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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: Elements of Setting

Setting has several major components, most of which are at least somewhat interconnected.

It’s important to consider all aspects of setting and how each element will impact the story or characters.

Many aspects of setting have the potential to affect character and story.

Social environment

The social environment a character inhabits affects their place in society, how she view herself and how others view her. It can impact confidence and expectations the character holds for himself or that others hold for him. A social environment can be encouraging and supportive or destructive and hindering.

It’s also important to consider the stability or chaotic nature of a social environment. Instability may breed disillusionment and rebellion while stability encourages things to stay as they are and may either be peaceful or boring.

Place/Location

Where a character lives or was raised will impact how she thinks and what she values. Consider how the land and nature has impacted her life, or how a lack of either may create a sense of fear or longing.

Location also helps determines what hobbies, skills, or habits a character might develop. City dwelling requires different survival skills than country living and classical ballet may not have been an option in a small, rural town.

Place is also important in determining what a character has learned to value. Aspects to consider include, family bonds, responsibility or duty to the community, obedience to elders or leaders, respect for other cultures, etc. Think about what experiences a particular place would have available that will influence developing values.

Time

Time period plays an integral part in creating an accurate and believable setting. This is easier when dealing with the modern world, or a time period you personally experienced.

When writing in a time period not modern or not personally experienced, it is important to thoroughly research the technology, politics, fashion, slang and speech styles, important historical events, differences in geography or town/city structures, etc.

Every time period develops its own social and political culture that is created by a variety of factors. Become familiar with those factors in order to accurately portray a specific time period.

This type of research is also important to know because it will impact the character. Certain concepts and ideas were not widespread or commonly understood in one period versus another. Some ideas, freedoms, or information were simply unavailable in certain time periods and will affect how a character views his or her self or the world.

Mood/Atmosphere

Whether mimicking a real setting or creating a fictional one, mood and atmosphere need to be considered in order for a scene to connect with the reader in the way you want it to.

Determine what type of mood and atmosphere will best serve the scene, then break down what will help create the right mood and atmosphere. Factors may include, weather, decor, time of day/night, sounds, lighting, colors, formal or informal environment, other people in the scene, topic of conversation, and more.

Climate/geography

Weather and geography can influence both the storyline and a character’s thoughts or actions. When writing a scene, consider whether the climate and geography will help, hinder, or remain neutral.

A neutral climate or geography will have little to no impact on the events or actions of the scene. In this case, neither is usually mentioned more than in passing.

A helping climate or geography will provide support to the purpose of the scene, whether that be physical, emotional, or mental. Good weather and a pleasant geographical area can further deep thinking, romantic opportunity, or clam reflection. Bad weather or rough geography can also be a help if it pushes the story in the desired direction (seeking shelter together or providing strenuous activity to clear the mind).

A hindering climate or geography will frustrate a goal or action, through ultimately continue to advance the storyline. A storm might knock out power when it’s needed most or a swampy landscape might make tracking a suspect slow or impossible. While actions or goals might be temporarily hindered, they should also provide opportunities for progression and growth for the character, such as overcoming a fear or physical limitation.

Politics/culture

A character’s political views and cultural background greatly impact how he sees himself or the larger world. It is important to consider how a town’s or region’s politics and culture intersect with a character’s goals, decisions, relationships, career choices, etc. Some areas have strong and specific cultures, which are often intertwined with political ideals. Other areas have more general cultures and political ideals, so individual family culture and politics may play a bigger role in a character’s development.

Young minds are highly influenced and the political and culture environments a person grows up in helps to shape their personality and worldview. A major point of conflict in a story may revolve around overcoming closely held views as a person grows older, experiences a new culture of political view, or faces a personal crisis.

Fully exploring these aspects of personality and character development can help you create a deeper character that connects with readers on a more profound level.

History

History should be considered on a personal, local, and macro level when developing setting.

A character’s personal history with a setting can deeply effect how they view that location and may change some aspect about their personality when they are in that location, such as going how to an abusive environment.

Towns or neighborhoods have specific histories as well. How a neighborhood developed within a larger city might have to do with its ethnic or racial background, or may be more closely linked to career or trade. Natural disasters or community tragedies will also affect the culture and atmosphere of a place.

