Sunday, September 27, 2009

Plot Line for Doubts, Hopes, Fears

By Bonnie Stanard

Point of view (POV), like other literary devices, changes fashion as the art of writing explores new territory. The omniscient POV, which prevailed in the 19th Century with authors like Dickens, Poe, and Hardy, has given way to first person POV popular today.

Many critics claim that first person POV began as interior monologue, historically used by playwrights (i.e., soliloquy) and poets. It came to the novel in a big way with James Joyce’s Ulysses, an entire book written as the stream of consciousness of the narrator. Not many novels today are as immersed in first person as Ulysses, in which the narrator’s ramblings fail to identify other characters or places, leaving the reader to pick and sort for himself.

I am reading The Zahir by Paulo Coelho, which is a first person narrative, further defined as stream of consciousness POV. It is heavily invested in one man’s ruminations. The plot simply sets up the situation that the main character meditates on at length. In fact, aside from minor activities as a novelist (the main character is an author), the only plot so far is his wife's leaving him. From that event, the writer ponders his relationships with his ex-wife and current lover, his own sense of worth, his future without his wife, etc. He has just met the man who stole his wife, and I'm hopeful that something will happen.

Not long ago, I read Shantaram by Gregory Roberts, a very different first person narrative. This book, given from the POV of a character named Lindsay, is plot-driven. We follow Lindsay as he arrives in the slums of Bombay where he falls in love, is imprisoned and rescued by a mafia don, and goes to work (and war) for him. The author introduces numerous other characters, and the interaction that results fashions the plot. Though we get some insight into Lindsay's thoughts, the book is driven by the events of his everyday life. Needless to say, this type of story can only succeed if the life is exciting.

Very close to the first person POV is third limited. This too is a popular device for delivering a story. In fact, the main difference between first person and third limited is the choice of pronouns for the narrator, whether “I” or “he/she.”

A number of contemporary writers are experimenting with POV. You can find books in which POV shifts from one character to another and from first to third person limited. Stef Penny, as an example, employs first person and third person limited POV in her novel The Tenderness of Wolves. What each POV character doesn’t know is revealed to the reader by other POV characters until the reader has more information and can solve the mystery before the “I” narrator who tells the story. Tension arises when the first person narrator makes mistakes because she doesn’t know what the reader knows.

The changes in POV technique are moving toward greater intimacy. The narrator is less likely to be the bard standing aloft his audience and describing the world as it is. He has morphed into a character in the story, one who experiences the plot and feels the bullets, if vicariously.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


By Laura P. Valtorta

It took me three readings to understand how Audrey Niffenegger took a vain protagonist (Claire Abshire) dropped her into a completely implausible situation (time travel backwards and forwards) and made a wonderful book out of it. The answer is depth.

The main character in The Time Traveler’s Wife, (2003) who also narrates the story along with her time-traveling husband, is a beautiful, charming redhead with a pencil thin mouth (she describes it “like a geisha” in order to make a thin mouth attractive) who sounds a lot like the author. Claire first meets her husband, Henry, when she is 6 and Henry is 36. Henry has time traveled backwards. He has no control over his chronological fits.

Claire comes from a wealthy family. Like Audrey, she earns her living as an artist. But Audrey Niffenegger the author is not married. Both main characters, Henry and Claire, are grossly good looking and nauseatingly sexy.

What makes this story readable and irresistible is that it contains meaningful questions about chaos, determinism, the effect of time on personality, Patty Hearst, picking locks, running from the law, love, art, music, and books. These questions form the heart of the book.

If I met Claire or Henry in real life, I would run the other way. The characters are slop and the story is ridiculous. The author, however, has something important to say.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Latest Addition

Meet A New Writer


Born in South Carolina, Shann Fountain Culo has been traveling all of her life. She studied abroad in both Spain and Germany and has visited 26 countries—many of them before age 21. She speaks Spanish, Croatian, and rapidly declining French.

After graduating from Sweet Briar College, Shann owned a multilingual staffing company, tried her hand at corporate gifts, and taught Spanish (with occasional travel sabbaticals in between) before becoming a writer. Now a full-time freelance writer, she is a frequent contributor to Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler, and her articles have also appeared in Hemispheres, Four Seasons Hotels Magazine, and several other publications.

Shann is the author of Moon Croatia & Slovenia (Avalon Travel Publishing, 2009, and keeps her readers updated on the region on her Facebook page.

She also writes fiction and hopes to get published in that genre in the near future.

Shann's first posting follows.

