Monday, March 1, 2010

Writing Pitfalls 1: POV

Read Before Writing
After reading many paranormal romance short story submissions, I need to share more content and style writing tips with Cliffhanger Books’ prospective authors. You will learn how to make your fiction come alive, flow better, be easier to read and satisfy your audience more.

POV Confusion
You may be tempted to write like you, the author, are summarizing a story you heard. Maybe you think you can address your audience directly as you. Perhaps you want to use the old-fashioned style of an omniscient narrator telling the story from every character’s point of view at the same time. Or you might think you can reveal everything a mobile movie camera sees from every angle and hears in multiple locations including everyone’s voice-over thoughts.

So you won’t feel alone, I used to write according to my last two statements. Through research and practice, I’ve updated my writing style. Read on to discover the current method of one character’s POV per scene.

Limiting yourself to one point of view at a time may seem confusing because you’ve read books with omniscient POV and narrators. Most have old publication dates before POV style changed. If you’ve read a recent book by a prolific famous author, he or she may still be using those outdated practices. While a new writer views this as unfair, a well-established author gains the right to break POV rules by sustaining a substantial fan base. And some publisher’s today still allow omniscient POV.

At Cliffhanger Books, we believe using a narrator distances readers from feeling a real emotional connection with characters. So for our submissions, please adhere to the following single-POV-per-scene rules.

Third person is the most versatile and prevalent POV because you can get into the heads of multiple characters. But write in just one person’s POV per scene. If that’s a challenge, realize that you’re used to this is real life when you interact with others. As the POV character in your life, you don’t know what others are thinking. But as an author, you can experience someone else’s POV in the next scene. Putting yourself in one character’s place per scene will help you reveal more senses, thoughts and reactions genuinely.

Writing in first person may make you think you are the “I” character, so you can interject your own opinions into the story. Instead, remain in that person’s POV. You may be tempted to write as he or she would in a diary. But stay in the moment instead of summarizing what happened earlier.

Become each POV person’s eyes, ears and senses. Mention only what he or she can see, hear, taste, smell and touch. That means this character can’t describe his or her own appearance. Don’t paint a word picture of what he or she sees in a mirror. That’s so overdone. Only another POV person in a separate scene can notice another’s appearance. Don’t mention things the POV character can’t see behind him or in another room. Likewise, don’t describe what he or she can’t hear while asleep or in a different room.

Besides the five senses, use the sixth sense of perception. Especially in a romance, readers want to know what the POV character thinks and feels. But don’t include anything that wouldn’t be running through his or her mind in that exact moment. Some paranormal characters get to have extra senses and powers, so get creative.

Instead of head hopping (switching between POVs in the same scene), the POV character can guess what everyone else thinks. Facial expressions, body language and tone of voice may reveal what’s in others’ minds and hearts. Writing as the POV character, you may use describe another’s appearance and say, “He/She seemed sad.” But don’t include anyone else’s thoughts or observations in the same scene.

Write in past tense, but don’t fall into the trap of sounding like you’re retelling a story you heard. Show; don’t tell. Keep the POV character in the moment in every scene — even when thinking or remembering. Such immediacy helps readers feel like they’re experiencing the story as it happens. Showing scenes as they occur is far more interesting and exciting than reporting what happened long ago. This approach allows readers to feel a stronger emotional connection with your characters. Since you know what’s going to happen, be careful not to let a character give something away before it transpires.

What’s Next?
Practice the writing tips in this and my other blog posts. Keep checking the Cliffhanger Books website for announcements of selected stories, publication dates and future anthologies in this and other genres.

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