Sunday, June 26, 2011

POV and All That Stuff

By Alex Raley

Very early in my writing fiction, POV jumped up to challenge me. There was a constant battle between us. There was a story to be told. Who cared from what head it came? Finally, truth began to rule: the reader gets thoroughly confused when many voices try to tell the story. If not a tower, a book of Babel contorts the story. The reader is left to sort out the confusion or to take to the shelves for another book if he doesn’t have an e-book reader. All this can leave the writer a Prisoner of Viewpoint, while being prodded by colleagues to control the POV. Do we give up or find a solution?

Dwight Swain suggests that the purpose of viewpoint is to get the reader into the skin of the character. The reader then sees and feels everything as the character does. This lets the reader become attached to the character. The bond that is established, whether of admiration or revulsion, drives the reader to stay with the story. Many writers are successful in telling the story only through one person’s eyes. This doesn’t mean that there are no other characters in the story, but they exist only as the main character sees, hears and reacts to them. Any interpretation of what is seen and heard from the other characters is in the imagination of the main character and the reader.

For many writers, secondary characters are as important as the main character. That presents a host of possibilities and pitfalls. I began a novel that is still in progress because I realized that the story would make no sense at all unless the reader knew the inner thoughts of several characters. After trying many approaches, I settled on giving each important character a complete chapter, actually several chapters for the two most important characters. One of the problems with this approach is to have a smooth transition from one chapter to another. This became my nemesis. I tried writing transitions which simply added unneeded words. The next try was to pick chapter titles that would indicate the point of view. Some novelists have done this quite well. I zeroed out.

Then I read Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, a 2010 New York Bestseller and Edgar Award Nominee. Franklin has two main characters. Each character has his chapter at the appropriate times. The chapters are simply numbered. Readers know in whose skin they are by the way Franklin jumps immediately into the chapter with the character in action. What does this say to me? Get in there and make each chapter do its part to tell the story and make each chapter interesting by itself,

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Writing a Bio

By Bonnie Stanard

“I can write something about almost anything, but when it comes to a bio, I don’t know what to say.” If you haven’t said this yourself, you’ve probably heard somebody else say it. Kia Goins, SCWW’s vice president, recently wrote in the Quill, “It’s my turn to write a brief biography. This is far more difficult than I imagined.”

If you’re submitting your work to agents, journals, or publishers, a short bio of sorts appears in your query letter. This is where you provide credentials that say you’ve been published, won awards, or been recognized as a wordsmith by some authority other than your family. It’s where you provide evidence that you’re qualified to write a book. If it’s nonfiction, you’ll sink or swim on your education, experiences, and/or qualifications to address the subject of your book. A novel is different, for the imagination needs no college degree. Assuming you have imagination, the focus becomes your writing skills.

What to do if you have no published works, i.e., no obvious credentials? One possibility is to show that you’re serious about writing. Recount writer organizations you belong to, such as the South Carolina Writers Workshop (SCWW) or Romance Writers of America. Add a note about conferences that inspired you or list conferences you’ve attended.

Do you contribute to a writer’s blog (such as this one)? That’s another way to show that you are working on your skills and trying to improve. You may want to provide the link to the web address as well. Don’t underestimate the importance of an online presence (consider where you’re reading this…). Have you participated in other exercises that show your commitment to writing, such as the November Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)?

Another possibility is to explain how you came to write. As a child, did you love “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” (or some such story) or Laura Ingalls Wilder (or some such author)? A love of reading and/or writing that dates back to your youth demonstrates depth. If you can appear well-read, all the better, e.g., comment on authors you admire or emulate.

If you have no writing background to speak of, tell of the passion that inspired you to write the book. Even without credentials, you can win over readers if you write passionately and intelligently. Perhaps you haven’t solved a mystery, but you’re a Sherlock Holmes junkie. Maybe you don’t know Shoeless Joe Jackson, but you know his date of birth and next of kin. In other words, if you’ve written a western, sound obsessed with westerns; if a football story, let your ardor for the game show.

Unless your bio is part of a letter, write it in third person and provide contact information. Most bios are no longer than a paragraph, so make fewer words say more. Try for clear sentences that get to the point.

Occasionally a biography will say: “Eva lives in the Lowcountry with her three cats.” Or dogs, or goldfish. Am I the only person who doesn’t want to know about a writer’s pets? When handled well, personal information may personalize or provide insight, but there’s a fine line between purposeful information and useless chatter.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Devil’s in the Details

By Ginny Padgett

I’ve never understood that adage, “The Devil’s in the details.” I think details are important, especially in fiction writing. When an author enters into an unspoken contract with her reader to suspend belief while engaged with her story, she should reciprocate with verifiable details (or in the case of fantasy, consistent details) to transform imagination into reality.

