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Storytelling: Second Person POV

Second person point of view is the least most commonly used point of view in fiction.

Second person POV is written in present tense and addresses the reader directly, using the address of “You.”

This POV makes the reader the protagonist. The narrator often uses detailed description, shares psychological insights, and tries to anticipate reader reactions.

This in uncommon in teen or adult fiction and is mainly used, though there have been authors who have used it successfully.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Second Person POV

Advantages of second person are limited. It is very difficult to do well and most readers find it jarring and difficult to connect with while reading.

One advantage is that you can create a different feel to a story, and can speak to the reader directly. This story has to be a good fit for this type of narration.

The disadvantages are more prevalent, partly because this style of narration can feel too personal. It can give a juvenile feel to a story if not done well.

Second Person POV Considerations

Before committing to a whole novel in second person, try writing a single scene and getting feedback from other writers and target readers.

Study those few examples of well written second person POV stories, such as “Bright Lights, Big City” by Jay McInerney.

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Storytelling: Third Person POV

Third person point of view has four variations.

Third person omniscient has an all-knowing narrator who tells the story. The narrator can share the thoughts and feelings of all characters at any point in a scene and knows information that the characters do not.

Third person objective has a narrator who can only tell the reader things which could be recorded by a camera or microphone. The narrator cannot share thoughts or feelings of the characters, and cannot reveal information to the reader that is not communicated, discovered, or shown directly by a character.

Third person limited has a narrator who tells the story from the perspective of a single character at a time. The perspective can switch to another character in a different scene. The narrator is limited to sharing what the character sees, hears, experiences, etc.

Third person deep tells the story in the hero’s voice, rather than the author’s voice. The narrator can share internal thoughts and feelings of the character, but if limited to only that character’s experiences.

Advantages of Third Person Omniscient

The story can be written as an onlooker watching the full story unfold.

You can add contrasting viewpoints with other characters, but you cannot “head hop,” or bounce between characters’ thoughts and experiences within the same scene. This can give a reprieve to the reader and allow them to see another side of the story.

You can expand the scope of the story by moving between settings and viewpoints.

You aren’t limited to characters in the story when choosing a narrator, which can provide a unique perspective.

It allows the narrator to share his or her own views, but don’t slip into second person to do so.

Disadvantages of Third Person Omniscient

Disadvantages center around the confusion this POV can create when not done with attention to detail. If narrators don’t have a distinct voice, readers may be confused on who is narrating or which character knows what.

Switching to other characters can diffuse the tension or excitement when not planned well.

It’s easy to write as the author instead of the narrator.

It can be more difficult to forge a connection with readers if it comes off as too distant or impersonal.

Advantages of Third Person Limited/Objective

It attempts to combine the best of first and third person omniscient.

The limited/objective POVs allow writers to more deeply explore the narrator and forge a stronger connection with the reader without asking them to live out a story with the narrator.

Disadvantages of Third Person Limited/Objective

It limits you to choosing a character as a narrator and limits you to the narrator’s thoughts and experiences.

The distance third person creates between the story and the reader can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on the story. Some stories may be too raw or personal and distance is needed to allow the reader to remain at a certain comfort level. However, if in order to fully understand or experience a story, the reader needs to be enveloped in it, the distance of third person may prevent that.

Advantages of Third Person Deep

The biggest advantage of the deep perspective is that is attempts to remove distance between narrator and reader by getting inside the character’s head and experiences.

The reader can experience more fully what the narrator is thinking and feeling.

It feels more like first person to a reader, but uses third person pronouns, which can be important in following genre conventions.

Disadvantages of Third Person Deep

The main disadvantage is that this is a challenging POV to write and is still gaining traction in some genres.

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Storytelling: First Person POV

Narrative point of view is the perspective through which a story is communicated. If you want to tell the story from the direct perspective of the main character or an observer, first person might be the right POV.

First Person POV

There are two variations of first person POV.

First person protagonist is when the character narrates his or her own story. This is very common in popular fiction. This allows the reader a close, personal look into the character’s experience, thoughts, and emotions.

