Happy 2023! It’s Up from Here!

So, this happened a couple days before the end of 2022.

Yeah. 😷

I’m feeling better. Finally stopped coughing. I’m grateful for the continued lack of a fever. And yes, I have had five vaccine shots.

Just one of those things, I guess. But while quarantining, I’m getting a lot of reading done (see below), including a manuscript where I’m fixing a chronology issue (not pictured 😄).

  

I’ve also watched some old murder mysteries like Death on the Nile, Evil Under the Sun, and Appointment with Death (Hercule Poirot mysteries written by Agatha Christie and adapted for the screen by various writers) on YouTube and Amazon Prime (free with ads) and episodes of a really quirky show on Netflix (Wednesday).

So don’t cry for me, Argentina. (Click here if you’re wondering, “What does that mean?”) I’m getting some rest. Probably not as much as I should. But some.

Hope you’re doing well.

Photos by L. Marie.

Critique Group

Someone reading this might think this is a post on critique groups—people who give opinions on manuscripts. I’ll get to what I mean by it. But first: there have been many TV shows and other media content that have been deemed controversial. And critics weigh in on the controversies in their reviews of said media. That’s their job. But what I’ve been seeing lately are videos devoted to explaining how awful one particular show is—how bad the writing is, how deplorable the characterization, etc. No, I will not name the show. I was struck by how much hatred the show has garnered by people who continue to watch it.

If I don’t like a show, I’m not going to continue watching it. Watching more episodes, at least for me, is a waste of time and also gives tacit agreement to its continuation. Maybe I’m silly, but that’s how I feel. Sometimes, however, I’ll give a show a second chance if someone close to me tells me that something shifted in the show and it’s worth my time to reengage.

Critics review films and TV shows because they love the media, though they might dislike a movie or an episode of a TV show. A reviewer whose reviews I really like (I won’t mention his name either) reviewed some episodes of the show to which I am referring. After stating what he disliked about it, he stopped reviewing further episodes of the show on his channel. If he doesn’t like something, he doesn’t continue to review it.

Jay Sherman, main character of The Critic, a show created by Al Jean and Mike Reiss and voiced by Jon Lovitz

Okay. I know you’re probably wondering at my obstinance about withholding information. The point of this post isn’t so much about a particular show that people hate but the fact that critique groups have spawned just to spread hatred for it. My question for them is, what are you building? We all know how easy it is to criticize something. It’s not so easy to build a world of your own.

I saw one positive review of the show by an author with multiple books in the genre. He was excited and happy to see the show. Perhaps he could be objective, because he’s already building his own literary landscapes.

That is what really stuck with me: someone who isn’t just hating on something, but is busy with his own work, yet willing to express positivity about someone else’s work.

I have to tell on myself here. I know about the many, many videos criticizing the show because I sought them out. I sat there watching several of them, wallowing in my anger about certain aspects of the show, just as I did when I saw a movie on Netflix that I disliked. I wanted to find someone who agreed with my perspective, who felt as angry as I did. But in those hours—literally hours—of watching content creators spewing their dislike, was I working on my own stories? Was I shoring up my world building so that my world feels as real as Narnia? Absolutely not. I was feeding something that wouldn’t take me anywhere.

One summer, I read over 100 middle grade books. I couldn’t get enough of them. I kept going to the library and pulling them off the shelf. I was hungry to build my own literary worlds. I needed to feed that with good books. After that, for two solid years I read nothing but middle grade and young adult novels. The only material for adults I read were craft books and books I used for research. All of this was fuel to take me where I needed to go in my writing.

So, in my contemplation of the critique groups of one particular show, I’m reminded to focus on what is needful for my writer’s soul. To focus on what feeds, rather than depletes.

What feeds you? What depletes? Feel free to comment below.

P.S. In response to Marian Beaman’s latest post, here is a picture of some trees in my area.

The Critic image found somewhere online. Critic sign from picpedia.org. Fall trees photo by L. Marie.

How Do You Keep Track of Time?

Some great posts by Charles Yallowitz on flashbacks (like this one) got me to thinking about timelines and story. Another thing that got me to thinking was catching a mistake in the timeline of one of my WIPs. Events I thought happened concurrently with the events of another character’s day weren’t lining up. Though I plotted the movements of each character on a calendar, something was missed. I needed to fix that.

