Tell your story without masking yourself

Under the heading of “don’t deceive your reader,” I want to file this piece of advice. When you’re telling your story, tell it directly, and don’t pretend it’s someone else’s.

I see this a lot, and I don’t understand why authors do it. They launch into a tale about “someone” who has an awe-inspiring life story and then at the end say “that person was me.” This is silly enough when the author goes to lengths to avoid using a proper name. It becomes reader deception when you slap a nom de guerre on the “character” and then reveal the character to be oneself. Continue reading

Ensure clear point of view transitions

We’re down to the last two items in the POV section of the Elements of Fiction Editing Checklist.

If using deep POV, the narrative and interior monologue reflect the personality of the POV character(s)

This goes back to avoiding generic narrator voice. The narrative in a deep POV novel should feel like you’re riding along in the character’s brain, so the narrative should feel as if he’s thinking it. Continue reading

Why second person doesn’t work in fiction

Last time we talked about first versus third person in light of this item on our checklist:

The chosen grammatical person is suitable to the story and the POV characters.

I glossed over second person, in which the reader is addressed as “you,” noting only that it is Not Recommended.

One type of fiction in which second person does work is children’s fiction, especially the “choose your own adventure” book. Back in the day, this type of book would have a scene that ended with something like this: “You reach a fork in the road. Which way will you choose? If right, turn to page 63. If left, turn to page 67.” New stories of this type are put in e-book form with hyperlinks, and can be very effective, especially when the book is carefully aimed at a market that’s eager to fill the shoes of the story’s protagonist.

Second person works less well in traditional novel-length narrative fiction. Continue reading

Grammatical person and viewpoint character

The next item on the Elements of Fiction Editing Checklist may seem a little odd:

The chosen grammatical person is suitable to the story and the POV characters.

What does that even mean? Continue reading

Determine your most appropriate POV character

I’ve said that character is the most important element of fiction. Some editors disagree, and will say plot or point of view is more important. I’ve given my reasons for why I feel as I do about character. Here’s why I put viewpoint before plot on my list.

Viewpoint, or POV, is closely linked to character, regardless of which viewpoint style you choose. Viewpoint is the channel through which the reader experiences the story, so I understand why some editors put it first. But you can’t have viewpoint without character, even if the only “character” is a bodiless narrator. Continue reading

Fiction Q&A: Concealing a character’s identity

question answer


Q: I saw what you wrote about not hiding the POV character’s identity. Isn’t there some way I can hide the villain’s identity, so the reader won’t figure out who it is until late in the story, when the hero does? Like, if he’s an evil mastermind, can I just call him “the mastermind” in the scenes where he’s the point of view character, instead of using his name?

A: No.

No one thinks of himself in the third person that way. Unless he has some kind of dissociative disorder—yikes, that’s a whole other post. Continue reading

Don’t hide the POV character’s identity

One of the most common point of view errors we see in amateur novels is what I call Hidden Identity Syndrome.

This seems to be an attempt on the part of fiction writers to replicate something we see in movies: A nondescript figure walks into a darkened room, rifles the desk or cracks the safe or plants a bomb. Because of the lighting and camera angles you can’t tell who it is. So when the perpetrator is exposed later in the film, it’s a surprise.

We get a lot of manuscripts that start with characters called only he or she, or by some epithet—the Hungarian or the masked man or the accountant. He did something, she went somewhere, the accountant heard something…

But a novel isn’t a movie, so in most cases this is a POV violation. Continue reading

The difference between your voice and the character’s voice

Voice, like art, is one of those things that, being hard to define, often falls into the category of “I’ll know it when I see it.” It’s a quality that writers strive for and editors look for, precisely because it’s so hard to accomplish.

There are two kinds of voice; authorial voice, which is what writers bring to their overall body of work, and character voice, which is how each individual character sounds to the reader.

One of the great advantages of Deep POV is that, if your characters are well developed, their voices will pervade the narrative. In Deep POV, the main voices one notices are those of the characters. Continue reading

Sorting out characters and narrators

Last time, I said there are two kinds of POV: Narrator POV and Character POV, and I mentioned that each has some subsets. Here they are.

Narrator POV

The omniscient narrator knows everything and can share everyone’s thoughts, but doesn’t have to. He can, and often does, make value judgments about the characters and events of the story. Continue reading