (or one at a time, with only a few total) and often with a very distinctive voice that draws the reader into the story and invites him/her to be the character’s friend.

Multiple POVs

As much as we try to stay in one character’s POV, sharing only their thoughts and feelings and impressions is difficult.

If you have your heroine thinking and then say, “She didn’t hear the hero coming up behind her,” if she didn’t hear it, then we’re suddenly outside her POV.

We do have to know what’s going on in all of our characters’ minds all the time, in order to select what they’re going to say, what they’re going to do, how they’re going to react. So it’s simple to let something the hero is thinking sneak into a scene where the author should only be giving the heroine’s thoughts.

Think about what your POV character can see and hear. If he can’t see it or doesn’t hear it, then you’ve shifted POVs. You can test for this by reading your scene aloud in the first person. If your scene is supposed to be the heroine’s POV and you’re reading, “I said… I moved…” and then suddenly you get to “he thought”—that’s a POV shift.

Of course, it is possible to have many POVs represented in one book. But it must be done judiciously and on purpose. The authors who do it well generally switch only a time or two during a scene (not with every speech) and only at places where it’s critically important to see what’s going on in the other character’s mind. If you’re writing suspense, it’s almost mandatory to show multiple POVs, because by definition, suspense means the reader is a step ahead of the action. Most suspense novels show the villain’s POV, so the reader knows what’s coming, and has to hope the protagonist will figure it out in time.

To switch POVs, you can always start a new scene. Starting too many new scenes, however, can make your story choppy and jerky. If you’re skilled, you learn how to lead your reader from one character’s head to another without scene or chapter breaks. But again, you have to be careful to do this seamlessly, and only when a POV change moves the story forward.

Are there rules? No. If your reader can follow your POV shifts, then you’ve done your job. But if you’re just starting out, it’s better to limit your POV characters and make your changes at logical breaks.

Nowhere to Hide     Deadly Secrets

Thank you, Terry, for joining us today. If you have questions or comments for Terry about her novels, or about point of view, please feel free to post them. Thank you!

 

 

Character Mind-Reading

E. Tip of the Day: Do not use the same descriptions your main character uses for herself for other characters, settings, etc. or vice versa. For instance, if your heroine describes herself as a banshee in a fight, use a different description for her when other characters refer to her actions in that same fight, such as calling your heroine a “wild woman” instead of a “banshee”. Otherwise it seems like characters are mind-reading each other. 🙂 And even if your characters have the mind-reading ability, unless it’s intentional they shouldn’t necessarily be using the same words to describe each other. It will only bore your readers.

If you’d like to learn if your characters are mind-reading each other when they shouldn’t be, do a search for the descriptions used by your main character. If any of the same words are used in those descriptions by other characters, you may want to try using a thesaurus. There’s a lot of words to choose from, so be creative. 🙂

 

Revising Your Novel

E. Tip of the Day: During the revision process when you are first starting to re-read your story think of yourself as the reader not the writer of the story. Read the sentences out loud if you need to pretend you’re reading the story to someone else. When you find yourself stumbling over words in a sentence having to re-read it a second or a third time, that’s probably a good indication it needs to be revised. 🙂

Another tip: put the story down for a few weeks after you’ve finished writing the first draft, and then again for a few weeks after revising the 2nd draft. You’ll have a more objective outlook and be able to tackle the story with renewed energy adding those important details you may have missed while writing the first draft.

Wednesday’s Writers Guest Blogger Dorothy McFalls!

We’re so excited to have Dorothy McFalls as our guest today! 🙂 Dorothy, thank you, for sharing these wonderful tips on writing a great synopsis with us.

 

Dorothy McFalls

Dorothy St. James is the author of the White House Gardener Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. The Scarlet Pepper, the second book in the series, was released in April 2012. Dorothy also writes romance as Dorothy McFalls. The Huntress, an independently-published kick-ass romantic suspense, recently climbed the Amazon bestseller list, hitting #4 in romantic suspense. You can find Dorothy at www.DorothyStJames.com or www.DorothyMcFalls.com or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/dorothystjames) or on Twitter (@DorothyStJames). Other books by Dorothy McFalls include The Nude, The Marriage List, A Wizard For Christmas, and Neptune’s Lair. Visit Dorothy’s website to see a complete list of her novels.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to attend an impromptu writing retreat with three other amazing authors. One of those authors also happens to be an acquiring editor. As we were talking, she mentioned how surprised she was at the poor quality of many of the synopses she receives with the submissions. She couldn’t understand why authors didn’t spend more time on writing a synopsis when it is one of the major elements editorial staffs look at when deciding whether to buy a project or not.

