Deep POV


So, back when I was a wee writer, before this blog was even made and all my posts were on Tumblr, I talked about deep point of view. Pretty much everything I say in that post still holds true. Thought Verbs and Three Easy Steps to Deep POV are still two articles that are invaluable to developing an understanding of deep POV.

But to really get deep POV, we need to go deeper. (ba dum, tss)

Let’s start with what deep POV is. Deep POV is drawing as close to your POV character as you can to give the reader the most immersive experience possible. And wording it like that makes it sound like some magic trick, but that’s what the goal is. You want to create as little wall between your character and your reader. Yes this can work in both third person and first person. No you don’t automatically achieve this by writing in first person. It’s something you consciously do. Unless you’re McTalentpants and already do it.

Now, on the surface level, look at the words you’re using. I used to scoff at filler words. I thought that pretty little roses emerged from my butt as I plopped out new words and that since the sentence I crafted sounded right to me, that it was fine.

As you can guess, I was wrong.

To create as deep an immersion as possible, there are filler words that create distance between your prose and the reader. When you’re thinking throughout the day, do you ever think, “I thought,” “I said,” “I wondered?” No, you just do the thing. And by cutting these words, you enable more room for characterization, world-building, and movement–especially with things like dialog tags. (Watch a movie. Does anyone ever stay still while talking? Your scenes shouldn’t stagnate throughout a conversation, either.) If you want to go all out, here are a couple of giant lists to cut all the filler words. This is my personal list that I always start with:

was, is, even, see, hear, feel, think, just, very, up, down, seem(s), then, that, now, wonder, notice, begins, starts, get, walk, try, only, like, as if, of, really, forward, backward, had, find

Obviously, change tense if you’re in past/present/future/whatever. A couple of other things to watch out for that break reader’s immersion are scene breaks, and italicized thoughts in third person (you shouldn’t be using them in first, period–you’re already narrating from their head, unless you’re implying they never actually think). They’re meant to be used, but with purpose.

All right, now for the part that I didn’t mention in my previous post, and that the posts I link to don’t touch. Let’s go… deeper.

(Please don’t hurt me, I just like puns.)

Every sentence should be infused with your character’s voice. I’m sure you’ve heard this advice before, but rarely have I seen any practical applications of it. Yes, obviously make sure the word choice fits what your character would say. But that doesn’t make it sound like it’s coming from your character’s head.

I swear I’m not all ~hoity toity~ and ~special~ here. Just listing things in a character’s dialog makes it stiff. You might as well be playing a videogame (which I love and have worked in the medium before, but the immersion is different) rather than reading a book. For example, let’s take some action, since that’s the sort of scene that falls into this trap the hardest. I normally sigh when people put in excerpts of their own words as examples, but bear with me:

I kick, and he blocks. I raise my fist again, but he’s faster and gets in the next blow, knocking me down.

It gets the point across. There isn’t much voice, but it’s action, right?

You can do better.

You’re in this character’s head. There’s adrenaline and pain and emotion running through this character’s brain. Every scene, every sentence should have senses, and should have thought. I don’t care about a character that doesn’t care, that doesn’t think–most readers don’t. So you should be using every opportunity you can to show this. Bear with me again as I try to show you what I mean; let’s twist this two different ways.

Sweat drips, stinging in my eyes as I throw my foot forward. He blocks easily, wide grin visible despite my blurred vision. Breath ragged, muscles screaming, jab my fist at his gut–but he blocks it. Again. How am I supposed to prove myself against him? He’s what they say he is: indestructible. His knuckles meet my cheek, the taste and smell of iron flooding my senses. I’m on the ground before I can register falling, dirt caking against my face.

And for a different perspective:

Energy sparks through my body as I kick out–but she catches it. She’s bruised, bloody, half-broken, but she managed to block me. Me. Fire rolls through my veins and I swing, faster than anyone could block.

And yet she knocks my blow off course, nearly keeling over with the force of the blow.

Screw her. Screw this girl who thinks she’s better than me, who thought–

She moves, no flinching for all her wounds, no hesitation as she strikes her fist to my head. Nothing I can do before my world goes black.

Apologies for my trash writing. Now, the same series of events happen in both scenes. In one someone’s giving up, the other someone’s pissed, and hopefully that’s pretty obvious. Now go back and consider that first excerpt. The you get a sense of character through it? But you get any emotion? Any thoughts? I don’t. If we can’t even tell who’s winning, I say that’s a pretty crappy action scene.

I know this is rather nebulous, and it’s hard for me to give you direct advice without seeing your words first. but it’s important, vitally important. Most stories are character driven, and your character can’t drive anything if they aren’t thinking and feeling. So I want you to look at your work, scene by scene, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, and ask yourself what your character thinks and feels about what’s happening. Is it conveyed in the text, or is it in your head? Be sure you’re combining thinking and action–there are a million reasons behind a smile, but unless you specify that your character is forcing that smile to hide their doubt, or genuinely smiling because they love something, I have no way of knowing. Show me.

