1st Person Point of View—Craft Tuesday at Write on the River

Sneak PeakFirst person means you use the word “I” quite a bit. It’s giving the camera to one character and letting that character film a documentary while doing a voiceover.

This point of view has its advantage in that the narrator is telling his/her own story. The major disadvantage is that the reader can only see and know what the narrator experiences and knows. You, as the author, are absent in this mode, thus you surrender part of your control in writing. Remember, the first person narrator is not you the author, but rather the character in the story. The narrator can be a witness or a participant in the story.

Note that there are certain types of genre that fit first person very well, most particularly mysteries/detective stories. That’s logical if you understand the advantages of first person: by using that mode, the writer can bring the reader along for the ride, disclosing clues as the narrator discovers them.

The major disadvantage of first person is that your narrator has to be present in every scene. Because of this, many writers make their narrator the protagonist. A problem can crop up in that the narrator will then be a critical part of the plot and have many things happen to them and around them. Will the narrator be able to react realistically while still telling the story in a coherent form?

Another problem can be the logistics of getting your narrator to all the key events in order to narrate them. I have seen writers end up with very convoluted, and unrealistic plots in order to do that. If the narrator isn’t present at these important scenes, then they find out about them by other means, which can lessen suspense and definitely lessens the immediacy of the action in the story as you have major action occurring offstage.

Some authors use a narrator who isn’t one of the main characters—what is known as a detached narrator. The narrator is more of an observer. This has some advantages. Think of the Sherlock Holmes stories—who is narrating? Watson. Why? Because this allows the author to withhold what Holmes is thinking from the audience.

Something else to think about—should the reader believe your narrator? If everything your narrator says is fact, then there might not be much suspense. But think about the movie The Usual Suspects. The story is narrated by a character, who it turns out, is the man everyone is searching for. In a book, you can raise suspense if your first person narrator is caught in a small lie early on in the story—the reader will then have to be more judgmental about everything else the narrator says.

Another big issue of first person narration is the issue of tense and time. There are two ways to view time in a first person story:

I remember when. In this case, the narrator is telling the story in past tense, looking backward. This immediately reduces the suspense of whether the narrator survives the story. There is also the issue that the narrator is thus withholding information from the reader—the narrator obviously knows the ending, yet chooses not to reveal it to the reader.

In real time. The narrator is telling the story as it unfolds around him or her. A problem with this is what happens when the narrator is involved in an emotionally overwhelming event? Will he still be able to narrate the story?

The big problem with time sense is that even the best writers tend to mix 1 and 2 above. At times they will be in real time, then every so often slip into past time. Additionally, to give you an even bigger headache, both are usually written in past tense. So how do you write a real time story in past tense?

A further problem with first person is many writers tend to slide from first into second person point of view. Any time you put you in your narrative, addressing the reader, you have moved from first to second person.

VampireThere are ways to get around the disadvantages of first person. Examine some first person novels and you will discover them. Interview With A Vampire by Anne Rice is an interesting use of first person and the title tells you why. She has the first person of the reporter start the story but shifts into a first person narrative by the vampire Louis through the medium of the interview. She can go back in time with Louis and then return to the present with the reporter, both in first person. She has two levels of interest and suspense: the present fate of the narrator, and the fate of the vampire in his own tale.

There are other novelists who have come up with novel ideas (pun intended) to tell first person stories while getting around some of the disadvantages. Present tense is an option.

I place great emphasis in my own writing career and when teaching upon reading and also upon watching movies/videos, but I watch videos and read books in a different mode as a “writer.” I study them for structure. To see what the author/ screenwriter/ director did with the subject matter. How it was presented. When you pick up a novel, the first thing you should note is what person it is written in. Then ask yourself why the author chooses that point of view. What did the novel gain from that point of view?

When I give examples in a little bit, you will see more clearly the advantages and disadvantages of first person.

One thing about first person to keep in mind. It is the voice most novice writers naturally gravitate to, but it is one of the most difficult voices to do well. Because of that, there is an initial negative impression among agents and editors when confronted with a first person story.

First Person

Most limiting

Narrator is not the author

The narrator always has the camera

Narrator has to be present in every scene or get information second-hand

Works for mysteries

Hard for thrillers

Detached narrator: Sherlock Holmes

Believable narrator: The Usual Suspects

First Person Time Sense

I remember when . . .

