Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I'm coming out!

Waaayy back when I started reading fantasy and sci fi, I’d often wonder “But what are these other characters thinking?” I don’t care that in real life, we can’t read other people’s minds. A novel is fiction, a creation, an artifice. We can present the story in a number of different ways.

To an extent, I think writing strictly in one point of view is unnatural. For a writer who knows her or his characters inside and out, you “head hop” without realizing it because that’s how you understand all the relationships.

Since nobody else thinks “head hopping” is okay, and I hope to be published someday, I’ve retrained myself to write each scene from one POV. When critting, I can spot when somebody else “head hops”.

Secretly, I don’t find it as confusing as other writers and readers seem to. Sure, if there are five or twelve characters in a scene, it could get confusing. I can’t help thinking that experienced writers may be able to pull that off too. But if it’s infrequent, why is that inherently confusing? If I say “Fred thought”, when my POV character is Alice, isn’t it that clear? If I use a beat with Fred’s name then follow it with his thought, isn’t that POV shift clear? For example:

Alice eased her long frame onto the sofa. On her bare arms, the velvet was softer than a baby’s bottom. Fred seemed to be eyeing her suspiciously. He’d hit the roof when he heard her idea, but eventually, he’d agree. Some extra cleavage and you’ll forget all about any silly objections.

“You know, Fred, my offshore account has slipped down to half a million. I happen to know the museum is shipping a Cezanne in three weeks for a temporary exhibit in Australia, and that’s plenty of opportunities for it to get lost. Get my drift?”

Fred jumped to his feet. Alice is looney tunes if she thinks I’ll agree to that. “I told you I’m out of that game.”

Okay, that was short, but I can hear the howling over the “head hopping”.

Let me be clear: I do not write that way. My WIP is in close third POV. I do switch between Neal’s and Sandy’s POVs, but in every instance, I use a scene break or a new chapter. I get that nobody else likes “head hopping”.

Maybe, though, it’s just that we’re trained to think that. Maybe our own POV is so set in one angle that anything else seems wrong. Maybe a few brave souls will start an underground movement of “multiple POV” that gets a cult following, and after a decade or two, finds its place alongside the “accepted” methods.

Or, maybe, it’ll stay a quirky underground movement with fewer fans than the mainstream but with equal passion. I’d be okay with that too. I can see us all sitting around in clandestine writer’s groups and shuttered book clubs. When company comes, we feel compelled to hide the books that might betray our secret. Maybe we’ll develop a whole separate society, with special phrases.

“Say, Ethel, I wonder if you ever thought about doing multi. Once in a while.”

“Oh my God, you do that too? I knew there was a reason we got along so good. I haven’t done it much, and I’m not sure I’m doing it right.”

“Don’t fret. Multi is forgiving. We could maybe share some, if you’re okay with that. I’ve got a series in development. I’d be happy to give you some tips.”

“Well, I’d be embarrassed to let anybody see mine just yet. Man, you’re doing a series? That takes guts.”

“I get a lot of support. There’s more of us than you might realize.” Wink-wink.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Define "normal"

“The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art” by Joyce Carol Oates

According to Oates, Stanislaus Joyce (the brother of Henry) noted in his diary in 1907: “Jim says that . . . when he writes, his mind is as nearly normal as possible.”

How can one argue with that? For me, writing has turned into tunnel vision. All that extraneous stuff: having a job (a part-time, miserable job to boot), having to eat and sleep, even having conversations with my sisters, interrupts the interactions in my head. I’ve lived with these characters for over 30 years, folks. I remember coming home from an Elton John concert in the mid to late 70s, on a cool, rainy night, watching the rain blow in sheets, thinking that this was just the sort of night Lennie’s girlfriend left him. I was in my mid-teens at that point. I already knew the band members, the name of the band, where Sandy and Lennie grew up, had already written scenes involving Sandy’s girlfriend leaving him and Lennie getting mixed up with her, briefly. I am most comfortable, most at home, inside other people’s heads.

Some say being a writer is a lonely life, because in general, you have to be alone when you’re writing. I find that I’m able to focus best when there’s nobody else around in the same physical setting as me, but most of the time, I am far from alone. I don’t just mean the cats Raz and Maggie. My two main characters, Neal and Sandy, talk a lot; peripheral characters add their two cents; characters who play important parts but still only appear in my WIP for a short time have things to say; plus, since many of my characters are musicians, sometimes I hear music too -- stuff that hasn’t been recorded in this universe ;-)

Recently, when a song (complete with words and music) popped into my head in Sandy’s voice, for just a moment it was a bit weird. A disembodied voice, that I recognize? Like snowflakes I could feel but not see? Then I realized it was the same voice who sang something else back in the late 70s, and as the current song replayed over and over, I fell into it like a favorite cashmere blanket.

You writers know what I mean. I think this is why most new writers “head hop” so frequently. They’re so in tune with the characters that it’s natural to follow what other people (er, I mean characters) are thinking, all at the same time. Mixed up in that is the underlying hot desire to have other people fall just as in love with the characters as the writer is. Of course, for that to happen, readers have to know everything the characters are thinking, just like the writer.

Tune in next week when I take this further and say something guaranteed to make writers, editors, and agents spit nails at me. :D

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I've written myself into a spiral!

Fictional conversations can go in so many directions, like in real life. Characters’ moods sometimes determine their reactions. Now I’m revising the scene where Sandy first tells Neal he wants to start a non-profit charitable foundation, and I’ve got four or five versions of the damn scene. I do think Neal’s final decision on whether or not to help Sandy with it should not happen right away; there should be *some* tension involved. So, okay: in that case, how involved does the initial conversation need to be? I shortened and revised it -- two or three times -- and I’m still not happy. Just today, I found version four or five, and one paragraph that I think should maybe be included.

What I’d really like, is for somebody else to write this damn scene for me!! My second draft -- the first was crap, really, you know what first drafts are like -- had some good stuff, but I can’t find it. Actually there’s like two months’ worth of stuff I can’t find, but that’s another rant. Somehow in trying to make this scene have a lot of impact, but keep it short, I’ve fractured it and confused the crap out of myself.


I don’t normally do that. Plus, while looking through disks for those missing months of work, I’ve read through various chapters in various orders, and that doesn’t help. What happened when? Who knew what, when? Who did how, when was their motivation, would buttercups filibuster salmon steak? See what I mean?!

Actually, that might a good idea to catapult myself out of this miasma.  Imagine turning your characters over to somebody who's completely unfamiliar with them, and letting them write an entire scene.  You get it back.  Oh, you say, Fred would never swear at Ethel, he'd probably say something like . . .

Wait, you say, Ethel couldn't drive Fred to the cliff because she never learned to drive.  She might want to, but she'd just . . .

Huh.  Anybody want to take a crack at my scene? ;-)