Deep POV is all about that immersion, getting your reader as close to the story and the character as possible so they’re invested and right there smack-dab in the story–no matter how uncomfortable it is, or how much more painful it makes the plot twists. The more emotion, the better.

Bacon, out.

Plotter Shmotter, Pantser Plantser

If you’ve been in the writing community for any length of time, you’ve probably heard of plotters and pantsers — people who plot their stories before they write them, and people who write by the seat of their pants.

Thing is, from talking to a lot of writers, it seems like everyone does a mix of things. This pantser outlines a little in advance as they go, or has a short list of major plot points when they start writing. A plotter may use a super loose outline, or knows that nearly everything on it will change by the end. So though most people pick sides like some odd writing sports team, it almost seems like they’re nonexistent.

What I have noticed, though, is that a lot of people who identify as pantsers end up spending a lot of time revising, and tend to enjoy it. And a lot of outliners take their time to create highly polished first drafts and avoid tedious revision they dislike. So, instead of pantsers vs. plotters struggling in an age-old writerly battle, I think something more accurate might be drafters and revisers.

How about you? Do you think you’re a drafter or a reviser? Or do you think I’m totally wrong, and you’re a pantser or a plotter?

Bacon, out.

The Mythical Existence of Writer’s Block

Writer’s block debates seem to come in waves. Lots of arguing about the existence of this apparently mythical psychological state that always ends up bringing out this statement: It doesn’t exist, only weak writers give in to writer’s block!

That one makes me want to scream.

Whether or not you call it writer’s block, I claim it does exist. And I’d go so far to say this mythical beast comes in different breeds:

  • Inadequacy – This is the kind of writer’s block you push through. “But my words suck, but no one cares, but, but, but!” No buts. Or butts, please. Only words. (If your words include butts, they count.) This beast may look big and scary, but is the easiest to conquer—you just have to face it first. This article has a a lot of good advice for knocking this one out.
  • Stuck – This is a toss-up. For me, personally, I need to write through it, because I normally find where I need to go by forcing the absolute worst thing to happen (setting people on fire is a favorite). Some people need to stop, sit, and plot, though. For others, this means they need to go back and edit. Learn how you work, and don’t let this one stop you—even if you aren’t writing words, keep moving forward. This beast is a little grisly, but may end up being an ally in the end. Maggie Stiefvater just posted a great graphic (and another version) of navigating the twists and turns of this battle.
  • Emotional Constipation – Oh, this writer’s block. This is the one that knocks you off your feet when your personal life explodes, or the publishing industry destroys you. It would be so nice if writing could only be a work of love, some magical process that’s entirely rainbows and unicorn poop and catharsis. But, if you’re like me, the greatest reward to writing is having others reading your work. Which adds that lovely, stifling expectation to every word you write. And of course any additional stressors in your life love to add on to it. For this one, I have no answer on how to get right through it. This is the one I feel is the most mythical, evil being of them all, gross and rotting and dripping and oozing with doubt and insecurities. You can try stabbing and punching and screaming at this one, but sometimes it refuses to move off your words, hoarding them just out of reach. And that’s okay. You’re a human (I assume). Sometimes you need to take a break and re-focus, re-charge. Then come back and stab that sucker through the eye socket.

What about you guys? Do you believe in the fabled create called writer’s block? Do you think my list needs to be longer? Wanna share your battle scars?

Bacon, out.

That Quiet Little Devil: Inadequacy

My friend asked me how I deal with inadequacy, and I had to think about it for awhile. There’s a lot of articles, and videos, and blogs out there sympathizing with the feeling of inadequacy. Some of my favorites being Neil Gaiman’s NaNoWriMo Pep Talk, Ira Glass on Storytelling, Why Writing a Book is Hard by Sarah J. Bray, Don’t Give Up by Beth Revis, and this blog on Burnout by Dawn Montgomery.

But that doesn’t always help. Sometimes I’ll open up a manuscript and feel physically ill. No matter what anyone says, no matter the encouragement I get, it’s like I’m just vomiting words onto a page of sewage, and then slogging through it so it gets caked and dry on my skin, and I feel like the crap that I see my writing as.

There was one time that my own pressure and my perception and my goals were strangling the words that were coming out, and I had to stop. It wasn’t healthy or productive, and I had to take a whole freaking month to find the courage to even try to write again, spending that time with my family and reading a ton and generally refilling the creative well.

It was the right choice.

Another time, I had some crazy-difficult-but-needed revisions to apply to a manuscript I was totally exhausted of working on. And I slogged through that feeling of inadequacy, because I had goals to meet, and I may not have succeeded in the end, but they were more important to me than anything.

It was the right choice.

