Sunday, February 28, 2016

Changing Perspectives

By Kasie Whitener

First-person point of view comes most naturally to me. Most of what I write is a character inside me trying to break out. I just let his (or her) voice flow and some 50,000 words later, I have a novel.

Recently, I shifted a first-person narrative to third-person point of view with great results. The advantages of third person are numerous:
    You can describe what the main character looks like.
    You can balance the scene between participants instead of leaning heavily to one perspective.
    You can tell what happened without the bias of a first-person narrator’s motives.

The third person approach infused new life to a tired scene. It’s one I’ve written a dozen times, one that is necessary to delivery exposition to the novel, one I can’t live without but was never really fond of. Switching to third person gave the scene new energy.

One question that came from my critique group (mentioned two weeks ago by my writing buddy Bonnie) was, “Who is telling this?”

Even though the narrator is outside of the scene, there’s still a storyteller. I’ve written about perspective before. Some definitions:
    Third-person close is a third-person point of view with insight into a single character’s thoughts.
    Third-person omniscient gives insight to multiple characters’ thoughts. Omniscient is a dated style used by Henry James but generally considered false today. When writers use omniscience today, they typically shift between “close” characters by chapter (think Game of Thrones).
    The scene I read was third-person-distant. It provided the perspective of one character, but not the thoughts or feelings intimate enough to be considered “close.”

I like the distance of the third-person narrator. I don’t want the reader to know the characters’ thoughts; the action should reveal motivations and desires.

But without insight to a character, how will the reader connect with the story? Third-person-distant is a challenging perspective, one I’m not entirely sure I can pull off.

The novel I’m currently reading is a third-person omniscient that shifts perspectives depending on the chapter. Some segments are close to the husband character, some to the wife, and others to the prostitute that comes between them. This shift occurs after page breaks and chapter changes, but sometimes inside the chapter, the narrator slips and gives us both the wife and the husband in “close” narration.

Our critique group would never put up with that. We always identify where a story has shifted perspective. Maybe it’s our unique pet peeve. Our group won’t let a narrator head-hop.

Shifting from first- to third-person narration is more than just exchanging pronouns. It’s a complicated revision that re-imagines the entire storytelling experience. Likewise, shifting from third- to first-person narration might bring a reader closer to a story. It’s a worthwhile exercise to change narrative point of view. Even if you ultimately switch back.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Keeping Clabber Happy

By Laura P. Valtorta

I’m revising a screenplay, and Clabber has to like it because it’s about him, his film studio, and his employees. Also, he will be the cinematographer for the narrative feature film we hope to produce this year. I threw a Jodie person in the story for some gritty Southern charm, but mainly the characters in Quiet on the Set are me, my husband, and Clabber’s crew.
Clabber and I had a meeting in November to discuss the making of this film. “We have to cut costs,” said Clabber. “Actors cost a lot of money. And I have an idea – let’s make a film about a table read.”

It pains me to admit that Clabber had a good idea. If the film were about a table read, I could eliminate some of the characters, including the older mentor, Lindsay, who Clabber said “gave him the creeps.” Even though Lindsay was an accurate portrait of Clabber’s best friend, I erased him.

During December, January, and my visit to Texas in February, I re-wrote my screenplay. This ended up being a worthwhile exercise, requiring thought. During the table read, I could allow my characters to stop and ridicule the story. The approach added another layer to the story and became a film about creating comedy.

On the Thursday before Valentine’s Day, I met with Clabber and his right-hand man, John, to discuss the state of the screenplay. Only 60 pages were re-written, but they showed the Genesis people where I was going.

“I can see you’ve taken my advice,” said Clabber, “and you’re moving in the right direction.”

I told them I was “workshopping” the script, and it helped to read various pages aloud at SCWW meetings.
“You’ve got to come up with an actor to play yourself,” I told Clabber. “Somebody you like. A good actor. What about the fellow who starred in your first horror short?”
Clabber seemed embarrassed. “That guy is a handsome leading man,” he said.

“I only noticed that he was a decent actor.” And this was the truth. The actor wasn’t my cup of tea, beauty-wise. But since I need to keep Clabber happy, it doesn’t hurt that I suggested his doppelgänger be someone he believes is a potential movie star.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


By Bonnie Stanard

Learning how to take and give criticism has been a journey for me. In my early years of writing, I attended a workshop in the Chicago area near my home and had the good fortune to meet Eloise Fink, who was the moderator. Much of what I understand and practice today I learned from her.