On a larger scale, major events within a society should be considered when developing setting. What changed about New York post-911 or in elementary schools during the COVID-19 pandemic? What are the lingering effects still seen in New Orleans form Hurricane Katrina? Has the BLM movement changed the way some town and neighborhoods interact with police or racial groups? Some authors choose not to address such issues in order to avoid dating a story, but that often proves impossible. If an large-scale issue impacts setting, thoroughly research the issue in order to portray its effects realistically.

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Story Structure: Linking Beginnings and Endings

As you near the end of your project, it’s important to consider the link between the beginning and the end.

Linking the Beginning to the Ending

The beginning and ending of a story should not only be strong, but they should be related in some way.

This may be through reiterating the stated or implied theme at the beginning again at the end of the story, referring back to the symbolism used throughout the story, using situation to mirror or contrast the beginning, coming back to a specific action or piece of information, or other similar methods of tying the two scenes together.

The ending will have more meaning to the reader if the beginning and the end tie together in a meaningful way. To be meaningful, the final scene should relate to the overall concept of the story, which should have been layout or hinted at in the early chapters.

Look back at the beginning scene and consider what message it communicated to the reader, particularly what promises it made, what theme(s) it introduced, what changes the character needed to make in order to find purpose or happiness, etc.

Once you isolate that message, look at your ending scene and make sure that you are fulfilling reader expectations. This may mean fulfilling a promise, completing a character or story arc, or coming back to a theme or concept important to the story or character.

The ending scene should fulfill reader expectations set in the early chapters so they put down the book feeling satisfied.

Final Scene Crafting Detail to Consider

When reviewing scenes, there are a few important factors to consider:

  • Make sure scenes have the right balance of details to create a full scene without bogging it down.
  • Descriptive details should be pertinent to the action, help create mood and tone, or accentuate the dialogue.
  • Details should use all relevant senses to create a full picture of the setting, the characters, and the emotion.
  • Details should reveal something relevant to the character or story and not be superfluous. A clenched fist shows anger, fidgeting conveys unease, food and clothing choices set the stage and reveal preferences, etc.

The structure of a story determines how well it will be told. Poorly thought out or constructed stories frustrate readers and confuse the purpose of the story.

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Story Structure: Crafting the High Moment and Using Conflict

A strong high moment and relevant conflict are important components of effective scene crafting.

Crafting the High Moment

Scenes within a story should mimic the overall story structure, meaning it should have a beginning, middle, climax/high moment, and an ending.

The high moment of a scene uses elevated emotion, action, or revelation to impact the character(s) in some way. This does not have to be a major event or action scene, but it should be noticeable to the reader and stand out in some way.

The high moment typically comes at or near the end of the scene, with the previous parts of the scene building or leading up to the high moment. It should be something that produces a reaction in the character(s) involved in the scene. The more important the scene is, the more important the reaction should be. Reactions might include, fear or happiness, making a decision or increasing uncertainty, hiding or running, pulling away or moving forward, etc.

The high moment reveals the purpose of the scene. The character should learn something, either about his or her self or the other characters, which then affects their perceptions or choices. It should also lead the reader into the next scene by setting up the next step the character(s) will take after the revelation in the current scene.

Emphasizing Conflict

Every scene needs some form of conflict: internal, external, or both.

The conflict in a scene needs to have meaning, not be pointless arguing or endless internal lamenting. Have a clear reason for the conflict and consider how it will eventually be resolved, even if the resolution won’t take place until later in the story. Focus the conflict no the purpose of the scene to keep it from meandering.

Conflict, in general, should get progressively worse throughout the story. This increases the stakes for the character(s). Keep this in mind while planning individual scenes and make sure there is an overall progression throughout the story. When considering the main conflict, break it down into smaller pieces or steps and plan its progression with particular scenes.

It’s also important to vary the type of conflict in subsequent scenes. Too many action scenes or scenes with external conflict in a row can be exhausting for the reader and not provide enough time to take in information or impacts of the action. Internal conflict slows down the action and gives the reader a chance to process the conflict and information along with the reader. Scenes with mostly internal conflict won’t be as explosive, but should increase the overall tension.

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Story Structure: Scene Position, Purpose, and POV

Where a scene is located in the story structure, what role it plays, and whos tells that section of the story are important elements in deciding how to craft a particular scene.