I wish I could give you magical words to tell you what the right choice for you is, right now or sometime in the future — because you will feel this. I have never met a writer who hasn’t hit this point. Last year I spent months stewing in self-pity because life honestly was that rough, and my brain couldn’t take it anymore. But let me give you a few facts that will hopefully help:

  • You’re here, you’re reading this silly blog post, you’re trying. That’s amazing.
  • You’ve written words. Not a lot? Too many? Does it matter? You’ve written more than the people sitting down and only thinking of writing a novel or a short story.
  • Maybe your words do suck. You can make them better.
  • No one who gives you positive feedback is lying to you. They have no reason to. Unless you paid them to, which is kinda weird.
  • Even one word is progress. Reading one sentence in revision is progress. Not every writer has to write every day — I don’t.
  • Success is what you define it as. Nobody can tell you how to be successful or creative.
  • Sometimes writing for a friend, or for yourself, is the best way to get it out. What you do with it afterwards is your choice.
  • Once in awhile, you need a break. Go out for a day. Take a walk, see a movie, get some weird food you’ve never tried before, hang out with friends or family. It’s okay. This is me giving you permission to get off the computer and live a little.
  • If you quit, that’s okay. If you decide to never create professionally, that’s okay. If you want to come back, that’s okay.
  • It’s okay. Whatever you’re feeling right now is okay. It makes you cry, and eat lots of deliciously horrible food, and probably some crappy TV, too, but it’s your feeling, and you have every right to feel it. If anyone tells you otherwise, send them to me.

Okay, I’m done rambling. I hope this helps, even if all it does is make you feel less alone in the isolation that creativity always seems to bring. If you need to talk about it, the comments are all yours.

Bacon, out.


Deep What-Now?

(ETA: If you want to read this post, feel free, however I have a much more updated and thorough version of this post here if you want to go deeper. *ba dum, tss*)

Deep point of view!

Once upon a time, when I was a wee little writer (well, honesty it was kind of that awkward, gangly, teenage stage of writing), I had a novella I thought was the bomb diggity — no, spellcheck, I do not mean dignity. People said they adored my main character, and though the plot wasn’t too complicated, it was fun and a little dark. I was sure this would be the first work of mine to be published.

Then along came a CP who said that my main character, the one everyone loved, was too distant for her. She said I needed to work on my deep POV — my main character needed depth. I huffed and puffed and refused to believe her for a whole full minute before I had Google up, so I could see what this whole “deep POV” thing was about.

Big mistake.

Everywhere I looked it said that deep POV was something that came naturally to a first person POV, which is what I write, and was only for third POV to dabble with. (And I will prove both wrong shortly.) Then I found the two links that clicked with me and changed the way I write:

Read them. Now. That’s an order.

Okay, now that you’ve gotten the basic gist of it, let me explain to you why it’s monumentally important for any POV or tense to follow basic deep POV. (Being the eternal why-asking toddler, it seems like my calling in life to share the whys.) Having “I’m afraid, she thought, he’s sad, I see” in your story slows down and separates your reader from your character/s and you miss out on a monumentally huge chance to build characters. My personal biggest pet peeves: dialog tags. They are very, very, very rarely actually needed. Of course every rule and piece of advice is made to be broken to bits and set on fire from time to time, but for the most part it’s boring, and not the only way to keep who’s talking clear. My good screenwriter/director friend, Joy over at Rabid Camera, once said to me something about how no one is completely still while having a conversation. You have to break to a new paragraph to focus on a new character in any tense, so simply having a movement or expression easily suffices for telling who’s talking. Not to mention “wondering” or “thinking” about something in prose is useless — do you ever think “I think” before having a thought in your head? What about thinking the emotion you’re feeling as you’re feeling it? Saying you see or hear something as it comes to your sense? Didn’t think so.

So instead of, “I’m afraid as I wonder if they were able to hunt him down,” try, “By now they should have caught up with him,” or, “Maybe they haven’t caught him yet,” or, “How could they hope to find him?”  or, “How could he hope to escape?”

And instead of ending “She’s dead,” with “Daman said,” try, “He shrugged and got to his feet,” or, “And Daman fainted,” or, “I wiped my hands on my jeans, biting my tongue to the point it bled to keep the tears at bay,” or, “Daman smiled, then whooped and started to do a victory lap around the building.”

And since I’m a writer and write stuff, here’s an example of writing where I mostly avoid filler words, but also where I use them, in the form of my WIP, Essence:

    “Still not hungry?” Bob barely looks up from eating to ask.
“N-not really.” I push a couple of small, diamond-shaped green vegetables that smell like sweet, caramelized garlic around my plate with my fork. There are some yellow beans with blue spots, and what look — and taste — like fat, purple carrots. How can I remember the names and flavors of stupid vegetables, but I can’t even fathom my sister’s name? What her face looks like? If I like her, I hate her, if she’s anything to me. I stab one of the purple carrots, watching it bleed a little juice onto the plate.
“Hey, you okay?” Bob’s stopped eating, eyeing my mauled carrot-thing.
Sure, yeah. I have no idea who I am, barely a grasp on where I am, and no idea if I’ll ever know. “Yeah, fine.”
He shrugs. “All right, then. We’d better clean up before the stove gets angry again.”

So, give it a shot. It took me three drafts of just that novella to start getting it right, then started a whole short story project to start studying it before giving it a go with a novel. And that’s the novel that got me an agent. So what do you have to lose?

(P.S. I’m thinking of doing more writing/non-fiction posts since said short story project is coming to an end. Anyone want to read more of my ramblings?)

Bacon, out.