Monthly Archives: November 2015

The Key to a Great Story – Going Beyond Words

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In this post I’m going to discuss the various different written forms and images can be employed in your writing that can help you convey your story that go beyond just the words.

Different Written Styles

While technically still using words, looking at the style that you use does change how the story is perceived by the audience. For example the majority of stories are told in prose, using a perspective. However you can change the form of the prose or mix it up with extracts from letters, diary entries, text messages and emails, written by characters in the story. This can help mix up the different forms of communication that are used between characters in your story and be more reflective of communication between real people. Texting for example would be accepted as a common form of communication between people in contemporary stories.

You can even use a style to tell the entire story; Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding is written entirely as a diary, and works beautifully to show how a single woman traverses life in London in the late nineties. Through the words of Bridget herself you can see the worries, joys and insecurities that she faces, and see her eccentric character. You can also see the other characters through her written perspective. The book is a masterpiece in showing how style can be altered and still tell a story.

Including Poetry

Separate from other prose forms you could consider including poetry or songs in your story. Probably the most famous example of work that employs this would be by Tolkien, where the creation of lyrical songs included throughout the text add depth to his world and reflect the oral traditions of the cultures he created.

Punctuation

It’s an odd one to consider but punctuation can be employed in various ways to change the way that the audience reads the story. For example in K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs series, the characters when they have transformed into animals are able to communicate telepathically with each other, and in order to convey that in the writing rather than use “” Applegate enclosed the thoughts between <>.

Charts, Graphs and Images

I have recently read Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, and in the book I came across charts of computer data and lots of coding as well within the book which was used as part of the story telling process. I mention it because to me this was unusual and nothing I’d ever found before in a book. Then again I don’t read thrillers particularly often so it might be something quite common in the genre, but without them certain revelations within the book would have been a great deal harder for the writer to convey.

While not a written form, the use of images is similar to this as well. In Dan Brown’s book he is regularly talking about items that have very intricate details and for that to be conveyed easier, images are included to help the audience to image what he is talking about. This is especially true in Angels and Demons.

I personally don’t use charts, graphs and images, but I do think that if they are needed and are used wisely then they can be very helpful in adding depth to the story and to make it easier for the audience to image what’s going on.

The only occasion when I’ve seen images used and weren’t needed is in Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, where there have been a lot of images included, but this is Tolkien’s we’re talking about, and for that reason alone I’m willing to forgive it. I would however say again, and images are great but only when needed.

Maps

Speaking of images that are needed though, maps can be essential. As a fantasy writer and a massive fantasy fan, I think maps are really necessary, especially for fantasy world types. I know from plenty of experience of reading fantasy books, the inclusion of a good map really helps with my imagination but also because at least for me they are just as fascinating as the story itself.

Middle Earth has become iconic, but plenty of fantasy maps can become detailed beyond the need of the story telling, such as George R.R. Martin’s maps for a Song of Ice and Fire. Trudi Canavan employs maps well also, including a generalised map of the world but then more detailed maps of the city of Imardin.

Summary

As you can see there is a great possibility for you to go beyond just words in telling your story. Some of it is about the style of your words, and some of it is about looking at various types of images that could be used to help tell your story.

 

The Key to a Great Story – Breaking Perspective Rules

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In my posts so far discussing perspective I’ve been saying that you should choose one perspective and stick with it. Generally it is a rule of thumb I would still recommend that you stick with, but more advanced writing techniques don’t always stick to this rule.

Multiple Third Person Restricted Perspective

The restricted third person means that when you are writing a story you are restricted to the perspective of the character that you have chosen to tell the story. However, when done well, there’s nothing to stop you from changing the point of view between different characters. Generally speaking this switch would come as a new chapter starts.

One of the best known examples of how this is done is in George R.R. Martin’s  A Song of Ice and Fire series, where each chapter is from a different character’s perspective.

Another famous example is the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which is written from the perspective of Frank Bryce, the gardener to the Riddles. The majority of all of the Harry Potter series is written from the perspective of Harry Potter, apart from a select few chapters at the beginning of the books used to set the scene and tone of the rest of the book.

Blending Third Person Restricted with Third Person Unlimited

I wouldn’t recommend that you use this technique very often, but it is a very good technique to employ, perhaps to help set a scene at the beginning of the book. Because what I’m talking about here isn’t having one chapter as unlimited and then in the next restricting the viewpoint, which is entirely possible, but would maybe be a bit odd. What I mean here is doing it within the same chapter.

Doing that though would require a great deal of skill and control over your story, and I can only recommend that you do it sparingly. What this technique could be useful for is for a chapter that is needed to set up the story, but when it can’t be done purely from only one character’s perspective. So how to go about doing it would be to use the restricted viewpoint the majority of the time and then the unlimited viewpoint as your transition between the two characters.

