POV Wars: Don’t Be Cannon Fodder

Isn’t this a gorgeous pic of THE ORCHID THRONE? I just love when people make these decorative frames for my books. 🙂 Many of you know I’m buried, neck-deep, in the revision of THE FIERY CITADEL, the second in this trilogy, the Forgotten Empires. I’d hoped to spend eight days on this revision, today is Day 8, and I’m not even halfway. Alas.

I know I keep saying this, but I should speed up soon. I’m bringing a lot of stuff forward in the story, which requires reworking of scenes and re-layering. I’m re-visiting some scenes four or five times. There’s a LOT of “re.” But it’s important to remember that this process is a re-VISION. That means changing up the view of the story, how I see it and how the reader will see it. Sometimes, because I’m bringing stuff forward, making some chapters longer, I’m having to switch up the point of view (POV). The story is told in alternating chapters of the hero and heroine, both in first-person POV.

Lemme tell you: changing the POV of a scene is an excruciatingly painstaking process.

That’s why you may have seen authors passing around this bit of clueless shite and screaming NO NO NO NO NO!

I don’t know who wrote this, except that this person is gleefully and authoritatively giving Very Bad Advice.

I’m tempted to break this down line by line, because there’s a profound error in pretty much every phrase, but I really need to be working on this book. I thought it might be easier to show what a POV conversion looks like, plus saving me time. AND you get a bit of a sneak preview to boot!

Here’s a piece of a scene I originally wrote in the hero’s POV.

“Thank you, all, for attending Me this morning. Some of you may have met my consort, Conrí. He’d like to tap your specialized knowledge in defense of Calanthe.”

And just like that, she turned over the meeting to me—and amused herself by taking me by surprise, judging by the gleam in her eyes. I coughed to clear my throat of pastry crumbs, and handed the little plate and cup to Kara, who looked like I’d handed him a wailing infant.

“Your Highness.” I bowed deeply to her, tempted to add an ironic flourish like Sondra’s mocking manners, but kept it as sincere-looking as possible. Lia saw through me, naturally, though her public face revealed nothing. I stepped beside her, having no intention of putting my back to her, and surveyed the motley assembly. If Lia thought these people could help, then I believed her.

“We have credible evidence that the emperor will bring his forces to bear on Calanthe in a matter of days,” I said without further preamble. None of them seemed shocked, despite Lia’s efforts at secrecy. “My people are bringing in all the vurgsten supplies we can in preparation.” I nodded in General Kara’s direction. He acknowledged that gravely, and he’d relieved himself of my dishes, hands folded behind his back in military style.

“Thanks to Her Highness’s assistance, we’ve established a relay of ships to expedite bringing as much vurgsten to the island as possible before the emperor’s fleet can interfere,” he intoned in his harsh voice.

“You’ll need a fuck-all huge amount of vurgsten,” a square-built woman with short-cut silvery hair opined. Brenda, I recalled, who’d served in the wars in Derten.

“And at least that many ships,” the flamboyant Percy added, examining his nails. He’d affected long jeweled tips like Lia’s and lounged sideways in his chair. “Preferably two times fuck-all.”

A thin woman with a listless mien whose name I didn’t know eyed them with concern, drawing a shawl around her shoulders, though the morning was far from cool. “This is a serious situation, Percy.”

“Agatha, darling. Until I’m dead, nothing is so serious that I won’t poke at Brenda’s colorful language,” he drawled. “Seriously, however, how do you propose to mount any kind of credible defense when we are outmatched in every way? Your reputation precedes you, of course, Conrí, but these odds are sadly stacked against us.”

And now here it is, rewritten in the heroine’s POV:

“Thank you, all, for attending Me this morning. Conrí?”

Con coughed, clearing his throat and brushing pastry crumbs from his fingers. He passed his plate and cup to Kara, who looked like he’d been handed a wailing infant. Petty of me, perhaps, to take Con by surprise, but I hadn’t quite recalibrated my temperament. What little sleep I’d gotten had been spent in nightmares, and Con had nearly caught me in that vulnerable state. Tonight I would find a way for us to sleep separately, as the nightmares seemed to be intensifying.

The dream images had taken on a new clarity, too. The temple above Cradysica falling into the sea. A wolf, gnawing off my hand as I tried to help it. Calanthe, thrashing beneath my feet. Waking. Cradysica it would be. I couldn’t fight this. It had been all I could do to drag myself to this meeting. Thank Ejarat—and my clever ladies—for makeup.

“Your Highness.” Con bowed deeply to me, then turned to the others. “An update since yesterday. My people are bringing in all the vurgsten supplies we can in preparation. General Kara?”

Kara had relieved himself of Con’s dishes, and stood with hands folded behind his back in military style. “Thanks to Her Highness’s assistance,” he intoned in his harsh voice, nodding to me, “we’ve sent ships to establish a relay that will expedite bringing as much vurgsten to the island as possible before the emperor’s fleet can interfere. We’ll keep as much aboard local vessels as possible, so the maximum amount of vurgsten can be relayed to the chosen site quickly.”

