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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » OSC class (Page 2)

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Author Topic: OSC class
Spaceman
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I had a minor character in my first novel turn into a fairly major character because his role grew with the pagecount. Those are pleasant surprises, for sure.
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wbriggs
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I also posted this on Hatrack forums, but it'll work here, too.
--
So we brought in story-idea cards, that is, synopses we had dreamed up. Some discussion of POV. So what are the costs of 1st person?

* You've just ruined any suspense about whether the POV character died in the story. He didn't, or he wouldn't be telling the story now.
* He's distanced from the events in the story by what happened since (his experience, wisdom, etc.); 3P limited need not be.

These don't seem like debilitating problems, necessarily. Might work well for comedy.

OSC spoke of the Evils (my word) of 1st person present tense. I have written one story this way so far: it had a memory in it, which the MC found herself literally in, as in, she couldn't stop thinking of the past and be back in the present; she was magically put into the memory. I simply couldn't do this transition in past tense w/o being clunky. But I see that as a special case. I can't imagine why someone would use this in a story without time travel.

As we discussed fixes for this and that, I personally started considering how much of my difficulties in writing result from stubbornness. That is, I know that a story has technobabble in it that's too much for many readers, but *I* like it, so too bad for them. Or, I know that people got lost in too many characters in scene 6, but I don't want to cut any. Maybe it's time to be flexible.

I'm not sure what else to do to get published. I thought I might try a totally different, potboiler route: not come up with a story and then find a market, but identify a market and then think, "What story would be perfect for this one?"

I hope we can process these story-idea cards more quickly; that is, I like the idea of being prolific, and I think it's important. That's what I liked so much about the 1000 Ideas in an Hour idea: it made me able to produce stories way, way more quickly. I don't like lecture so much (in any class); after all, it's usually in the textbook. But the exercises in this class are way cool.

--

For some reason this also has me thinking of a gripe of mine, for another thread.


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Spaceman
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First person works well if the story is not about the POV character.
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wbriggs
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In a synopsis I read to the class today, I had two characters, Ira, and a policeman, in a natural disaster. The milieu is a high-tech Maya society.

Picking POV is tough to me, here. Ira's POV looks preferable to me, because Ira's culture (Jewish) is less alien to me than the policeman's (some weird hi-tech Maya culture). Cop is hard to write, and is less sympathetic. Ira can have his own story, but cop is the one that really makes things happen, in it, at least, in the version I like. Maybe you could think of it as: Ira decides to trust cop. That's his action. Then we see what happens. I'm still not sure about this. I hate passive MC's. Could I have it from Ira's POV, but be about cop? OSC says: too confusing. I tend to think he's right. I can't find any stories that did this.

--

We also had this discussion. I have several stories that fit one of these patterns, all of which end with a POV shift at the very end. OSC's initial reaction is, "I'd throw the book across the room if I came across a last-minute POV shift," but I don't think I made myself clear. Or maybe I did, and it's a bad idea. I welcome comments.

Pattern 1 (using an old Asimov's story as an example): John comes back to Earth to negotiate with Lady Fiona of Scotland to buy her thousand-year-old castle. The whole thing, to be shipped to his star system, so his people can have a piece of history. Fiona seems reluctant, but Scotland is economically desperate, and nobility obliges her to see to her people's need . . . so she finally agrees. "Think what you can do for your people with this money," he says. The deal is made.
#
"OK," Lady Fiona tells the townspeople. "He fell for it. Time to start work on the next one!"

If I told it poorly, ignore my errors. Thing is, if we tell it from Fiona's POV, there's no twist ending. If we tell it from his POV and don't shift, we never get that there was a scam. You can't reveal to John that there was a scam, because then he'll stop payment, and the scam fails.

Pattern 2: John sees the magic unicorn painting in the castle, and thinks, "If I could just see a unicorn, I'd be happy from then on!" He's inspired to seek out unicorn rumors. This leads him on a fantastic adventure, blah, blah, and he goes on to some better world.
#
And even today, from time to time, someone will see the painting, and think, "If I could just see a unicorn, then I'd be happy from then on!"

This last paragraph is in omniscient, and the rest is in John's POV. Removing it wouldn't kill the story, but I wouldn't feel tricked if I read it.

Pattern 3: John does this, thinks this, etc., about and with Mary, and meets some final irreversible fate (maybe dying, maybe leaving and never returning.)
#
A couple of paragraphs about how Mary reacts now that John is gone, because at this point, we know her and want to know what happened at her end.