First person observer is when a secondary character tells the main character’s story, such as Dr. Watson narrating Sherlock’s Holmes cases. This is less common in modern popular fiction, but is still used by some writers. This is a useful style when you don’t want the reader to be directly inside the main character’s mind and when the story is better served being told by someone who can somewhat objectively tell the main character’s story.

Advantages of First Person

It feels natural to the reader, because it’s how we speak about our world and experiences to others in real life.

Dealing with only one narrator’s mind can also be easier for the writer than writing multiple narrators. It is also usually easier for the reader to follow the story and keep track of events.

It also creates a unique and distinctive internal voice. Being in only in one character’s mind at a time makes it easier to “stay in character” as well. This is a popular POV for new or young writers for that reason.

Readers also get to experience the story vicariously more easily in first person, which may or may not be a benefit to the story and should be a factor in considering what POV to use.

There is also opportunity to create an unreliable narrator, however, this is a very challenging character to write and must be well planned from the beginning to be successful.

It is much more intimate and can fully immerse a reader in a story, which might be too much for some stories that have triggers or are highly intense or emotional.

Disadvantages of First Person POV

Writers are limited to writing only about what the character can see, know, or hear. This makes it difficult to hide things from the main character, or to reveal information to the reader without the main character knowing as well.

The narrator must be in every scene, observing and participating in the story. This limits what scenes the reader can observe and what information the reader is privy to.

Minds of other characters are off limits, as is their knowledge about the story, unless directly shared with the narrator in some way.

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Storytelling: Narrative Mode and Point of View

This writing craft series will focus on choosing the right Narrative Mode and Point of View.

Telling the right story means telling it from the best POV and with the best narrative modes.

What is Narrative Mode?

Narrative Mode and Narration are easy to confuse.

Narration is the use of commentary to convey a story to an audience.

Narrative Modes in fiction are the methods used to tell a story. Methods that are commonly used include narrative point of view, narrative tense, and narrative voice. This series will delve into each mode, beginning with the one that writers and readers or most familiar with, Point of View.

Narrative Point of View

Narrative POV links the narrator to the story. It reveals who is telling the story and what their relationship is to the story events and characters.

The narrator is often a character, but can also be an unknown observer who conveys thoughts or opinion, or a completely unknown observer who only relates the events without additional commentary.

Writing from the point of view of a character is very common in modern popular fiction, but telling a story from an observer’s perspective is still used, though it is seen more often in literary fiction. It is not often a reader comes across a contemporary book written from the perspective of an observer who offers no commentary.

Point of View

When we talk about point of view, what we’re really discussing is how and by whom the story is being told. Narrative point of view is the perspective through which a story is communicated to the reader, and it can great affect how a story is told and how a reader connects with the story and its players.

There are multiple point of views through which to tell a story, including first person (protagonist or observer), second person (the reader is the character and is addressed directly), and third person (omniscient, objective, limited, and deep).

Each type will have a different impact on the story, including how close a reader can get to the characters, what limitations a particular POV places on storytelling, and what the reader can know through the character.

In the next several posts, I’ll break down each of these point of views and their advantages and disadvantages.

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Setting: Show vs. Tell

Show, Don’t Tell is a common bit of advice in creative writing. It is especially important when describing setting.

Explaining Description

Young or new writers often try to tell the reader too much about the environment a character inhabits. This often happened by giving one concrete detail of the setting then explaining what this detail means, such as, “The sofa had a tear in the arm rest, which had been there for years because Agnes’s mother couldn’t afford to buy and new one and never had enough time to attempt fixing it with her meager sewing skills.”

This might sound fine at first glance, but there are better ways to share this information with the reader without being so wordy and direct. Consider what this piece of description is telling the reader:

  • The family isn’t wealthy
  • The mother works a lot
  • The mother lacks traditional “homemaking” skills
  • The house/contents are worn and in need of repair

To make description effective and well-integrated into the story, avoiding big blocks of “telling,” its important to consider how the character experiences the information you’re trying to communicate to the reader.