Why does this matter? you might be thinking, especially if you don’t write novels. A story’s timeline affects the story events you include. If you claim a story happens in, say, twenty-four hours, but the characters do enough activities to fit a thirty-six-hour timeline, you’ll need to address that gap. Things get even messier if you are tracking the movements of more than one main character, as I was doing.

As a freelance line editor, I have had to check the timelines of many manuscripts. Only occasionally did I receive a typewritten timeline from the author. Someone gave me a handwritten note with dates once. Somewhat helpful, but not overly so, since I had to give the publisher a typed timeline that the copyeditor and proofreader could use—which meant I had to type it. Some authors didn’t have notes, preferring the “it’s all in my head” method. I’m not knocking that if it works for you. But does it work for your editor? One hundred percent of the time in the manuscripts I have edited, I have found timeline mistakes even in the most linear stories. Even if an author hands me written notes, I don’t just take those at face value. I check the notes against the events of the manuscript.

So, this post is kind of a PSA (public service announcement, since those initials stand for many things these days) asking you to please keep a written timeline if you are working on a fiction or nonfiction book with any type of chronology. If you have time to type your manuscript, you have time to keep track of, and type, your chronology.

You’d be surprised at how easily an author can get a sequence of events wrong, even with the use of time markers like “the next day,” especially if the author is coming up with events on the fly (and sometimes adding scenes between existing scenes) but isn’t keeping track of the chronology of said events. Imagine having to tell an author, “Your timeline is three months off” as I have had to do, which definitely meant a major rewrite.

I totally get that writing anything takes precious time. With some impossibly fast deadlines, you don’t have much time. And keeping track of a timeline is one of those drudgery activities that no one really likes to do. It’s like loading a dishwasher or a washing machine. But if you elect to avoid doing it, mistakes—like dirty laundry—can pile up. If your editor has to take the time to fix something you could have fixed early on, it becomes more costly, especially with freelance editors charging by the hour. So please listen to Auntie L. Marie and keep track of your chronology. Your editor (even that editor is just you) will thank you.

Clock from cloudcentrics.com. Project management image from getharvest.com.

Check This Out: Temple Grandin (The She Persisted Series)

I had planned to reveal the winner of Coming Up Short by Laurie Morrison this week. Before that reveal, I had planned to post the following interview at the beginning of the week. Alas I was a little under the weather. The best laid plans of mice and men as they say. So here at least is that second interview. Both winner reveals will have to come next week. Now, on with the show!

On the blog today is no stranger to the community: the amazing Lyn Miller-Lachmann here to talk about her book She Persisted: Temple Grandin, which was published on April 5 by Philomel and illustrated by Gillian Flint,. Lyn is represented by Jacqui Lipton.

 

El Space: What did it mean to you to write this book on Temple Grandin? How did it come about that you did?
Lyn: The authors of each volume of the She Persisted series share some aspect of lived experience with their subject, and I’m one of them. I was diagnosed on the autism spectrum in 2007 and had already written a book published by Penguin Random House loosely based on my time in middle and high school as an undiagnosed outcast who would do anything to have a friend. That novel, Rogue, came out in 2013 from another imprint at Penguin Random House, Nancy Paulsen Books. In 2020, editors Jill Santopolo and Talia Benamy at Philomel approached my agent, Jacqui Lipton, and asked if I’d be interested in writing Temple Grandin’s biography for this series, and I jumped at the opportunity. She’s a hero of mine, and I’m honored that they asked me to write about her life and work.

El Space: Were you able to talk to Temple Grandin? What was your research like for this book?
Lyn: I didn’t talk to Temple to research this book, but I have met her. She was the keynote speaker at the 2013 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in Chicago, there to talk about her book The Autistic Brain. She signed her book for me, and I told her how she’d inspired me to speak out about my own experiences as an autistic person. In addition to reading her books and Oliver Sacks’s 1995 article in The New Yorker about her, I took notes at her keynote speech and asked her about the speech when she signed my book. In her speech, she said, “When you’re a weird geek, you’ve got to learn to sell your work,” and when I spoke with her, she encouraged me to promote my work based not on my personal charm but on its quality and how my writing can improve the lives of my readers.