I recognize a certain cost, but I don't think it's high, provided the story really ends with John, and Mary's stuff is just a little wrap-up.

How would you feel, reading these plot structures?

[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited September 08, 2005).]


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franc li
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quote:
You'll also find lots of claims that there never was any blood atonement doctrine

They would be wrong. But it helps to understand that when Brigham Young was preaching blood atonement, he was doing so in the context of not being under the umbrella of federal law. I think you would find most capital punishment in the United States distasteful in that era. As far as him saying miscegenators should be killed, it is hard to separate that from our modern Romeo and Juliet idea of miscegenation. The more likely scenario for that time of a man who would not see the use of women of color as a real rape. Additionally, with them living among Native tribes, the rape of native women would bring the additional hazard of reprisals against the Mormon community.

Anyway, sorry to go back to that. I just wanted you to know that it is possible to believe BY preached blood atonement and still defend him for it.

P.S. I guess I checked in to see if how the Card class is doing.

P.P.S. 1st person present tense is odd, 1st person past is how he and K.Kidd wrote LoveLock and I thought it was incredibly effective given that the MC was created to be a witness or recorder to his owner's life.

[This message has been edited by franc li (edited September 09, 2005).]


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Spaceman
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quote:
Ira's POV looks preferable to me, because Ira's culture (Jewish) is less alien to me than the policeman's (some weird hi-tech Maya culture).

I would go with the policeman. Here is why. When you consider these two POV, your normal reaction as a human is to pick the easiest one. I've found that any time I have caught myself taking a shortcut and doubled bak to do things the hard way, the results were much better. So here you have the opportunity to explore a very strange character, and you will learn about his ideas as you create them. They will be much mroe interesting, and too, you will have the opportunity to discover your own ideas as viewed from the outside. I think this gives you the potential of an incredibly rich set of characters.


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franc li
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I bet Card wouldn't throw the book across the room if he were too interested in seeing how the story/characters ended to care that the POV had switched.

I don't see why the castle story could be all from the Lady's perspective. She does, after all, have to act in order to pull off the scam.

I guess I should read "character and viewpoint" before getting too puzzled over the obsession on POV.


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Beth
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Will, I'd need more info to say anything intelligent about your POV choices, but agree that last-minute POV shifts are probably not going to work well.

but mostly I wanted to say that a high-tech mayan culture sounds cool.


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Survivor
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Card is occasionally pretty sloppy with POV himself.

And you know what? It sort of makes me want to throw his book across the room when he does it

One important thing to note, each of the POV shifts wbriggs portrays take place after the scene with the previous POV has definitely closed. John 1 buys the castle and takes it home. John 2 has his adventure and goes to a better world. John 3 pines for Mary and then dies (or whatever).

This is different from a sloppy POV shift within a scene.


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EricJamesStone
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From just the POV angle (not considering the whether the MC is active enough, etc.), I'm going to disagree with Spaceman here and say that Ira's POV is probably preferable because it's more familiar and because it's different from the majority culture in the story.

When you have a story taking place in a vastly different culture, and you have a POV character who is of that culture, the POV character takes the vast majority of his environment for granted. There are plenty of things that he not only doesn't think twice about, he doesn't even think once. This can make it very difficult to convey information about the culture to the reader. (I'm not saying it can't be done, obviously.) It often also requires the reader to figure things out from hints in the text.

For instance, in the milieu of my fantasy novel there is no moon, and the night sky has no stars. (The day sky has one: the sun around which the world orbits.) But none of my characters notice that there is no moon and no stars, because that's just the way the world is. So it's been rather difficult to get readers to understand that.

However, if you give the reader a POV character who is a stranger in a strange land (so to speak), it allows you to highlight aspects of the majority culture that members of that culture tend to ignore because it seems natural to them.

For example, the high-tech Mayan civilization probably still uses the Mayan calendar. Under most circumstances, a Mayan wouldn't think about how the calendar is organized -- he might look at his watch and see that today is 8 Muluc, which means his board meeting on 8 Chuen is only two days from now, but he won't think about how the calendar works.

But the Jewish POV character can think about how weird it is to have twenty day names to cycle through, and the inconvenience of having a separate calendar to determine which day is the Sabbath.

Thus, the Jewish character gives readers an easier position from which to view the differences in Mayan culture.

[This message has been edited by EricJamesStone (edited September 09, 2005).]


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wbriggs
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This discussion is so cool. I may eventually be able to pick the POV for this story!

