"Vigorously told deceptions and battle scenes." ~Publishers Weekly review of Eolyn

"The characters are at their best when the events engulfing them are at their worst." ~Publishers Weekly review of High Maga

Friday, November 15, 2013

It all depends on your point of view

This week I hit another milestone for Daughter of Aithne, topping 65K in the word count. My goal is 120,000 words, so this means I'm just over half way through the novel.

Writing is always slow going once the semester is in session. This fall, I've been able to set aside just two hours a week for writing, so I've had to be modest about my expectations, and happy with any progress I've made. As a general rule, if I can add on 20,000 words to a novel during a semester, I'm satisfied. Right now, my fall semester word count is at 15,000, which puts me a little behind schedule, but still hopeful that I'll make that goal. 

The chapter I finished up this week deals with a reunion between Eolyn and one of her students, Mariel, after a harrowing set of events has kept them separated for some time. The reunion is one of mixed emotions, because what has come to pass has left lasting scars, and what is yet to come will not be any easier.  I struggled with this one chapter for nearly a month; in part because I only have two hours a week to write, but also because it wasn't until this past Wednesday that I finally realized I needed to write the scene not from Eolyn's point of view, but from Mariel's.

NASA shows how the solar sytem looks from Saturn's perspective;
another example of how switching point of view can transform
the same scene into something entirely different.
This is one of the moments I love most in writing: When I switch the point of view, and everything just falls into place.

Every author has a somewhat different approach to point of view.  I like to write my novels with 4-6 character viewpoints, two of which generally carry the story.  For any scene written with the protagonist, the default option is always to write that scene from her point of view.  Of course, the default option is not always the best option, and for this particular chapter, Eolyn's voice was not the one that needed to be heard.

It's not always easy to determine which point of view should be used in a particular scene.  "Rules of thumb" for making this decision abound, but all of them have exceptions. 

For example, I once heard that the point of view for a scene should be given to the character who has the most to lose.  I followed this rule rather faithfully until I hit a chapter in High Maga that involves a brutal interrogation of one of Eolyn's followers.  I tried to write that scene from the point of view of the victim of the interrogation, and it just wasn't working.  When at last I decided to try writing the scene from the point of view of the interrogator, everything fell into place.

Beginning writers often have wobbly points of view in their stories; I know I did when I wrote the first draft of Eolyn.  We are anxious to communicate what all the characters -- or at least two of the characters -- in a given scene are thinking, and so we jump from one head into another without reason or warning. 

One of the best pieces of advice I received in my early days of writing was to clean up my approach to point of view; to pick one point of view and stick to it for any given scene.  Again, not every writer has to do this, and not every story is meant to be told this way.  But I think sticking to one point of view is a phenomenal tool for learning and refining the craft.  Not only does it maximize investment in a single character, but it also forces the writer to pay attention to all the subtle ways in which characters can communicate their thoughts without speaking, much less letting us into their heads. 

Gestures, facial expressions, and especially actions all communicate a wealth of information, and often in more engaging ways than knowing that character's thoughts. Also, there is an interesting interplay between what is said and what is left unsaid; one tends to wrap around the other, so that what is said defines the nature of what is not.  This, too, adds dimension, mystery, and tension to any scene. 

A great exercise, and one I inadvertently did with this last chapter, is to write the same scene from two points of view.  If you have it clear in your head what the non-point-of-view character is thinking, you will discover many opportunities in which those unspoken thoughts come across loud and clear.

I'm now proofing the galleys for High Maga, which will
go out for editorial review next week!
Over on Heroines of Fantasy this week, Terri-Lynne DeFino has started a fun discussion about holidays in fantasy.  Please stop by to read her post and participate, and help yourself to the virtual brownies at the back of the room.
Speaking of HoF, we are in the midst of planning a major expansion of activities on our group blog dedicated to the discussion of fantasy, and especially women in fantasy.  I won't reveal much about this yet, because the details are under discussion,  but stay tuned because it is going to be very, very exciting.
And I know I've been promising a cover reveal for High Maga for a while now; we are getting very close.  Thomas Vandenberg and I have been settling on the details of the Naether Demon featured on the cover.  He's also given Eolyn a mild makeover, and now we're just trying to decide what font we like best for the title and author.  As soon as these details are settled and approved by my editors, we'll be good to go. 
Release date for High Maga is still on course for 04-04-2014.  Watch for giveaways and other events leading up to the big day!