Already know what happened and are withholding

No suspense over fate of the narrator

In real time

Come along with me

Emotionally overwhelming events

Both are usually told in past tense. which further confuses things

You usually end up mixing the two modes

Black Tuesday finalAnd coming next month, 24 August: Time Patrol Black Tuesday. 6 missions, all on 29 October, six different years; all in order to save our timeline. Roland fights with Vikings against kraken and berserkers in 999 AD; Scout is in the era of free love and more at UCLA in 1969 when the very first Internet message is sent; Mac is there in 1618 when Sir Walter Raleigh is to be beheaded; and three more years.



Airplanes, Thrillerfest, Doing what it takes, RWA, and all things Hannibal

Neither Bob or I were planning on attending Thrillerfest this year. My spring and summer are filled with lots of change. My daughter joined the Peace Corps and is now living in Madagascar. My youngest son just graduated from high school and we’re getting ready to send him off to his first semester of college all the while the middle boy moved back home for the summer. He’s got one more year in college and now plans on going to graduate school. So it’s been hectic. Bob just became a grandpa for the second time, so they have been super busy as well. We can’t be everywhere at once.

2015-website_banner_final-RegOnlineThat said, as it got closer to Thrillerfest, it became apparent that one of us should go since our reps at Amazon and iBooks were looking to meet up with us as well as some of the board members of ITW. So, we decided I would go in for the day. Fly in first thing. Fly home last thing. Oy. That was a long day. Anyone who knows me understands that flying is not something I enjoy. Not even close. When Bob teaches his Write It Forward workshop, he always asks the group: what is the one thing you don’t want to do? He asks this question both in the context of writing and with your career. My answer: Fly. Then Bob says: that’s the one thing you have to do in order to succeed. So, I got on that plane.

Networking is so important. And not just with people from the platforms that sell our books, but other authors. You never know how the person standing behind you in line to register for the conference might turn out not only to be a good friend, but someone who might play a huge role in your career later on down the line. Who knew that Bob would end up chatting with me at a conference after his lecture about digital publishing, and then a year later, we’d be business partners.

But its not just networking at the conference. It’s also important to keep in contact via social media with some people that you have connected with. It doesn’t have to be every single person you met, but you know that feeling you get when you meet someone and you have an instant connection. And not necessarily the “big” name authors. You go to enough conferences, you start to see the same people over and over again. Publishing, for big business, is relatively small.

Jon Land, an ITW board member who just happens to be a good friend, reached out to Bob and I a few weeks ago, one of the reasons I got on that plane. I meet Jon years ago. He was kind enough to take me to breakfast and work with me on my pitch. I still frighten that poor man with my creepy story ideas. Anyway, he’s putting together a new track called CareerFest next year and would like Bob and I to come and give a workshop based on Bob’s book Write It Forward. We’re very excited about this because Bob and I are huge fans of author training. Craft is key and should always be the number one thing a writer focuses on. But as authors in today’s publishing climate, trad or indie, we are all running a business and often it is that part of being a successful author that is overwhelming and often hinders a writer from being successful. In order to succeed, we have to understand the business we are in, our choices, and then make the best decision for our career. Bob always talks about how no one ever taught him what it means to be a working author. Maybe back before the internet, an author could just write. But that isn’t the case. We have to market. We have to engage with our readers on a different level. The business is constantly changing and for the new author, or the midlist author, it can be very difficult to manage it all.

For those of you going to RWA this coming week, here are mine and Bob’s top ten checklist for attending a Conference take from: Writer’s Conference Guide: Getting the Most of Your Time and Money.

  1. Wear comfortable shoes. Ones you know will treat your feet right.
  2. Dress like a professional. You don’t have to wear a suit, but the normal writerly attire of sweats, T-shirt and bed hair is not acceptable.
  3. Don’t sit by yourself, ever.
  4. Say hello to whoever is next to you in line, at lunch or in a workshop.
  5. The best ice breaker ever: Ask authors what they are writing. Or what they are pitching to an editor or agent. Works every time.
  6. Never bring query letter, synopsis or manuscript unless it’s to red pen it while you’re in your room…except you won’t be in your room because you will be networking.
  7. Remember everyone there is a person before they are a best-selling author, an agent or editor.
  8. Take notes. Not just in a workshop, but when you are in your room after the day is done. Make a list of things you wished you had done, wished you hadn’t done, and write a summary of your overall experience. Makes for a good blog post if nothing else.
  9. Don’t ever tell an author you read their book when you didn’t.
  10. Most importantly, have fun.