El Space: How long was the process of writing?
Lyn: I wrote the first draft of this book in about six weeks, with another two weeks for revision. I had a short deadline and could meet it because the book was part of a series, and all the titles have a similar structure. In addition, I’d already read a lot of Temple’s books and seen the HBO documentary based on her life [click here for the trailer], so I had a big head start on the research. I have a journalism background, so general nonfiction and biographical profiles are easier for me to write than fiction, and I use the techniques of fiction, such as the hook and scene structure, to enhance my nonfiction.

El Space: What do you want kids to take away after reading this book?
Lyn: When Temple talks about being autistic, she uses the words, “Different not less.” People who are different—who think differently, who have different backgrounds and experiences—can often identify big problems that other people don’t see as problems, and they can find solutions because they look at those problems from fresh perspectives. For instance, Temple observed farm animals and was able to interpret the world from their eyes because of her experiences as an autistic person. I’d like young readers to embrace their unique ways of looking at the world and acknowledge the perspectives and experiences of those they may have dismissed for being different or weird.

El Space: Well said, Lyn! I know with some of these projects, authors and illustrators never meet. Was that the case? How much input did you have in the illustrations?
Lyn: The She Persisted series uses the same illustrator for all the chapter books, Gillian Flint, which gives the volumes a unified appearance. However, I like my cover and illustrations best because they capture Temple’s affection for the animals she studies. I knew right away that young readers would gravitate toward a cover that had her petting a cow. As far as input, I had a chance to look at the illustrations ahead of time and point out places that might be inaccurate or confusing, and several illustrations were tweaked to make them clearer.

El Space: Will you do more projects like this? Why or why not?
Lyn: I love the She Persisted series! It’s accessible, and the women featured have accomplished so much against the odds. Their refusal to give up unites them across time, place, culture, language, and area of accomplishment. Right now, when girls and women face the curtailment of their rights and opportunities in the United States, they can look toward these women as role models who encountered similar obstacles and endured many defeats before achieving their goals. The series has been renewed for at least another two years, and I’ve proposed a biography on a sports star who fled a totalitarian regime when her outspokenness led the government to restrict her participation in her chosen sport.

 

In addition, I have a forthcoming collective biography of 15 contemporary women directors, co-authored with Tanisia “Tee” Moore, coming out at the beginning of September 2022, titled Film Makers, part of the Women of Power series from Chicago Review Press, it’s for readers aged 10 and up. Like the She Persisted series, it focuses on women from diverse backgrounds and perspectives.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Lyn: I’ve been working on several nonfiction projects related to the history of unions in the United States and around the world. In addition, I’m a translator of children’s books from Portuguese and Spanish to English, mainly Portuguese because there are fewer other translators from that language and a lot of great books published in Portugal and Brazil. I just picked up a translation for my first graphic novel, and I’m really excited about it because I love the story. More details to be announced soon. I’m also trying to finish a YA historical novel in verse set in Portugal, but right now it seems like I’m moving backwards because I took out one character in a love triangle, which means my plot has to be something else besides a love triangle. Writing is hard!

Thank you as always, Lyn, for being my guest!

Searching for Lyn? You can find her at her website and Twitter. Moonwalking can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Bookshop

I’m giving away a copy of She Persisted: Temple Grandin. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced next week sometime.

Book cover and author photo courtesy of Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Other covers from Goodreads. Movie poster found somewhere on the internet. Illustration photo taken by L Marie from her copy of the book.

Just Coasting Along


This kind of goes with what I last posted.

Back in the 90s, I took up inline skating because I thought it looked cool. One day, I up and decided to take a class and—voilà —I learned to skate and loved it!

I really needed these pads though.

I also learned to write a screenplay, because I wanted to learn.

In 2010, I decided to return to a graduate program, having quit one (journalism) many years before that. This time, I switched to writing for children and young adults (fiction/nonfiction) and finished the program two years later.


My hood

In 2018, I wanted more of a career challenge. So, I took on the challenge of developmental editing. Didn’t take a class. I learned by being thrown into the deep end through a freelance assignement given to me by a publisher to work with an author on a manuscript for eight months.

In 2019, I . . .

In 2020, I . . .

In 2021, I . . .

You might wonder how I would finish those statements. I was trying to think of a way to say, “I rested on my laurels” in a way that didn’t make me look like the poster child for the subject of a sermon I recently listened to—complacency. Before you run for the door, thinking I plan to tell you point by point what I heard, I brought that up because of the subject matter (complacency, if that previous sentence was too convoluted). And yes, I know we were in the mniddle of a pandemic. But I had a computer and a wifi connection. What was to stop me from learning anything?

