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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Beginning POV

   
Author Topic: Beginning POV
legolasgalactica
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What gave me the question was my experience participating in he latest "1st 13" writing challege. There were a lot of entries and critiques which made it interesting to see the varying styles and opinions about which worked better and why.

Most opened close on the MC and started in on plot and dialogue immediately. But I was surprised to see how varying everyone's opinion was. Some of the stories I liked best weren't nearly as popular as ones I really didn't care for.

Mine, however, opened in a distant omniscient view and panned across until an event pulled the focus in tighter on what would become the MC. (At least that was my intent) The very next line, which I intentionally didn't include, would have brought it in to close 3rd person, but I left it off thinking it would be a better hook if the first 13 were all you saw. This was all mentioned in some of the crits as perhaps a negative.

The reason I bring up my entry isn't to discuss it so much as to explain my confusion as to why that method of opening didn't /doesn't appeal as much as the other kinds. When I read, I visualize it in movie format and many of my favorite movies pan in from distant to close POV;so that was a natural inclination on my part.

So the question is:
Is it all just subjective opinion and I either just pulled it off poorly or fell into a group of differing preferences?
Or is it really not a strong or enticing method for opening?
Or does it just not work in a "1st 13" submission.?

PS I've noticed an incredibly powerful trend the last few years of books written in1st person. Is that the new norm? It used to be I rarely saw or read a book in 1st person.

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Denevius
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quote:
When I read, I visualize it in movie format and many of my favorite movies pan in from distant to close POV;so that was a natural inclination on my part.
It has nothing to do with you, but I hate comments like this *only* because it makes me feel so old.

I have no idea your age, and you could be older than my mere three and a half decades. But I've heard comments like this more and more over the years, and every thought they create is negative. "In my day", I remember growing up with a handful of channels, and we'd get cable in the summer as a treat (and not even always, it depended on how my father did in business), and when we wrote, we didn't visualize our stories as movies. We visualized them as, you know, books.

Anywho, now that that's out of my system, I think your first problem was this:

quote:
Mine, however, opened in a distant omniscient view and panned across until an event pulled the focus in tighter on what would become the MC.
I have no idea what you wrote, but this quote sounds like you did warmup writing that could, and probably should, be cut, or at the least moved to later on in the story.

quote:
Most opened close on the MC and started in on plot and dialogue immediately.
If this was a contest, then your first 13 should have probably been written as if those 13 lines were a completed piece. It doesn't have to be how your story really starts, and heck, there probably didn't need to be a story after those lines at all.

If I was entering a contest that wanted just 13 lines, I would probably write a one or two paged flash fiction piece, and choose the best 13 lines from it.

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MattLeo
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Don't accept the common wisdom as gospel, but there *is* such a thing as fashion in writing, just like anything else.

For example, this is the opening of one of the greatest and most influential adventure novels of all time:
quote:

It is a curious thing that at my age—fifty-five last birthday—I should find myself taking up a pen to try to write a history. I wonder what sort of a history it will be when I have finished it, if ever I come to the end of the trip! I have done a good many things in my life, which seems a long one to me, owing to my having begun work so young, perhaps. At an age when other boys are at school I was earning my living as a trader in the old Colony. I have been trading, hunting, fighting, or mining ever since. And yet it is only eight months ago that I made my pile. It is a big pile now that I have got it—I don't yet know how big—but I do not think I would go through the last fifteen or sixteen months again for it; no, not if I knew that I should come out safe at the end, pile and all. But then I am a timid man, and dislike violence; moreover, I am almost sick of adventure. I wonder why I am going to write this book: it is not in my line. I am not a literary man, though very devoted to the Old Testament and also to the "Ingoldsby Legends." Let me try to set down my reasons, just to see if I have any.

Now how do you think this would do in our first 13 exercise? They don't sound much like a launching pad for eternal fame, but that's exactly what these 13 lines were for H. Rider Haggard.

If this were *clothing* fashion instead of *writing* fashion, it would go with corsets, crinoline under-skirts and egret-plumed hats. Yet I and many others can still read KING SOLOMON'S MINES with pleasure, although the overblown style makes it difficult. I think 1885 was close to the high water mark of Victorian wordiness. What's more the Victorian hero strode the soil of the Empire like Caesar in Gaul -- more a force of nature than a suffering human being. In the 20th Century modernist sensibilities trickled down into popular literature. By the end of that century rich subjective experience and psychological conflict were things we expect to find even in children's literature.