...and I'm reassured by Survivor's comments. And a night's sleep.


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franc li
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On the castle story you could make a POV sandwich, of the lady thinking about how much the castle means to them. Then you go to the buyer's POV for most of the story. Then you have your punch line, and when the reader goes back they should see flecks of the punch line in the initial section.

I don't actually write like that, mind you.


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Spaceman
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For the record, I don't necessarily disagree with Eric. Both choices make for an interesting challenge, and Eric brings up several good points that significantly add to the difficulty level of using the alien POV.


As for switching POV, I changed POV twice in my last novel. There are three chapters (maybe 15,000 words) before the main character is born, so I needed a surrigate POV. The last chapter occurs after the main character dies. Again, somebody else has to carry the ball. I don't really think anyone would get upset at a last minute POV change for that kind of reason.


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Phrasingsmith
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Regarding Ira and the cop selection, clearly the cop is the proper selection not because of what difficulties he does or does not present in writing the story but because as you say "he is the one that makes things happen". I presume that since he is the one that makes things happen he is the one which has the most at stake and so it's his story. How would another character really be able to tell us his story? What he thinks and feels. Regarding POV shifting, I understand that if you are going to do it then there are important guidelines to follow. First, if there will be a shifting POV you must introduce both as soon as is appropriate. What is appropriate is dependent upon the length of the story but never before a scene is complete. Why? Because POV shifts are jarring to the reader.
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Survivor
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That really depends on what sort of story it is, though. If it's predominately a milieu story, then Ira is probably the correct POV to use.

Also, the person making things happen is often the antagonist in the story. That might not be the case here, but it is something to be considered.


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EricJamesStone
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The POV character does not necessarily need to be the protagonist. In the Sherlock Holmes stories, of course, the POV character is Dr. Watson, who is not the one "making things happen."
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Survivor
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He is the one with a pistol, though.
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maria102182
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So what else happened in the class?! More detail!!!!
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wbriggs
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OSC specifically mentioned Watson. He said that it's ok to have a POV character not the MC, provided it's 1st person; but in 3rd, the reader expects POV to be MC, and will be confused, so just don't do it.

For more on what happened in class, bop over to Forums, Discussions about Orson Scott Card, and the thread on Taking a class from OSC. I put the punchiest stuff on this thread, but there are 2 other students who post on that one.

No updates this week, unfortunately: no class this week!

[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited September 12, 2005).]


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maria102182
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To Bad!!!
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maria102182
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You said that there was no class this week, but I have other questions I want to ask. Is he good as a teacher? Is he engaging? Tell me!!! Please?
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wbriggs
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Well -- the best way to find out (short of attending the summer class!) is to read his comments, on the "Class with OSC" thread. Forums, Discussions about Orson Scott Card, click on the thread. He replies sometimes, at length!
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maria102182
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I tried to get into the forums, the system won't let me in anywhere but here!!!!
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wbriggs
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Try this link:

http://www.hatrack.com/cgi-bin/ubbmain/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=1;t=003558

I can't imagine what's keeping you out. You don't even need an account to read the discussions (although you do need one to post).


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Spaceman
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She was probably trying to get into the bootcamp areas.
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wbriggs
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Today's class:

2 more synopses. Each required a bit more world-building. Regarding one, a possible interpretation was that the ending was a practical joke being played on the reader. I didn't understand this ending, so I don't know if it's accurate, but OSC said, basically, don't go there -- a surprise ending that breaks the rules of the world as we understood them previously will not be fun.

We also did the scene-from-life-in-3P. It wasn't so much looking for minor POV violations (although we did that -- your POV character won't notice what she looks like, unless she's putting on her face!), as noting when the POV becomes cinematic, simply because we're not paying enough attention to reminding the reader whose thoughts we're in. Also, OSC suggested that if the most interesting person -- the one with the funniest lines, for example -- changes, the reader may think the POV is shifting: so give the real POV character a few anchoring thoughts. All this is about staying in 3PL, deep penetration. Other POVs are of course legit!

Also, he said that it was cool to notice what you can do in 3PL, dp, that you can't in cinematic. YOu can't show POV char's face, but you can do dialog+thoughts, like so.

"Of course I want you to come over," Mary said. "Any time." Any time she wasn't there, that is.


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maria102182
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I guess I should explain better. I could view the discussions but I couldn't post. I said I had to have an account, but I thought I did, because I'm posting here. Maybe I just need two. Anyway.
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wbriggs
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That's right: the boards are effectively separate. You need 2 accounts.
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maria102182
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To quote Shrek, "Well, that explains alot."