Here are some examples of how this same information can be shown and integrated into the bigger story.

Agnes collapsed onto the couch. She blindly reached across the arm of the couch in search of the remote and her fingertip caught on the ever-present hole in the fabric. She frowned at is, just as her mother always did. Agnes wished she her after school job was enough to help her mother buy a new couch, but even with her measly paychecks, they were still barely covering the bills. The one time Agnes had suggested she quit school to work more still made her shiver when she thought about it. Her mother’s slap had been completely unexpected. She’d yelled that she wasn’t working double shifts just so Agnes could end up just like her. A strange mixture of hurt and shame filled Agnes as the memory swept over her. She stared at the hole. Maybe she could fix it. She scoffed and shook her head. With what sewing skills? Her mom had been too busy working as a kid to learn something like that.

In this paragraph, the same information is given to the reader, but through Agnes’s thoughts and experiences. It delivered over time, at a more natural pace, as well.

Overindulging in Description

Description should not be overindulgent. It should be relevant to the story and situation. Long passages of elaborate description may have been the style in past eras, but in today’s world readers have shortened attention spans because there are so many pressures on time. Building a detailed setting with endless description will bore most readers and may even cause them to abandon the book. Trim down description of setting to what is relevant to the scene and to what provides useful information to the reader.

Description should orient the reader in the setting, letting them explore the setting with your character in a way that reveals insights about the character, his or her life, what is important to a character, etc.

Consider how to reveal information about a family’s dynamics through setting by having a teen look through the kitchen cupboards. If the sole box of cereal in the cupboard is on the verge of going stale that reader will begin to question how fit the parents are, whether there is enough money to meet basic needs, or if there are issues of abuse or neglect taking place.

You might present the opposite information to the reader by describing cupboards filled with healthy foods and ingredients and the character’s favorite items. This will suggest at least comfortable wealth, attentive and educated guardians, a caring environment, etc. Most likely, your character will have a home life that is somewhere in between these two extremes, but it only takes a few carefully crafted sentences to show that to the reader.

Use setting to help tell readers a story rather than directly telling the readers where the story is happening as information separate from the story.

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Setting: Creating Unique Settings

Writers can use worldbuilding techniques to create unique settings.

Start With the Basics

There are several important aspects of setting to consider:

  • Layout and geography
  • What lies beyond the immediate setting
  • Politics, laws, and governing system
  • Culture and traditions
  • Weather
  • Local plants and animals
  • Jobs, economy, imports/exports
  • History, enemies, and allies
  • Folklore, urban legends, etc.
  • Details only locals would know
  • The hero’s feelings and opinions about the place

All of these elements will affect a character’s views, way of thinking, actions, choices, and lifestyle and may affect the path of a storyline.

One you have at least one item for each element in the list, consider how each one might affect the character or story, and whether that effect is beneficial and moves the story forward or if it simply adds another layer of richness.

These elements can be integrated into a setting as minor or major elements, depending on what the scene needs. Folklore may be relevant in a non-realistic storyline out a child who’s gone missing under mysterious circumstances, but only mentioned in passing in a realistic setting where adults reminisce about childhood fears. A mixture of major and minor elements give a setting depth and uniqueness.

Develop the Details

Details make the difference in worldbuilding, whether high fantasy or the corner coffee shop. The level of detail often depends on the genre. Unless the color of every mug in a coffee shop is relevant to the story, leave it out.

Developing an intricate system of magical spell-creation ot introducing a non-realistic world readers are not familiar with requires a higher level of detail so the reader can understand the process or place.

Details MUST be relevant, no matter the genre.

Let’s use food as an example to see how something relatively simple and easy to overlook can be an important detail in providing information about a character through setting.

What characters eat can indicate location, such as putting coleslaw on pulled pork sandwiches, which is common in the south but a strange combination in the southwest United States.). Food can reveal income, such as a character having a cupboard full of Ramen noodle packets or a collection of delicious wines in a built in wine fridge. Food could also inform the reader about personality quirks. If all the food in a character’s fridge is yellow, the reader will start considering why.

