Tag Archives: Point of View

Library Writers Group

4 Jul

The amazing Maria led our writers’ group this past month and concentrated on Tense and Point of View in writing. Let’s start with POV.

There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages to certain POVs. In some cases, the genre dictates what is normally used. I write YA and I know first person is most common and I know that my 3rd person book might have to be completely rewritten at some point (I hope it never comes to that) because it’s YA. We talked about times books are written in two points of view and how that works. Sometimes, the writer will combine first and third person POV. Some chapters are written in first from a certain character’s perspective and others from 3rd, following one or more characters. Most commonly, this is done with two 3rd person POVs.

There are some major disadvantages of 1st person. You are limited to what the character sees so you can’t write about anything outside his or her vision. This can result in a lot of ‘telling’ and not enough ‘showing’ which makes a book drag.

Second person is not as common. Maria found an example in How the Mistakes Were Made. The character Laura is represented in sections of the book written in 2nd person but this isn’t the whole book. Second person creates some distance from the reader so a whole book in this format might be tedious. I’m always reminded of the Choose Your Own Adventure series that I read in elementary school. Those were so fun.

Third person unlimited can head-jump too much if the writer isn’t careful. This can be confusing to follow. The suggestion is that you write like the piece is a play. Too many soliloquies can be annoying! This style is common in romantic intimate scenes. It can be tricky because it can confuse who knows what information and what each character can act on.

Third person limited is more common. It can feel distant and narrative distance from the action becomes possible. To limit this, a writer can use words that match a character’s personality. Maybe a character scowls but he thinks it’s just a frown. Maybe someone with anxiety is panicking not fidgeting. The tone of the writing can match the character as well to limit narrative distance.

There are four people involved in any third person narration: The protagonist, the viewpoint character (if different), the narrator, and the author. Think of The Great Gatsby. Gatsby is the protagonist, Nick is the main character, there is a narrator, and Fitzgerald is the author. How the narrator describes something and how Fitzgerald might describe it could be different from how the narrator describes it, thus creating the different people.

The most important thing to do is stick with the POV you’ve chosen. Even if it’s an unreliable narrator, the key is to be consistent. Maria recommended the website http://www.novel-writing-help.com for more information on POV.

The second part of our discussion was tense. Past and present tense can give writing a very different feel. Present tense can be restrictive. It’s good for action books and jokes but it can be hard to reflect on past events leading to the present action. Switching from past to present tense is more than changing ‘was’ to ‘is’ and so forth. There’s adding more thoughts and description that’s being noticed at the moment.

We did an exercise where we chose a piece of our writing (or a sample from the book) and changed the POV and tense. It’s fun to try if you want!

We’ll be meeting again next month. Until then, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Review: The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian (4/5). A harrowing tale of right and wrong.

4 Jul

This was on the tail end of my reading list so I didn’t think I’d get to it so soon, but it being the first available non-CD audiobook (yes, that is very specific), it made its way up quickly. I wanted to read another Bohjalian book after meeting him and as my cousin-in-law once removed (again, specific) is Armenian, I wanted to read this. So yeah, I read it. Well, listened to it; same thing.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

In 1915, the Ottoman Empire began systematically killing Armenians by first executing the men and then leading the women and children on a death march across the desert. Elizabeth Endicott and her father have traveled from Boston to Aleppo, Syria to help the woman arriving daily from across the desert. She meets Armenian engineer Armen and refugees Nevart and Hatoun who introduce her to life in Syria and Armenian culture she’s previously been oblivious to. She’s swept up by the sad stories of Armen and his past-wife and how Hatoun lost her mother and sisters crossing the desert and how Nevart’s husband will never come back to her.

The story is interspersed with narration from Laura Petrosian, Elizabeth and Armen’s granddaughter and the author of the story (It’s a ‘story within a story’ feel). She is retracing her family history during the genocide and learning things about her grandparents that they never told her in their lifetimes.