Yet pendulums swing both ways. For all we know we're near the high-water mark of the fashion for hot narration, and that makes the ice-cold style of H. Rider Haggard sound so utterly alien that it's become inaccessible to many of us.

The first 13 exercise is all about superficial stuff -- although that stuff is still important. It shows us your mechanical skill, and your *style*. Nothing more. These things are important things, but not the *only* things to pay attention to, *even in story openings*. Judges try to read more into a half-page than normally can be expected, and I think that has a distorting effect as writers try to stuff more portent into their entries than can comfortably fit. It works against one of the important characteristics of a strong story opening: confident writing. A writer who's trying too hard puts readers off. You want to take the reader in hand and launch the story with sure, confident steps.

And I think that writers, as people who pay attention to these things, are somewhat further out on the fashion curve than readers, the way people who attend fashion shows are ahead of the general clothes-buying public. Look at Harry Potter's opening: "Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." Quite chilly, just as you'd expect from a writer who idolizes E. Nesbit.

So maybe the 13 line excerpt is like the tall, emaciated runway model wearing clothes no ordinary human being would look good in.

Still, this doesn't invalidate the value that the 13 line exercise *within its scope of usefulness*. And the Hebora challenge elicited some of the best 13 line segments we've seen yet, so even if folks didn't think yours was the best, there's no shame in that.

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extrinsic
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Restraints of the thirteen lines principle set up a limiting audience expectation, on one hand; on another, the reading culture of Hatrack also limits expectations.

As audience testing, thirteen lines asks for audience responses as if from a focus group. Focus groups tend to create closed feedback loops that self-reinforce and, consequently, create scenarios where group-like, group-dislike, and group-think expectations overtop other considerations.

legolasgalatica, I recognized the cinematic camera tracking of your "The Price of Freedom" entry. That technique existed before film narrative emerged. The film technique, in fact, developed from prose methods. What didn't work for me is the symbolic meaning of the eagle is not strong and clear enough for my sensibilities, before moving into the camera panning over the cliffs of Hebora.

This is a challenge of thirteen lines, perhaps the most difficult to manage: developing audience appeal, voice, and craft artfully and simultaneously. All the entries feel rushed to me. Too much story is crammed into a mere thirteen lines meant to begin introduction development. If instead of cramming content, thirteen lines were used to shoehorn in dramatic event, character, and setting introduction development, so that the opening footing, so to speak, fits the shoe, no more, no less, then the full dramatic import of opening strategies might be realized.

My entry, for example, develops setting through a similar camera tracking method and very little, if any, character or event, lacking most of all drama. Event is the feature most easily developed into drama. Drama is event most of all; characters and settings' influences on events then are auxiliaries to event. However, simultaneous development of event, character, and setting's dramatic imports are ideal and a best practice.

Mystery, implication, symbolism and imagery, irony, and accessible figurative expression are strong methods for shoehorning content into limited line-count real estate.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by legolasgalactica:

So the question is:
Is it all just subjective opinion and I either just pulled it off poorly or fell into a group of differing preferences?
Or is it really not a strong or enticing method for opening?
Or does it just not work in a "1st 13" submission.?

PS I've noticed an incredibly powerful trend the last few years of books written in1st person. Is that the new norm? It used to be I rarely saw or read a book in 1st person.

I've posted a detailed critique of your "Hebora" entry, which should help you with some of the issues you've raised here. But now that I've gone through your entry I'll take your questions.

Q1: Is it all just subjective opinion and I either just pulled it off poorly or fell into a group of differing preferences?

A1: It's *not* all subjective opinion, but differences in subjective preferences will always play a part in how your writing is received. You can't please everyone, but your job is to win as many people over as possible, even the doubers.

As for "pulling it off poorly", I'd say you made a good try, but it's a beginner piece. You will get much better as you learn from critique.

Q2: Or is it really not a strong or enticing method for opening?

There is nothing wrong with an omniscient, narratively distant opening. It's just *your* job to make it work. If you succeed, most people who don't like that kind of opening won't even realize you've used it, unless they're on some kind of close narrative editorial crusade or something.