I have to admit that I used to struggle with writing a synopsis. The end result was often dull. Flat. And it, quite frankly, bored me to death. That was before I learned what I was doing wrong.

Your synopsis is not a summary of your book. Yes, the synopsis should contain a beginning, middle, and end. But don’t simply state what happened in your story. Don’t write an outline. First, that’s boring. Second, it doesn’t demonstrate to the editor how incredibly talented you are.

Your synopsis is an advertising tool to sell your book. This is especially true if you are hoping to sell on proposal (in other words—convince a publisher to pay you money for a book you haven’t yet written.)

Not only should the synopsis tell the editor about your book, you also want it to:

  1. showcase your unique voice,
  2. represent the genre you are writing, and
  3. make the editor excited about the story (so she buys it!)

The synopsis should match the tone of your book. If you’re writing a comedy, make the synopsis funny. If it’s a thriller, write it so the editor is on the edge of her seat when she’s reading the synopsis. If it’s a sexy romance, make the synopsis sexy. Let the editor know when the hero and heroine kiss and more. (I was forever leaving out the first kiss and deepening relationship details in my synopses for my romance novels. And, consequently, I didn’t sell a book until a writer friend insisted I add that to my synopsis. Remember: the synopsis is a tool for selling your book.)

Most novels are written using a three-act structure (whether the author knows she’s doing it or not.) So why not use the three-act structure to write your synopsis?

 

Act 1: The Beginning:

Just like in your book, start with an interesting hook. For my latest cozy mystery release, The Scarlet Pepper (a book that sold based on its synopsis), I opened the synopsis with:

Someone is tampering with the Presidential vegetable garden, and Casey Calhoun, organic gardener for the White House, is determined to track down the garden prankster. Red peppers are growing instead of the green ones that had been planted. There’s cabbage where the First Lady’s favorite variety of lettuce should be. And all the tomato plants are gone.

From this opening paragraph you know (1) who the main character is, (2) there’s a mystery to be solved, and (3) that the story will be light-hearted in tone.

Because your synopsis isn’t a summary or outline of the book, it doesn’t have to open where the book opens. Open the synopsis by introducing your main characters and the story problem.

 

Act 2: The Middle:

What are the major turning points in your story? What problems does your hapless hero face as he tries to win the heroine’s heart? How do matters get progressively worse as your amateur sleuth works to solve the murder? All of these things happen in the middle of your story. In your synopsis, you want to describe the obstacles your main character faces…and how things get worse.

If necessary, the middle is also where you would introduce subplots. For example, if you’re writing a mystery and there’s a romance subplot, you would want to introduce the subplot in this part of the synopsis. But I caution you to be extremely selective with subplots. You want a lean, fast-reading synopsis that catches the editor’s attention. Many subplots, while interesting in the book, will slow the action in your synopsis. When in doubt, leave it out.

 

Act 3: The End:

Don’t leave this part out! The editor wants to know you’ve written a complete story. She needs to know if the story fulfills its promise to the reader. She can’t know you’ve done your job if you don’t tell her how your book will end.

If you’re writing a romance, tell how the hero and heroine find their happily ever after. If you’re writing a mystery, tell how the mystery will be solved and the bad guys get caught. If you’re writing an emotional women’s fiction novel, show the conclusion of the main character’s emotional arc.

If you include subplots within your synopsis, be sure they are wrapped up at the ending as well.

