Thank you, Launching Success, and students of this round of Literary Clay. Stay tuned for future workshops. I’m developing new sessions to add to the originals that will help you pull your stories from the shadows of your mind into a readable form that can be shared!
Until next time, cheers and happy writing.
I’ve been asked what the background image is on my site. It’s one of my favorite chairs. Photos of it appear in various places – as a background on this site (though seriously edited), on social media, and in a book that is soon to be released called Fingerprints on my Heart.
Now, get writing.
Gabe was in line for coffee at a street corner coffee vendor and heard a commotion behind him. He turned to see a woman run out of a bank and a man with a blue jacket chase her and take her to the ground. Gabe was incensed that some nasty wicked male individual was assaulting an innocent female. Why he just stood there and watched it go down is perhaps evidence to where he lives, or perhaps how badly he needed caffeine, but that’s a different topic entirely. Moments later, Gabe’s friend Julie came out of the bank and joined him in line.
“Did you see that lady who robbed the bank? That security guard was on her in an instant!”
I just disclosed what Gabe was seeing and thinking: Gabe’s point of view, or POV. Julie came up later and offered her POV, correcting the misconception, but she had to speak to offer her thoughts. I did not reveal them because the story is unfolding through the eyes of Gabe, not Julie.
Why is POV so important? Why can’t I just give out all the thoughts of all my characters?
Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re a waiter or waitress and you’ve forgotten your pen. You must remember the orders of every person in your section. How many orders will you be able to take before you’re stealing crayons out of the kids menu bin? When you’re revealing every thought of every character, you’re asking your reader to keep track of who is thinking what when. They’ll not only weary of looking back through past chapters to refresh their memories as to who the guy was that trained worms to hula, they probably won’t know with confidence who your main character is. Okay, they’d remember hula worm guy. Who wouldn’t? But hopefully you get my point.
Does that mean I can never use multiple POVs?
No, no, no. It can be used strategically and effectively in limited amounts. But you’re limiting yourself when you do it.
“Wait, what? Limiting myself?! But I’m giving extra information? How is that limiting myself?”
Ahhhh, good question. Let’s look at the first paragraph again. Gabe is standing in line for coffee and one of those cookies with the pink frosting, watching a woman be assaulted, or so he thinks. He has no idea what others are thinking and so I am able to mislead my reader on purpose in order to surprise or shock them later. If you’re divulging everyone’s thoughts (or even just a few) all along the way you’re removing the mystique of your story. It is much more intriguing to describe other’s actions through the eyes of your protagonist (main character) so the reader has to draw their own conclusions. It gives you the control over your reader that you need to keep them reading. Want more examples? You need my Literary Clay workshop, Building Strong Characters. I tackle it in The Trail of a Muse, also.
Multiple POVs is actually a fun way to write if you’re up for the challenge, but I wouldn’t advise it in a normal every day story. I know, I know. I’ve seen it done, too. In some classics, even. Who am I to criticize the greats? But it can be distracting and it is generally frowned upon in writing circles, and unless your last name is already among the greats, you’re going to have to start at the bottom like the rest of us. But, one great way to use multiple POV”s is… hmmm. I think I’ll save that little secret for another time, or for those who really want to know. You know where to find me.
Until next time, don’t just write, WRITE!
Thank you, NegativeSpace, for the lab photo.
Growling, she flashed her dagger like teeth in the piercing morning rays as she extracted herself from the comfort of her warm den. The air held a tension as she groped her way in the first light like an agitated, fearsome sloth, her talons scraping on the rock floor as small creatures scurried noisily around her. A snarl sent the creatures scurrying but for a moment. Busily they worked to distract her, thwarted only momentarily by her periodic growls. A flash of fire set a pot bubbling. The aroma of a brown, gooey substance charged the lair. With the redolence, the creatures became more bold, taunting her; goading her. She whirled once and again, flashing her teeth and snarling at the grievous pests. They cackled and lept out of her grasp each time, knocking things down, stirring up dust; their noisy raucous vexing her to the edge of ferocity. Her shiny talons encircled a cup in a firm clutch and she dipped it into the hot caustic liquid. Snarling and backing into a corner with her pungent prize, she lashed again at the pests, baring her teeth a final time before a long and resolved drink.
“My, doesn’t the sun look lovely this morning, children?” she said, setting her cup on the counter. “Ah, what a difference a cup of coffee makes. LIZZIE! Get off that bookcase right NOW! Cereal anyone? Then we can go to the park.”
Copyright 2010 Shai Adair
“I don’t know where to start,” I was told by a very creative story teller. He is a seriously talented individual who can think of awe inspiring stories on the fly! But when asked to put his stories into writing so they can be shared or read by others, he declined based on his mental block of how to start. This is tragic! If this is you, I’ll tell you what I told him. Read on.
Wait, what? Yes, I just gave you permission to make a confusing mess. Rome wasn’t built in a day and it probably looked like an ugly pile of rocks in the beginning. My advice to you is to open a document and simply start typing. You may think it’s crazy and over simplified but you have a log jam in your imagination holding your creativity hostage. If you let the log jam go, with all its messy consequences, you’ll start writing.
