Whose Story Is It Anyway? #writerwednesday

This week, I want to take a bit of a break from the characterization conversation we have been having to talk about point of view (POV). 

This tip is often glossed over, but I think it’s an important decision that needs to be made when you approach the page—preferably before you start writing.

In The Basic Character Creation Workbook, I talk pretty extensively about the five characters that every story needs. Some writer’s call these archetypes, but I disagree. Archetypes, in my opinion, are far more in depth than these character designations, however here are the ones I feel are essential for a well-rounded story.

Copy of I have writer's block (1)

Five characters every story needs

1. The Protagonist:

This is your main character and the story is often told from their POV (point of view). They have the most to lose. Your readers are meant to identify with this character the most.

Their journey is the source of your story’s theme and their actions and reactions drive the plot!

2. Antagonist:

They directly oppose the character and they are the primary obstacle between your protagonist and their goal. This can be an actual person or an aspect of your character’s personality.

3. Sidekick:

They are the Robin to your protagonist’s Batman. Loyal and supportive to your protagonist, this character’s goals align very closely with the main character, but they often differ in very important ways that complement each other. In the case of Batman and Robin, Batman has genius level intelligence, is in peak physical and mental condition, is a master at martial arts, and is a master of stealth. While Robin is skilled at non-lethal combat, detective skills, acrobatics, hacking, and is a well-trained tactician. Together they are a formidable team, but Robin—the sidekick—wouldn’t be as formidable without Batman.

4. Mentor:

Your protagonist learns from or is aided by this character. The Mentor will often accompany the protagonist on their quest or journey and will protect them from any dangers along the way. The mentor’s main purpose is to be a moral compass for the character and keep them on the straight and narrow. Their loyalty can be swayed if the protagonist opposes them in anyway.

5. Love Interest:

The protagonist is in love with this character, but the love interest may or may not be in love with them. This character’s purpose is to be the catalyst that sets the protagonist on their inner and outer journey. They can be supportive or oppositional depending on how committed they are to the protagonist’s goal. Meaning, if they think the goal will serve them, they’re behind it 100%. If it doesn’t, they will try to talk the protagonist out of it. The Love Interest can also be combined with characters 2 through 4.

Point of view

Now that we’ve ironed that out, let me throw you for another loop. These roles you have chosen do not determine point-of-view. Point-of-view (POV) refers to who is telling the story which means, you can tell the story from the mentor’s POV or the antagonist’s POV or all of them alternately! The most important thing to remember is that changing the narrator does not change the role of the character in the story, but it does shift to include that character’s perception and is influenced by their beliefs and experiences. Is this confusing? Let’s talk a little bit about point of view (POV).

There are three (-ish) different types of POV:

  • First—I go.
  • Second—You go.
  • Third (deep/limited and omniscient)—He/She goes (most commonly used).

Which one should you use? That’s a stylistic choice, but I will break them all down for you to make it a bit easier to decide how your characters will tell their story.

First Person

Historically, first-person point of view has been considered a big no-no. Most teachers and editors at major publishing houses strongly discourage it. It’s often misnamed as the favorite point of view for newbies. Why? The most common complaint is that writing in first is easy. It’s just you telling a story to the reader. The writing is often labeled as weak and is just the narrator telling the reader about the events in their life. Writers of first-person fiction also tend to write summaries instead of scenes, leaving the reader outside of important events in the character’s story. I’ve read a lot of first-person fiction like this and I understand why readers, editors, and publishers feel that way. Reading a story inside of one character’s head can get extremely boring, which is why I don’t agree with the first sentiment that writing a first-person character is easy because if it’s done well, it’s not easy at all.

Having that said…

I love reading and writing in the first person. In my opinion, first-person point of view packs a powerful intimate punch. If you’re looking to have your reader completely immersed in the character, this is the POV you want to use. It also gives you an immediacy that writing in third doesn’t. Everything in first-person is happening right now. In fact, I have switched from third to first as a plot device to point out the urgency of a scene before. It creates a bond with the reader and believability that this character was not created for their entertainment but a real person. Maybe that’s my own personal observation, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

So how do you use first person point of view to connect with your readers?

