Friday, September 30, 2011

Four Viewpoints (Part 9 of 17)

If you write in the second person, you are addressing the readers directly, as in "You walk into the room and there she is, tall and blonde and looking like trouble." This is difficult to maintain for a full book and few writers can do it well.

You can intersperse first person and second person. I often do first person and mix it with second person. (I also switch from first-person singular and first-person plural.)

My soon-to-be published book called Unleashing the Writer Within is such a mixture on purpose. I tell my experience from my perspective, do a break, and switch to second person. Here's an example:

In these examples I've presented two needy, negative-impact individuals. Their inner privation shows in what they write.

But then, all of us express our neediness in what we write. I used those two examples because they seem obvious.


Think about your different strengths and weaknesses. Let's start with the premise that the two terms are opposite sides of the same issue. Your power is also your drawback.

Although I've written in the previous chapter about the reasons for writing, I still come back to one significant fact. If it's not part of your commitment and your divinely given talent, you won't pursue it: Write to find out who you are.

When I wrote in the first-person singular, my purpose was to tell them something about Cec Murphey and his experience. I shifted to first-person plural when I wanted to wrap my arms around writers and say, "This is how all or most of us feel."

When I want to instruct, I shift to "you" and it feels right to me.

Before you choose POV,
make certain you understand your purpose.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Four Viewpoints (Part 8 of 17)

It's all right to use second-person POV in certain kinds of nonfiction. I recommend it when the article or book is instructional and I'm an instructor giving you information or explaining how to make something. You talk directly to the readers (as this sentence does to you).

Most of my posts for this blog are written in second person. Perhaps it sounds boastful of me, but my reason is simple. I've been writing and selling professionally since 1971 and have published in almost every genre. Thus I feel I have the experience and credentials (my published work) to back up whatever I put it my blog. (Notice I wrote "experience and credentials," which doesn't mean I know everything. I share with you what I've learned.)

You don't need years of experience to write in second person. But be aware that you're coming across as the authority—the one who knows—and you're writing to someone who is ignorant or knows less about the topic than you do.

Be careful that you don't come across as patronizing—and I know a few writers who do that unintentionally. You don't want to sound like the condescending authoritarian who says, "There is only one way for you to accomplish this. You must do it my way to be successful."

When you write instructions or how-to material,
and you're sure of your material,
second person is a good choice.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Four Viewpoints (Part 7 of 17)

Second-person POV

"You open the door and immediately you see the face you hate." That's second-person POV.

Writers rarely use this POV in fiction because (1) it's difficult to write well; (2) it sounds affected; and (3) it's not a natural way to tell a story.

Using second person is a type of first-person POV. It's as if the narrators talk to themselves. You can’t inject your own comments or observations—the story belongs entirely to the second-person narrator.

This POV is a nice gimmick for a short piece, but for an entire novel, it becomes wearing. Jay McInerney did it well in Bright Lights, Big City, but that's rare.

Here’s the beginning of “The Beautiful Uncut Hair of Graves” a short story in David Morrell's collection, Black Evening (1999, Warner, p.321): "Despite the rain, you’ve been to the cemetery yet again, ignoring the cold wind blowing against your pant legs and shoes."

A few pages later, Morrell has his character driving along the Pacific Coast Highway and it reads: “Preoccupied, you barely notice the dramatic scenery: the windblown pine trees, the rugged cliffs, the whitecaps hitting the shore. You ask yourself why you didn’t merely phone the authorities at Redwood Point . . . " (p. 330)

Although the descriptive style is the same as it is in first person, you do have a little more freedom. Here's a made-up example to express what I mean:

You're wearing your size five dress that shows you at your best. Avalon Foundation hides the creases near your eyes when you smile. He stares at you and you know you've hooked him.

Think of second person as slightly removed from first person.
Don't use second person in fiction unless nothing else works.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Four Viewpoints (Part 6 of 17)

Here are a few things you need to consider if you tackle first-person POV.

1. Your readers can know only what your protagonist knows. You can’t have any scenes in which the central character isn't involved. (A few writers, such as James Patterson have developed a first-person/third-person style. Alex Cross speaks in first person; the antagonist, in alternating chapters, appears in third person.)

2. In older works, such as The Razor's Edge, W. Somerset Maugham himself acts as narrator and tells the story of Larry Darrell and his spiritual journey. That approach has gone out of style. Today, your lead character tells the story. You stay totally inside that head all the way through.

3. One drawback is the awkwardness when the protagonist speaks of himself or herself. In third-person POV, the lead can be objective, but it's difficult to pull that off in first person.

4. Another weakness involves showing the inner workings of characters other than the hero. The narrator can’t delve into the minds of others or show what others think or feel.

5. The biggest weakness I see is that readers see all characters and events through the eyes of the protagonist, which means that even though the person may be perceptive, the other characters are superficial.