I am reading Scott Turow’s, Burden of Proof. Early on in this long novel, he tells us about a woman who has recently worked in her garden (100 or so miles west of Chicago) in early spring to tidy up the gladiola foliage left behind from last summer’s growth. It ruined the entire story for me because gladiolas totally die back by fall, even here in the much warmer climate of Columbia, SC.

This made me distrust the entire world Turow created, much of which revolves around trading futures on the stock exchanges, resulting grand jury proceedings and the pursuant court case. The plot is framed on the inner workings of financial markets and legal maneuverings, and if I’m going to slog through these specifics, I want them to be accurate.

Turow broke the contract between him and me. I think less of him because he seemed to think I wouldn’t notice that he didn’t do his homework when he added details to develop this character. The growing season of gladiolas is a minor detail in this book of 515 pages, but it was enough for me to reclaim my suspended belief.

I guess that’s how I came to be known as the “detail person” in our critique group. Maybe it’s my training in journalism that makes getting the facts right so important to me, or maybe it’s just my personality. In any case, I think, “Successful fiction writing is in the details.” I challenge you to get them right. Does that make me the Devil?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Latest Addition

Meet Our Newest Blogger


A Connecticut native, and the son of two librarians, I am a graduate of the University of Connecticut and a research assistant at the University of South Carolina where I study geology. My initial foray into writing occurred around the age of five when I started emulating my mom, Claudia Wyche, who is herself an avid, though unpublished, author. During the following decade, writing continued to be a hobby for me that eventually progressed into a full-fledged passion and it was around this time that I concluded that long prose was an outlet that best resonated with my manner of thinking. Since then, I have made my main creative focus novel-writing, drawing inspiration and insight from the interesting people I have met or contacted, including employees of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Fish and Wildlife Service and Central Intelligence Agency. I have also spent some time performing scientific writing for the online toxicology database and was its 2008 featured editor. More recently, my creative endeavors have chiefly been in the form of screenplays and I am currently working on a screenplay for a feature-length superhero film. My future in writing is wide open as far as I'm concerned. I don't know what I want to try next but I know I want to introduce stronger abstract concepts into my stories. I'm tired of simply performing magic tricks to tell a story. I want to transform the reader. My other hobbies include studying math and physics, meditating, running, amateur filmmaking and designing random machines.

On the Subject of Nemeses

By Gregory Wyche

As a writer, I have long considered Michael Crichton my nemesis. I first became disillusioned with him around senior year of high school when I decided he was lazy, had improbable characters and cut corners. Case in point: the ending of Sphere. In the novel, these scientists find an alien artifact that endows each of them with the power to manipulate reality with their minds, with generally terrible results. Their unpredictable subconsciousnesses wreak havoc. Okay, that’s an interesting premise. But then, when you’ve finally gotten to the end, Crichton’s resolution is to have the characters use their reality-altering powers to make themselves forget that they have any powers. Uh… okay. Then there is this exchange:

“…We won’t remember anything but this [made up] story.”
“And we won’t have the power any more?” Beth said, frowning.
“No,” Norman said. “Not any more.
“Okay,” Harry said.
Beth seemed to think about it longer, biting her lip. But finally she nodded. “Okay.”
When I was younger, this passage really bothered me and I suspect it was because it seemed so much like a deus ex machina. These characters spend the whole book unable to control their thoughts and now they're going to do it on command?

All these gripes alone aren’t too annoying. Plenty of authors just aren’t good. But Crichton was different. Somewhere in there, I always knew there was a genuine talent. So why then did he try so little, so often? To me, it was disrespectful to the profession, especially considering how well his books sold and how hard it is for new authors to get published, regardless of their skill.

And then I found out he had died of cancer. And it was like I'd swallowed a marble. An old friend brought it up, figuring I’d appreciate the news. But I didn’t. Suddenly, I was forced to confront my long-held prejudices. I had never actually finished State of Fear or Timeline

Perhaps Norman's certainty in Sphere that his final solution would work was meant to plant the idea of inevitability into his comrades’ subconsciousnesses. Perhaps I had simply missed the point. Perhaps, I needed to reread Andromeda Strain, or Sphere, or Airframe or the Lost World. Perhaps... it didn’t matter anymore.

At the time, this news was particularly resonant because I had fallen into a funk with my own writing and wasn’t really producing anything anymore. Suddenly, I felt like I had no purpose. But most of all, I just felt sad. Crichton obviously had a passion for writing. Sometimes… And now he could never write again.

Since then, I’ve been more tolerant with other authors. After all, they’re only human. As I finish this, I wonder whose ire I’ll inspire with my own idiosyncrasies, and what colleagues I’ll make in the process. I picked up a copy of Prey yesterday and got about a hundred pages into it. It’s pretty good.

Goodbye, Michael Crichton. My friend. My greatest enemy. Rest in peace.