I really really REALLY enjoyed this book. Bohjalian combined drama, action, and history in a wonderful whirlwind of story. I liked how Elizabeth and Laura mirrored each other in their time almost 100 years apart. I felt that Laura’s portions of the book were not too overwhelming and fit the book well. The only part I didn’t like (and this isn’t much of a complaint) is that it ended too quickly. It was appropriate, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted a bit more. (FYI, the ending is about to be spoiled. Skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want it to be ruined.) After Karine died, I wanted to see how Elizabeth came to deal with the guilt (because I’m assuming she felt something) and secret that she had to keep from the man who would be her husband. I guess this is another case of me not wanting the story to end.

I loved the characters and I thought Bohjalian did a wonderful job of developing voices for each. Ryan Miller had a strong backbone and motivation completely different from Armen or Alicia Wells. The German soldiers had a sense of humor and secretiveness to them that other characters didn’t have. I think Hatoun’s character was my favorite. She was such a sad and quiet little girl that getting inside her head the way Bohjalian did was really enlightening. She showed the reader what it was like to be a refugee and even though it was softened slightly through the eyes of a child, it was still chilling.

Laura was my favorite character, if that’s fair. I feel like I should choose one of the characters from the Aleppo setting, but I keep coming back to how much I loved Laura. She was so brutally honest even though she knew people wouldn’t like what she had to say. She was revealing a huge family secret (Annie’s Ghosts?) and didn’t seem too worried about what her family would think.

Due to a very vague connection, I related to Elizabeth. Her relationship with Armen reminded me of myself and my husband. Now don’t rush into things, let me explain. I had a crush on my husband for a very long time while he was dating another girl. I waited and waited for him to be available, but they stuck it out for longer than I thought they would. I was reminded of this as Elizabeth waited to see if Karine would show up in Aleppo from across the desert. She could look at Armen- touch him, laugh with him, and love him- but until he gave up on Karine, she couldn’t be with him. I sympathized for her while she waited for him. In the end, I could understand, though not fully agree with, her actions but they still made me sad.

Me and Chris Bohjalian

Me and Chris Bohjalian

I enjoyed when Laura talked about growing up Armenian (yes, I’m reverting back to my favorite character again). She talked about her first real boyfriend, Berk, and how it was an issue for her parents because he was Turkish. Her father, only one generation removed from the atrocity, couldn’t understand it and thought it was a violation of her Armenian heritage. But for Laura, it was no big deal. I think this speaks volumes to the differences of prejudices and opinions between generations. A more lighthearted example but the first time my grandmother met my husband, she said to him, (her first words) “You look Italian.” When he confirmed that he is, in fact, Italian, she said, “That’s okay. They were on our (the German) side during the war.” Yes, that would be World War II. Thank you, Grandma.

I’m still wishing the book was longer. Just a little more of Elizabeth’s turmoil about telling her husband the truth about his late wife would have helped, I think. I won’t say the end was my least favorite part, but it let me down. Why do books have to end?

I liked how Bohjalian decided to talk about himself in this book while still writing historical fiction. There was an interview with him at the end of the audio I had where he said Laura was a lot like him and his discovery of what it means to be Armenian. I also liked what he was able to say about family. Navart and Hatoun were able to become family by a shared experience. They were more or less adopted by Elizabeth due to necessity but one can’t say they’re not family. A family is what you make of it, even though it starts with blood.

Writer’s Takeaway: The Sandcastle Girls is a great example of point of view. Laura gives a first person narration that’s very conversational in tone. We move to those in Aleppo and we get a series of third person limited points of view that work together to tell the whole story Laura is trying to write. I think is a really great example of how to combine first and third person point of view, which one doesn’t see done very often.

Again, I loved this but was disappointed there wasn’t more to it. Four out of five stars.

This book meets two challenge goals! The first is the 1910-1929 time period for my When Are You Reading? Challenge. The second is ‘Syria’ for the Where Are You Reading? Challenge. Yay for double dipping!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian | BrodartVibe
Book Review: “The Sandcastle Girls” by Chris Bohjalian | LibrarianSpivey
The Sandcastle Girls – Chris Bohjalian | Stewarty
‘The Sandcastle Girls’ – Chris Bohjalian | The Things I Read

Book Review: Allegiant by Veronica Roth (3/5) A reminder not to change your narrator in the final book of a trilogy.

