Thursday, March 19, 2009

Writing Fiction: Session 11 - Point of View

Before you write, it's important to choose the right point of view for your story. Point of view (POV) makes a huge difference in how you will tell your story and how your audience receives it.

Who is telling your story? Once you figure that out, that's your point of view. For example, the story of a murder would be very different through the eyes of a witness than it would be through the eyes of the murderer, and very different through the eyes of the detective.

In point of view, you not only have to decide who will tell the story, but how they will tell the story. For example, there are first, second and third person orientations. There are as many different variations of point of view as your imagination can conjure up. Here are some of the most common:

1. First Person - Singular. In first person point of view, the writer has one of the characters narrate the story and tell it in terms of "I did" or "I saw" orientation. The trick of first person is that the narrator must see or at least know what has happened in order to tell it to you. Therefore, the writer must leave out the parts of the story the narrator would not logically know. The writer (narrator) only can convey what he thinks and feels about the events. A fun part of writing in the first person is that the writer writes in the voice of the character. The writer can make this humorous, sarcastic, or whatever tone he feels works best for that narrator.

2. Multiple First Persons. In some novels, the writer will write different chapters with a different character as the narrator for each. In multiple first persons points of view the readers get a broader version of what's going on beyond the scenes. In many cases, it makes a more interesting read as the reader must decide which of the narrators to believe if there is a conflict in the telling of the story.

3. Third Person - Singular. When telling your story through a third person singular point of view, the narrator is not a character. He tells the story s as what "he did" or "she did" when talking of the characters. If using the third person with singular vision, the narrator has access to one mind. As the writer you need to decide which character to show the story through.

4. Third Person - Multiple. The narrator continues to write in the third person in the third person multiple, but can switch among numerous characters with telling the story from different angles. Make sure your story requires all this insight as it is difficult to execute this method without causing confusion.

5. Omniscient - Third Person. This point of view is often called "god's eye" point of view. The narrator in this case knows everything. The good side of this is that you can provide the reader with inside information that the characters don't know. However, the trouble with it is that the writer almost becomes a part of the story and it's harder for the readers to fully immerse themselves in the story. Suspension of disbelief is important when reading fiction. It's difficult for the reader to do this with the narrator telling them the inside scoop.

The important thing to remember about point of view is that you must always keep faithful to the point of view you choose to use. You will confuse the readers and your writing will be considered immature if you pop in and out of your point of view during your story. Once you commit to a point of view, stay consistent with it and the story will come to life.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Writing Fiction: Session 10 - Using Tags

Many fiction writers have difficulty using tags when they first start writing fiction. So before your write, it's a good idea to learn the ins an outs of tags.

First of all, what is a tag? It's the "he said" or "she said" that follows dialogue to tell the reader who is speaking.

Second, what is the misuse of a tag? Everything that is not "he said" or "she said."

Many beginning and some experienced writers use tags to do everything from describe eye color to moving the character across the room. Examples:

"I'm cute," she said, winking at him and obscuring one perfectly periwinkle blue eye.

Or how about...

"See you later," Sam threw over his shoulder as he sped to the door.

Current terminology is too much information. That certainly applies here. Don't take short cuts and use tags for anything but what they were intended. Here are some things to keep in mind when using tags.

1. Always state the person's name or the pronoun first and then the "said." It's just awkward to use "said" first. You would never say "ran she" or even "sang she," so why would we say "said she." Instead, it is "she ran" or "she sang." Basically, your rule of communication applies here. Tags are merely utilitarian. They tell you who is speaking. Don't try to make more of them.

2. Stick to "said" or other forms of it, such as "whispered," but don't use words that aren't even a form of speech, such as "giggled" and "guffawed." I'm not even sure what a guffaw is. I suppose it's some sort of snort, but I know for sure that it's almost impossible to speak while giggling, guffawing, or snorting, so don't use them as tags.

3. Stick to "said" and other forms of it even when the tag you are choosing is a form of speech. For example, it is reasonable to argue that "responded" could be a tag. Theoretically, it could be speech. It's just better to stick with "said" as it will keep the reader on track and won't take away from the real meat of your story.

4. Don't use tags to do the work that you, as a good writer, should do. You should always show the reader what is happening not tell them. Therefore, don't use your tags to tell the reader what is happening in your story. For example, don't write:

"John I hate you," she said while throwing the chair at him and hitting the mirror on the wall.

Instead write:

Sarah picked up the chair and threw it at John. It struck the mirror and both crashed to the floor. "I hate you," she said.

Get the point? You, as the writer, need to do the work of making the action come alive. Don't use tags to do that work for you.

5. Use tags only when needed. If there are only two characters in your scene, and they are going back and forth at a pretty good clip, there's no reason to use tags after each statement. If the reader can keep them straight, use tags only every once in a while to keep things moving easily.

Remember, tags are for the convenience of the reader. Make them as unobtrusive as possible and you will serve your readers a much livelier read.