Not that you need this, but let me give you the definition of complacency given in that sermon:

Complacency is a feeling of quiet pleasure or security often while unaware of some potential danger, defect, or the like; self-satisfaction or smug satisfaction with an existing situation, condition, etc.

I can finally admit that I have been complacent about where I am and what I’ve learned so far. I didn’t think I needed to learn a new skill or improve an old one. Just telling you the state of things. Scold away if you want. But I want that to change. Maybe you feel that way too.

With that in mind, for my annual birthday giveaway—if you are a regular follower of this blog, perhaps you thought I forgot all about that this year—I’m giving away a $25 Amazon gift card (or whatever equivalent it has in the UK). Why? To stir you to learn something new or make some other change. That’s only if you want to. No judgment here. Maybe life is A-OK for you. If so, great!

Maybe you want to use it to buy a craft book (writing, gardening, needlecraft, art—whatever). Or maybe, because you’re stressed and want to change that, maybe you want to buy spa items or something else to help you relax. Maybe you’ll buy art pencils (which aren’t cheap) to start sketching again. Twenty-five dollars may not be a king’s ransom. But if it helps inspire you to take the next step to where you want to be, I’d call that money well spent. Winner to be announced sometime next week, hopefully. (I had a deadline last week, so I didn’t post.)

Photos by L. Marie.

Characters and Unwise Choices

While reading reviews for Robin Hobb’s Liveship series (you can click here for that series if you like), one review caught my attention. I don’t know the reviewer, so I don’t have permission to cite the review. However, if you click on the link, you’ll see it for yourself. Anyway, the reviewer was appalled by the stupid decisions (that reviewer’s description) the characters made, which led me to write this post.

After having read some books or watched movies or TV shows, I have bemoaned the choices of characters some would describe as too stupid to live. But I have to wonder whether the plots of those books or shows would have suffered had those characters made logical choices.

As you know many conflicts are based on the choices characters make—wise or unwise, leaving the author at the mercy of readers who disagree with said choices. For example, some readers complained about the choice of hobbits to take the ring to be destroyed in Mount Doom (Lord of the Rings). If you’re ready to take umbrage with me, thinking I just gave a spoiler (though the books have been around since 1955 and Oscar-winning movies have been adapted from them), please see the Complaints Department. You’ll have to fill out a form to make a complaint though. Anyway, I have heard a number of critics say. “The eagles could easily have taken the ring.” But the ease of this, in my opinion, would not have made a compelling journey story.

Some people complained about Bella in the Twilight series and how stupid she was (in their opinion). Yet that series sold out the wazoo. Apparently, many people weren’t bothered by her choices. While I didn’t agree with every decision the character made, I found the series enjoyable to read. If that bothers you, again, please see the Complaints Department.

Striking a balance between a realistic decision someone might make versus one made purely to fulfill a plot point is a tough call for an author. It’s easy for an audience to scream, “Don’t go in the basement,” while watching a heroine in a horror movie. But would we still watch the film if said heroine decided, “Nope. Ain’t happening! Zombies and vampires are probably down there” and avoided the basement like the plague?

Do you have any advice on how to strike a balance or any examples of compelling decisions made that cost a character something? While you’re thinking, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens comes to mind. A number of characters make very costly decisions. Yet I loved the book because of their choices.

What was the last book, show, or movie you engaged in that enraged you in regard to the character(s)? Had you written that piece, what, if anything, would you have done differently?

Book covers either from Goodreads or my library.

Check This Out: Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga)

With me on the blog today is the amazing composer/musician/performer Laura Bruno Lilly, who is here to talk about her album Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga) and the process of composing.

Cover designed by Rita Moore

First, here is the intro:

El Space: How long was the process from composing the music to this finished product?
Laura: The actual length of time from start (inspiration) to finish (digital/cd music release) took 11 years. However, it took only a month or so to compose Goats in the Garden at Midnight by the Light of the Full Moon. While it was a complete piece in and of itself, it just didn’t feel finished. It wasn’t until after our between-homes journey came to an end that I realized it could be developed further in keeping with the structure of a suite. More accurately, those goats insisted there was more of their musical story to tell!

