Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What makes me show teeth

I'm a smiler. Ask anyone who's met me. I smile easily and often. Sometimes I smile for no apparent reason, which I'm sure can make those around me uncomfortable. I make no apologies. But in pictures, my partner Jack complains I look too serious.

I think he'll like the photo someone sent me today, however. It was taken at the recent SouthWest Writers Awards Banquet. This is what I look like when receiving an award for my novel DARK KNOWLEDGE.

That's Rob Spiegel, President of SouthWest Writers, beside me. I'm not sure how long his smile lasted after this shot. Knowing Rob, it was probably a long time. Rob's a smiler too. But I bet mine lasted longer. Wait a minute. Let me go check...

Yep. Still there.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tuesday's Tip for Writers #3 - More on POV

I have another point of view related writer's tip to share.

When firmly in a character's point of view, take advantage of being there. Sometimes in the stories or novels I edit, a writer excels at showing the point-of-view character's thoughts as long as the character is alone. But when another character enters the scene and a conversation begins, all internal thoughts stop. The scene can be more effective if the point-of-view character's thoughts continue during the discussion.

I won't go in to more detail about that in this post because I covered this in My Lucky 13 Tips for Dialogue article over at the Murder by 4 blog, but there's a second part to this pov tip.

When firmly in a character's point of view, take advantage by eliminating he felt, she saw, Winfred knew type comments.

Change: He felt pain in his leg.
To: Pain flared in his leg.

Change: Sally saw smoke drifting out of her chimney.
To: Smoke drifted out of her chimney.

Change: Victor heard thunder boom.
To: Thunder boomed.

When we readers are firmly in a character's point of view, we don't need constant reminders it's our point-of-view character who's seeing, hearing, feeling, or thinking. We know who's observing or thinking, and those reminders dampen the immediacy and make the sections feel less active. Look at the subject/verb combinations in the examples above and decide which are more dynamic.

He felt vs. Pain flared
Sally saw vs. Smoke drifted
Victor heard vs. Thunder boomed

Sometimes the point of a sentence is that Mark heard or saw something. Sometimes the rhythm or sentence structure or mood or atmosphere needs to include "Nancy felt." That's fine. You can have a pov character see something happen--there's no "rule" against doing so--but experiment with this small change, see if it makes your sentences more active and immediate. And if, like me, you end up making a bunch of sentences more active and immediate, your whole story becomes more active and immediate. And all this active immediacy comes from using point of view to your advantage.

You just got to love point of view. Well, you don't have to, but I sure do.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Spot the dog

Fall brings memories of Vermont. Ten autumns there, and you'd think I'd have some breathtaking foliage shots to share. I looked. I don't. I guess I was always too awestruck to take pictures. I get that way sometimes. Real life is always better than pictures anyway. At least better than my pictures.

One thing I noticed going through my Vermont photos is how my dog managed to get in so many. Often it was intentional. She was an excellent subject and never worried about which was her good side. And I loved her, so naturally I wanted pictures. But sometimes she just showed up.

Here's the dog, my Nicky, gone now but forever remembered. She's in her glory days here, waiting for me to come play. This shot featured her, obviously. But sometimes...

I'd take a picture of the cabin in sunlight, and there she'd be.

I'd take a picture of the cabin at night, and look who's looking back.

Sometimes she's harder to find than others, which leads me to the title of this post. No, it's not Spot, the dog. It's spot the dog, like a game. Can you?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tuesday's Tip for Writers - #2

Point of View

POV is a huge topic. Understanding it and how to use it effectively often frustrates new writers. I know I struggled with POV early on. I found it limiting. Now the limits feel more like opportunities.

My tip on POV starts with understanding it. There are many excellent books on writing, and I bet all of them devote at least one chapter to point of view, so I won't define it here. But ultimately, like so many aspects of writing, fully understanding POV means learning from experience.