Think carefully before you use the first-person POV.
Is it the best way to tell your story?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Four Viewpoints (Part 5 of 17)

I used to hear people advise writers to turn their autobiographies into novels. In my opinion it rarely works, and especially when it's written in first-person POV.

If you attempt to write that way, you create problems because you, the story's narrator, are not the first person. You create a character and see life and events through that person, but you're writing fiction, not nonfiction.

If you try it, the tendency will be to stay close to the facts and thus limit the scope of the book. The book tends to have a kind of wooden tone because you operate only with facts.

As one agent said, "You're too close to the scene of the crime and you have no perspective." She meant that trying to make your experience into fiction tends to take away the spontaneity and imaginative flow.

The worst defense you can offer for trying first-person fiction based on reality is, "But it really happened." So what?

It's not whether it happened, but whether it's believable. As the adage goes, "Truth is stranger than fiction." When you chose fiction, you cut away the lines that kept you tied to literal truth. Your responsibility is to provide a good read—an entertaining, imaginative story.

The worst defense for a bad novel is
"But it really happened."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Four Viewpoints (Part 4 of 17)

"Beginners love using first person," an agent said many years ago. She pointed out that, when written well, the writing gives immediacy to the story.

When I ghostwrite an autobiography, first-person POV is the only option I consider and for that very reason. Gifted Hands that I wrote for Dr. Ben Carson begins like this:

"And your daddy isn't going to live with us anymore."

"Why not?" I asked again, choking back the tears. . .

In 90 Minutes in Heaven, first person made sense because the entire book revolves around Don Piper and what he experienced.

I've written a total of four books for Don Piper. The other books carry Don's name and mine, which makes me the co-writer. Our editor insisted on staying with the first person and I had no problem with that. Chapter 66, for example, from our second book, Daily Devotions Inspired by 90 Minutes in Heaven, begins:

I survived because of prayer.

I survived because one man felt God impress on him to pray for me, even though the EMTs said I was dead. He prayed anyway.

First-person narrator is an observer
and also a character or participant.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Four Viewpoints (Part 3 of 17)

Point of View (POV) can be difficult to grasp; it often takes writers a long time to understand. I'll explain each of the four points of view.

First-person POV

First person means you write the story from the “I” viewpoint. When constructed well, this brings about a personal connection with the narrator. Many detective and private-eye novels thrust the narrator into the middle of the action. Readers can identify with and become the "I" who solves the problem.

Gothic novels are no longer popular, but they focused on the first person's perception. (Gothics began with Jane Eyre and include Rebecca as the most outstanding modern version. The "I" narrator is an insecure, sensitive heroine in a castle or mansion, often isolated, and her life is frequently threatened.)

The power of first-person accounts is that they foreshadow events, often evil or catastrophe, and do them through the foreboding or troubled heart of the protagonist.

In the older gothics, they often used the If-only-I-had-known technique to create suspense. Readers experienced doubt, fear, and insecurity along with the narrator. Because readers are the narrator, they learn only when the narrator does and can create suspense.

First-person POV works for specific reasons.
Before you try it, be sure it works for you.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Four Viewpoints (Part 2 of 17)

POV is the perspective from which you tell a story or anecdote and it applies to fiction and nonfiction. Some say it's the single, most important choice you have to make. I wouldn't go that far, but POV influences how readers perceive the story.

POV answers:

• Who is my main character?

• Which character do I want readers to empathize with or understand?

• How do I want readers to view the setting?

If you chose your POV well, your writing flows. One expert said, "POV is the glue that holds the story together. It also dictates what kind of description we use and which characters get to do the describing."

Suppose the Old Testament story of Joseph and his brothers was written in the POV of Gad? Could he have seen the wickedness of his own heart? (See Genesis chapters 37 to 50.)

Could the 10 brothers have known what went on in Joseph's life after they sold him into slavery? Or if it had been written in Joseph's POV (first person), he couldn't have known the plotting of his brothers or their feelings afterward. By making it third person, we get a rounder picture of the entire story, but we don't have the warm, private picture of Joseph.

Different perspectives bring out
different aspects of a story.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Four Viewpoints (Part 1 of 17)

Point of View (POV) refers to what goes on inside the head of one person during a scene or a book. The modern rule is to stay in one POV. I could also say that you become that person and readers know how the POV individual sees life.

Newer writers tend to jump from head to head within a scene, and often they're not aware of what they're doing. (That style of writing isn't wrong but it takes great skill. Often called omniscient POV, I'll discuss it later.)

Let's say you've chosen first-person POV. You cannot possibly know how another character feels or thinks. Suppose you're in first person and you look at Jamie. "His angry countenance frightened me." How do you know he's angry? You can assume such an attitude, but maybe it's only indigestion or he's thinking of his loss in a bad business deal.

Try it this way: "The look on his face frightened me. Jamie had a right to be angry . . ."

Choose one POV and stay with it.