Irrelevant details have the potential of confusing readers because they cause them to look for hints or twists where there aren’t any. These can later appear to be plot holes or sloppy writing. Remember the advice that if you mention a gun in scene 1, it better be fired by someone by the end of the story!

Add Layers

Once you have the foundation of your setting and world and are starting to add details, do so in logical layers.

Consider a real-world worldbuilding example: Choose the city relevant to the story line>choose a professional that makes sense for the location and character>choose a neighborhood with access to amenities that will help progress the story>choose frequently visited locations that provide opportunities for conversations, action, or conflict>develop hobbies that allow for character growth>etc.

Now consider a paranormal worldbuilding example: Choose a mythology base>tweak the base to suit major plot points>develop main powers/beasts that provide conflict between two or more groups>develop rules for powers/beasts that keep winning from being too easy>develop goals for each opposing group>develop individual goals that clash with others’ goals of the group’s goals>develop individual power/beast uniqueness that needs to develop> etc.

In every genre there is a logical progression to worldbuilding and every element added should impact the characters and story in a meaningful way

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Setting: Worldbuilding

Fictional settings, whether modern-real world, historical, sci-fi, fantasy, or paranormal, require some level of worldbuilding.

Setting should transport the reader to a particular location and not feel like it could have taken place anywhere. To accomplish that, some level of worldbuilding is needed in every story.

Worldbuilding is creating a fictional world that still feels realistic.

Details make all the difference in worldbuilding and keep a setting from feeling generic. Worldbuilding should highlight unique and quirky elements and integrate them into the storyline and character profiles.

The amount of worldbuilding needed depends on genre.

Realistic, Modern Settings

While these types of settings typically require the least amount of large-scale worldbuilding because readers are familiar with the rules and concepts of the world, it is still needed on a small scale.

Consider the mini-worlds within a setting, such as the culture of an apartment building or workplace or neighborhood. Each of these settings will have specific rules that guide interactions, a history that has helped develop its culture, an atmosphere linked to the people and culture, and a character developed by its physical components.

Each worldbuilding element will then interact with the characters and story, such as the tone of an office making a character feel either welcome and inspired or fearful and anxious. Address pertinent elements in description and exposition, or use dialogue between the characters to share thoughts and opinions on the mini-world and how it affects the characters.

Don’t expect characters to automatically understand a setting just because it exists in the modern world. James Pietragallo, co-host of Small Town Murder, mentioned on a podcast episode that he couldn’t get into the TV series “The Office” because he had never worked in an office and didn’t get the culture.

Historical Settings

Historical settings require a great deal of research, because historical fiction readers will catch mistakes and be put off by them. Research should be conducted on two levels, at least: era-accuracy to get historical facts correct and daily-living accuracy get the small details right.

The most obvious elements to be researched for a historical setting are elements, such as clothing, socio-political events and impacts, transportation, and technology. Many of these elements are affected by less-obvious research areas, such as available social services, laws regarding various aspects of life, how the justice system functioned, healthcare and knowledge of diseases and treatments, and similar topics.

Before developing a story line, consider how the time period will effect the events your characters will engage in. Female business owners were uncommon prior to the 1900s in many countries, and even then the types of businesses women would own were often limited. If a female business owner married, business ownership could transfer to her husband in many situations, which could make a woman think twice about marrying. Make sure your storyline will actually work in the time period you’ve chosen by doing thorough research.

Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Paranormal Settings

Non-realistic settings offer the greatest opportunities for worldbuilding, demanding creativity and organization. Whether working with futuristic machines, dark creatures, or mythological beings, it is important to develop an organized and functional world for them to inhabit.

Research is an important worldbuilding technique for these types of worlds, but it is only one component. Depending on how closely you plant o follow establish science, mythology, or folklore about worlds and beings in a setting, research needed may vary. Even if you plan to vary from what is already established, it’s a good idea to start at common ground so readers have some familiarity before introducing new or different elements.