“I ran some numbers,” Brenda put in. “Even guessing at most of them, to spring the kind of trap you’re thinking of, we’re going to need a fuck-all huge amount of vurgsten.”

“And at least that many ships,” the flamboyant Percy added, examining his nails as he lounged sideways in his chair. “Preferably two times fuck-all.”

Agatha, wrapped in her shawl, though the morning was far from cool, gave him a look. “This is a serious situation, Percy.”

“Agatha, darling. Until I’m dead, nothing is so serious that I won’t poke at Brenda’s colorful language,” he drawled. “Seriously, however, I ran some numbers, too. How do you propose to mount any kind of credible defense when we are outmatched in every way? Your reputation precedes you, of course, Conrí, but these odds are sadly stacked against us. We’re looking at staggering losses, even without certain…strictures.” He glanced at me, but I kept cool and showed no reaction. Perhaps they only now realized that Con and his people had truly conquered Calanthe after all. I certainly seemed to have lost the power to affect events.

So, yes, there’s more and different information – that’s part of me bringing some points forward in the story – but there’s also changes at every level. Lia and Con know different things, have different familiarity with the characters, see the problem from different angles. Lia is more educated and has more internal, introspective thinking than Con does. She thinks in different words. This POV change is profoundly more complex than switching out pronouns.

As for 1st Person POV being a “gimmick”… I can’t even with that. I, the author, am most definitely NOT one of the characters. Being in a character’s head and a character being an author’s avatar are so wildly different that I’m frankly stunned someone wouldn’t be able to recognize that. Maybe someone who hasn’t read much? First Person POV is difficult to write. It simultaneously gives the reader greater access to the character’s thoughts and feelings, while limiting their perspective to only what that character knows. Some readers don’t like that, which I understand. But using that POV hugely affects how the story plays out.

Also, omniscient narration IS a point of view. I couldn’t leave this without saying that much.

 

Really, but No

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! David and I are both from Irish families. You can see it in those smiling eyes, yes?

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is “I don’t think so. Name a piece of writing advice you do not agree with and explain why.” Come on over for mine. 

 

“If You’re Bored, Your Readers Will Be Too”

Isabel as gatekeeper. You shall not pass.

I hear the titular advice a lot: “If you’re bored, your readers will be too.” It’s that kind of advice you see on inspirational posters. It’s simple enough to fit in a small space. It sounds good at the outset. And, like, many of those, it’s not very helpful.

In this case, I think it’s actually the kind of bad advice that can cause real problems because it’s absolutely not true.

See, writing is a painstaking process. Especially writing a longer work like a novel. Even for people lucky enough to write fast, or on those fantastic days when the words pour out, there’s days when the writing isn’t like that. And there’s revision, which can be torturous. If you write a lot, then you perforce spend a lot of time writing. It’s absolutely unreasonable to expect to be thrilled and fascinated every moment of the process.

Certainly not at the level you hope the readers will be.

This is the key, so I’m going to all cap it. Because, what else is the Caps Lock key for?

READING AND WRITING ARE DIFFERENT EXPERIENCES.

Do I need to say it again for the people in the back? I’m guessing no, because we all recognize that this is true. There are few more contradictory feelings for an author than releasing a book we spent the last six months or a year writing and at various levels of editing, only to have readers message within hours that they LOVED it and when is the next one coming out? On the one hand, it’s fabulous and exhilarating that people are so excited for the story that they read it immediately. There’s really no greater compliment. (So, Readers – don’t stop! That’s not what I’m saying.) On the other hand, however, it’s daunting that readers can devour so quickly what takes so long to produce.

Which is why this whole “if you’re bored, the reader will be, too” thing is a false equivalence.

What it takes me a day of work to write might feel like a slog. Let’s say I write 3,000 words/day, which is my usual goal. At my typical average of 271 words/page (this is remarkably steady across all my work), that’s about 11 pages. (That’s in Word, Times New Roman 12pt, double spaced, 1″ margins all around.) How fast do you read 11 pages? At the average reading speed of 200 words/minute, that takes 15 minutes to read what I spent hours drafting. And that’s not counting any of the editing that comes after.

OF COURSE my experience is slower and less exciting!

Neil Gaiman says that writing a novel is a lot like paving a road with bricks. (I think this was on his Tumblr – I haven’t been able to find it again. If anyone knows, please link me to it! Edited to add, I asked him on Twitter and he suggested this post, which isn’t exactly how I recalled it, but is full of awesome.) He says it can be like laying down one brick after another, slowly making progress. Laying bricks is, by nature, tedious. Painstaking, even.

You don’t go into brick-laying for the thrills; you do it because you want a paved road.

Same with writing.

If you’re bored, that’s okay. Keep going. Seek the next brick, layer on the mortar, carefully set it in place. Keep going.

If you do your job right, the reader will cruise along on a smooth road, never guessing what it took to put it there.

Exactly as it should be.