Tag Archives: point of view

Hooked, Chpt. 2

By Les Edgerton

“The opening scene should be relatively short – a good working length would be one to four pages – so it’s important to be concise and make the language work in more than one way”(36). I read this with confidence. After all, I began my writing career writing short (50 minute plays) pieces. I cut my teeth on concision so surely I had done this well. Of course, along with this we need to include those ten components also. Hmm. I printed out my first chapter of the YA. It’s a short 2.5 pages. Let’s see how I did.

Ten components:

Inciting incident: Thanks to Les, I think this is good.

Story-worthy problem: Yup, feeling good about this, too.

Initial Surface Problem: Oh, yeah. It’s there. I’m on a roll.

The Set up: Think this is in place also.

It’s looking good, right? We’ll ignore that, other shoe’s about to drop feeling I’m having.

Backstory: A personal bugaboo of mine. I’ve done well on this. Included just a hint of backstory that is essential to the plot and foreshadowing. Oops, that’s later.

The Opening line: Thud. That’s the other shoe. I have short stories with great opening lines. But my novel does not have a great opening line. And I’m not really sure how to fix it given that she opens in the middle of present tense action. I’ve boxed myself in a corner on that one. Ugh. Les offered great suggestions on this one. So, I’m off to fix it.

Language: I’ve spent more time on the first chapter than I have on any other one chapter. It’s truly gotten the work out. It’s not perfect, but it’s getting there.

Character Introduction: I introduce Ginny, the main character,  but not the antagonist. However, there is the suggestion of one. In the first chapter Ginny refers to the kidnappings so we know there is a bad guy out there somewhere…possibly enough? Hmm. Think on that one.

Setting: In grad school they referred to me as a minimalist. I think some considered it an insult, but I didn’t take it that way. I like to read minimalist fiction so it makes sense I’d write that way. I don’t like fluff in life, and I don’t want it in my writing. However, the other side of that coin, is being too minimalist. I have to ground the reader in this place called Layton. It doesn’t happen in the first scene, but I do ground them in Ginny’s house…well, maybe that could use some work, too.

Foreshadowing: See Backstory above. I love the foreshadowing thing.

I can see that in spite of my repeated work on the first chapter, it’s still  not ready. Sigh. Back to the keyboard for me.

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Point of View Redux

My thesis from grad school was a work I was proud of…until I pulled it out a year afterwards and began reading it. At that point, I felt a strong desire to send my degree back, tuck my tail, and crawl under my bed. How could a story I had bled for and remembered so fondly be so horribly bad? How was it possible after two years spent with incredible professors (who were professional writers) and talented student writers that my work remained so bad?

Okay, so I’m a bit hard on myself. My own worst critic and all that. I decided to go back to all the feedback the novel received in the program; the good, the bad, and the ugly.  What I found was the things we found that weren’t working, we fixed. Some of the feedback was the kind I blew off as not good for my story. Then, there was the positive comments. That was where the revelation awaited me.

We’ve all heard how important point of view is. I’ve talked about it relentlessly here. But this time I’m not talking about do I use first person or third limited or omniscient. Now, I’m talking about who is really meant to tell this story.  That was the epiphany for me. The reason The Drought of Sam Dakota still didn’t work for me was because Sam was telling the story and as odd as it sounds, it just isn’t his story.

The novel, it turns out, is noir, a genre I’ve read a lot of over the years but never dreamed I’d write. Sam’s story was just born from that and his character was the first one, after all the entire plot revolves around him; his missing son, his career as a child advocate, his corrupt father-in-law.

However, at some point a minor character took over Sam’s story. It’s not the first time I’ve had a character change the trajectory of a story so; but this is the first time, I’ve been so slow to recognize it. The story is technically about Sam, but Rami, the private detective he hires, is now the one telling it.

And suddenly like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat, the secret is unveiled.

Point of view.

Have you ever had a minor character take over your story? Have you ever had to completely change your POV because the characters reminded you that they are the ones in charge? Tell me what you did.