The second component of non-realistic worldbuilding involves development or rules and structures. Even though these types of stories do not exist in the “real world,” they still need to be realistic enough that the reader can understand how it operates and by what rules characters make decisions or interact. Rules should provide organization to the world and allow readers to make judgments and have expectations about character actions and choices or what may or way now happen. Once rules and structures are developed, they should be followed in order to avoid confusing or frustrating the reader.

Along with creating a non-realistic world that makes sense to the reader, the same types of worldbuilding techniques needed in realistic settings should also be applied in order to develop the necessary mini-worlds of community or neighborhood.

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Setting: Integrating History

The history of a setting can easily be overlooked during development. Not thinking about it can create lost opportunities to enrich a story.

The history of an area influences nearly all aspects of a society. Not only can the land itself change, it can be changed by people or other forces.

Consider major events like natural or man-made disasters, wars, significant political events, major religious movements, large-scale societal changes, and the physical history of a place.

Much of the landscape of Europe was changed during the two World Wars, with some town ceasing to exist or being rebuilt after clearing the rubble. A centuries-old town suddenly made new could drastically change how people interact with the setting and with each other. It can change the tone of the area and create sentiments of hostility or hope.

Parts of New Orleans and surrounding areas still have ruined or abandoned buildings destroyed by the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, and how that natural disaster was dealt with changed many lives and attitudes.

Areas that have experienced unrest on turmoil may have physical markers of the struggle, events to commemorate it, or an air of secrecy if it is a history the residents are not proud of. July 24th isn’t a special day in most of the United States, but Utah hosts Pioneer Day celebrations that day to commemorate Mormon pioneers arriving in the valley. There are also many events that spoof or mock Pioneer Day, such as “Pies and Beers Day” or “Pies and Queers Day,” in the area, which highlight the tension present in the state.

Major historical events impact generations and can shape or alter society in a specific area.

Historical fiction requires a great deal of research, of course, but modern fiction should also make use of important historical influences. All aspects of life are influenced by the time period a person lives in. If a story has multi-generational characters, the history of a place can be a great way to show the effects of history on a place and its residents. Old biases and prejudices may be perplexing to younger who didn’t experience race riots or have only experienced acceptance of LGBTQ persons.

Consider how each historical element affects daily life, worldview and self perception, opportunities and choices of your characters. Work to weave these influences into the overall storyline and into the character’s backstory, current self, and motivations and goals for the future.

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Setting: Climate and Geography

Climate and geography can effect a character’s life in a variety of ways, and making use of those impacts can help you create a fuller environment.

Climate

The most basic ways that climate affects a character is adjusting everyday details like choices in clothing, what activities are available, possibility for adverse conditions, feelings toward weather or impacts on mood, and ability to spend time outdoors.

On another level, climate can effect a character’s worldview. For example, harsh climates often create harsh existences. Characters must struggle against the elements for survival as well as regular human problems. This can create physically and emotionally tough characters. Easier, softer environments may mean a character is less prepared for harsh situations or has a more optimistic or positive outlook.

Climate also affects the hobbies and skills a character might develop, as well as what opportunities or knowledge he or she might have. You won’t find many year-round ice rinks in the hot, Southwestern United States, but in colder northern states many children grow up playing hockey rather than soccer.

Being vague about climate is not a substitute for research and planning, so don’t just ignore it. Not only will you miss out on opportunities to create a character with more depth, your scenes may feel a little lackluster.

Geography

What part of the world a character inhabits affects a wide variety of setting aspects.

The physical location will determine what types of plants and animals live in the area. It’s hard to have an alligator as a means of disposing of a body in Idaho, but an all-too-real possibilities in coastal Louisiana.

Geography al effects characters’ access to other areas, such as living in an isolated cabin in winter where the plows don’t maintain the roads, or different types of ecosystems. Physical location will also determine what dialect a character uses, though you don’t want to overdo it with regionalisms or colloquialisms in dialogue.

