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.

 

What’s Your Favorite – First, Second, or Third Person?

Minerva Spencer’s kitchen in Taos – isn’t it gorgeous? I’m up here visiting for the weekend and she wants me to tell you it’s normally much tidier than this but we’ve been having an eating, drinking, talking writer’s bacchanalia. 

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven, to continue the contentious cycle of last week’s one vs. two spaces throw-down, is: First Person POV vs. Third – or Second – Which Do You Like to Read? Come on over for definitions, and my answer!

Wrestling POV – How Do You Choose?

I woke up this morning and got some photos of the full moon setting during a lunar eclipse, the second full moon this month, and during the supermoon cycle. That makes it a super blue blood moon, which is a mouthful. Because our bedroom window looks west, we were able to lie there when we woke up around 5:40am, and watch the shadow cross the moon until totality. I live in a magical place.

Yesterday I started on a draft of THE ARROWS OF THE HEART, the next book in The Twelve Kingdoms/Uncharted Realms saga. For those familiar with the series, this will be Zyr and Karyn’s book. And, for those who get my newsletter – if you don’t, and want to, sign up is here – you know I did a survey on whose point-of-view (POV) to tell it from. Because, clearly, I’ve been wrestling with this issue for a long time. 

These results were fascinating and unexpected – especially that so many readers were good with alternating first person. But they also didn’t give me a definitive answer. All you people who trust me to just tell a good story! I love you, I really do. BUT YOU ARE NOT HELPING.

See, normally, POV is not a question for me. The traditional advice – and I think it’s good advice – is to take the POV of the character with the most at stake in a scene. This works much better with alternating POVs, however, when there’s freedom to choose a POV based on stakes. And which gives weight to alternating first person POVs.

In this series, however, I’ve always done a single First Person POV. I think there’s something to be said for sticking to a single form. Like, Shakespeare wouldn’t start writing plays in rhyming verse instead of blank verse. Not that I’m Shakespeare! But I do believe in creating coherency in a series, for a common feel. In addition, each novel in this series has been from the heroine’s POV. I’ve always felt that’s important, as it seems so much fantasy dwells on the male gaze. (Some of the novellas have been in the hero’s POV, or even in third person alternating, but I see those as subsidiary to the main arc.)

Still, this hasn’t been a no-brainer on this book. It should obviously be from Karyn’s POV – but I keep thinking about Zyr’s POV and hearing his voice in my head. Many of you – and writer friends I whined to who likely aren’t reading this – said to just go with it! Write it the way you want to!

So, I *did*! I started yesterday and wrote a page or two in his POV and…

………………it’s all wrong. 

It’s something, and I’ll keep it, at least for a while, but I think this is a case of pushing through the wall. (I talked about that at a panel recently, nicely summarized by Shannon Moreau here.)

You know what decided me? I started thinking about the cover and working on that with the fantastically talented Ravven, and I only see the heroine on the cover. That says a great deal.

So: opinions from those of you who haven’t weighed in yet?

How Writing 1st Person POV Gave Me Boy Cooties

B7BLQj7CcAAaPBYYesterday, at #LERANM, my local RWA chapter, I gave a tutorial on using Twitter. We had a great time and the lovely and viviacious Katie Lane snapped this pic as I was talking. And gesticulating. LOL!

I’m over at Word Whores, talking about perspective – as in first, second or third person point of view (POV) – which works best for us and why.

POV and Writing Discipline – Enjoying the Pain

BNYLQZtCQAAojqZI made a point of spending time out in the garden this weekend, which meant I did a lot of reading. It’s lovely to reconnect with my reading-self. I’m on my 31st book read this year, so I feel like I’m making progress there!

Last Friday, I mentioned that I’m wading into drafting Book 2 of my Twelve Kingdoms trilogy. This is the one I think of as The Flower Princess – at least until Kensington lets me know what they want the titles to be. So, I’m wrestling with setting up the conditions for this book, one of which is a change in point of view (POV).

See, in Book 1, The Middle Princess, the story is told in 1st person, from the POV of the heroine – the middle daughter of three. I toyed with adding in the hero’s POV – and even wrote some passages along the way – but ended up taking them out entirely. In The Flower Princess, the story moves to the youngest daughter, so I’m writing it in 1st person, from her POV.