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First Lines

By Les Edgerton

As a writer I’m constantly looking for that great first line. The one that will hook the reader the minute they read it. As a reader I constantly admire – okay, sometimes on an almost pathological level – the first lines of other writers. Man, why didn’t I think of that line? I’m reading Hooked by Les Edgerton so this is on my brain a lot. All the best first lines I’ve read. Some from the great classics:  

Moby Dick: “Call me Ishmael.” Simple, direct. I love it. So did a slew of writers who went on to emulate it making it cliché to try today.  

Gone with the Wind: “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it.” Another incredible line which characterizes Scarlet in ways another writer would have taken pages to accomplish. Amazing use of brevity and wit.  

A Farewell to Arms: “In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.”From Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, this line sets the stage for us.  

Huckleberry Finn: “YOU don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.” Mark Twain’s reference to his signature story is a move of bravado that most wouldn’t get away with. It worked for him and the dialect sold us on the youngster named Huck whose plight is not so far removed from many of his time. The need for family and belonging yet the desire to remain free of a society that would cookie cutter them.  

See Jane Run: “One afternoon in late spring, Jane Whittaker went to the store for some milk and some eggs and forgot who she was.” I’m a long time fan of Joy Fielding’s thrillers, but this is one of the first I read and definitely one of my favorites. She hooked me with this line and Jane’s blood-spattered clothing. Blood she didn’t know who it belonged to. Again a great set up, character, setting, background, and conflict. So much in one sentence.  

Gone for Good:  Harlan Coben’s thrillers are a favorite of mine. He seems to find the perfect first line every time. This is one of my favorites: “Three days before her death, my mother told me – these weren’t her last words, but they were pretty close – that my brother was still alive.” How can you not want to read on from that first sentence? His prominence on the best seller lists says I’m not the only one who feels this way about his books.  

Now if finding and appreciating first lines would help me come up with some great ones of my own…hmm, not really feeling inspired. Better start chapter two and see what Les has to say about it.  

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Put 1st Person Down and Step Away from It

I’ve encountered a dilemma in my writing life. The bulk of my writing comes out in first person. It’s not a choice I make. It’s just the way my characters choose to tell me their stories. So, what’s the problem? The problem is there is a sudden backlash against 1st person. I’m seeing it in my market research and it’s frustrating beyond belief. I’d been talking to my writing group about the trend I was seeing and my frustration with it, when I submitted a story to an anthology one morning and received my rejection just hours later. This rarely happens. That quick response didn’t bode well. I opened it and was stunned to discover that it was rejected because it was in 1st person. Now, this time it wasn’t because they didn’t want any 1st person – they just limited it and they’d reached that limit. Of course, for all I know the limit was one.

What could anyone have against first person? First person is by far the more intimate of the point of views, but if handled poorly can make clumsy prose. It also hinders the writer in that the only thing the reader can see is what the point of view character sees. Again in a beginners hands this may be less successful than an effort using 3rd person. However, that intimacy makes the reader a close part of the story, giving them insights into the protagonist’s life and therefore, their story. Is it worth the risk of failure to attempt first person? In my case, it’s just not a choice. Some of my characters refuse anything else.

Thad in Branded in Gray could not have given the reader insight into his guilt and grief and angst without first person. For us to empathize at all with a character whose poor choice caused the deaths of so many we have to get inside him. We have to know that there is remorse buried beneath the fear and anger and grief. Third person would have kept us too distanced from Thad and would have kept us from appreciating as Thad did the sacrifice of the professor.

In my young adult novel, On the Run, Ginny tells her part of the story in first person. I tried to tell it in third. It was horrid. Why? Ginny is a tense thriller in which she is running from powers who seek to destroy her or sell her. Third distanced us from what she was experiencing and kept us from feeling threatened for her. First person kept us clinging to the roof of the Humvee as it speeds down the road. Third person would have watched from a far.

Why the sudden disavowal of first person? No idea. Are too many people making that choice when it isn’t always the right choice? Has it become too frequent and burned editors and agents out? I’d like to have answers but I don’t. I just know when I need to tell a story in third that’s the route I take. And when I need to tell a story in first person, that’s going to be the path I take too. Even if I find myself rejected within hours of submitting.

What about you? Do you prefer first or third? Does one bother you more than another? What POV do you turn to most?

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