This month (February 2018) I’m teaching a class on deep point of view for the Outreach International Chapter of RWA (OIRWA). During the class one of the participants asked how to show point of view within a dialogue exchange where several people are speaking. This is a great question, so I thought I’d share my response in a couple of posts here.
The same techniques that eliminate common dialogue problems also create the viewpoint character’s DIALOGUE EXPERIENCE and anchor the point of view within the dialogue. The combined effect is much stronger dialogue that maintains point of view.
In long strings of dialogue, we can discern that we need a silent beat when the topic changes subtly, when the dialogue needs motivation to function optimally, or when the dialogue just seems to go on for too long in an unbroken fashion.
Part class – part editing, Yellow Highlighter Classes are a unique type of class. While other classes offer advice and theory and the occasional homework to teach the basics of one writing-related element or another, Yellow Highlighter classes are entirely hands-on classes. They start where you are by using your own work in progress and working steadily through your manuscript addressing the issues within the manuscript as they come up. Working this way allows class participants to gain an understanding of a variety of topics through each post and each markup. The result is a broader, more internalized, hands-on form of learning that results in a completed and edited manuscript at the end of a series of classes.
In the awareness stage we’re looking for very descriptive language (especially in the opening of a book where the characters are first becoming aware of each other physically.) Though a lot of people don’t think of writing character descriptions as writing an intimate scene, the character description lays the groundwork for all of the intimate scenes that follow it. It is important in establishing basic awareness between the characters.
Anchoring the point of view is one of the most important aspects of mastering point of view. This is because when the point of view is not well anchored the reader doesn’t know through which character they are experiencing the scene.
Pacing is difficult for a lot of authors to get just right. Even when they do get it just right (for the reader) they often still worry about it. They worry whether their pacing in a given story or scene is too fast or too slow. They worry that if they show the thoughts and feelings of the characters they will slow the pace and the story will drag. There is some legitimacy to these concerns. One can have a story in which the pace drags or a story in which things happen quickly and yet the reader isn’t really vested in the outcome.
You shouldn’t have to “remind” your reader of your character’s conflict at all. A conflict which is strong enough to support the story should be there in the character’s psyche, in his world coloring most everything he thinks, says, and does to some degree. It’s not like the character can ever really forget about the conflict. It’s there in the background weighing on him even when he’s trying to focus on other things.
One of the common problems I see with how authors show emotion in their manuscripts is that they confuse the guidelines for showing viewpoint characters’ emotions with the guidelines for showing non-viewpoint characters’ emotions. This is important because how we show emotion in writing depends a great deal upon whose emotion we’re showing.
The things we wrote in the book planning binder defines a character who has certain parameters. But when you put her in motion…make her take actions, and then put other people in the scene and make her react to the actions that they take you begin to learn more about her. She’s still mousy haired. She still prefers cats to people. She still doesn’t feel worthy of participating in society, of having friends. But now you move one step deeper. How does someone who prefers cats to people, who doesn’t feel worthy of participating in society, of having friends, react when she is face to face with someone who needs her help? What motivates that action? What thought? What feeling? What belief? Showing this on the page, by showing her specific mental or emotional experience allows the full essence of who she is at the deepest level to come through and be fully visible and fully understandable to the reader.
I’ve been teaching a class for OIRW about deep point of view during November. We’re now nearing the end of the class and I’m going over excerpts from participants’ works in progress as part of the class. One of the things that has come up in going over the excerpts is how to best handle memories in fictional writing, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about that for this blog post.
Those of us who have been writing for any length of time have been warned of the folly of including too much backstory at the opening of the story…and indeed this is good advice. But in this particular Yellow Highlighter Class my suggestions regarding backstory were mostly advising participants to include more backstory or more detail to explain the character’s current situation. What’s with this? It seems totally at odds with the “Thou Shalt Not Backstory Dump” that we’ve all been taught and internalized…. So…let’s take a step back and talk about backstory and see if we can make some sense of it.
One of the things that came up in the class was the concern that if we used metaphors and associations with color, texture, movement, resonance, temperature, shape, smell, solidity, and sound to describe emotional experience we’d introduce purple prose into our writing. Since this seems to be a common concern which comes up in many of the classes I teach on emotion, and since just the fear of introducing purple prose might be holding some people back and keeping them from writing strong, emotional experiences for their characters, I thought I’d address that concern here.