 

Final Thoughts:

  1. Don’t forget to show/tell how the main character grows and changes over the course of the story.
  2. Leave out minor characters and most sub-plots. Give the editor what she needs to know and nothing else.
  3. Keep it short. Most editors want 3 to 5 page synopses. That said, every publisher is different. Check the publisher website to see if they’ve posted guidelines for what they want in the synopsis.
  4. Always write the synopsis in present tense.
  5. For guidance in developing a tight plot, I highly recommend Blake Snyder’s screenwriting book Save the Cat and his Beat Sheet (http://www.blakesnyder.com/tools/)

Now, go write that synopsis and sell that book!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And writers, if you still need help after you’ve followed these tips, Written Dreams offers editing services for writing synopses and query letters. See our Services Page on our website for details. https://writtendreams.com/Services.html We’re happy to help in any way we can. 🙂

Thank you, Dorothy, for the terrific advice! She will be with us all day so feel free to ask Dorothy questions or make a comment on the post. Thank you! 🙂

Happy Independence Day!

Written Dreams would like to wish everyone a safe and happy holiday!

While you’re watching the fireworks tonight, take a deep breath and feel all the emotions of the moment. Close your eyes and listen to the loud booms and zips. Feel the mosquitoes nipping at your skin. Open your eyes to see the bright reds, blues, and whites sparkling in the sky. Smell the savory burgers cooking on the grill mixed in with the sulfuric scent of gun powder, or taste that tangy potato salad.

So, the next time you’re writing a scene with fireworks in mind you’ll have all those senses and feelings at your fingertips. 🙂

 

Brenda’s Tangy Potato Salad

This is an old family recipe. Most potato salads use a yellow mustard. My family uses French Dressing for a sweeter, tangier salad.

INGREDIENTS:

3 lbs. Red Potatoes with peeling on, sliced after boil

4 Large Hard-Boiled Eggs, sliced

10 Radishes, sliced

2 Cucumbers, diced (I peel the cucumbers.)

1 Green Pepper, diced

1 bunch of Scallions/Green Onions, sliced

1-3 Tablespoons of French Dressing  (to taste)

1/2-3/4 cup of Mayonnaise (to taste)

salt and pepper (to taste)

 

DIRECTIONS:

Boil the potatoes until soft. I add a few shakes of salt and pepper to the water.

In the meantime, prepare the rest of the ingredients by washing the vegetables and slicing/dicing them. Place the sliced veggies in a large bowl.

When the potatoes are soft, slice and place in another large bowl to cool in fridge for 5-10 minutes.

While the potatoes cool, make the dressing. Combine mayo and French dressing together in a small bowl with salt and pepper. When you like the taste of the dressing, (some prefer less sweet to more sweet) combine with the bowl of cooled potatoes.

Add the bowl of diced/sliced veggies to the potato salad and stir until well combined. Place in the fridge until ready to serve.

Enjoy!

How NOT to Bore Your Readers

E. Tip of the Day: We all strive to keep things interesting for our readers. Except Mr. Passive Writing! He can sneak up on you without warning, and take you down! It’s something every writer does, most of the time unaware they are even doing it. So don’t worry if you didn’t realize Mr. Passive Writing was taking over your novel. Here’s a tip on how to avoid the enemy.

 

Certain words can clue a writer in to knowing they are writing passive action scenes. Using these words will make the writing passive and distant to the reader. So, avoid using these words often in action scenes when possible. Sounds easy enough, right? If you’re not sure how often you use these type of words, do a quick global search on your manuscript using the “find and search” tool.

 

Examples of words to avoid or at least try to keep to a minimum in your story are the following: “that,” “like,” “seem,” or “seemed to,” “decided,” “some,”and most words ending in “ly” –wonderfully, sweetly, selfishly, savagely, happily, likely, etc. The list goes on and on…

 

There are a few “ly”s that are okay to use on occasion: “slowly,” “quietly,” and “quickly.” However, if you can find another way to portray the scene without using these words, do it. 🙂 Not using the words listed above will keep Mr. Passive Writing away, bringing the reader closer to your story. A win-win situation for both the writer and the reader! Good luck!

Example 1 by Mr. PW: He decided to drive to the cliff.

Example 1 by WD: He drove to the cliff, marveling at the beauty of the landscape around him.

Example 2 by Mr. PW: She seemed like she was going to vomit.

Example 2 by WD: Her face turned pale and she ran to the bathroom. In a moment I heard hacking sounds from within.

Example 1 by Mr. PW: He selfishly played with the toys.

Example 2 by WD: He scooped up his toys and turned away from the other children to find a corner to play.

Goslings in Disguise: This photo is a good example of passive writing. The goslings blend in so well with the ground it is difficult to see them at certain angles.