Writing Craft 101: Person and Point of View (part one)

Point of View, or POV, is through whose eyes the story is told. Most stories will have one primary POV character, typically the main character, although there can be multiple POV characters in one story.

There are many different types and styles for writing POV. It’s fine to choose which you want to use, but you must be consistent within your story.

POV is directly related to Person, which is who is telling the story.

Person is the narrative voice and how you’re telling the story. This is similar to POV, but not exactly the same. The POV employed is a storytelling style, whereas Person has to do with grammar.

Your options for Person are first person, second person, and third person. In fiction, you’ll most often encounter third person and first person POVs. What Person you’re telling your story in determines, to an extent, what type of POV you’ll use.

If you’re writing in first person, then by default, your POV character will be your main character (though not necessarily your protagonist). First person means the narrator is telling the story through his or her own eyes, using “I am, I did, I said,” rather than “he” or “she.” Common examples of stories written in first person are Twilight, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Fault in our Stars.

Second person is when the narrator is talking directly to someone. For example, when I am telling you what to do to write well and I say, “First, you read my series on writing craft,” I am speaking in second person. In fiction, pretty much the only time you would use second person would be if you were writing one of those “Choose your own adventure” stories and you place the reader into the story. There are a few exceptions in classic literature, such as Lolita, but I don’t recommend it, especially for beginning writers.

Third person is by far the most common for use in fiction writing. Third person is when a narrator is telling the story, talking about the characters as “he” and “she.” Even in third person, the story is often told through the eyes of a particular point of view character, but it is still written using pronouns as though the story is being told by an outside source.

Between first person and third person, there are pros and cons to either choice.

First person is a much more intimate way of experiencing the story. Remember, your number one goal is to engage your reader, and in fiction, that happens when they make a connection. First person allows the reader to experience the story right along with the character, walking with them as they discover whatever it is they’re discovering in the story.

The downside of first person is that you are limited to only that one character telling the story. As you narrate, you can only give away the information that the character learns as they learn it. The reader can’t know anything that the narrator hasn’t personally experienced. (Technically, you could have a first-person omniscient character, as in the dead character that narrates Desperate Housewives, but that would be rare and not recommended.) First person makes it harder to show what’s going on with other characters or in other locations, and depending on the type of story you’re writing, it may drastically limit the scope of your story and possible tension.

First person works particularly well for romance and YA.

Check out this post for more explanation about POV options when writing in the third person.

Writing Craft 101: Common Terms

One thing I see time and again when working with newer authors is that they have a great idea for a story or a character or a world and they have written a first draft of a novel, putting all those ideas down on paper, and then they get to the point where they’re trying to get feedback, and the people they’re trying to learn from toss out words and phrases and acronyms, like “deep POV” and “info-dumping” and “telling” and so on and they’re trying to learn, but it’s like speaking a foreign language. The terms that are used in writing circles among more seasoned writers are deeply confusing to someone who has never studied them.

Here is a simple definition of terms that you’ll hear a lot, so you can reference your own work when someone says you need to work on them.

POV: Point of View

This is through whose eyes the story is told. Most stories will have a primary POV character, the main character, although there can be multiple POV characters in one story.

Person: Who is telling the story

This is similar to POV, but not exactly the same. The POV employed is a storytelling style, whereas Person has to do with grammar. In fiction, you’ll most often encounter third person and first person POVs. Third person is when it is told by a narrator, as in “he said, she did,” while first person is when it’s told by the character himself, as in “I did, I said.” Nonfiction, especially self-help books, may use second-person, as in “You should, you will,” but you’ll rarely find that in fiction except in a Choose Your Own Adventure story.

Tense: When the story is told

Tenses are past, present, and future. You can study tenses further in a grammar book, but primarily what you’ll see in fiction is past tense and occasionally present tense.

Backstory: The information about your character that has shaped who he is and why he does what he does. This includes his past, his personality, his relationships, and so on.

Info-dumping: Telling your reader what you feel she needs to know about your character’s backstory in a way that is boring and inorganic to the storyline.

Active and Passive Sentences: This is another grammar term, having to do with active voice and passive voice. In the active voice, the subject of the sentence is doing whatever is being done in the sentence. In the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is acted upon by the verb. “Dr. Jekyll consumed the potion,” vs. “The potion was consumed by Dr. Jekyll.” Active voice is the preferred writing style in fiction.

Show and Tell: This refers to the way you get information to your reader. You can tell your reader, “It was just about sunset when he kissed her goodnight,” or you can show them, “Rosy fingers of fading light painted her cheeks with a soft glow as he leaned in to kiss her goodnight.” There is a time and a place for telling, but for important scenes, showing is much more engaging to your reader.

Genre: This is the category into which your story fits. There are many, many genres, but some of the popular genres include Romance, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Chick-Lit, Action/Adventure, and Young Adult, among others.

Target Audience: Your target audience is the readers who are most likely to buy your book. If you’re writing romance, your target audience is probably women in the 30+ age range. If you’re writing Young Adult, your target audience is probably teens and twenty-somethings. If you’re writing suspense or sci-fi, your target audience is probably men.