She wasn’t a push-over by any means, that is to say, her regard for good poetry wouldn’t allow her to give a dishonest criticism even to personal friends. One of her workshops was attended by an editor from TriQuarterly, a literary journal published by Northwestern University. I can’t remember much of his criticism of the poem I read aloud, but what I do remember is that I began to tremble with his first words. This is not verbatim, but close to what he said: “It reads like you put every hyperbole and placebo you could find together and called it a poem.” I was humiliated and embarrassed before writers I admired. I didn’t write, much less return to the workshop, for several months. I hope I have never pronounced such a criticism on anybody’s work.

From my conversations with writers, I’ve heard of other such criticisms, most of them from professional editors, publishers, and agents. A writer I met at NimrodHall, a retreat in the Virginia mountains, had such a demoralizing review of her manuscript she was discouraged from seeking publication. Those of us at Nimrod loved her work. All of this to say, writers who persist in communicating with agents and editors will sooner of later meet one who has such a high opinion of his own opinion that he slices to pieces work he doesn’t understand or appreciate, and it may be yours. It is up to us to get over it.

Workshops have personalities. The ones conducted by prominent authors have glamor appeal, but they often focus on the author rather than the work of fledgling writers. I have seen workshops become so dominated by a local writer that others in the group suffer as a consequence. More common are workshops I label “fan” clubs. And there are lots of them, some I can name in Columbia. It seems that the purpose of these workshops is to pamper writers and applaud their work, irrespective of the quality. They work well for beginning writers emotionally invested in their work and lacking confidence. However, if the only feedback a workshop provides is “That’s great!” how can we improve our writing? Another type of workshop is the “social club,” and as you might guess, writing technique takes a backseat to discussions about personal experiences.

At the Columbia II Workshop, you’ll hear honest appraisals of work, usually presented in a diplomatic fashion. We’re not only capable of applauding work but quite often do. At the same time, we point out what we consider weaknesses. It’s discouraging to hear negative comments, but let’s face it, if we’re serious about writing, we write a lot and some of it is second-rate if not trite. That’s where honest criticism becomes indispensible.

LINKS (underlined)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Quill and Scroll, Please

Julia Rogers Hook

There’s a new language out there in the world of writing these days and I can’t speak it.

Gone are the days of putting pen to paper, or quill to scroll or perhaps charcoal to bark in the candlelight of a very short candle, probably made from some sort of boiled down animal parts.

While the typewriters of yesteryear gather dust in our museums, even the “modern day” practice of sitting down at computers and typing one’s heart out as they create and construct their characters while they spin and swirl their stories and tales is becoming at best, a superfluous effort. After all, if the writer doesn’t understand the new technologies to get his/her work to its intended readers, isn’t it just an exercise?

If a writer writes and no one reads him/her, are they indeed a writer?

In addition to overcoming the normal authors’ maladies such as procrastination, fear of success or plain old “writers’ block,” now, once said author actually does have something to market, they must speak this strange new language that makes no sense to me.

They must blog. Or self-publish. Or E-publish. Or use a “vanity publishing company.” Or KDP. Or I-Books. Their book/short story/poetry/photos or whatever medium they’re marketing must be sent in a “jpg” or some other sort of cryptic method with no vowels.

The other day I was told about a class in screenwriting. I went to the site and looked it up. It said Students will need to be IT literate,” and “class materials will be delivered via an on-line forum. Students will be asked to use the screenwriting software.” There was also something about “DSLR.”

Does typing on a computer and using email qualify me for “IT literate” or is that something new? I’m just not sure. And DSLR? Not a clue.

In the days of the great William Shakespeare, paper itself was something that was relatively new. It is believed to be created by the Chinese sometime in the second century and it took its time meandering its way through the Arab world to the west but history tells us that paper was in England by the early 1500’s, just in time to be ready for the Bard of Avon.

Medieval paper was actually made from rags and went through a long process of being washed and dried and mixed with other things and washed and dried some more. It was thought to absorb ink better and was cheaper than parchment so it is believed that much of Shakespeare’s work was written on it, although many scribes in his time said it would never last.

I’m sure the same has been said of every invention since then and I’m sure as each new process or idea was introduced, it was met with the same reticence I’m feeling these days for all of this electronic mumbo-jumbo but some days a quill, an inkpot and a nice piece of parchment looks pretty good.