Photo by Terry Lilly

My Goat Suite (Saga) was composed and written while my husband and I were living on the compound in the desert outside Las Cruces, New Mexico from October 2010 through August 2011. It is a self-contained, yet complimentary slice of a larger project, Swimming with Swans: the music & vignettes of our three-year journey between homes which encompasses two standalone, yet related segments comprised of musical and literary material I created during that time on-the-road from June 2009 through June 2012.

Goats in the Garden naturally morphed into the middle movement within a larger three movement piece. Both the first and third movements were completed within a few months of each other, making the total composition time of the piece about a year from start to finish.

So you see, the composing itself didn’t take all that long. I’m very hands-on. Doodling with multiple parts on different instruments, putting it all together—I love that stuff! Composing is my sandbox where I get to play with all the parts of the piece in the course of creating it.

Next came the technical aspect of setting the music into a readable score for use in recording and later future performances. To that end, I purchased and learned a score notation program that enabled me to write down the parts more quickly than if I continued to write it all by hand. as it is scored for two classical guitars, mandolin, 12-string acoustic guitar and rainstick, I’m sure the wisdom in this time investment is obvious!

Once in final score format, I set it aside. The journey from that to the finished product took a more circuitous route. I applied for and was awarded a small grant from the Puffin Foundation to aid in the financial aspect of recording my Goat Suite (Saga). Around that same time, my 93-year-old Dad in Colorado entered hospice. Already juggling long-distance care-giving for a few years, this catapulted my focus 100% on Dad’s final days, shelving everything else.

After Dad’s passing, while getting his house cleared out and ready to sell, I managed to schedule some recording studio time with two longtime colleagues in the area. This effort yielded a finished mix ready to send elsewhere for mastering.

Once mastered, it was just a matter of finalizing the cover art, designing the physical product, pressing the CDs, registering the music with various agencies, sending it off for distribution on various streaming platforms and setting up an internet storefront.

And here it is. Now. Finished.

El Space: When did you decide to become a musician/composer? How were you encouraged as a child?
Laura: I don’t know that there was ever an actual decision made to become either. Most composers are/were also performing artists, so I view composing as a natural outgrowth of being a working musician.

As far as receiving encouragement as a child, most of my upbringing was taught by example. This quote expresses how my Jazzman Dad influenced my musical journey in general.

Each jazz musician when he takes a horn in his hand—trumpet, bass, saxophone, drums—whatever instrument he plays, each soloist, that is, when he begins to ad lib on a given composition with a title and improvise a new creative melody, this man is taking the place of a composer. He is saying, “Listen, I am going to give you a new complete idea with a new set of chord changes. I am going to give you a new melodic conception on a tune you are familiar with. I am a composer.” That’s what he is saying.
Charles Mingus

El Space: Which composers inspired you on your journey?
Laura:
Beethoven, Vivaldi, Berlioz. John Cage, Philip Glass, Max Richter. Janet Feder, JoAnn Falletta, Joan Tower. John Duarte, Eduardo Falú, H. Villa-Lobos. Mike Oldfield, Herbie Hancock, Ry Cooder. Ennio Morricone, Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck. Foday Musa Suso, Billy Strayhorn, Anonymous. And more! Google the names and give them a listen.

        

Ennio Morricone (left), Eduardo Falú

Billy Strayhorn (Photo by Carl Van Vechten)

El Space: What leitmotifs occur in the music? Why?
Laura:
The second movement revolves around the most obvious one, introduced by the solo guitar within the first three measures. This Goat Bleat Motif was inspired by conversations held between Mama Goat and her kids. Based upon the intervals of each goat’s voice pitch, I assigned each goat a note and when bleating all together, their monotones made up a minor seventh chord. Then as a compositional element, a Reverse Goat Bleat Motif was used for further development of the second movement—all in keeping with the flavor of goats in the garden frolicking and dancing about.

El Space: What advice do you have for budding composers?
Laura:
Learn an instrument! It doesn’t matter which one. Noodle around with banging pots and pans, humming tunes or sounding the odd finger harp thing hung on your mother’s front door. Music composition in its most basic form is merely an organization of sound. The best instrument for understanding music theory visually is indeed the piano, but that does not have to be your primary instrument. Use it is a tool in context of understanding the underlying structure of composition. Strive to actively participate in a swirl of musical styles. This will surround you with tonal possibilities, blasting through untold sonic boundaries. Along with all that hands-on sort of stuff, listen, listen, listen to a plethora of musical genres. Explore translating your feelings into a compositional piece. Try your hand at arranging already created music. Hone your craft by taking classes, studying alongside a music teacher/professor/mentor and then, just do it. The more you do, the more your own voice will emerge.