Homonyms: These are words that sound like one another but have different meanings and sometimes different spellings.

Very often in writing I see homonyms confused. This is a sure way to lose the respect of your reader. Double check words that have another similar-sounding word to make sure you’re using the right one. And for a quick reference, check out my book “Handy Handbook of Common Homonyms,” available on Amazon, or FREE if you sign up for my newsletter (see the sidebar).

Crutch Words: Words that a particular author uses frequently in their work. Most authors have them. They’re different for everyone. Ideally, you should figure out which ones are yours and come up with new ways to convey the same information so your work doesn’t sound repetitive and therefore boring.

Pantsers and Plotters: This refers to your particular style, whether you prefer to write “by the seat of your pants,” making things up as you go along (pantser), or whether you prefer to create a detailed outline of your characters and plot arc before ever beginning to write the story itself (plotter).

I’ll go into more detail about each of these things in the coming weeks, explaining the pros and cons of different writing styles, why certain things are preferred over others, and how to effectively use them in your own manuscript.

What about you? What words or phrases have you heard that you aren’t sure what is meant by them, or what were you confused by when you were a newer writer?

How Can I Help You?

So, you’ve written your first story. It may be a complete novel, or it may be the start of a novel, or it may be a shorter work, but you’ve got words on paper.

Maybe you’ve submitted your story to an agent or publisher and received a rejection (or several). Maybe you’ve shared it with a critique group and gotten some feedback, and now you’ve gotten as far as you can and you’re ready to take your writing to the next level.

You’ve looked into professional editing, and realized that this is serious business. And maybe you’ve realized you’re not quite ready to invest that kind of time and money quite yet. Surely there must be some more you can do to polish your own writing before spending thousands on a professional edit, right? Some sort of in-between, a professional eye to point you in the right direction without committing to a full professional edit?

Good news! You’re in the right place!

In my last post, I introduced myself and shared a bit of my writing journey.

Now, I want to officially welcome you to my page and let you know that if any of the above is true for you, I can help!

As the editor of Havok Magazine, I have plenty of experience in taking a good story and making it great. I also have experience in taking an average story and making it great.

We all start somewhere. Several years ago, I was at a place in my writing journey where I knew I needed help, but I didn’t know where to begin. I knew good grammar and how to write a sentence and express myself on paper, but I didn’t know the difference between showing and telling, I didn’t know what a POV slip was, I didn’t know what made for deep POV or any of the other elements that make for good writing craft, or, for that matter, what writing craft even was.

I knew how to write, but I didn’t know how to tell a story. Worse, since I didn’t know what I was doing wrong, I didn’t know how to fix it. What I really needed was someone to take a look at my writing and show me where I needed improvement. I needed a personal touch to point me in the right direction.

If that’s where you are now, I can be that person for you. I will not only catch grammar and spelling mistakes, but I will be able to decipher your intention and help you express your thoughts with clarity and precision. Mentoring new authors is my passion. I love seeing the potential in new authors and helping them achieve it. I love building a relationship and helping authors learn more about writing craft in general, as well as identify their own specific strengths and weaknesses. I love being the teacher and friend who can build someone up and take them to the next level.

I would love to be your mentor and editor. I would love to help you take your writing to the next level. Please check out my Mentoring and Editing Services page and contact me today for a consultation!

 

About Me

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Greetings!

My name is Avily Jerome. I’m a wife, a mother, a writer, and an editor.

I’ve been writing stories for about as long as I can remember. My favorite course in college was a creative writing elective. I always enjoyed writing stories, and I have a huge folder of stories and pieces of stories that I started dating back to high school. I never really did much with them, though, until about eight years ago when I decided to see if anyone besides my mom was interested in reading my writing.

So, I finished my first full-length manuscript, a historical romance, and submitted it to agents and publishers.

And I got rejected.

And rejected.

And rejected.

The form letters rolled in and kept rolling in.

I can’t tell you how many tears I shed as yet another hope was squashed beneath the heel of some faceless entity with whom I had shared my very soul. And the most frustrating thing was, I had no idea why no one was interested. Why couldn’t I get anyone to look at my work? I knew I was doing something wrong, but I couldn’t fix it when I had no idea what “it” was.

Then, one day, a kind and benevolent agent rejected me in the nicest possible way. With a personal note. He told me I had some elements of good writing craft, but others begged for fine tuning.

And I said to myself, “What in the world is writing craft?”

The rest, as they cliché, was history. I started attending writing groups, finding critique partners, attending conferences, and really studying the art and science of writing craft.

About five years ago, I hired my first editor to do a manuscript review of my novel, and I learned a lot from the process. Then, three years ago, I joined Splickety Publishing Group. At the time, SPG only had one flash fiction magazine imprint, and I ran the blog. A year later, SPG launched two new lines, Havok, a speculative flash fiction magazine, and Splickety Love, a romance flash fiction magazine. I applied (see: begged) for the position of editor of Havok and I got it. Since then, I have had the opportunity to learn how to produce a magazine from start to finish and have interned under some of the finest authors and editors in the business.