14 Mar

If you’ve been following, you saw me fly through Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy. I read Divergent and Insurgent not that long ago and on Saturday was able to finish Allegiant. I’m glad I read these so close together and didn’t have to wait for a release and I didn’t have to wait that long for this last book to disappoint me.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Tris and Tobias have made it outside the wall. Now they are being forced to come to terms with what is beyond their known world and it’s a big surprise for them to find they’ve been inside a genetics experiment their entire lives. According to the Genetics Bureau, scientists in the distant past tried to create people with preferred genetics, getting rid of genes that led people to violence or a low intellect. The experiments backfired and the genetically damaged (GDs) were created. The lack of a certain gene in their bodies amplified other negative qualities. Those with pure genes (GPs) started work to help eliminate passing on damaged genetics and large experiments were set up in formerly thriving cities such as Chicago and Indianapolis. Tris, Tobias, and their friends have just escaped from the most successful experiment in Chicago. However, the violence in the city is threatening the future of the experiment and the Bureau is thinking of resetting the experiment by erasing the memory of all of those inside. Tris and Tobias  are appalled to see that the lives of their families and friends can be manipulated by these men so easily and develop a plan to stop them.

The first thing that struck me about this book was that Roth decided to change her point of view from Tris to a shared POV between Tris and Tobias. This bothered me from the beginning and started me off in a bad place while reading this book. Because of the changed setting, I felt like this book was very separate from the first two. The enemy seemed to be very different and it was hard for me as a reader to learn all the new characters in the Bureau so quickly. This book seemed like a blur to me and not a lot of it stuck very well.

I like that Roth used this world to deal with deep issues. The first book spoke to me about family and love. The second dealt with censorship and standing up for what is right instead of what is easy. This final book spoke about not limiting your self and sacrifice and I think Roth addressed these in ways that are accessible to her YA audience. Kudos to her for that.

A lot of the book dealt with sacrifice. Tris feels that sacrificing herself for her family and faction is brave and since a Dauntless strives to be brave, she should make the sacrifice. She speaks with Tobias who reminds her the Abnigation only believed in self-sacrifice if it was the ultimate way to show someone who you loved them. Her self-sacrifice to Erudite in the previous book did not do this and she started to see that it was not brave. When someone is needed to sacrifice them self to stop David from resetting the experiment, she doesn’t volunteer and when Caleb does, she tries to reason with herself that it’s not revenge to see her brother die, but the only way he can show he loves her. I like how Roth defined self-sacrifice for this series because it made me think about why we give up the things we love and if it’s the right reason to do so.

When Tobias finds out that he is a GD, he instantly begins to doubt himself and try to limit his own abilities because he lets this label define him. Tris challenges him not to limit himself and though it takes him a while to see the truth, he is able to do this. I really like this message and I think it subtly addresses discrimination. I’m a woman but that label shouldn’t define me. Those of any minority that are told they are less because of who they were born to be shouldn’t listen. You have to stand on your own two feet and your own abilities to be who you are and never let someone define you. Tobias believed in himself before his genes were analyzed but when his own identity changed, he lost faith. Tris was his rock that helped him believe in himself.

I’m going to stop my comparison to The Hunger Games after reading Allegiant. While Katniss and Tris are both fighting against their governments to gain some freedom for their friends and family, I feel Katniss was more out for herself, trying to survive. She didn’t want to be the Mockingjay of the revolution and was always asking after her mom and sister. Tris, on the other hand, sacrifices herself and knows it will hurt the one person who is the closest to her for the good of the community. Tris is a lot more selfless, fitting of an Abnigation born.

Writer’s Takeaway: It was clear by the end why Roth decided to have multiple POV in this book, but it was really distracting for me. Having read the first two very soon before this one, I was used to Tris narrating everything and as soon as I got into Tobias’s head, I would be confused and checking the beginning of the paragraph to see who was talking. Their voices were too similar. I didn’t like such a drastic change in narrator so deep into the trilogy. What if Gale narrated half of Mockingjay? Yeah, not cool.

