Sunday, July 31, 2011

At Intersections with Point of View

By Lisa Lopez Snyder

I’d like to revisit Alex’s June 26 post about point of view (POV), which I read with great interest because I, too, have been questioning POV with the two protagonists in my novel. (Background note: At the beginning of the novel, neither person knows the other, and each character is from a completely different socioeconomic background. Yet, in each chapter, they are physically situated in close approximation, and individually they struggle with identity issues and a haunted past. It’s not until later in the novel when their paths cross, that their friendship leads to powerful and dangerous complications. At least, I hope it comes across that way!)

The story is told with alternating POV chapters—the male, then the female character. When I began the chapters, I used third person close narrative for both characters, which felt rather natural for the male character, but awkward for the female. I had been struggling for months with her voice. I know what she thinks, believes and how she acts, but why wasn’t it coming across on the page?

I thought I knew her. I drew up what I felt was a fairly good character description as background to help get me inside her head. But on the page, her voice, her actions―her very being―seemed measured and pedantic. Then I experimented: I put her in first person, and suddenly, everything about her and around her seemed to come alive. I could see her struggles, her doubts, and her flaws so much more clearly. There was an immediacy and an urgency about her. I found her voice!

Does it matter whether I have alternating chapters with alternating POV? I think not, at least not right now. I’m also not concerned with transitions between the chapters, since the locations are common reference points for the characters. The other connective thread is that each chapter begins with a very short backstory, thus creating a type of second story that unveils the characters’ troubled past. Basically, I’m going with my gut instinct on what feels right for the character and then worry about how it reads once I revise and then workshop.

That said, I’m constantly trying to keep in mind Alex’s superb take away from Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter―to “make each chapter do its part to tell the story and make each chapter interesting by itself.” Well said!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

DANGER: Memoir Ahead

By Laura P. Valtorta

For a while I resisted falling into the memoir trap. Among our “compagni” in Writers’ Group, Debbie seemed to be doing an excellent job with her story of growing up in the Philippines, but she was an exception. Most attempts at memoir-writing seemed to be boring, unfunny, and self-centered.

But a story needed to be told. A woman came into my office and as I stared at her, I was staring into my own problems. She told her son to keep quiet and I understood her psyche completely. I wanted to tell my own weird story to help others like her. How to survive life as a bitch.

But most of my life is pretty normal. I might like to THINK I’m weird, but that’s posturing. I’m married, I have a son and a daughter, and my husband is a professor from Italy. What about this stolid normality would people like to hear? Running my first sprint triathlon? Yawn. Living as a staunch atheist in the Tea Bag South? Maybe. Running my own law office?

Bingo. People like to hear about jobs. They don’t really care about family life. After sticky stories about romance, they most want to know how we earn a living.

As an attorney, I think in terms of lawsuits. And actually, there is a lawsuit I am itching to initiate. It’s a lawsuit related to writing, stealing ideas, and copyright violation. Maybe this will interest people.

Lawsuits are about stating a position, sometimes. Maybe I can stand up to the Big Suits and win. Maybe I can be a bitch who cares about justice and triumphs.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I’m a Gossip Girl

By Kimberly Johnson

The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) For President…it got me thinking.

Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez sing karaoke…it got me humming.

Hugh Jackman has a ripped body and he’s revealing the secret…it got me staring.

I’ll admit it—I like to read about fluff and stuff; especially online. That’s why I save the links to TMZ, Entertainment Weekly and ETonline (Entertainment Tonight).

A true gossip girl can tell you the name of Kate Hudson’s baby (Bingham).

A true gossip girl can give you the 411 on Kim Kardashian’s wedding plans (Vera Wang is not talking.).

A really, true gossip girl can tell you about Kesha’s escapades at The Box in London.

I like scouring the Internet freeway, searching for the 411. Yeah, I know…it may not be Pulitzer Prize writing, but it does draw you in. I’ve even gone overseas to scour the British newspapers. The UK’s Daily Mirror’s 3AM Celebrity online page has everything you want and don’t want to know. This week’s headlines blurt out about Megan Fox, Kelly Osbourne and Leona Lewis.

Here are five reasons why I read the online gossip pages:
· A smokin’ hot headline that draws my attention.
· A juicy lead sentence that makes me want to read more.
· Scintillating details that make say “Oooh.” or “No, he didn’t.”
· A simple conclusion.
· A hint of humor with a dash of skepticism.

What are your reasons for reading the gossip pages?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Dave’s Deadline Dissection

By David Sennema

I subscribe to Poets and Writers magazine, not because of all the high-toned “success” and “how-to” stories, but because of their multi-page “deadlines” section which is up-to-date and thorough enough to be useful. After reading the July/August, 2011 version, I thought it might be interesting to do an analysis of the descriptive summaries. I counted 42 of them stating entry fees, prize amounts, eligibility, and a few with free trips to lecture to students or attend writing seminars.