Thanks, Laura, for being my guest.

Looking for Laura? Look on her website.

Looking for Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga)? Click here
I’m giving away two copies of Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga). Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winners to be revealed next week.

Album cover, embedded intro, and photo courtesy of Laura Bruno Lilly. Photo by Terry Lilly. Ennio Morricone and Billy Strayhorn photos from Wikipedia. Eduardo Falú photo from secondhandsongs.com. Music note from wallsave.com.

The Whole Story?

The other day, I discovered on Netflix an interior design show that was new to me. I’m not going to tell you which one. Suffice it to say that in the introduction, a fresh-faced young couple mentioned (in a couple sentences or so) an eleven-year journey from self-trained interior designer to internet sensation to having nearly 100 employees, an affluent clientele, and a we’re-working-on-it-still dream house with over five thousand square feet.

All the while I watched the show, at the back of my mind, I wondered, What’s the whole story? Interior design is not a field that I know anything about outside of watching HGTV shows years ago and a few Netflix shows. I’m someone whose friends, out of pity, came and hung their own pictures on my walls because I didn’t have any. So I don’t know how easy or difficult it is for someone to go from friends admiring his or her taste in decorating to acquiring a huge internet following with paying clients willing to shell out huge amounts of money to redo their rooms. Not when I have family members who have done the same thing in that amount of time who have neither a huge internet following nor wealthy clients.

I often think, What’s the whole story? when I hear success stories of any kind. How many times have we heard a debut author say something along the lines of, “I wrote a book. Two weeks after querying agents, ten agents were interested in my manuscript. Seventeen publishers fought to get it. Once it was published, it hit the NYT bestseller list, where it currently rests after being on it for six years.” Okay, that is a slight exaggeration. But only a slight one. I know publishing journeys that fit this description pretty closely. So for some authors, that might be the whole story. But those situations aren’t the norm, even if they make for a good news story.

I will be the first to tell you I have queried a book that was rejected 91 times. You read that number correctly. By the way, I know an author whose book was rejected three times that amount before an agent and a publisher picked it up. So in her mind, I’m just getting started. You might be thinking, “Why would you query it that many times? Why not give up on it?” I mentioned that fact not to get into whether or not I should have continued querying but to let you know that this is my reality. And yes, I have felt the sour grapes sensation when someone has talked of querying for a couple weeks only to land an agent. Please hear me when I say I don’t begrudge people their agents. The point of this post isn’t to gripe about that but to ask, are we hearing the whole story when we’re told about these things?

Why am I asking that? Because many, many people over the years have come to me asking me how they can get into publishing. Many had the idea that they could easily get an agent or a publishing deal because they saw such-and-such a news story describing what seems to be the instant success of someone.

During a school visit years ago, a group of kids asked me if I made as much money as J. K. Rowling, because that was their frame of reference. None of them seemed to know that she had received many rejections. This article tells how many.

I’ve heard several speakers say there are no overnight sensations. One person in particular (Person A) mentioned that someone said to her, “Where did you come from? What an overnight sensation!” because she had been invited to speak in a huge arena. But Person A explained that for twenty years she had been doing what she was doing in obscurity before stepping into the limelight. Twenty years of faithfulness.

Those are the stories I appreciate. I love when authors mention how they toiled at it for years before getting the visibility they later acquired. Like Jill Weatherholt who has posted numerous times of the multiple rejections she received, but persevered through. I’m not suggesting that people have to toil for years, sweating and suffering. But I remember their stories more because I haven’t had an easy road either.

This is not to say that authors who quickly get agents or publishing deals have had an easy road. Somewhere along their road they had to have hit a snag somewhere. But often we only get a quick soundbite, rather than the full account.

Spotlight from clipartix.com. Rejected imaged from clker.com.

What Is “Real”?

Awhile ago, I talked to someone about movies and stories in general. This person mentioned (and I’m paraphrasing), “I take seriously movies like The Hurt Locker (2008) [as opposed to fantasy movies] because they are real.” In other words, works based on real-life events have more relevance for this person.