This is good and right and what I planned to do.

But I keep having *other* ideas. Like I want to cut away to the first princess’s POV – mainly because I miss her. And I’m struggling with working in the hero. It would be much easier to build the story by including his POV, maybe in little 3rd person snippets. It would be much easier to build the story by gathering in other characters’ POVs, too. I got all excited about these possibilities, to make my job easier – and then stopped myself.

Because I recalled that I recently read the second book in a Fantasy Romance series that my agent compared to mine. I’d loved the first book – 1st person heroine’s POV, too – and eagerly looked forward to the release of the second book. In the sequel, the author kept the heroine’s 1st person POV and added alternating chapter’s of the hero’s 3rd person POV. Now I understood why she’d made that choice, because I was in the same position.

However – and this is a big caveat – as a reader, I hated it. It could be a “just me” thing, but I ended up not enjoying the sequel nearly as much. I’ve read other books that combine 1st and 3rd like that and I haven’t really liked them either. The thing is, even if this IS a “just me” thing, I need to be true to my own aesthetic. If I disliked it as a reader, it’s not fair for me to use the device as a writer, simply because it will make my job easier. If it would make the story better, then sure. My reading experience, though, leads me to believe it would not make the story better. Just less work.

The whole thought process – a lot of which occurred in the walled garden above – made me think of sestinas.

Exactly where you were going, too? Thought so!

Okay, okay – if you don’t know, a sestina is a complex poetic form. The official definition:

a structured 39-line poetic form consisting of six stanzas of six lines each, followed by a three-line stanza… The words that end each line of the first stanza are used as line endings in each of the following stanzas, rotated in a set pattern.

Did you get that?Here’s a little schematic to help you out.

626px-Sestina_system_alt.svg

Okay, now go write one and come back.

I’ll wait.

Yeah, it’s kind of like calculus for poets.

And yes, I’ve written them, back in some level of schooling. They make an interesting exercise for a writer because the discipline involved. It makes you think hard about your craft. Words can’t be employed willy-nilly, but must be carefully selected and repeated.

It occurred to me that making myself stick to the form I’d chosen for The Middle Princess, would create a kind of story-writing discipline for The Flower Princess. It will make me work harder to build the story staying only in her POV. It’s good for me to hone my craft.

And I can always edit in more POVs later, if it doesn’t work.

The beauty of the first draft, eh?

Seeing Through the Fog


Overnight, all those overcast skies that have haunted us dropped down into the valley. I think this is a better photograph, more dramatic. I used the telephoto lens to show you how really neat it looks.

But that perspective is a bit misleading. Here’s how it looks with my other lens, that I usually use for landscapes.

Now it looks a bit less like the fog is billowing up for attack. But you also lose some of the sense of it. This is how our eyes – and brains – are still superior to cameras. I can look out and see both aspects at once. Not even as switching back and forth, but in combination with each other.

I think about this kind of thing a lot.

It seems that writing is a constant decision-process on which lens to use. Do I want to focus on the complex politics of my Twelve Kingdoms? On my heroine’s private pain? When do I back up and give a glimpse of all the tiers of people who make up life in the castle? When my hero and heroine are finally alone, do I leave the room? (It turns out that no, I am apparently incapable of leaving the room.)

There’s all sorts of rules for creating close point-of-view (POV), so the reader feels very involved in the story, but I seldom see advice on when to pan back. When to let the reader see the bigger picture. And yet, from these kinds of choices, extraordinary scenes are created. Sometimes you just have to follow your instincts, I suppose.

Or cheat, and show both.

Morning Skirmish


We were out of eggs this morning, so I popped up to our local grocery store to get some. And, since I was there anyway, I stopped into the coffee shop for a latte.

I like our local coffee shop just fine. The coffee drinks are good. It’s cozy. They do amusing things like offer an “Obama blend” of Hawaiian and Kenyan beans.

They lack somewhat in efficiency.

This morning I was first up to the counter. This can be good and bad – no wait, but that means I drew the bossy, slow worker-gal. I ordered my nonfat, sugar-free caramel latte, set my cartons of eggs and bag of lemons on the counter next to the register, pulled out my billfold and a twenty, ready to pay. At this shop, however, you don’t pay until they’re done making your drink.