Q3: Or does it just not work in a "1st 13" submission.?

It can work in a first 13 submission. But beware of advice that puts too many arbitrary demands on a first-13 submission. Study the openings of stories you admire, and you'll discover what works in a story opening: strong, vivid, confident writing. Nearly always stuff is left out; it's what's *in* there that matters in the first 13 -- at least to ordinary readers.

Q4: I've noticed an incredibly powerful trend the last few years of books written in1st person. Is that the new norm?

Robinson Crusoe is a first person novel, and it was published in 1719. First person as well as third person novels have both been commonplace ever since.

The new trend that has taken off since THE HUNGER GAMES is present tense narration. I've heard advocates say that present tense narration is more immediate than past-tense narration. To that I say bull-hockey. There's nothing wrong with present-tense narration, but the idea it will turn dull story into a vivid one borders on superstition. There's no magic formula for immersing a reader in a scene; there's only practice and critique, practice and critique.

Some writers keep looking for a magic trick that will make their writing pop, but it's not the tense you choose or the narrative mode you choose, it's how well you understand how *use* the mode you have chosen; how to exploit its possibilities and avoid its pitfalls. And how do you learn how to use a tense or narrative mode? Practice and critique.

There are fashions and styles you have to be aware of, and they will change your writing in surprising ways. It's not just a matter of dressing up your story in close narrative observation or cooler narrative observation; the words you use are the material substance of your story. Tell a story a different way, and it becomes a different story. Whether it is a better or worse story depends on the skill you've acquired in that way of telling stories.

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redux
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For fun, I took a look at the NYT best seller list. Only one out of the top five hardcover fiction novels were written in first person. Contrast that to the top five YA novels which were all first person.

Is it a trend? Possibly. But what I take away from this is that younger readers perhaps crave immediacy. They want to make a connection with the protagonist, have a vicarious experience, and first person PoV is a good way to achieve it. Note that the hardcover novel that was written in first person is a romance. Again, one could surmise that readers of romance might desire an immediate connection to the romantic story arc.

I don't think authors should write to a trend, but they should be aware of their target audience preferences.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by redux:
Is it a trend? Possibly. But what I take away from this is that younger readers perhaps crave immediacy.

This is probably true, but it has little to do with narrative person. Skillful use of the third person can give you as much, or even *more* immediacy than first person. In third person you can be truly inside the character's head; in first person that is filtered through the narrator's voice, agenda and biases.

I think many beginning writers find first person easier because it allows them to write somewhat in their own persona, as opposed to creating a narrator persona. But top-notch first person narration is nearly always done in an elaborately constructed persona.

I think also that many beginning writers try their hand at YA or MG fiction, in the belief that juvenile fiction is easier. I don't believe that's true, by the way. Juvenile fiction is harder than adult genre fiction.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by redux:
For fun, I took a look at the NYT best seller list. Only one out of the top five hardcover fiction novels were written in first person. Contrast that to the top five YA novels which were all first person.

Is it a trend? Possibly. But what I take away from this is that younger readers perhaps crave immediacy. They want to make a connection with the protagonist, have a vicarious experience, and first person PoV is a good way to achieve it. Note that the hardcover novel that was written in first person is a romance. Again, one could surmise that readers of romance might desire an immediate connection to the romantic story arc.

I don't think authors should write to a trend, but they should be aware of their target audience preferences.

Though a subjective interpretation from a limited data set, your conclusion that younger, less sophisticated readers prefer closer narrative distance concurs with many readers and analysts' opinions and theories.

----

First-person subjective narration by default has the closest narrative distance, expressing the singular personal perceptions, emotions, and attitudes of a single dramatic persona. That viewpoint is also easiest to read, follow, associate with, comprehend, and write, since one character fulfills many roles: implied writer, narrator, central character, protagonist, and attitude holder.

Challenges of first-person are a tendency for overly intrusive writer surrogacy, limited narrator effacement, overly self-involved persona to the point of spoiling willing suspension of disbelief and alienating readers, and overly detailed and intrusive narrator mediation of the action.