It’s also important to consider whether a geographical location has pronounced or “drug-in” views on politics or religion, a unique culture, or social structures that are not mainstream, and whether or not a character will fall in line with those aspects of their location or not. Researching these setting aspects also offers up great opportunities to make the setting more unique and memorable.

Manmade geography should also be considered when developing a setting’s geographical location. Dams, buildings, and monuments not only change the natural geography but can influence how man’s influence on nature is perceived.

Dig into the climate and geographical location of your setting to see what elements can be used to enhance the setting, characters, and story.

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Setting: Mood, Tone, and Atmosphere

Setting can help determine the mood and atmosphere of a story. These should vary throughout a story when the setting and other factors change.

First, a few definitions, because it’s easy to confuse these elements”

  • Mood is the emotional feel of a scene, created through specific language meant to put the reader is a specific emotional state.
  • Tone is the way the author expresses their attitude toward the setting and scene through their use of narrative devices such as description and vocabulary.
  • Atmosphere is the combination of mood and tone, and is created through the author’s specific attitude or approach to writing a scene.

Carefully consider the words you use, the tempo of your sentences, and the point of view and perspective used when writing a scene.

Description

How a setting is described can change the way both readers and characters perceive the scene and how characters interact with the setting. If the scene has a fearful element, characters will move through it more slowly and the reader will read more slowly so as not to miss anything.

Description also helps to develop the tone of a scene. Use words that match the atmosphere you are trying to create. For example, a bird who chirps creates a different feel than one who squawks or caws. Textures, smells, and lighting can also be used to create a specific mood and tone. Use all five senses to fully develop a scenes description.

<a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="http://&lt;!– wp:paragraph –> <p>Tone words<a href="https://examples.yourdictionary.com/tone-examples.html&quot; target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">https://examples.yourdictionary.com/tone-examples.html</a&gt; include words like cheerful, nostalgic, melancholic, arrogant, etc. </p> Tone words include words like cheerful, nostalgic, melancholic, arrogant, etc. Mood words should go beyond expressing feelings involved in the scene and describe movements, actions, decor and more.

Description of the covered bridge in Sleepy Hollow has a much different feel than description of the Love Lock Bridge in Paris. A well-worn blanket suggests it has been used and cherished while a threadbare blanket suggests lack of funds and support.

Tempo

Match sentence tempo to what is happening in a scene. Use a quick tempo for an intense or frightening scene by writing shorter sentences, using high-impact words (single descriptors rather than multi-word descriptors), limit extraneous details not absolutely needed, stay focused on the action, and avoid long sections of dialogue.

For slower tempo scenes, focus on using longer and more fluid sentences for calm or contemplative moments. Description and internal dialogue can help slow the pace when you want the reader or character to pay particular attention to something, or to give the reader time to process the scene more fully.

Certain types of action can change the tempo of a scene as well. Fast or frantic movements create anxiety or a feeling of need. This may include things like searching for something, running, shifting, or pacing. If, however, a character in engaged in slower movements, a calmer feeling will pervade the scene. Low-tempo actions may include reading, lying on a couch, strolling, folding laundry, or cooking.

Point of View

Consider which point of view will create the right feel for a scene. First person is very immediate and can cause emotions to feel more intense and immediate. First person also puts the reader in the middle of the action or emotion as it is happening. For romances or personal stories, this ca help the reader feel they are experiencing the story with the characters and create a stronger atmosphere.

However, first person may be too much for some topics or events, such as those which may have triggering effects for some readers. First person can also be too limiting if the reader needs to know details happening around the character but not necessary within his view or awareness.

Third person provides distance and an wider view of events, but also has it’s pluses and minuses. Third person typically allows for more thorough description because the character does not necessarily have to be physically taking note of scene details in order to share them with the reader. It can also provide a buffer between the story and reader when there are difficult subjects or events. If the emotions or actions of a scene need to be close to the reader in order to set the right atmosphere, third person may provide too much distance and weaken the mood and tone.

There will, of course, be different types of scenes throughout a story that might have conflicting point of view needs. Consider the story as a whole and determine which will work best for the majority of scenes and be flexible with other scenes.