Tag Archives: writing tips

Can You Write A Selfie?

I’m getting better at taking selfies–really I am–though I doubt they’d help me sell any books if I stuck my image on the back. Aging, graying, not quite sure which direction to look in–would you buy a book photographed by me? More importantly–from my point of view anyway–would you buy a book written by me? And can you write a selfie?

Photographic selfies come–or at least they came–in many forms. Here’s my first one, taken through a mirror.

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Hmmm, a little blurred isn’t it, like one of those out-of-focus stories that never quite gets to the point, or has so many points the reader can’t find them? Next came the camera-on-the-computer selfie, with me so proud, holding the first (of many) proofs.

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Are you looking at the books or the writer here? If you read my stories, will you see my characters or me? Then I ponder: Even if my opinions don’t totally obscure the scene, they can still distract (and detract from the best-told tale). But At last I got a phone with a backward-facing lens–my chance to take a real, modern-day selfie. What do you think?

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Look up, look down, look straight, left, right, or somewhere: Choose an angle, I guess, but surely don’t choose this one, in writing or photography, from which I conclude, points of view are really quite important.

I tried again. Does this one work…

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…or should I have chosen a background that made sense? Set a scene that’s understandable for the reader or the viewer–that’s one to remember.

And then there was this. What do you think?

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(No glasses – the wonders of cataract surgery earlier this year!)

Someone suggested that everyone we write about lives in our heads (unless we’re writing biographies I suppose). So all those characters entering and leaving rooms, victims and perpetrators of crimes, male, female, adult, child… are they all me? Is every character study in my novel a selfie from some hidden part of my mind?

I don’t know the answer, but the question did inspire a writing exercise:

Now Write

  1. Imagine yourself entering a room–to win a writing prize perhaps, or to stop your child from crying, or…
  2. Describe your entry from your own point of view–are you confident, scared, excited… how do you walk? Is your breathing slow or fast? Where are your eyes focused? What are you doing with your hands? And what are you wearing; how does the fabric move with you, or the wind blow your hair?
  3. Describe your entry from the point of view of someone who’s glad to see you–parent, child, spouse, best friend, eager recipient of your benevolence… Who or what do they see, hear, or smell, and what thoughts fill their minds?
  4. Now describe your entry from the point of view of someone who’s not pleased to see you–the person who hoped to win the prize, the cat who hoped to stay with the child, the monster returned to its closet…
  5. And finally, turn one of those descriptions into a story.

How do you choose your point of view?

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First person, present tense narration – they told me both of these were no-nos, but I read them everywhere. Multiple-viewpoint, told in a mixture of first and third person, is another unlikely mix that I seem to read now all the time. Then there are dual-viewpoint novels, with alternating first-person chapters that let you “get into the head” of both the protagonists and “really understand them.” If you’re George R R Martin you’ll write different chapters from multiple different viewpoints and be everyone’s hero. (If you’re me, you’ll write Divide by Zero similarly, then follow up with Infinite Sum – first person, present tense.) But what do readers want? What do stories need? And what should I be doing?

I read these questions asked in a blogpost about multiple-viewpoint-novels recently: http://www.writersonthemove.com/2015/07/multiple-points-of-view-good-or-bad.html. The author ends her post with a question:

So, what do you think?  Have you ever written anything in this style?  Do you have any examples of books you love (or don’t love) told like this?  When you read one, do you find yourself hurrying through one or more POVs to get to your favorite character?  I’d love to hear in the comments.

This, of course, provoked me to think and comment. I have read and written novels told from multiple points of view. Some I love. Some are okay. And some annoy me. But why? Here’s what I came up with:

  • Changing viewpoints are distracting when they feel forced – when the author chooses the POV because it’s time for a change, rather than because the story demands it.
  • They’re annoying when they make the story repetitive – same scene, alternative view, putting narration on hold.
  • They’re frustrating when the view-points feels cloudy and ill-defined – I have to read the chapter title to realize whose head I’m in ’cause they all sound alike.
  • They’re tiring when they flog the story to death – every view-point told with no exceptions till the reader falls asleep.
  • They’re confusing when they’re unnecessarily inconsistent – A thinks B thinks this but B thinks that and C thinks A couldn’t possible think…
  • But sometimes they’re great.Infinite Sum

So here’s my question. Have you read Divide by Zero? What did you think of the multiple view-point, village-tapestry approach? And will you read Infinite Sum, even though it’s a different story, told in a different way?

And here’s a writing exercise

Get ready to write

  • Choose two characters.
  • Choose one location.
  • Choose a time where your characters might meet in that location.
  • Choose a topic they might discuss.