While many writers broadly define POV as a viewpoint character's perceptions and reactions and a narrative point of view and narrator voice, and other inclusive features, narrative point of view is expressly the standing of a narrator's expressed degree of mediation of a narrative's action: or the method of discourse with narratee, implied reader, and real reader; or the audience the narration is directed toward directly, or as if witnessing the action firsthand as bystander or as vicarious participant. In other words, along an axis of extremes, does the narrator mediate the action for the audience or baldly report the action as a witness, participant, or character experiencing and emoting the action?

For example, take a line of dialogue: "I didn't say you're a liar," Nann said. "I meant you could do with some attitude adjustment."

The narrator reports verbatim what was said and who said it; however, the voice of what was said is purely character, and the attribution tag voice of "Nann said" is pure narrator voice. Also, the narrator tag is purely objective, offering no mediation of Nann's speaking action.

If subjective, though, the narrator might include an iota or two of mediation, subjectively interpreting the manner Nann expresses the speech. //Nann said, sneering, attempting a feral grin.//

An objective narrator action tag tacked onto the said tag might express other do-process statements that readers interpret for themselves instead of the narrator subjectively explaining the manner Nann expresses her speech. "Said" tags are do-process statements on their own, by the way. "I didn't say you're a liar," Nann said, loud; upturned wrinkles at the ends of her lips, her eyebrows arched. "I meant you could do with some attitude adjustment." Exaggerated for effect.

[ October 31, 2013, 05:44 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by redux:

Is it a trend? Possibly. But what I take away from this is that younger readers perhaps crave immediacy.

Maybe. Or maybe agents and editors believe that. Or writers.

I actually don't think that teens or preteens choose books based on the pov or the tense. Voice can make a big difference.

As an example, see Kirsten White's PARANORMALCY, in which the story is at best thin and takes too long to really start, but the voice carries it. I liked PARANORMALCY, btw, but not so much the sequels when Evie's voice became more uncertain.

Voice is a lot harder than selecting a magic bullet like first-person present tense. (I generally hate present tense, btw. Just because it worked for HUNGER GAMES doesn't make it the right choice for every story.)

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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MattLeo, the KING SOLOMON'S MINES excerpt is actually a bit over 18 lines by my count, but I didn't cut it because I understand that the work is in the public domain.

Meredith, I'm glad to know that Evie gets even more uncertain in the sequels to PARANORMALCY, because I haven't gotten around to reading them, and now I won't. She drove me a little crazy in the first book, and I don't have reading time for that kind of thing.

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legolasgalactica
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@ Denevious, I guess there were a lot of changes that occurred in the 5 years that separate us. Not that movies necessarily created that visual for me, but ever since my first book, I've always "seen" what I read.

@ MattLeo, Thanks for the critique. I knew those modifiers were weak and cliche and hated every one of them. It helps a lot to see alternatives. Anyhow, if I understood your opinion correctly, my strategy for the opening and even the first 13 was fine, but my writing prevented it from working for most readers.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by legolasgalactica:
Anyhow, if I understood your opinion correctly, my strategy for the opening and even the first 13 was fine, but my writing prevented it from working for most readers.

Well, let's say it came across as quickly drafted.
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Owasm
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I'm twice the age of some of you and I have to restrain myself from movie-style openings. What I've learned here is that there are three goals to an opening that I try for:

1. Inciting action
2. Introduce MC
3. Provide a hook

So that means no prologues. (from another recent thread)

That can also be a stylistic fad, but if you do all three, you end up with a scene of thirteen lines.

I agree with Meredith about the first person fad. First person has voice and that accelerates the accessibility to the character and gives the reader a quicker immersion into the story.

That just happens to be the purpose of a good 13 as well. I think you have to do what you think works for your own style and what you are comfortable writing. I hate reading present tense so I never write it. I think, again, that you write what you like... you just want to get that hook in the first 13 in a nice coherent package that can bring the reader in and have it integrate well with the story.

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by Owasm:

I agree with Meredith about the first person fad. First person has voice and that accelerates the accessibility to the character and gives the reader a quicker immersion into the story.


Well done first-person has voice. I've read some that didn't particularly. And some that had multiple first-person-pov characters who all sounded the same. So, that's not a guarantee, either.
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kmsf
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Some of the best advice I've read was to closely examine work I really enjoyed and try to break it down, determine what made it tick.
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