Balance. The key to doing it well is to make sure you’re not drowning your reader in exposition. What’s exposition? Exposition is used to introduce background information about events, settings or characters. Basically, if your novel is heavy on the exposition you’re telling me everything that is happening to the character instead of letting me read along as it happens to them. Avoiding this info dump is exceedingly difficult when you’re writing in the first person because you don’t have another character’s head you can jump into to give the reader a different perspective, but if you keep these next few points in mind it should make things easier.

First, get your character’s talking.

This will not be the last time I say that dialogue is the key to eliminating telling language. In fact, I will say it so many times that it will become second nature to you. Well, I don’t know if that’s true, but I’m speaking into existence. Get out of your character’s heads and MAKE THEM TALK TO EACH OTHER IN REAL TIME. Relaying important conversations via summary and exposition is boring and it leaves the reader feeling left out of the action.

Which brings me to my next point…

First person narrators tend to fall into the trap of telling the reader about things that are happening instead of walking them through it. I’m not saying you have to give me a live action play-by-play of everything your character eats, what they do in their day, or the number of times they brush their hair (unless it’s important to the narrative). I’m saying that I want to see your character move through this world that you have created. Put them in motion!

Scenes tend to be another pitfall for writers when they choose a first-person narrator.

I know what you’re thinking…of course, I’m writing scenes! But if you’re writing in first- person, chances are you are not. What you’re doing is giving your reader a recitation of events. It’s not a scene unless something happens; some sort of action, some sort of conversation that is important to the plot. Scenes show your character interacting with their setting or the other people in their world. Now, that’s not to say that there is no place in your novel for a summary of events. But if it’s something major, happening in “the now” to your character, that deserves a scene, not a summary. Scenes give the reader of a deeper understanding of a character’s feelings and reactions.

Second Person

This is probably the least popular POV to write. It is most often used in do-it-yourself tutorials and choose-your-own-adventure novels. There are times when second person POV occurs naturally and should be used. This POV also shares a lot of literary similarities with first-person point of view, but still offers its own unique perspective.

Second-person can be a very powerful point of view. It instantly makes the reader part of the story and calls them to action in a way that first and third persons do not. It intensifies all the emotions in your writing because you attribute them to the reader instead of the character. They experience the story as if it’s their own.

Second person dialogue can be tricky. Similar to writing in first-person, it’s very easy to lapse into a dense and exhausting narrative full of telling language. All of that telling can create distance and you lose the potency of this point of view. The most effective way to eliminate that is to pair it with first person, POV.

Ex: It’s the middle of the night or maybe the wee hours of the morning and you are at my door pressing the bell impatiently.  It’s late and I’m slightly grumpy having been disturbed from a deep sleep. I open the door. The night is balmy, a light breeze blows ruffling your gorgeous hair.

You’ll say, “I know it’s late.” Then with a hesitant smile you’ll ask, “May I come in?” 

I step aside and you step across the threshold, brushing against me gently as you pass.

In this passage, you’re aware that you (the reader) are not the narrator. There is someone else telling the story and addressing another character.

Third Person

Third-person is the favored and most common point of view used in storytelling. Newbie writer’s often choose first person POV when they are writing their first novel, unaware of how limited it can be. The inclination to choose first is most often driven by the desire to create intimacy between the character and the reader. If that is your aim, third person deep is similar to first person and can do the job nicely. But unlike first person, third person deep still allows room for the more objectivity. The first person narrator is unreliable in a way because they can only tell the story from their point of view. And just like real life, they can exaggerate or downplay their experiences or misinterpret the actions of other characters. If done right, the end result is so subtle that the reader barely notices it. In comparison, third person is usually used to tell a story from two or more points of view, exposing all perspectives and giving a larger interpretation of the story.

Of all the ways to tell a story, third person is the most flexible. If your story or character development stalls, you can easily switch to another character. Or even if you are using third to tell the story from one character’s perspective you an step outside of that character for a wider or omniscient point of view. Third person omniscient allows the reader to experience the plot and action of the story without being influenced by the character. That flexibility can definitely give you more freedom, but you have to remain aware that stepping outside of the character too often can create a distance between them and the reader.