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wbriggs
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Lots to talk about today. (I'm posting this under Hatrack River Forum and under the Writers Workshops -- different crowds.)

My main conclusion: some things to look for in the edit stage. I blew this really bad in a recent story on Liberty Hall, in which people didn't know the POV character until about halfway through.

Tell 'em up front

Check out this less-than-13-lines segment:

quote:
There was a lot to think about after a men's meeting. Frank offered Tim and his dog Rusty a ride back to their house, not really expecting Tim to take him up on it, since it was so close, but Tim agreed.

Rusty said, "Whatever" -- in doggie body language -- and jumped in the back.

"So waht are you going to do about your dad's visit?" Tim asked.

"I guess I'll let him," Frank said. Tim had said, during the meeting: life's full of decisions. What's yours? Make the call.

"You 'guess'?" Tim said.

"I'll do it," Frank said. As Yoda said: do, or do not. There is no try. No "I guess," either.

Rusty had no comment.


Whose POV? Some thought: Tim. (Tim has relationship to dog and to Frank.) Some thought Frank, since he was "not really expecting" something; but OSC said, it could have been Tim imagining what Frank would expect (?). In any case, it can be fixed trivially:

There was always a lot for Frank to think about after a men's meeting. He offered Tim and his dog Rusty a ride ...

This has the added advantage that Frank, Tim, and Rusty don't appear in the same sentence; you get a little more time for Frank to settle in before more characters appear.

Remaining problem: 3-sentence flashback. "Tim had said..." OSC suggested putting this in paragraph 1, as soon as Frank offered Tim and the dog a ride. You still have the flashback, but it can be used as a justification for the offer of a ride, thus also answering the question: why did Frank make this offer?

Alternately, just omit it.

Problem for me: knowing what the reader is going to wonder aobut. Clear thing: if it's something the reader will wonder about, do it in paragraph 1; or, at least, paragraph 2. Paragraph 1 is "free," that is, it can be expository, violate POV, whatever.

OSC has also said: if you start a new section/chapter, tell the reader the change in venue/POV char/time elapsed in the very first sentence.

The two things I was concerned about when I wrote this: making people not do a double take when, later on, the dog has dialogue. So I worked and got this so that the class had no trouble with it; no explanation needed -- I eased them into it.

I was also concrned that people would wonder about this "men's meeting" stuff; or, why didn't you tell us earlier that Tim runs a business (which becomes relevant later)? They didn't. Instead, they didn't get 2 words I used: "Aspberger's" and "maudlin." Know Thine Audience.

Tell 'em up front, OSC kept saying. It's OK to tell the reader your cool story idea in paragraph 1! and then show it to them. Suspense is knowing 99% of what's going on, and being driven berzerk by the remaining 1%. (It *isn't* being confused about what's going on!) We keep saying this in Hatrack writer's workshop. New writers want to create mystery this way. As for me, I just thought everybody knew what I was thinking! Also true for others in the class, I think.

Better to say "duh!" than "huh?"

More on POV

In 3PL, deep penetration, let the writing not call attention to itself, but to the character: the character provides the humor (or whatever emotion).

Subtle detail. We were deep in 3pl (in another story), and the author said of the MC, "...and then she hit upon a plan."

This was justified, and the writer went on to show us the plan, but it did remind us we were in a story. It's a cost.

"She looked worried." Not if she's the POV character; she won't be thinking about how she looked! "She grinned." Well, this can be -- but what if she's alone? Do people grin alone? Maybe -- but you could show her attitude internally.

"She was happy." Possible, but almost never do we need to say the emotions; they can be implied by actions and thoughts. Thank you, OSC: I get so annoyed at [gripe]paragraphs full of someone feeeling terrified, gasping, having his heart leap into his throat while his hands shake and his thoughts turn to the alien's hot breath and on top of it all he's really, really scared ... argh! Once I heard that there was an alien monster with big teeth coming his way, and his hands are shaking when he picks up the ray gun, I'm pretty sure he's scared![/gripe]

Some of this was very subtle.

Mary's POV. Husband is John. "Blah?" he asked his wife. Problem: she doesn't think of herself as "his wife." "Blah?" he asked her -- works better.

"With anticipation, she..." Well, not breaking a rule, but we can get the anticipation from her waiting and watching.