Positioning

Opening scenes should introduce characters, set up the story premise, and give hints at backstory. Don’t go overboard on any of these elements. Orient the reader, and fill in the details later in order to avoid overwhelming the reader with too much information or names to remember.

Middle scenes should continue to introduce and work through complications, provide twists, and increase the stakes. These scenes contain the bulk of the story. They should build on each other and provide story progression. Scenes that lag or lack clear purpose should be eliminated or revised to prevent the reader getting bored.

Climactic scenes will build to a climax, and are typically toward the last third of the book. They are often shorter and use high levels or emotion and action. Be careful not to string too many climactic scenes together. This can overwhelm the reader. Give the reader a break every so often with scenes more focused on recovery, discovery, or introspection.

The tone, feel, and purpose of a scene should correspond to its place in the story.

Purpose

Every scene must have a purpose. That doesn’t mean that every scene needs action. Purposes might include advancing the plot, revealing something about the character or world, or providing information about the overall plot, highlighting change, etc.

For writers who outline, it is usually easier to make sure each scene will have a purpose before it is written. For pansters, this may be more challenging, because you don’t always know where a scene is going when you start writing it. Pansters need to revise critically to make sure there are not superfluous or meandering scenes.

The purpose should be able to be condensed into a one sentence summary. For example, This scene will show David blowing up and scaring Emily away by proving to her that he can’t control himself. If a scene doesn’t have a purpose, it likely doesn’t need to be there or need to be revised with a stronger focus on accomplishing something relevant to the story.

Point of View

It is important that a scene be told from the most impactful point of view.

This is usually the character who is most impacted by the events of the scene. If you find that emotion isn’t coming through in the scene like you wanted it to, reevaluate whose POV it’s being told from. Think about what the stakes are for each character involved and who has the most to gain or lose by the outcome of the scene.

POV is often tied to the purpose of the scene. Make sure you have a firm purpose and then evaluate who will learn the most, change the most, react more strongly, risk the most, etc.

There are exceptions, of course, often stylistic ones. If the emotional elements are so strong they may impact the reader in a negative way or be overwhelming, writing the scene from a peripheral viewpoint might be a better option. This may be the case with traumatic experiences or a particularly gruesome encounter.

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Story Structure: Opening a Story

The opening of a story should catch the reader’s interest right away.

The TOP priority of the opening scene is making the reader want to know what will happen next. Many readers have short attention spans and will only give a book a few pages to grab them. Opening scenes must get the reader invested in the characters and the story very quickly.

Tips for Writing a Great Opening Scene

Start with conflict or tension. It’s important to present some sort of problem early on, even if that problem is simply that the character is unhappy or something is off in their world.

Start with the story, NOT the backstory. Wait to give the reader the character’s full story. Focus on where the character’s life is currently at so the reader can see why or how it needs to change or what is disrupting it.

Introduce the characters in a way that focuses on the individual, not the “type” of character they are. Stay away from stereotypes in general, but especially in the opening scene. This can turn readers off very quickly. Highlight unique traits to pique the reader’s interest.

Be specific but brief in setting the scene and with description. Give the reader a sense of when, where, and how the character exists in his or her world, but don’t overdo it. The reader should usually be more focused on the character than the world. Orient the reader, then save all the other exciting or fascinating aspects of the world for later.

Set the tone of the story through description, action, dialogue, etc. Pay attention to how your describe the world and character. Match the tone to your wording choices and what you choose to focus on. A character who thinks their life is amazing will notice pleasant things in his or her surroundings. An unhappy or frightened character will notice things that feed into the perceptions and emotions that are experiencing.

Make promises to the reader that you WILL keep by the end: finding love, solving a mystery, learning something, etc. Even if you are a pantser and don’t know exactly how the story will end when you begin writing, you should have a general idea. the opening should mirror the ending, in most cases, and show how the character changes from their initial state in the opening scene to the final chapter.

Tips to Avoid a Lackluster Opening Scene

Don’t open with heavy description or backstory. Readers will often get bored and lose interest in the character if she or he is not the main focus of the story. Be concise and stay focused on what will engage the reader.

Don’t open in the middle of confusing events. Starting in the middle of action is fine, but it needs to be understandable, unless your goal is to confuse the reader, which I don’t recommend. Be clear about who is involved, when and where it is taking place, and what the main conflict is.