Another woman comes in, orders a soy latte. Because she gets the fast worker-gal, her latte is done first. Fast worker gal asks if I mind if I ring up the other lady first. What am I going to say? So I say sure, fine, go ahead. And the other lady gives me a look and gestures to the counter and says “Can I put my purse down?”

Now, where she’s standing, there’s counter room, but there’s also gum and other things, not the big open glass next to the register. I step out of the way, holding my billfold and twenty, and she plops her purse in the middle of the glass space, glaring at my eggs and lemons waiting to the side.

This is her territory now.

I’m always interested by checkout counter territorialism. People like to take over the entire space and give it up reluctantly. It seems like undesirably territory to me, but there it is.

So she pulls out her billfold – no, she isn’t ready – picks out some coffee cake, selects a credit card and gives it over. Meanwhile the slow worker-gal finishes my latte and sets it on the counter, too. She tries to slide it around the perimeter of this woman’s purse to get it within my reach and the woman looks offended. I say I’ll just wait for it until she’s done.

The card takes time to go through. Then the pen doesn’t work. The woman gets a bit flustered now and I wonder if she regrets taking over the big space. Finally she finishes, but takes her time packing up her things again. Clinging to the last vestiges of her moment. She leaves without looking at me and I know I’m probably oozing impatience, though I’m trying hard to look serene.

I’m out the door thirty seconds behind her.

As I head home, I wonder what story she’d tell her co-workers. Would it be the impatient woman in sweaty workout clothes who tried to hog the counter and wouldn’t let her pay? Will she change it in her mind, that we walked in at the same time, or even that she was truly first and I edged her out by piling my groceries on the counter?

Perhaps she doesn’t think of it at all. Perhaps she gets to work and lays out her things on her desk, at peace to have it to herself.

The Sun in My Universe

This was last Friday night’s bloody sunset.

The sun is moving farther and farther north now, sinking over different mountain ranges. Funny to think that in only two months it will begin its journey back again, just as summer really hits its stride.

I know, of course, this is just my point of view – POV, in writer lingo. The sun doesn’t travel north and south. I am the one moving, tilting back and forth on my planetary post, watching the sun from different angles. The sun is the fixed point of our little dance. We all know that huge battles have been fought over this very idea.

It’s funny to think of it this way, but the battle between the Catholic and Copernican line of thinking was all about POV. Who, exactly, is the center of our story?

As an essayist, I started out writing in first person POV. The essays described my experiences in the world, thus they were all about me. I wrote to explain my perception. Very simple. When I wrote my first novel, Obsidian, I naturally wrote it, as was my habit, in first person POV.

A number of judges reading it commented that I was brave to try first person, since it’s so difficult, but I did it well. Others tell me they categorically refuse to read anything in first person.

Sterling, the new novel, came out in third person, as did my little erotic novella for Loose Id. (Speaking of which, the official title will be “Love Lies Bleeding,” which I like a whole bunch. The heroine’s name is Amarantha and there are plays on her name throughout.) It’s fun to play with third person. I suddenly feel not only omniscient, but omnipotent.

However.

Turns out not so much. KAK, who is my official CP (critique partner) now, has been beating me up for my POV slips. (Never mind that she knows WAY too much about Meatloaf’s musical history, if you check out her blog. She’s otherwise a reasonably sane person.) I don’t get to be omniscient at all, which kind of burns my ass because it makes me want to flounce back to first person. Then she tells me that I can’t introduce another character’s POV in Chapter 10. I thought it was kind of a brilliant stroke, but no.

“You’re trying to make him the third star of the show,” she says. “And he can’t be.”

There’s a fine line between genius and disaster, I suppose. The other thing I’m thinking? I need to learn the rules before I break them. Like a painter must first learn to show perfect perspective before finding subtle ways to distort it to make a point, I need to know where my third person POVs are before I do wacky things with them.

Alas. Takes all the fun out of it.

I can see her point, too. There can only be one sun at a time. I’m already alternating chapters between two people – each the star of their own story. If I want to bring in more, then the center of the story moves somewhere else.

At least no one gets executed if I change my mind.