Write

  • Working from the point of view of your first character:
    • Write one paragraph describing your approach to the meeting place.
    • Write one paragraph describing your first sight of the other character.
    • Write one paragraph describing the discussion
      • Include your feelings
      • Include the other character’s responses.
    • Write one paragraph describing the other person’s exit from the meeting.
  • Now repeat the process from the second character’s point of view.

Read and think about it

  • Which version was easier to write?
  • Which version is easier to read?
  • Why?

How many words is a picture really worth?

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They say a picture’s worth a thousand words,

but silently it waits for you

and never moves nor says to you

one answer, never graces you

with scent or touch or taste for you;

so the much the picture aches to do;

a thousand words will maybe prove

 of higher worth appraised by you

when they describe a thousand pictures too.

Writing Exercise:

  1. Look around. Where are you? What can you see?
  2. Pick one thing that you can see and either listen to it or imagine it making a sound. What do you hear?
  3. Can you smell the object? Would the object smell anything? It it’s not in its natural habitat, what would you smell if it were?
  4. What might the object feel like? Is its surface rough or smooth? Or, what might the object feel – a cooling breeze, hot breath, soft cushion…?
  5. Does something smelled or felt have a flavor too? Does it leave a taste in the back of the throat?
  6. Does your object have feelings or evoke feelings in you?
  7. Does it have or evoke dreams or memories?

Now write:

Describe your object, its past or its future, in a short paragraph that includes all seven senses above. Or describe that troll under the bridge in the picture above. (It smelled green, and the air was rich with flickering shadows and pollen.)

Overwhelming those Devils in the Details

I finished reading a novel recently. It was a really detailed novel; the sort of tale that tells exactly what a woman was wearing and why they chose each garment for what intended effect before she left the house this morning, which she did with a longing gaze around each of the rooms she passed through, remembering the appearance and provenance of each item of beloved furniture. Then someone shot her and she died.

The novel qualified as a pretty slow read; probably a frustrating one too. After all, as a reader I invested enough thought to follow those various pages, only to find the character didn’t matter. The scenes were vividly real. Her thoughts rang convincingly true. But I felt side-tracked from a story that continued by following someone else. Perhaps it’s just me.

Still, it reminded me of a writing exercise we did a while ago in our group, so I’ll offer our question of details here, for your reading and writing enjoyment:

table and chair

Brainstorm:

Imagine you’re standing in the doorway to an office. Inside the room is a desk. Behind the desk is a chair. Behind the chair is a window. There might be some shelves or filing cabinets against the wall. What can you see? Make a (clear and detailed) list.

Looking deeper:

Now imagine a character standing there instead of you. Who is he, she or it?

  • frightened girl
  • angry man
  • clever spy
  • controlling daughter
  • add to the list and take your pick.

There’s no one else in this office right now, but give your character a reason to be there:

  • She got a message demanding her presence
  • He’s determined to get his revenge
  • Something’s hidden; she’s going to find it
  • She needs a way to make her dad agree
  • what else?

Rapid Write:

Now write a paragraph in which your character enters the room. Which things do they notice and what do they ignore? Which details matter from your original list? If your character’s too scared or too busy to look out the window, do you really need to describe how tiny the people seem down below, or the color of the curtains?

Have fun.

Rapid Writing Fun

Our writers’ group had a fantastic meeting last week, and a chance comment from the speaker about book blurbs and elevator pitches inspired us to try writing our own blurbs before the meeting ended. This left us unable to do the writing exercise I’d planned, but that’s fine; it happens all the time.

Meanwhile, here’s my WordPress blog feeling sad and unattended, while those writing exercises wait undone. But perhaps I could try storing them here to use when I need some inspiration. And maybe… just possibly maybe… someone else might want to use them too. So, to set the ball rolling, here’s that writing exercise we didn’t do:

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Brainstorm:

I read a blogpost that listed ways our features reflect our emotions. Starting with eyes. What do eyes do when you’re

  • Surprised
  • Sad
  • Happy
  • Anything else…?

What do mouths do? Necks? Arms? Heartbeats? What do our feet do?

Looking deeper:

I see your eyes grow round if I surprise you. I can’t see my own eyes. How would I describe the effect of an emotion on my body.

  • Can I smell my sweat when I’m scared?
  • Can I feel the corners of my mouth turn up or down?
  • How does my heartbeat sound?

Rapid Write:

The prompt for our writers’ group’s current contest is isolation, so… Write a paragraph about an isolated character.  Choose where to place him/her/it, and include at least one emotional response. Make sure the response is described from the character’s point of view, and includes some physical manifestations of emotion.