Once you understand POV, experiment with it. Choosing a point of view character is one of the big decisions writers face. Okay, if you're writing a first person novel, you only make a POV decision once. You're in one character's head for the duration, and it's a tightly held point of view. And okay, if you're writing in third person, you can make the decision just once if you limit POV to one character. But if you write in third person with multiple points of view, like so many of us do, the POV decision must be addressed with each new scene. Often it's a given: the scene needs to come from the main character's perspective. But if there are two or more characters in a scene who are important enough to have their own point of view scenes in the novel, give POV serious thought. I sometimes rewrite a scene from a different POV to compare. The result can be surprising.

An interesting thing happened in STRUCK. There are multiple storylines playing out in that novel, so I have multiple point of view characters. There's a big, climatic moment at the end of Part 1 where three major point of view characters meet, and the meeting impacts them all in separate ways. I wrote from the protagonist's point of view, and it was a strong scene. But as I mentioned above, I like to experiment. I wrote it two more times from the other two POV characters' perspectives. Those versions were strong too, revealing different things that advanced the story. A scene of this magnitude that includes the protagonist really needs to come from the protagonist's POV, so I couldn't justify using one of the other versions instead of the original. I ended up including them in addition to the original, ending Part 1 with the strongest version, the one from the protagonist's POV.

I like the impact replaying the scene from different POV's added. I was pleased when the trusted writers who critique my novels (I'm lucky to have several) liked the effect too. Then my trusted beta readers (I'm lucky to have several) commented on how they liked it. So there ya go, a well-received dramatic conclusion to Part 1, courtesy of POV experimentation.

Understand, appreciate, enjoy, and experiment with POV. It's a powerful tool for writers, at least that's my point of view.

Friday, October 10, 2008

An October Evening at Home

Then drifting off to sleep

We live an exciting life here in Albuquerque, don't we?

Fall is such a great time. I work hard all day, but then I crave starchy food and sleep more than any other time of year. There's no better way to nap than with a pet, even one that's a little larger than your average lap dog. Okay, a lot larger. Something about a sleeping animal makes me drowsy too. They're just so durn good at relaxing.

As easy as it is to sink into a quiet evening now, come Halloween, the October evening at home scene won't resemble the one pictured. Tasia's quite the guard dog. Little goblins carrying empty pumpkin heads door to door are likely to keep her (and us) energized for hours.

Thinking about it makes me tired, so I think I'll take a nap now to prepare. Let's see...Tasia took one with me last night. Tonight is Tripp's turn.

I see he's got a head start on me.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Remembering Vermonters and Vermont

The past recently caught up with me in a very pleasant way. Two friends in Vermont I hadn't heard from in years got hold of me. What a treat. One sent pictures.

That's Jerry, who sent the pictures; my buddy Dave, who I remain in contact with regularly; Lois, the other friend I had the pleasure of reconnecting with recently; and me. This was in '96, so I was 39.

I loved my decade in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. My novel, ABOVE HALDIS NOTCH, is set there. In fact Haldis Notch in the novel is actually Hazen's Notch, which I could see from my cabin.

Somehow I've soared through this blog without mentioning the log cabin I designed, built, and lived in for a decade in Vermont. Here's a photo of the cabin. I'll be sure to include more photos and mention of Vermont in the future. That's where I started writing and where I wrote my first four novels.

Here's another photo Jerry sent, us at a picnic way back in the summer of '94.

I was about as thin as I get, but I was also in the middle of building that cabin, so I was strong enough to wrestle a bear. At least I felt like I was. I had a chance to test that claim one night as I walked from the site of my half-built cabin to the 1972 fifth wheel camper I called home during construction. The bear I met might have been willing, but I was too tired to wrestle, so we just growled at each other and went our separate ways.

So that's my recent trip down memory lane, thanks to Lois and Jerry and the photos. I like it when the past catches up to me, especially when it's from a part of my life that's full of good memories and great friends.