I thought Tris was very trusting of certain characters, Matthew in particular, which seemed out of character for her. In the first book, she was very slow to trust anyone, even Christina. If there was a character change that should have supported this, I didn’t see it.

Overall it was a fitting end to the story but the style of it retracted from my enjoyment. 3 out of 5 stars.

Until next time, write on

Related Posts
Allegiant – Veronica Roth | No Thanks, I’d Rather Read
Allegiant by Veronica Roth- Review by Meredith Sizemore | Nerdy Book Club
Allegiant by Veronica Roth | Review | The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say shhh!
Why Allegiant by Veronica Roth Didn’t Work For Me- It’s Not The Reason You Think | Moon in Gemini

Magazine Gold: March and April

13 Mar

I promised myself that I wouldn’t take advantage of the free 1-year subscription I received from Gus on Out Where the Buses Don’t Run. Consequently, I’m on my second of what will become six magazine summaries of Poets & Writers, this issue covering March and April. I didn’t find as much I wanted to share in this issue as I did the last, but there’s still some things worth exploring and discussion. Let’s dive in, shall we?

The article Where We Write by Mary Stewart Atwell struck a chord with me. She discusses if where we are from influences what we write and is enough to define us. She goes on to discuss if who we are as writers limits the characters we choose. As a white woman, would I ever write a book from the perspective of an Asian man? I almost feel I don’t have the right to. A white man, sure, but I don’t have the experience of another culture to feel comfortable writing from the point of view of another race. Have you ever written from the point of view of another race? Why or why not?

Having finally faced that first rejection letter, I was curious how someone who writes a book considered a ‘failure’ would feel to that type of rejection. So many of us dream of getting to publication because we think it will bring us the fame and recognition we all pine after, but what if it doesn’t? What if we get to publication and still find rejection and failure? Is there any way to recover? One of the authors interviewed had a book that was even a finalist for the Orange prize but couldn’t find a place to publish her book. Another of the authors, Miranda Beterly-Whittemore, was able to sell a second manuscript after her first failed. When she was lucky enough to start marketing the second one, she did everything she could to make the launch successful; blogging, tweeting, and an updated website. A lot of authors today must do their own marketing to help ensure success. Yet a third author, Nina Siegal, knew that with the ability to publish a second time that she had to take the job more seriously. Instead of writing in addition to her day job, she wanted to make sure that publishing her book was her primary goal. She had learned from her first publication that she could write a book, and this time around, she had to write a really good book.

One of the feature articles was an interview with Amy Einhorn, publisher of her own imprint with Penguin Random House. One of my favorite questions was when she was asked, “What feeling do you want to communicate to your authors at the end of your [editorial] letter?” and she answered, “Encouragement.” I love that she wants to encourage her writers and let them know that the changes she’s suggesting are not telling them that their book is bad and has no hope, but rather that they can change a few things to make it even stronger. Another part of the interview that stuck out to me was when she was talking about titles and how when a reader hears a title, it should stick with them. There’s no reason for a reader to forget a title when they go to buy it or search for it on Amazon; it should stick with them. I know my good friend Katherine is going to get her MFA soon and it’s made me look at myself as under qualified because I don’t have a degree like an MFA or even a degree in English. However, Einhorn says that maybe two of her authors have MFAs and that’s really it. I felt a little better. She also mentioned that the bio is usually the last thing she looks at when she reads a query. Thank God. She does say that voice is something that a writer has to have and she can’t teach, so I guess if an MFA will help you find voice, it might be worth it. The last thing she said that I’ll note is that she believes that marketing can only do so much if a book is not strong. She thinks that if a book is strong, it will find readers even if the marketing is a bit slow. Great literature worth reading will find its readers.