Don’t open with too many characters. Generally, it’s best to stick to three or fewer characters in an opening scene. It’s overwhelming for readers to meet so many characters at once and try to determine their important, how they fit into the story, and whether they are good or bad (to put it very simply).

Don’t open with a dream or flashback. Some writers do manage to do this effectively, but most don’t. There’s always a risk of upsetting the reader, even if it is done well. If you feel that you absolutely must start with a dream or flashback, make it crystal clear that is what the reader is experiencing so they are confused and don’t feel like to when you make the switch.

Don’t open with a cliché. This is basically anything that will make a reader roll their eyes or think, Oh, it’s that kind of story. The girl standing in front of a mirror describing herself to the reader is a personal pet peeve of mine. I will put a book down for that reason alone.

Don’t open with flowery language. Get to the point of the scene without a meandering trip through the garden. Readers get bored quickly.

Don’t open with “telling.” Show the reader what they need to know using dialogue, action, internal thought, or interactions. Heavy exposition makes a scene drag and long internal soliloquies are exhausting. Think of it as a movie scene. If nothing is happening that the reader can “see,” go back through this checklist and start cutting.

Don’t open with a stolen prologue to fix a boring beginning. Pasting a later scene onto the beginning of a story to make it more interesting is lazy. If your opening scene isn’t interesting enough to stand on it’s own, it needs reworked. Rethink the structure and point of the opening. It should introduce the main character, their current situation, their problem, and a hint at what’s to come next.

Use your opening scene to hook the reader by presenting an interesting character, a problem the reader wants to see solved, and a world that ties the two together.

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Story Structure: Chronological and Non-chronological

How you tell a story in time can make a big difference in its effectiveness. Chronological timelines are the the most common, but non-chronological structures can also work very well when done with careful planning and attention to detail.

Chronological Structure

The story is told largely in chronological order, meaning events are told in the order they occur. Brief flashbacks or flashforwards may be included, but they are not the main storytelling device.

This is the most common story structure used and the easiest for readers to understand. It is important to make sure the order of events and passage of time is clear to the reader. You can achieve this by establish the setting/time in the first few chapters to orient the reader, and then staying consistent throughout the book. This is especially important in anything not set in a current time period. If there is a flash forward or backward, give clear indication of the time change, either through exposition or noting the time change.

During editing, check for inconsistencies, such as injuries, broken items, or people coming or leaving and ensure there are proper healing time, things broken stay broken or get fixed, the people involved doesn’t change without being mentioned to the reader, etc. It’s easy to forget little details and have someone using a whole item that was broken in an earlier chapter, or forgetting an injury should hinder movement or ability, or forgetting about a character who existed in the background of a scene.

Non-Chronological Structures

Past prologue: This type of structure details an important event that happened in the past and has effected the current situation. This is commonly used when there is too much backstory detail to work into a present conversation without info dumping. The reader is given all the pertinent information in a past prologue to orient them in the current time when the story begins.

Future prologue: This type of structure details a tension-filled or dramatic future event meant to capture readers’ attention. It is most commonly used to show an unlikely or startling endpoint of a character or story, then reverts back to the present to show what led to the unexpected event. This should not be used simply for shock value to attract a reader’s attention. It should be important and relevant information the reader needs to know when beginning the story.

Alternating timelines: With this structure, past/present or present/future timelines alternate between different characters or the same character in different time periods. This is often used to show a comparison of experiences or times, or to brings two timelines to an eventual intersection.

Circular timelines: In this type of structure, the story ends where it began. It is used to create a sense of departure from and return to the original structure. Characters still undergo transformation and are affected by events.

Flashbacks: A flashback breaks from the current story to tell of an event that happened in the past, as a complete scene. It can be located anywhere in the story. It is used when more details are needed than what can be conveyed through a recap or explanation, or when the reader needs to “experience” the moment to full understand it. Flashbacks should be used minimally to avoid distraction and breaking the story flow.

Parallel timelines: This is used to tell two stories chronologically in different time periods. Both move forward together and inform the other. This is often used to compare two periods of time and how characters experience those time periods. There should be a link between them that sheds light on one or both storylines.

Time jumping: This is when a character moves through time, either forward or backward, or a combination of both. Scenes are connected in some way and inform the other scenes. Outside of an actual time-traveling storyline, this can be used to show changes in a character, situation, place, etc. in different time periods.