TamingEvil(2)So that takes care of everything but all things Hannibal. One of the great things about writer conferences is we can talk about our books without anyone thinking we’re nuts! Okay, well not entirely true as I was talking with Allison Brennan about my current problem with the book I’m working on titled: Taming Evil. I’m moving from the romance genre to straight suspense and I was telling Allison how hard that has been and how my pacing in my story is all off and I’m frustrated. So she started asking me questions, specifically, what is the story? My one liner right now is: Total Recall meets Hannibal in the female edition living like a Stepford Wife. I explain it a little bit more and tell her about one scene where the character who doesn’t know she’s a cannibal is serving up this fabulous meal at the neighborhood barbeque and well, she’s serving up the missing neighbor. Yeah. This is why Jon is a tad freighted of me and Allison loves me anyway.

Nothing but good times!

How making a bed is like making a night water parachute infiltration

Water landingWell, not exactly the same, but I had torn the bed apart because my wife was coming home from seeing the grandkids for a week, and between me and Cool Gus and Becca all sleeping in it, well everything needed to be washed, disinfected (and probably should have been burned and start from scratch). So we’ve got this thing (some of you know the name) that goes over the other thing (like a blanket) that has buttons on one end. So you have to unbutton it and untie the little knots at all four corners to take the blanket out and wash it and the other thing (duvet cover? Seems I’ve heard my wife use those words). That’s not like a parachute jump.

What is, though, is putting the cover back on. Because I have to trace the seam of the cover down to each far corner and as I was doing that, it occurred to me that it was exactly what you do when you land in the water at night and your parachute settles down on top of you. To get out from under it before it sinks (and it will sink with you under it if you don’t), you have to reach up and find a seam in the canopy and then feel your way (it’s dark, you’re in the water, the parachute is on top of you) along the seam until you reach the edge of the chute. Remember you’ve got the risers and all these other lines that run to the parachute itself and it’s quite easy to get entangled; those lines are made of 550 cord which lots of people use in survival bracelets and other things.

I think I wrote about this in The Green Berets: Dragon Sim-13 because a water jump is how the team infiltrated China for their mission. I commanded a Maritime Operations A-Team, so we did water jumps, high-speed casts, combat swims, and freezing in cold water. Also remember a key SOP: Dry suits aren’t.

Furthermore, apropos of nothing other than making the bed, I hate putting pillowcases on pillows. My wife tends to critique my pillowcase technique. It’s weird how there are household things you either hate or like. For example, I like emptying the dishwasher. I actually like taking out the trash (although this might be genetic since my father retired from the NY City Sanitation Department). I don’t like working in the garden and my wife would spend her life out there. I don’t like swimming in cold water (see previous paragraph).

IMG_2359And, of course, as I come out from taking a shower after making the bed (it was hard as aardvark wrestling although I did not lose an eye) what do I see on the fresh, clean bed?

BURNERS(fist)And coming 6 Oct: burners

“Things all apart;

the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

98 Years Ago Today: The Last Czar & His Family Executed

TheLastCzarFinal Event  Nicholas II and his family are executed. The Last Czar.

Even now, with things critical, Nicholas was not decisive. In book one I talked about the tipping point during the Donner Party, when the decision to turn back needed to be made and wasn’t. Having abdicated, Nicholas’s priority should have been to get out of Russia and take his family to safety.

His first cousin, King George V of England, refused to allow the Czar and his family sanctuary, concerned about how it would reflect on his own throne.

Nicholas has so alienated not only the people, but also the military. No one would come to his aide as Russia descended into civil war.

Eventually on 17 July 1918, early in the morning, the Czar, his family and some retainers were executed. The bodies were not found until the late 20th century.

Lesson  One man’s lack of leadership changed the course of history and dictated the fates of millions.

The rise of the Soviet Union out of the ashes of Czarist Russia is one of the most significant developments in the past century. Lenin, Stalin, purges, the spread of communism, the Cold War where we came perilously close to nuclear war; all were a result of Nicholas.

There were numerous cascade events spread out over decades, but a recurring them of Nicholas II is the lack of decisive leadership along with little strategic political or military planning. He spent much of his reign reacting.

Leadership, or the lack thereof, affects many, from the troopers of the Seventh Cavalry who went to their doom to the estimated 50 million ‘unnatural deaths’ suffered by Russians under Stalin.

For more, read the short: The Last Czar: Leadership Failure


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