Choosing the right point of view can make or break your novel. I hope that this will help you decide who tells your story and how they will do it!

Happy Writing!

Tasha

7 Ways to Write Characters Your Readers Love to Hate

In last week’s post, I gave you 9 Ways to Write Characters Your Readers Will Love.

This week I have some tips to help you write characters that readers will love to hate. Surprisingly, its a lot easier to get your readers to hate a character. It’s really simple human psychology. All of a person’s good and wonderful deeds fade if they do or say something horrible. And when a character is completely loathsome from the get-go and your reader will never forget them.

Here’s a few ways to write characters we love to hate.

1. Make them a bully and/or a sadist. The east way to make a reader dislike a character is to show them deliberately causing an innocent person physical or emotional pain and suffering. If they derive some sort of pleasure from it, we will despise them even more.

Sadistic villains might torture the hero into divulging information that they don’t have. They can make demands that are impossible to fulfill so that everyone around them is constantly terrified of punishment or crushed by guilt and disappointment. However, sort of villain often that lacks depth. We rarely know anything about them except for their hunger for everyone’s suffering. It’s easy to see them as purely evil.

In order to avoid creating a cliche, it might help to keep in mind that bullies and sadist are not necessarily in love with inflicting pain and emotional distress—it’s the power that gets them off. The need to control someone else’s body and someone else’s life is the driving force behind their actions.

2. Make them a murderer or a vigilante. This seems odd to say but killing someone doesn’t make a character likable or worthy of hate. Crazy, right? Unlike bullying, if the intended victim is evil enough, the killing can be justified. “Some people just need killing.” And just like that, a murderer becomes a hero.

Murder—and all other crimes, for that matter—only transform the character into a villain if they do it for selfish reasons, or if innocents are caught in the crossfire. A motive can make all the difference. A cold-blooded killer can be sympathetic if they are avenging the deaths of innocent people. A con man who targets lonely, single mothers and drains them of every cent to their name, will not garner sympathy.

3. Make them self-serving and/or self-aggrandizing. There are a few things that are more annoying than a know-it-all or a self-appointed expert. It’s a strange dichotomy when you really think about it. We can’t stand folks who are shiftless and lack ambition, but we can’t stand a social climber or a clout chaser either. Shame and woe upon those who insinuate themselves into places where they are unwanted or uninvited. And that disdain for an interloper or self-serving opportunist will linger until they have proven themselves and/or earned the respect of the group.

This character is recognizable and can garner quite a bit of sympathy at the beginning of your story because at one time or another, we have all felt like an interloper. Be it at a new job, a new school, or a new neighborhood, we have all longed to be accepted by that new group. To make this a character we love to hate, they must remain an outsider. They can never be vindicated. They must always remain too different to be accepted and that fact can drive them to react in negative ways.

4. Make them break promises. A character that breaks your hero’s trust will be a betrayal that your reader will take personally. Depending on the damage it causes, this breech of trust may even be unforgivable. This character will have a long way to go to make amends and until then, they will be see as a villain.

5. Make them classist/and or elitist. Any character who presents as someone who believes that they are superior to others is easy to dislike. Some folks are distrustful of educated people and may even harbor some resentment toward that person. Formal speech or eloquent diction can be intimidating as well.

6. Make them mentally unstable. This is a touchy one, but we are fearful of people who frequently experience breaks with reality. They can’t be reasoned with. They won’t talk it out. There’s no way to get them to see things from your point of view. While most people who are mentally unwell are only a danger to themselves, there are a select few who are dangerously and criminally insane and must be handled accordingly. Consider the recent Ted Bundy documentary for example. No matter how “charming” and “attractive” the media portrayed him, there is no way you can see him as a good guy after you’ve learned of his heinous crimes against women.

7. Make them rude and/or difficult to be around. We all know what makes a person rude or difficult, but I’ll list a few: no sense of humor, a whiner, a complainer, callous, and apathetic toward others, judgmental, hypocritical. You get the jest. Slather your villain in some of these negative traits and your reader will immediately see them for who they are.