(So, Maria, is that enough detail for the week? )


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Survivor
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That's the largest double post I've seen in quite a while. A discussion of the finer points of POV always deserves it, though
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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And now I've gone and deleted it.

Oh, well.


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Survivor
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I suppose that I can instruct everyone to read it twice or something like that....
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wbriggs
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My notes, such as they are this time, are on my blog: http://youwillknow.blogspot.com.
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Sariel
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Just a general comment on shifting POV in stories... I read a novel some years ago by Michael Kube-McDowell called The Quiet Pools where he shifted POV's from first-person to third, alternating from chapter to chapter. It was a bit disorienting at first, but overall it worked rather well for the novel.
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MaryRobinette
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Sariel, most of the time when folks complain about shifting POV it's not on a chapter by chapter basis. That's a fairly standard technique. The problem is when POV shifts within a chapter, sometimes within the same sentence.

quote:
Bob knew that the giant robot monkey would destroy him and Jillian felt a horror as the robot monkey came closer.

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maria102182
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You would think POV would be the easy part of the story, I was starting to think that I just didn't know how to write. I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one that has trouble with this.
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Spaceman
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I've seen, on rare occasions, a POV shift very skillfully done within a paragraph. I'd have to dig around to find the example I'm thinking of.
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Beth
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Nabokov did a lot of that in one book. King Queen, Knave maybe? I don't remember; it's been at least 20 years since I read it.

If you are not Nabokov, approach POV shifts with great caution.


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wbriggs
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I haven't posted notes from OSC's class for a while, because we've been reviewing people's stories, and I haven't seen so many things that were generally applicable.

But here are some

* Really, really, don't start a story in a meeting.

* Really, really, tell us up front what is happening. Here at Hatrack, we warn against info dumps. What we should warn against is irrelevant info dumps. Relevant info is essential. Relevant info is what the POV character knows and we want to know too, so we can understand what's going on.

* Pick your POV and stick with it.

* Really, really let us into the character's thoughts. Don't be cinematic; we have cinema for that. If MC is happy, don't let her grin; let her reflect how nice the daisies are. If MC is impatient, don't make him say, "We've been here for hours!" Instead, put in the statement, "They'd been there for hours."

* Melodrama: having a character react with more emotion than the reader will. Just say no. To make the reader cry, have the character hold those tears in.

* Tell us what the character is raging about FIRST . . . then show us those clenched fists. That way we can relate.

* The POV character should be someone whose actions are relevant to the story, and who doesn't die before the end

* If you're going to have humanized animals (like in cartoons, say), set the rules and stick with them. You can have them sleep in burrows and live in fear of predators (Watership Down) or drive cars (Goofy) -- just be consistent

* Did I say, don't be cinematic? Don't do it all in dialog, or in things seen. Use thoughts. Let us know what things signify. If Peter sings a song and MC Nora bats away a tear, let us know what the song means to her.

Will


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JOHN
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quote:
College drop-out

Me too. Though I'm going back in the Spring to work towards a History major. (focus on American History, specifically the late 18th century and the American Revolution)

JOHN!


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franc li
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I actually read a very interesting piece that started in a meeting. But it was a meeting of a non-specified committee. The MC was realizing that she was the only woman in the meeting, and how she was always the token something on every committee she'd served on. It was all about her memories of wanting to be someone.
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wbriggs
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My notes from today's class are at my blog, at youwillknow.blogspot.com .
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Elan
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You GO, Will!!! Hey, I've been able to tell you are a pro, even before you made money at it!! Golly, now I can say I know someone famous. This is more fun than the time I met the woman who's sister's horse was stabled next to Mr. Ed. Congratulations!! And I'll bet this answers the question: "Will it be worth it to spend the $$$ to take a class from OSC?"
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hoptoad
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Congratulations Will,
The story was a hoot.
I really enjoyed it.


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mikemunsil
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Congratulations!!!! Well deserved.
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Robyn_Hood
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Wow!!! That would be so cool if you got the cover...Boy, first autumnmuse and now you, I guess this must be a decent place to workshop stories!
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wbriggs
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The writing class is over. Drop by my blog (http://youwillknow.blogspot.com/) for a summary of what I learned.

Next semester: novel writing class.


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wbriggs
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Notes from OSC on the business of publishing novels, at my blog, youwillknow.blogspot.com . (Second post down, at time of writing.)

[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited January 15, 2006).]


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rcorporon
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Lucky guy biggs!

Seems to me though that OSC spent a lot of time teaching stuff he has written about in his books on writing.


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