Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Unique Point of View: WOLF HALL

By Bonnie Stanard

Currently I’m on page 425 of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, a 532-page book that has been critically acclaimed and won the Man Booker Prize. This is my second attempt to read Wolf Hall, and it remains to be seen if I’ll finish it.

It’s the 16th Century and Henry VIII is king. The plot revolves around his efforts to banish one wife and marry another at a time when England is in the clutches of the Roman Catholic Church.

The protagonist, however, is not Henry VIII, but ambitious, brilliant, and politically astute Thomas Cromwell. The reason I put the book aside originally is because, on the first page, I became confused about the point of view (POV). However, even after I resolved that issue, Mantel doesn’t make this an easy read and here’s why:

I. First things first, POV:

After about 25 pages I figured out that Cromwell alone is telling the story in third person limited POV. Sounds simple, but here’s an example of what will have you scratching your head:

She imagines everything is about her, every glance or secret conversation. She is afraid the other women pity her, and she hates to be pitied.
This passage shows you how tricky the POV. Because you’re told what “she” (Jane Rochford) imagines, fears, and hates, you think you’re in Jane’s POV. But no, you’re in Cromwell’s. He knows what Jane imagines, he knows what she fears and hates, and he’s telling this to the reader. He speaks for her, as if he can read her mind. In fact, Cromwell transmits the views of many of the characters, and it’s up to us to realize that these are Cromwell’s thoughts, even though the context makes it appear to be the inner machinations of other characters.

On first blush, the passage below seems to belie third person limited POV. The descriptions of Cromwell appear to be views other than Cromwell’s. This is another example of Mantel’s complexity. Cromwell is telling us what other people think of him:

“Thomas Cromwell?” people say. “That is an ingenious man…” He is the very man if an argument about God breaks out; he is the very man for telling your tenants twelve good reasons why their rents are fair.

II. The quotation marks challenge. Take a look at this excerpt:
He asks the doctor where he comes from, and when he says, nowhere you know, he says, try me, I’ve been to most places.
It’s not as if Mantel eschews quotation marks. There must be a reason why some dialogue is in quotes and some aren’t. Again, dialogue with no quotation marks:
So, Thomas, he says, if you know the king’s had Anne, get a letter to me the very day. I’ll only trust it if I hear it from you.
Without quotation marks, the pronouns “I” and “me” play havoc with POV. First person pronouns shouldn’t appear in the narrative of third person limited POV books. It is left to us to figure out that “I” and “me” refer to another character (the cardinal), not the narrator Cromwell.

Even when Mantel uses quotation marks, she often omits identity tags. As a consequence characters drop in and out of scenes without identification. And Wolf Hall has about a hundred characters. You’ll spend a good deal of time referring to the list of characters in the foreword.

III. The pronoun challenge:
His glance follows the duke as he bobs and froths; but to his surprise, when the duke turns, he smites his own metaled thigh, and a tear…bubbles into his eye.
The book is abounding with flighty pronouns lacking obvious antecedents. The above passage is not as confusing as some scenes involving three or four men. While you’re trying to figure out who is saying what, Cromwell is explaining the inner thoughts of some “he.” The third person singular pronoun will drive you crazy.

I recommend Wolf Hall for its innovative POV. Hilary Mantel has a style unlike any other writer. Critics, with good reason, compliment her erudition and craft. However, this doesn’t make reading Wolf Hall easier.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Good Versus Evil

By Michelle Gwynn Jones

Not all novels require the presence of a villain, but a story can’t have a hero unless there is someone, or something, to overcome. When a story requires a villain, that character needs to be believable.

Villains vary in size, class and sexual preference. In any group of people, from a kindergarten class to a gathering of world leaders, there are the good and the evil.

If the protagonist and the antagonist are the two main characters they need to be equally represented. A villain should have a well thought out reason for why they do what they do or want what they want. Depending on the type of story the villain might need friends or minions. The job and lifestyle the writer chooses should enhance the character, not hold them back. If the reader is to follow the path of the villain, the character must have a few good qualities, no one is going to believe a person who is all good or all evil. Even the bomber running around the city blowing up buildings without any discernible pattern should still stop to open the door for an elderly neighbor and help carry the packages to their apartment.

