Monday, September 24, 2012

It's Worth Repeating

I was planning to discuss something else today. I'd been thinking about it for the past few days, but plans have changed.  An opportunity presented itself today, and given the visceral reaction it evoked, I can't pass up the chance to discuss it.

I'm sure I've mentioned before, I spend a lot of time in an online writer's group. The idea is to develop my target audience and improve my writing. The biggest problem I sometimes run into is that the site is open for writers from the age of thirteen up to post their work and request feedback. There are pros and cons to this as both an author and a reader.

As an author, I love the ability to reach my target audience to find out if they like my work and find it believable. It also helps me to stay connected to the genre and allows me to sound authentic. As an adult writing from the perspective of teens, this is invaluable. As a reader, I not only enjoy reading the work of up and coming writers, but I love discovering new stories and getting lost in them.

The downside as an author seeking feedback is that it's sometimes difficult to get mature feedback from teens. Their grammar, punctuation and spelling isn't always up to par, nor is their ability to understand character and plot development. That's not to say all of them are this way, but many of them are. As a reader, I have a difficult time getting into a story that's written by a thirteen year old who writes in what I call text ease and uses extra punctuation and all capital letters to emphasize their passages.

On this site, I'm often sought out by young writers and asked to read their work and offer my input. Whenever I read a story, I always look for the positive as well as the negative. My goal is not to crush dreams but to foster improvement. The things I've learned have come through trial and error and a string of painful rejections. Had I known them sooner, I might be further along in my career.

Today, I received such a request, which I happily complied with. Well, color me surprised when the author sent me a private message to tell me there was more to her story than I realized and she was "just saying". Normally, I'll let such things go, but today I responded with a rather curt reply. I let the author know that not only did she ask for my feedback specifically but she needed to be prepared that posting in a public forum means she's granting readers the right to assess her work as they see fit.

This is something I've discussed here in the past but bears repeating. Don't ask for my opinion and then tell me it's wrong. Don't seek my advice and then disregard it as rubbish. If you want someone to tell you how great your work is just the way it is, don't post it publicly. Maybe ask your best friend, significant other, or parent to weigh in. Do that and you're more likely to get the warm fuzzies you need, but don't bring it to me and expect I'm going to be anything but honest. And I assure you I want the same in return. We can help each other improve without tearing each down and egos need to be checked at the door, especially in this business.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Viewpoints Done Right

In fiction, there are two types of viewpoints. For all the years I’ve been a writer, there’s been a debate over what’s better, the first person story or the third person.

The first person is the most common. A first person story is told from the point of view of the writer being the protagonist. In other words, I am the main character and I am the one telling readers my story. The third person story is one in which the writer isn’t the protagonist.

Many writers find it’s difficult to write in third person and will stick to first person. It’s a lot easier to tell readers what I feel, think, see, etc than it is to show the same of others.

Those writers who do brave the third person viewpoint often make the mistake of telling the story from the viewpoint of every character. One minute readers are following along with the thoughts of the hero and the next minute the maid walks in the room and we’re hearing the story from her voice. Not only is this quite confusing to readers but it’s an abuse of the third person story. Just because the story is done in a third person viewpoint doesn’t mean readers want or should know what every character is thinking.

That’s not to say that writers shouldn’t use alternating viewpoints, alternating being the key word. As writers, we have to find that appropriate middle ground. We have to know how much to show readers without it being too much and we have to do it in a way that’s effective.

Using alternating or even multiple viewpoints, if the story calls for it, can work. The trick is to give each viewpoint character either their own passages or their own chapter. To switch viewpoints midstream will confuse readers and could cause them to set aside your novel. The problem with that is that they not only tell other people not to read your work for that reason but they also don’t buy anything you publish in the future. 

Whether the story is first or third person, readers want to know the main characters are thinking and feeling even if the characters can’t say the same of each other. Readers feel like they’re part of the story if they know the secret John is keeping from Mary. Part of what keeps them interested is how the secret will be revealed and what Mary will do when she finally does find out.

When I first started out as a writer, it was considered the kiss of death to give too much away. Having multiple viewpoints was one of those things that could give too much away. Since then, writers have learned it’s okay to invite readers deeper into the story and show them things about the characters that not even they know. Just make sure it’s done in a way that allows your story to move freely without tripping up the readers. Do that and you can make any viewpoint work.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Eiplogue Blog

Lately, I’ve been doing a more reading. I attribute this to my Nook. As much as I resisted the idea of reading electronically, I have to say it’s nice to have a bookstore at my fingertips. It appeases that instant gratification, too busy to make another stop aspect of my life. Whatever the reason, I’m reading more.

In my recent reads, I’ve come across more and more books that have epilogues. In fact, there are so many stories of late that do have epilogues that I’m a bit surprised when I find one that doesn’t. As a writer, I can tell you it’s rare for me to include an epilogue, which I’d say is generational.

When I was growing up and reading everything I could get my hands on, it was rare to come across an epilogue. The story ended where it ended. Sometimes things were neat and tidy, but sometimes they were left in the air. The idea with leaving things in the air was to leave things to the readers’ imaginations. Let the readers decide if getting married meant the main characters had kids and lived happily ever after.

If a writer tries to leave things open ended now, readers will eviscerate them. Okay, eviscerate is a bit of an extreme, but they will point it out. Some will be nice and some won’t. I’ve personally been bitten by this. I concluded my trilogy with the anti heroes triumphing over the heroes. The last scene was the epic battle followed by a reflective passage from the protagonist. The story concluded on Valentine’s Day of the protagonist’s senior year of high school, which is important for two reasons.

First, I got countless requests from readers urging me to complete an epilogue and let them know what happened for the rest of the year. They wanted to know if my protagonist went to her prom and graduation and what happened in her future. It wasn’t enough for them that she’d won the battle she’d been fighting for three books. They needed to know more. Second, in the beginning of the final chapter of the final book, there was a scene in which the protagonist received a Valentine’s present from her boyfriend. The book ended with me never revealing to readers what the present was. To be honest, I didn’t think they’d care so much. Boy was I wrong! I was flooded with messages all asking one question: what did she get for Valentine’s Day? The fact that the gift was never specified bothered my readers and it was suggested I address this in an epilogue.

While I didn’t add an epilogue to my trilogy, this experience, combined with my recent reads, got me to thinking. Maybe the epilogue is more than a nice idea. Maybe it’s something writers owe to readers who’ve invested their time and emotions in the characters. If I think of it that way, it makes more sense to me. Having omitted them for so long, it’s going to take some effort for me to include them in my future works. The spoiled child in me wants to resist the idea and wants to tell people this is my book. I’m the author and I’ll write what I want.

So, I’ll write what I want, but if the fans aren’t happy with what I write they aren’t going to read it. As a writer, it’s important to remember who I write for and why I post my work to be read online. I write for the pleasure of my fans. Making them happy makes me happy. To ignore a suggestion that is valid simply because I’m stubborn or possessive of my story isn’t going to endear me to those I write for nor will it make me a better writer.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to write an epilogue for every story I write. I also don’t expect to see one in every story I read. Sometimes, they just won’t be called for. Sometimes they will though and that’s when I’m going to do it. I’ll let the story be my guide.