I’ve heard sentiments like this before in regard to speculative fiction—fantasy mostly—which I’ve mentioned in blog posts from time to time. But as I thought about what was said this time, a quote from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco came to mind.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

I’m sure you’ve seen that quote before. If you haven’t, you can find the whole story here. I resonate with the rabbit’s question, because every time someone tells me he or she wouldn’t read a fantasy story because it’s not “real,” I wonder what “real” means. I don’t have to tell you that every fictional story is fiction, even those based on true events, because that is the nature of fiction. Otherwise, it would be nonfiction. But my guess is that the speculative nature of the story is the turn off, though science fiction falls under the speculative fiction umbrella.

An author who gives careful attention to worldbuilding makes his or her world seem real to me. I never enter Middle-earth without feeling like I’m in a real place, wandering roads that don’t exist in life, and eavesdropping on the conversations of beings who are works of the imagination. When I love a story, it becomes real.

But I’m not proselytizing for fantasy. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. I wrote this post, because of a conversation about the stories people relate to more than others.

What are the stories you relate to most?

Book cover from Goodreads. Hurt Locker poster from The Movie Database.

It’s a Matter of Perspective

Before I get into this post on perspective in fiction, I will start with this: You do you. I am not the literary police here. Also, since I did not invent fiction writing, I am not an expert on what should or should not be done. But, if I have been paid by your publisher to edit your manuscript and a perspective issue comes up, I will call you on it, because that is my job.

The following is not an exhaustive treatise on perspective in fiction. People have written books on the subject. I have gone the route of brevity.

The perspective you choose for a piece of fiction is part of the voice of the story. I do not have to tell you this, but here it is. Authors write in first person, close third, distant third (often omniscient), and even second person. I also don’t have to tell you this, but here I go anyway: when you’re in first person, you’re following the perspective of the narrating character. Unless you’re writing sci-fi/fantasy fiction and your character is Professor Xavier who can read minds, you are presenting only the thoughts and motivation of the “I” character. In close third, the author still follows the perspective of one character at a time in a scene or possibly a whole book. The Harry Potter novels were written in close third. We follow Harry’s perspective for the most part, though there are times when J.K. Rowling :provides a perspective that is not Harry’s (chapter one of the first and fourth books, for example).

Omniscient narration has an unseen narrator who is privy to the thoughts and motivations of all of the characters. Many of Terry Pratchett’s (photo below) Discworld novels have this sort of narration. Chronicles of Narnia author C. S. Lewis also went the narrator route.

If while describing what Harry sees, feels, and thinks Rowling were to suddenly tell us what Cho Chang or Hermione thought (outside of dialogue), we would call that head hopping. Author and former agent Nathan Bransford describes it this way:

Sometimes people try to create an omniscient perspective through an assemblage of third person limited perspectives. . . . We see what this character is thinking, then we see what this character is thinking, then we see what this character is thinking.

Now, many authors with multiple third-person limited narrators might switch narrators from scene to scene as Bransford mentions in his article, which you can read by clicking here. That’s common. But Bransford is referring to a sudden switch of perspective within the same scene. The perspective is muddied when we know we’re following Sally’s close third perspective in a scene but we’re suddenly told what another character  thinks—information Sally couldn’t possibly know (but the author knows). Here’s what I mean:

Sally darted into the elevator. She heaved a sigh of relief as the doors closed, then glanced at the elevator’s only other occupant—a man whose gaze seemed fixed on his shoes. What was his name again? Phil? Frank? She knew him from Accounting.

The man glanced up, noticing her gaze in his direction.

Aside from the hasty writing, you might wonder, what’s the big deal? Seems pretty straightforward. But I would call your attention to the word noticing. That tells me we are now in the man’s head, rather than Sally’s. Why? Because only he would know what he noticed.

I have looked at someone sometimes but my thoughts were completely elsewhere. So while I was seeing the person in theory, I wasn’t really seeing him or her. Authors slip up in perspective when they assign an exact motivation or action to someone outside of the perspective of the point-of-view character (i.e., telling us what the man noticed).

This post is a bit long, so I will stop here. For a good craft book on perspective, you might check out The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley (Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2008).

Terry Pratchett photo from Wikipedia. Other photos by L. Marie.