Just as with the good main character, your villain must have a backstory. Many readers have trouble believing that the villain was just born evil. The backstory should reveal a traumatic incident that turns them from good to evil, like when Anakin Skywalker revenges his mother Shmi’s death by killing all the Tusken Raiders and taking his first step from Jedi apprentice to becoming Darth Vader. That incident should logically bring the character to where they are today, even if only logical to someone with evil in their mind and heart.

Keep in mind the setting and the goals of the main character and the villain. The hero’s response to the villain must be proportional to the threat. If the villain is an international criminal running his mercenaries for personal gain it may be all right for the main character to kill them off one at a time. However, this may not be true if the story is set in the small town of New Grace, South Carolina when the main character is taking down the evil leader of the Parent Teacher’s Association of the local elementary school. While the protagonist may do evil to succeed in their mission, it is rare for a book to be successful if the protagonist becomes more evil than the villain.

As a writer you can’t let yourself be intimidated by your own villain. If your villain is trying to take over the world, let them plan and scheme, don’t hold back because you can’t understand why anyone would want to do that. When the villain is a serial killer but the writer can’t actually bring themselves to write a murder, or describe a murder scene, the reader will never be convinced the killer is a worthy adversary for the protagonist.

Whether your villain dies or goes to prison, turns good or stays evil, the story must be completed. Even the villain that lives on from one book of the series to the next must be thwarted in their scheme in order to rise again with an even better plan.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I Think These Chopsticks Are Broken...And I Still Don't Have a Title for My Food Blog

By Kimberly Johnson

The other night, I munched on Kung Pao Chicken from a local Chinese place. I like chicken. I like chopsticks. Between you and me, those things were broken.

First, I fought to get my fingers wrapped around them. Then, when I did get the two sticks to cooperate, the piece of meat wouldn’t act right. It kept missing my mouth. Finally, I couldn’t get the right amount of chicken, rice and other stuff balanced on the chopsticks.

I threw them into the brown paper bag and grabbed a fork.

I have another problem: no title for my blog. Got suggestions? Leave a comment. My goal is to write about real Southern food, not the New South cuisine…stuff like grits with lots of butter, chitlins and hot sauce, hushpuppies and ketchup, and a fried boloney sandwich with mustard. I want folks to know that this is good food, not hillbilly fare.

I brainstormed for catchy titles (Cooking Queen of the South, Sweet Tea & Butter Biscuits, Just Like Grandma Made). I perused Paula Deen’s website. I even surfed the food blog directories. All I got was surf toe—it was painful.

I sought professional help. It led me to some good advice for creating a title.

Tip 1: Answer these basic questions: Can people relate to the title? Is the title short and to the point? Does the title conjure a concrete view or an abstract vision? If your title answers these queries, you are the biggest winner.

Tip 2: Be mysterious. The title is a preview for what’s to come in

Tip 3: Be Like a Kardashian. Create drama, but use it with caution. If your title sparks a controversy as way to attract viewers, make sure to support your position in the full post. Be prepared for strong reactions.

Tip 4: Avoid the switcheroo. AKA: the bait and switch. You want viewers to be intrigued with the title and the text. Don’t be accused of selling false goods based on the title.

Tip 5: Be useful. A viewer reads your blog because she has a problem (Can’t cook rice) or she wants to improve (Make chicken noodle soup like Nana ). Solve your reader’s problem, not create one.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Cola II Blogger


Atop one of my high school essays, in looping red ink, my English teacher warned me of the dangers of "cutesy phraseology." That was over thirty years ago, yet I still find myself dipping my pinky in the inky black waters of darlings. I love to play with words, perhaps a bit too much. I’m new to the Columbia II Writer’s Workshop, where I’m learning to love the bomb or kill my darlings or something equally sinister.

When I’m not reading, making up stories or blogging on, I am cooking, photographing food, eating, shopping or designing. To earn a living, I design web and application interfaces for corporate clients. I live in downtown Columbia with my husband Rich, my cat Servo, and my indoor prancing pony (a.k.a. Golden Retriever,) Mazy.

Kim's first post follows.