Creating Setting

By Shann Fountain Culo

I suppose it’s my background as a travel writer but I love settings. I’ve also been known to love a movie mostly for its setting; films like Out of Africa, The Lover, and Children of Heaven are three that automatically come to mind. Done well, a setting can add to a story or a film, in addition to serving the purpose of grounding the reader in the story.

But without film or the luxury of nineteenth century writers to ramble for paragraphs about our setting, how do we convey a sense of place economically?

Travel writing has taught me a lot about techniques to convey a lot of feeling in a few words. Most of my assignments are short 150- to 200-word pieces where I have to describe a location, tell why the reader should go there, where they should have lunch, dinner, and stay the night, and give pertinent information (websites, phone numbers, names). I’d better be short.

When describing settings it’s important to use details a reader can resonate with. Most people haven’t lived in Mongolia but a boiling kettle over hot stones, dusty roads, and horses are all details your readers will relate to. Then you can add in a detail they don’t, like Airag, the national drink of Mongolia, describing its bitter, acrid taste.

It’s best to use a quick checklist of the senses when describing your setting. You don’t have to employ all of them, but maybe you never use taste or smell, for instance. Particularly useful are adjectives that employ a sense combined with an attribute like chocolate-box, gingerbread, sleepy, or buzzing.

Try using fresh methods for describing colors. We’ve all heard beet red or fire-engine red, but what about tin-roof red or crazy red. In one of the Harry Potter books, author J.K. Rowling describes green eyes as the color of “fresh pickled toad.” Amazing, I think. She not only uses an unexpected metaphor but one that adds to the character and theme of her book.

Using sound adjectives is helpful as well. We’ve all heard ‘the party was hopping’ but think about other sounds to describe a lively get-together. What about the vodka splashing against ice, the swish of a dancer’s hips, or the crackle of a stereo?

Foreign words can be tricky to use but quite effective under the right circumstances. An easy way to use them without being pretentious or confusing is to employ familiar words or words that can not be mistaken for their meaning by the average English-speaking reader. French words like fatale or succès or Italian words like bella or conforti come to mind.

Last but not least is to remember to use setting precisely and usually, sparingly. Exceptions to these rules would be when setting is integral to the plot (a terrible storm conceals a murder), the setting is important to reveal character, or the setting is a character itself.

Wherever you set your scene, have a journalist’s perception of the place. How would you describe it? What strikes you first? If you can see it in your mind, it’s likely the reader will as well.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Get Your Story Out the Door!

By Lisa Lopez Snyder

It’s easy to be daunted by the task of searching markets for your work. For sure, places such as Writer’s Digest offer great links to literary magazine Web sites, and there are probably more than a few services that you can pay to help you find a market to submit your work.

But if you’re looking for an economic alternative, let me suggest Listed among Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writers” (, is a free, easy-to-use online submission tracker that I discovered through a writing friend. Check it out:

1. Go to You don’t need to sign up for an account to try it (but go ahead and sign up; it’s free, after all!).
2. Search for your market on the Home page: For example, if you’re writing historical fiction, in the Genre box you’ll click on Historical Fiction; if you want to search for literary markets, click on Literary, etc.
3. Go down and click through the options in the remaining dialogue boxes (eg., poem/short story, simultaneous submissions/submission via electronic or postal, etc.), or leave them empty if not applicable or you want to broaden your search. You can even search publications that accept submissions online, which saves trees, time and money, and who isn’t for that?
4. At the end, click Submit.

You’ll get a list of markets, along with titles and links to a page that summarizes the publication, along with links to the publication’s official Web site. Once you’ve signed up and submitted your work, you can log onto Duotrope and add the stories or poems you submitted to the various publications. Just click Add Submission. It tracks all your submissions, which you can review all sorts of ways, such as by story/poem title and date of submission.

Be sure to also sign up for the weekly newsletter (see link at top of web page) and you’ll get a weekly email update with new market listings and re-opened submissions and upcoming deadlines for publications that have themed issues. This email does on occasion ask for donations to help keep the site up and running (it’s operated by a few published writers and former editors—see the About and FAQs links at the bottom of the site). It’s optional, but after the rush of excitement you get from having your own submissions tracker page and, you’ll want to send these folks a donation.

There are other search functions in the database too numerous to discuss here, so the best way to find out is to simply pull up the Web site and check it out yourself.

What you won’t find on Duotrope, however, are contests, and I welcome any feedback on this blog from someone who knows of a contest submission tracker.

Happy submitting!