One important tidbit to remember is that everyone is a hero of their own story. None of these heroes would be interesting if all they portrayed  were negative qualities. Find ways to justify their actions and you can effectively soften your villain into an antihero. And that, word makers, would be a worthy opponent for your hero.

Until next week…happy writing!

Tasha

Batching, Productivity & Processes: a #NaNoWriMo2018 wrap-up post

If you’ve been following me any amount of time, you probably already know that I treat #NaNoWriMo as a time to create and test new processes. This year was no different.

This year instead of writing a new novel, I decided to plot.

And fellow word-makers, it was the smartest thing I’ve ever done. What made me decide to do this? Well, I finally started implementing all of that good advice I read and listened to about getting my shit done. Completely wild, right? Imagine buying and read 20 odd books on being an entrepreneur and downloading fifty-eleven podcasts on entrepreneurship and never implementing a thing? Don’t say you heard it from me, but I’m pretty sure that someone we know is guilty of that shit.

I’m the someone we know, you guys. That someone is me.

What is batching?

Batching is a productivity and time management hack that is designed to maximize concentration and decrease distraction. As a result, it increases your productivity, creativity, and mental sharpness, while decreasing the fatigue, procrastination, and stress that comes with creating content. For this particular post, let’s call that content BOOKS.

There are lots of ways to batch, but the one that I use exclusively is the Pomodoro Technique. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. There are lots of free tools to get you started. I use an app called Focus Keeper but this free desktop version is good, too. It’s free on iTunes. After spending some time deciding what I want to work on and choosing one of my meditation apps, I get to work!

How batching helped me plot like a bawse.

Okay, now that I’ve explained batching and how I use it for productivity and time management, here’s how I applied it to my process to make plotting and planning more efficient, and dare I say, fun!

Back in October, I published a The Basic Character Creation Workbook. This is a stripped down version of my character creation process, which because I was simply laying the groundwork for novels that I want to write in the future, is a great baseline. I’m the sort of writer who’s plotting and planning process lives in character development. If I get hung up somewhere in my book, I can almost guarantee that it’s because of something I don’t know about my characters. Shit gets real sketch if I skip or skimp on this part of the process. It hurts when I do that so I don’t do that.

Also in the month of October (aka Preptober) I did a blog series called 11 Days & 11 Ways to Plot Your Novel. I’ve always known there were different ways to plot a novel, but researching all of the different ways was very eye-opening and informative. It also encouraged me to fully incorporate Romancing The Beat, a plotting process that I’ve been implementing in small doses but never making a full commitment.

Using these tools I chose four books that I wanted to plot and plan and then I created a schedule to make actionable. There was a bit of a SNAFU at the beginning because NaNoPlotMo didn’t start on a Monday. Not gonna lie…that stressed me the fuck out. I didn’t want to start in the middle of the week but I didn’t want to lose four days of work on these projects either. As luck would have it, I picked up a small editing job that filled those four days so it all worked out.

Please excuse my neuroses. Here is the schedule:

img_9665

What did I accomplish?

I plotted and planned four short novels:

  • A Secret Baby/My Best Friend’s Sister romance which is the first in a series spinoff from The Truth Duet
  • A Submissive Male/Friends to Lovers Romance, which is a standalone novel from The Lust Diaries world)
  • My VIRGIN HERO book. You guys, this is basically competence porn with handy-woman and an eager inexperienced guy and I lived for every word of this plotting because these two…PHEW! They’re gonna be hot and adorable, you guys.
  • My NOLA LOVE NOVEL which will be modern gothic romance that I can’t wait to dive into.

What did I learn?

Like always, focusing on writing during #NaNoWriMo gives me a huge boost of motivation. I work with authors all the time, and while that is fun, it doesn’t allow me to focus on my own writing in the way I would like. Batching my novel planning process was clutch and it allowed me to take care of my ideas so that I don’t get Big Magic’d.

I also gained more faith and belief in my current process. Probably need to find some wood to knock on before I type this, but I think I’m getting close to perfection with this thing. *Fingers crossed*

How about you? Did you win #NaNoWriMo? Did you discover something new about your process? Let me know in the comments!