A Writer's Winter Feast

By Kim Byer

Beyond a beautiful piece of art or the occasional puppy, a new book is my favorite Christmas gift. During the holidays, my bedside table swells in waves of books, precariously stacked and teetering. At night, donning reading goggles, I dive in head first to read Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, Little Bee by Chris Cleave, and Knives at Dawn by Andrew Friedman. Beneath this stack, an undertow of old favorites: A.M. Holme’s Things You Should Know and several colorful spines highlighting the venerable editions of New Stories from the South, edited by Shannon Ravenel.

In the morning, new interior design books inspire my day: Design*Sponge at Home by Grace Bonney and The Perfectly Imperfect Home by Deborah Needleman. Beside an afternoon fire, I listen to Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson, narrated by Steven Kaplan. Little in life is more luxurious than getting lost in a good story on a winter afternoon.

As writers, we are passionate readers. We read not only to enjoy the suspension of disbelief, but also to listen to our muse sing along to the cadence of a well-paced story. We appreciate a hook that leaves us hungry and a plot twist we wish we’d thought of first; we are amused by an odd simile and pained by a mischievous typo in a published work.

Winter is the most wonderful time to feast on words. Unlike summer’s pink-hued and thin paperbacks, winter kindles our intellect with thick bound classics and historical memoirs.

At the beginning of each year, we rush out of January’s gate with good intentions of healthier eating, cardiovascular overhauls and literary conquests. Easily discarding our first two resolutions, we are determined to maintain our third. We scour the book reviews and journal picks, making our lists and checking them twice. We linger in big box bookstores sipping pumpkin lattes and secretly filing titles behind our ears, which we’ll check later on Amazon, hoping for a deal. We download eBooks and update wish lists. We sit in dark theaters thinking snarky, hideous thoughts about a screenwriter’s adaptation, and upon leaving, say too loudly to our companion, “The book was much better.”

Back at home, we curl our legs under a crocheted throw and snack on a delicious sentence, nibble away at a chapter, and munch through an entire mystery without stopping for a sandwich. Thanks to writers, we are satiated in the exquisite cerebral feast we call story.

So, what exciting and wonderful stories are stacked on your bedside table?

Here are my recommendations for a five-course feast of online book resources: If you love listening to books as much as reading books, you may want to try this audio library. For a fifteen-dollar subscription, you can listen to one book per month. If you are familiar with audio book prices, you’ll appreciate this deal. Discounted specials allow you to purchase additional books for less. This free site allows you to collect and share book reviews. It helps me remember what I’ve recently read as well as find new books through fellow readers’ reviews and ratings. Are you a member? Add me to your friend list. Project Gutenberg is an iReader’s dream. Over 36,000 eBooks are available for free download. Through its affiliates, an astounding 100,000 books are shared.

New York Times Book Review Podcast: Authors, editors and critics discuss books and the literary scene with Same Tannhaus, the editor of the NYT Book Review. Listen to the mp3 episode of your choice or subscribe to the podcast., Arts & Entertainment section, subtopic Literature & Writing: Although DVR and TiVo may be two of our favorite acronyms, we still miss some of the best book talk on TV when we don’t program these devices. Going online to the PBS site can fill the void. The site offers one stop clicking for all of your video feeds and literary needs. Check out Jeffery Brown’s thoughts on "The Year (2011) in Fiction."

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Welcome, 2012!

By Ginny Padgett

I’m sure it’s been a busy holiday season for you, no matter your religious persuasion. Holidays have an underlying benefit that may not be readily perceived or not often considered. Holidays force us to change up our routines, to see family and friends that may not be in our daily loop, to decorate our homes for the season and temporarily change our surroundings. At this time of year we may reassess our priorities and make resolutions to improve ourselves during the year ahead.

And here is my point. I challenge myself and you to give ourselves permission to luxuriate in writing every day. When I say, “write,” I mean the entire creative process – not just the act of putting words on paper. Sometimes when I write, it looks like I’m sleeping. I could be thinking about what my characters will do next or a plot twist, or maybe just listening to them talk. I am frequently surprised by what they say. This quiet attention helps me know them better.

We have hectic lives with many demands. In the day-to-day melee, I’m guilty of letting my writing slip to the bottom of the to-do list. Right here, right now, I am saying that I’ll keep my writing current in 2012. I’m telling you in hopes you’ll hold me accountable, and I’m asking you to join me in this pact.