The feature topic of the issue was residencies and retreats. The first article talked about types of residencies and where you can go with them. P&W supplies a list of these on their website if you want to have a look. The difference between private and government sponsored residencies was described. Private residencies let a writer set their own schedule and to a degree let them work on whatever they want to. Government sponsored residencies tend to have more of an agenda and the writer is likely to help with environmental or documentation records in the area where they are, usually on government lands. The writers are normally expected to give back in some other way as well: donating a piece to a project that will benefit the effort.

I liked an article titled The People You Meet which discussed how to pitch agents and editors at conferences. I think this appealed to my business background because networking and making connections at business events was one of my favorite parts of that degree path. Many larger conferences will provide a forum for writers to meet with agents and editors, a large part of their appeal. Lance Cleland, director of the Tin House workshop said that writers shouldn’t think of agents as adversaries because truthfully they are the person a writer most wants in his corner. A writer needs a agent to fight for their book to have success. When pitching in person, agent Meredith Kaffel suggests sticking to themes and avoiding plot summaries. If the author can’t tell someone what the overarching themes are, who can?

Applying for a residency is a lot like pitching a novel, except that you’re trying to get someone to buy in before the book is done. Betsy Fagin is a judge for Millay Colony residency and offered some advice. She says to stick to a short letter and compelling writing sample. The letter should stick to your background, previous work, and an explanation of the project the artist proposes to work on.

The Agent Advice section in this article focused on Amy Rennert who owns her own agency. I found three points of her interview very useful. (1) If you’ve self-published without much success, don’t mention it when submitting to an agent. It doesn’t help you stand out. (2) If you are a journalist or columnist, make sure you say so. These professions tend to get a little more attention. (3) Don’t send your letter to more than one agent at an agency so make sure you research the agents at the agency before you pick which one you want to send to.

Journals Accepting Submissions

Little Star Journal, Changes in Life, the prompt, and The Rattle.

Conferences for others in the Michigan Area

Bear River Writer’s Conference, Ox-Bow, and Interlochen College.

Contests With Little Or No Entry Fee

Gemini Magazine ($5 entry), Sixfold ($3 entry), Frost Farm Prize ($5 entry), Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest, and Dancing Poetry ($5 entry).

Poets & Writers is a great resource. Check out their website for even more information.

Until next time, write on.

Novel Girls: Parallels and Contractions

29 Jan

I love when we have a Novel Girls night and all four of us can make it. It’s kind of the best thing ever. If you haven’t yet, please go check out Nicole and Sonia‘s blogs. They are both amazing. When Katherine gets a blog, I’ll link there right away.

We read Katherine’s piece first and she had dropped subtle hints to a popular piece of popular literature. I love how Katherine generally ties in fairy tales and magic to her stories and this was no exception as the piece she’d alluded to contains both. The question this sparks in me is if parallelism and references to a popular piece of literature helps or hurts the story. (Note- I’m not sure Katherine is doing this, it just made me think of it.) I remember a book I liked when I was young called Scribbler of Dreams. The plot summary compares the book to Romeo and Juliet. But that didn’t mean I enjoyed it any less or more. In some sense, I knew what was going to happen because of the parallel, but I was still surprised at every turn. Do you enjoy a piece less if it’s a spin-off, parallel, some other relation to a piece of well-known literature? Does knowing something is a spin-off of another work make you want to read it more? I’m personally a fan of spin-offs, such as Wicked.

This is more of a general question to you, Reader. We were wondering if someone had ever written something from a first person perspective, reflecting on them self and another as ‘they.’ Almost like an our-of-body experience watching yourself. Has anyone ever heard of this?

Katherine had a great way to relate when a paragraph break comes in when doing dialogue. We all know to switch paragraphs when we have two people talking (if you didn’t, you’re welcome) but knowing where the ‘he shrugged’ and ‘her eyes opened wide’ pieces of writing belong is something I’ve never had a clear rule about. Katherine’s mantra is ‘When the camera shifts.’ When the description applies to the first person to talk, keep it in the first paragraph. As soon as the description moves to the second person, switch paragraphs. I love this rule!