I have had multiple short stories published, in various ezines and anthologies, both print and digital. I recently published a short story collection, The Heir, (available on my Books and More page and on Amazon). I regularly judge writing contests, both for short stories and for novels. I teach at writers’ conferences and for writers’ groups.

Which brings us to today, and the official launching of this website. As I pursue my own writing goals, I also want to help others who are where I was eight years ago, wondering “what in the world is writing craft?” Through my work with Havok and my own personal interactions both online and in person, I have developed a love for finding what’s missing in a story and teaching newer authors some of what I’ve learned.Common Homonyms 3

One part of that will be posting regular articles on the basics of writing craft. I’m also developing a series of ebooks about writing craft. My first book, a Handy Handbook of Common Homonyms, will be available on Amazon soon. Or, if you sign up for my newsletter, I’ll send you a copy of Common Homonyms for FREE!

Stay tuned for my next post, in which I’ll tell you all about what I can do for you!

 

 

Magic Systems in Fiction

One of the hard things about writing Christian speculative fiction is that it’s really easy to make people uncomfortable.

Unless it’s really overt allegory, speculative worlds tend to make some Christians twitchy, especially if those worlds contain magic.

Magic.

For many Christians, the term “magic” implicitly implies witchcraft, which the Bible specifically speaks against. Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy all speak out against the dangers of necromancers, sorcerers, and mediums. In the New Testament, some lists of sins include sorcery.

Given the fairly clear stance the Bible takes on witchcraft and sorcery, it’s easy to see why magic in fiction is looked upon askance, and even causes some to worry that reading or writing stories with magic systems opens up doors to the occult.

So, if magic is wrong, is it ever okay for it to be in Christian stories? And if not, what about the heroes of Christian speculative fiction, like C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien? Fans of Spec Fic use them as role models, while more conservative readers are uncomfortable even with the magic in those worlds.

I think part of the answer is in the term “magic” itself. What is “magic,” and how do you know if it’s wrong? The word “magic” is used for a lot of things that often have no relation to each other.

If you go to a magic show, is it sinful? It’s called “magic.” Things appear and disappear. But if it’s just illusion, is it okay?

And when it’s in a book, because it’s fiction, does that make it okay?

Witchcraft, magic, and sorcery in the Bible are defined as deriving power from spirits other than God and as trying to communicate with the dead.

The primary difference between sinful magic in our world and magic systems in fictional worlds is in the way they’re set up.

Magic in fictional worlds is often like electricity. It’s a natural resource that can be used, but has no inherent moral value. It is something that can be wielded, but it is neither good nor evil of itself.

In the world of The Amulet Saga, magic is intrinsically tied to nature. It is an element that is in a symbiotic relationship with the earth. Ideally, they balance each other out. The magic enhances nature, and nature supplies magic. In my story, there is an overuse of magic by evil sorcerers, and they are drawing too much magical energy, which is draining the land of its resources. Plants are dying, food is becoming scarce, and the people are suffering. It is a natural element.

In contrast, sorcery in the Bible is derived from beings that have a will of their own. It is drawing upon another entity. Satan, demons, spirits, the dead—those are all entities that are in opposition to God, at enmity with Him. They are beings with intrinsic power, not a tool or an element that can be used. That is the primary difference.

Some feedback I’ve gotten regarding this storyworld has been concern that I am opening myself up to the occult by including magic in my story.

Concerned parties suggest that, while they’re sure I would never intentionally do anything against my conscience, everyone makes mistakes. They worry that my conscience has been tainted. They say that my story is not glorifying to God. They believe that by including magic in my world, I am glorifying witchcraft.

I disagree.

My world is a self-contained world, with different rules than those that apply in our world. The magic in my world is a natural resource, a tool that can be used for good or evil. It is passive, without a will of its own, used only as the wielder chooses, and good or evil is in the heart of the person who uses it. Yes, I use the word “sorcerer” to describe someone who uses the magic in my world, but each one is an individual character, and those characters make choices about whether they’re going to use magic to help or hurt, to derive personal power or deliver peace.

I believe God gave me a gift and a passion to write. And I believe that everything I write has a point. It might not be obvious, and it might touch on some things that others are sensitive to and disagree with, but I believe that what makes it “Christian” fiction is me. My worldview colors everything I write. My beliefs that Good will triumph, that there are consequences for our actions, that there is always hope even when things are dark, and that love and self-sacrifice are virtues without parallel, are my testimony. Those are the things that will shine through, no matter what world I put them in.

 

Killing my Darlings

 

One “rule” you hear thrown around a lot in writing circles is “Murder your darlings.” Traditionally, this means those pet phrases and over-used words, the scenes you spent hours crafting but that don’t really add to the story. It’s a way of culling your fluff to tighten your story so it continues to move and not drag.

Sometimes, though, it’s used in reference to characters.

Because few things are more heart-wrenching than agonizing over the death of a beloved character…

Read More at New Authors Fellowship.