When I first started writing Mariah’s Invisible Sword, I had no idea what the ending would be or where my characters would go. I simply had a vision in my head of a vile man dragging a woman across the snow in a blizzard. So, that’s the first thing I wrote. Then I let the scene unfold in my head and just kept typing. I had things in the wrong order, people with names like ‘guy 2’, part way through I changed my mind about things and left the errors, pushed onward and filled up a page for an hour. When I was done, I had something to work with – I edited the part I changed halfway through, named ‘guy 2’ Ameer, and found other ideas begin to blossom. Writing became less awkward and now I have a published book that my fans rave about.
I’m not saying there won’t be moments of writer’s block, but there are ways around any block. And that, friend, is the topic for another Pen Tip, as is editing your story.
If you made it to the bottom of this, you probably have a story wanting to hammer its way out of your subconscious (or conscious). A story is like clay, and if you never take it out of its packaging, it will never be anything other than a lump hidden away in an airtight bag. Here’s my challenge: Set a timer, start writing, make a mess, and then let me know how it went. But promise yourself you’ll get the story out of your head and into a document. Ugly is acceptable when you’re unpacking the clay. Beauty happens later – so what are you waiting for? Write!
How do you keep your book from landing at the second hand store next to a literary work about bent staples or diverse types of manure? Or worse, what if your book never leaves your own hand? If a reader can’t connect with your characters they’ll stop reading, and that’s death to a writer.
In five days I will be at Launching Success teaching a Literary Clay class called Building Strong Characters. In this session you will explore, and practice, how to put meat on the bones of your characters and coerce them to walk out into the land of the (virtually) living.
It’s only $15 for the two hour workshop, so what do you have to lose? (Other than dull characters that elicit the noise of crickets rather than gasps from a reader.)
Nov 12th 10a-12p Building Strong Characters
Give your characters the magnetism that develops a sense of connection with your readers. Come with existing ideas, or brainstorm some new ones. In this session, your characters will begin to take on a life of their own. Students are encouraged to bring a laptop to put new learning into practice during the class.
The 12th is Veteran’s day and we will begin the class with a moment of silence in appreciation of those Veterans who have given themselves to keep our country safe! Without them, we would not have life as we currently know it. They deserve our respect and we’ll give it.
The wind pushed my car out of its lane for the third time to the rhythm of the windshield wipers on the highest setting. The rain pelted down in sympathy out of the blackness as if a giant invisible heart were breaking. Leaves pulsed in horizontal blasts at the mercy of the wind. I would never have ventured out in such weather if it weren’t for the race against time; the race to see Grace just once more.
Every life has an effect on others, whether positive or negative. Maybe it is all these lives held captive to the gravity of this earth that keeps it in balance. All I know is that Grace held such positive power that she balanced out tens of thousands of negatives. She was Grace, and grace was her. Sometimes I put characters in my writing that are so gracious and kind, that never complain and never talk badly about others, but the living breathing person of Grace was the real thing. The closest thing I ever heard to a complaint was a few days ago when she said, “I’m not doing well.” And she only said it because someone asked her how she was doing.
It sounds impossible in our world today. Selfishness is rampant. Opinions are blasted from every speaker, every electronic device and every blog. Compare a person who never demanded her way. In the 20 years I knew her, she never said a cross word, never became impatient, and never sported a frown. She smiled and joked about everything. No one is perfect, so perhaps in the shadow of her death I am blocking out the negative, but I don’t think so.
Now she’s gone. There’s an empty chair, a pair of abandoned glasses, and a very sad old man who reaches across the bed to find himself alone there for the first time in 64 years. She has left such a hole in the fabric that is our family, and yet the sunshine she left with us we will hold in our hearts until we take our turn crossing that final border.
May those who knew her hold her memory close and let it effect our lives for the positive. She’s beyond pain now. She deserves that – happiness and health. I imagine she’s connected with her first born son who died at birth, as well as her parents and friends who have gone on before. She’s walked out of our lives but she will never walk out of our hearts.
Teaser – These next four simple paragraphs could change your writing forever, but you need all four.
The atmosphere of a coffee shop is inviting to writing and other activities that involve little more than an internet connection. The smells of coffee and sweet treats. The sounds of milk being steamed. People talking to one another. There’s a magic there aside from the effects of caffeine in your extra hot, skinny, sugar-free quad shot, caramel mocha with extra whip.
What did I just do in that last paragraph? Not only did I explain atmosphere in reference to where to write, I also explained by example a tip on how to write. Placing your reader in a coffee shop engages their imagination inspiring them to read more, just as sitting in a coffee shop may inspire you to write. Or perhaps it is a park that invokes your inner genius. Whatever the venue, the point is atmosphere.
Atmosphere is the grounds in the coffee maker. Without it, you merely have a cup of hot water. It shapes people. It shapes nations. It is that feeling you get when you’re in a certain place or around a certain person.
Put your reader in your story to the point where they don’t want out. Let them feel the rain on their face and smell the fresh hay as it’s tossed into a stall with a rusty pitchfork. We have five senses in common: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Stimulating those senses in the mind of your reader by creating an atmosphere in your story keeps them wanting more. And isn’t that what every writer lives for?
So what are you waiting for? Write.