Our final point of discussion is something I’ve never known when to use. When should you use contractions in dialogue and when should you not? I’ve had it as a general rule that the non-dialogue parts of a story should be contraction free, but then what about when people are talking? I tend to say things out-loud to myself to see if they sound weird as contractions or to see how I would say a given sentence. Does anyone have a rule for when to use contractions in dialogue? Does it have to do with the education level of the speaker? Does age and time period play a factor? Please leave me with your thoughts!

I love hearing from you so please leave a comment! Until next time, write on.

Novel Girls: Space and Senses

13 Sep

I love talking about writing with my friends, it helps me think of what will make me a better writer!  This week, only Nicole and I were able to make it to our Thursday night get-together.  I shared the next ten pages of my rough draft and Nicole shared a revision she wrote of the third chapter of her WIP.  This week, we came across two topics worth blogging about, and the second one is a doozy!

  1. Spatial Relations: When you’re writing a scene, your writer’s head is so deep into the scene that you can see your characters and you watch them move within that scene.  It can be hard to translate that image to words sometimes.  Nicole and I both had some little problems with spatial relations this week.  Nicole’s scene had two characters entering a room together.  A few sentences later, one of them was calling from across the room.  I was confused as to when he had moved across (a quick one-sentence-fix).  Later in that scene, the character I still saw as near the door was picking at crumbs on a tablecloth and I was lost as to where the table was located in the apartment.
    We’ve been working on each other’s stories for so long that I’d developed a mental picture of Nicole’s apartment setting and I moved the characters to the correct locations in my mental picture without needing movement words to take them there.  However, the first-time reader might not have as strong of a visual of the apartment and the scene would flow more smoothly with a few sentences like “Male character crossed the room to grab a water bottle from the kitchen,” or “Female character sat down at the folding table the girls used as a sad excuse for a kitchen table.”
    Nicole found a big flaw in my use of spatial relations as well.  I have a scene when my female protagonist is sneaking out of the house to meet a friend on the street in front of the house.  Nicole was confused reading the passage as to how she would sneak out with no one seeing.  I drew a quick picture of the house as I imagined it and she was right, the protagonist would be walking right in front of the window to the dining room where her entire family was eating dinner.  Not very stealthy.
    So, to combat this, I have two options.  One is for me to have her take a different path out of the house or meet the friend somewhere else, a simple fix.  The other (much more complicated but the better solution) is to re-design the house and the way I view it.  She would still be in the line of sight when leaving the house and that’s a risk she wouldn’t take.  It’s a bigger fix than I imagined.
  2. Senses: This discussion was really twofold, the first in Nicole’s WIP and the second in mine.
    1. Senses defined by narrator: Nicole’s re-write of her third chapter involved changing a scene to a different character’s POV.  It was done well, but there was one line that threw me off.  So, in this scene, Character A is in a room when Character B wakes up.  The line that threw me off was that Character B saw XXX when she woke up, but Character A is narrating.  Character A would have had no way to know what Character B was seeing.  (Again, easy fix, “Character A eyed the XXX in front of her warily…”)  This brings out a good point that to stay strong in one POV, all sensory perception of other characters have to be removed.  They can report on any physical action taken as a result of sensory perception (his nose wrinkled at the bad smell…. she cringed at the loud whistle…) but can’t report on that sense.  Good point to check if you’re jumping or changing POVs in a story.
    2. Engage all senses:  One of my weaknesses as a writer is to not engage the senses and this came up again last night.  One of my scenes seemed really flat.  All of Nicole’s suggestions had to do with bringing in a sensory description such as the smell of one character’s perfume or the sound of another’s voice.  This reminds me of a blog post I read by Jools, one the blogs I follow.  She said that in every scene, she forced herself to ask, What else?  What else could be in the scene to make it richer and more vibrant?  I try to ask myself this as I work on my new WIP and as I revise my first.

So there you have it!  Some good advise/ reflection from this week’s Novel Girls.  Was this helpful?  Do you struggle with spatial relations or sensory description?  What do you do to overcome this?  Leave me a comment and let me know!