Twelve of them were for poets only, and ten wanted only short stories. Seven were interested in receiving poems, short stories or creative non-fiction; four wanted only novels; two wanted only creative non-fiction; two wanted essays; one wanted only short-short stories; one wanted memoirs; and three wanted some combination of the above.

Thirteen of them described limitations on who should submit. Some of those were limited to people from a particular city, region or state, others were limited by gender or by publication experience or by the length of the work to be submitted. The most interesting limitation was stated by the Leeway Foundation of Philadelphia which indicated that grants are given “to women and transsexual, transgender, genderqueer, and Two-Spirit poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers in the Philadelphia area who need financial assistance to work on a project involving art and social change.”

Most of the 42 are located in the USA, with two from England and one from Ireland.

According to the policy of the magazine, “We list only prizes of $1,000 or more, prizes of less than $1,000 that charge no entry fee, and prestigious nonmonetary awards.” I found that entry fees ranged from “0” to $25.00, and that prizes ranged from $500 to $40,000, with most of them around $1,000.

Some of the summaries call for chapbooks or collections of poems or short stories, rather than single entries. One of them offers an all-expense-paid trip to several colleges in Michigan, “each of which pays an honorarium of at least $500, to give readings, meet with students, and lead discussions and classes.”

I’m looking for places to send a 6,147-word short story, which is longer than most places are looking for, so with all the limitations taken into consideration, of the 42 summaries I found, there were only three for which my submission would be appropriate. Most of those asking for short stories want no more than 3000 words. Looks like my story just forgot to tell me when to quit!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Reality in Fiction

By Shaun McCoy

I'm a writer, and I want you to believe in a pixie. She's about 3.7" tall—though admittedly that's in heels—and she's buzzing through the forest, her little wings beating as fast as a humming bird's, trying like hell to make it home in time for the Laker's game. She's a big fan of Kobe Bryant's.

Do you believe in her? I do.

As readers, it's easy for us to believe in this pixie. In fact, I once believed in Bruenor Battle Hammer, an angry dwarf who's resistant to magic spells. I did, that is, until one day he pretended to be sick in order to convince his best friend to help him on a quest.


I wasn't buying. I almost put down the book. My battle-tested-celtic-faeriefolk-derived-mountain-dwelling-tough-man, playing practical jokes? That was too much. Never mind that his best friend was an elf.

So what is it about stories that can cause readers to call foul? It certainly isn't plausibility. In order to engross a reader fiction does need to be realistic and internally consistent, but how can this be achieved in a story where so much is obviously fiction?

Well, don't forget, the majority of your audience actually believed in Santa Clause. I mean, this shouldn't be too hard. The reader left some of their disbelief at the door. You only really have to fool their inner child. Their adult is already on vacation.

Let's take a look at the earlier lessons a human child learns about reality. If we can satisfy these basic expectations our reader should be able to ride along with us without pulling his suspension of disbelief muscle.

Lesson 1: Object Permanence
According to Piaget (he's a famous psychologist, btw), one of the first things we learn about the universe is Object Permanence. That is, that objects exist even when you're not looking at them. While this understanding may forever ruin your games of peek-a-boo, it's very helpful in finding your car keys. Let's take a look at our Pixie. She's late for a game that is happening where she is not. This makes her tale more believable. Satisfying your reader's unconscious need for object permanence can make your narrative very appealing indeed. It's the new peek-a-boo. Remember that love potion in chapter 11? Peek-a-boo, the Prince is in love!

Lesson 2: The Difference Between ‘I’ and ‘You’
Also according to Piaget (he's still a famous psychologist, btw), the next big step we take towards understanding reality is that the universe is in itself separate from you. That there are other people in that universe who want different things. So many writers talk about character driven stories. Well why are these so compelling? Many of us lean heavier on the knowledge of the Ego than on Object Permanence. Stories that satisfy this particular subconscious need can be more compelling for readers whose reality "lens" is more focused on people. Let's look at our Pixie. She's a Laker's fan. Being a sports fan automatically enacts this I/You principle. By acknowledging that she likes the Lakers, we are also acknowledging that there are other people out there who also like the Celtics (see Philosophical Differences).

She's also not Kobe Bryant. He is the you, and she is the I.

Lesson 3: Philosophical Differences (bonus points)
In Piaget's last developmental stage, we realize that people whom we truly think are evil (democrats or republicans or communists or socialists or capitalists or misandrous pigs) truly believe that they are good people. They actually think that we're evil! If we can see their perspective, we can see that they are often as right about us as we are about them. These philosophies are varied, and not always didactic. I may believe that kinesthetic intelligence is integral to team building. You might not, but we're not likely to have a knock-down drag-out fight about it. This section is optional for a few reasons. Not everyone makes it to this stage, Piaget tells us, so our audience is going to be limited. Also, we left our disbelief at the door, remember. You don't have to fool the adult's sensibilities; they already know its fiction. We just have to have enough to fool the reader's inner child.