Now many could argue that this would then simply be the third person unlimited entirely, but it isn’t, because when you do have a character to focus on you stick to the rules about only telling the story based on what they observe, and then only use the unlimited viewpoint when you are moving from one character to the next, but that is only for a couple of sentences at the very most.

A famous example of this technique being employed comes again from Harry Potter, but this time from the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The opening paragraphs are from an unlimited view, before switching to Vernon’s view, and then transitioning using unlimited to show the audience Dumbledore’s arrival watched by Minerva as a cat, before going into the restricted view of Minerva. The chapter ends on the unlimited viewpoint, which even knows what’s going to happen to Harry in the morning when his aunt finds him on the doorstep.

And the tell-tale signs that this is what happened is because the audience is given no information beyond what Vernon and Minerva know when we are limited to their viewpoint. No further explanation is given to the audience to explain why the wizards are out in force in cloaks, and no insight into Dumbledore’s thoughts are explained as he sits on the wall with Minerva.  Honestly the chapter is a masterpiece in how to write well and blend changes in perspectives seamlessly – it also took J.K. Rowling 15 to 20 drafts to perfect.

Mixing Third Person and First Person

Generally speaking the only why you would ever see this happen would be if there was an extract included in the story that is written by a character themselves, such as a letter (or an email) or a diary extract. This is a great way to add a bit of personal depth to a story if you think this would be an applicable technique to employ.

The only other way that you could mix the first person and third together would be to have some chapters written in one perspective and then others written in the other. However, the only time I have ever seen this done was in Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman, where the majority was in the third person, and then shorter chapters was in the first from the imagined perspective of the pigeon that the main character is fixated by. I would say if you’re doing this, do so sparingly in order for the impact of doing it to have more punch.

Multiple First Person Perspective

From what I am aware the internet pretty much says this is a big no-no. And it is the rule I break all the time; I prefer the first person as a writer but I like having more freedom in which perspective to use, so I change the character perspectives. Sometimes this is as the chapter changes, and sometimes it is in the middle of a chapter, usually when in the mildly violent world of my books my character is knocked out.

Now I have seen examples in the real world where beyond my own writing when this does happen, sometimes because the main character is out of it but sometimes because the main character has even died. Jacob Black has his own perspective for a portion of the fourth Twilight book, and I found the change quite refreshing, even if it did come out of the blue.

Generally speaking though this is not an easy way to write a story and in the majority of cases I would recommend that you use either of the third person perspectives if you want to switch between characters. My preference for using this technique comes from what I was inspired by when I was going up, mainly from when I used to read K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs series.

The books are all written in the first person, but each book rotated between the main character’s first person perspectives. I absolutely loved the books because they were very original and each character had a distinctive voice. However I was at an age when I was reading more complex works as well, along the lines of epic length fantasy works by Tolkien and Terry Brooks, so I didn’t really view the books as individual entities, merely chapters of a larger piece. Because I felt that and because they had a massive influence on me I’ve sort of adapted the rotating first person perspective in my own work.

Summary  

Again as I’ve said before perspective is a choice that only you can make, but as you can see from the more advanced techniques I’ve described here, choosing the right one does not need to be as simplistic as you would imagine.

 

 

 

 

 

The Key to a Great Story – Choosing your Perspective

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Choosing which perspective to use in your writing can either be one of the easiest or one of the both difficult decisions that you could ever make.

The merits of using the first person is that you can write a very personal story from the perspective of your protagonist. The reader gets to see and feel everything that they do. It can be used to great effect to break the fourth wall between character and audience, and create a ‘voice’ of a character that a reader can come to recognise.

Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus books for example develops a great voice over the series; I know the books quite well admittedly, but I could probably recognise the character of Alex from an untitled extract because Jacka has developed such a distinctive tone.

However, equally I’ve also read some awful first person stories, where the attempt to be more informal/conversational with the tone of voice and lead the writer to having created a great character that I couldn’t stand because I found them so irritating and a lot of the time the character was information dumping on the audience rather than showing them the story more organically.

Using third person restricted in my opinion can be less personal than the first person, but as I demonstrated in the post about this perspective you can be as personal as in the first person but the pronouns are different. In my opinion, if you’re going to be this personal then use the first person, but then again as a writer I’m more inclined to write in the first person than in the third, so I am a bit biased.

The effect of using the third person restricted though is that the audience is observing the protagonist (who would in most cases be the restricted view that you would use) rather than experiencing it directly. I find that the merit of this is that it is easier for the audience to get absorbed into the story because it is written as an observation and as a reader you are always only ever observing what’s going on. It also doesn’t detract from the audience ability to connect emotionally to a character either.

The first person and the third person restricted perspectives are as the name of the latter suggests restricted to the viewpoint of the protagonist, so you won’t be able to show other parts of the story happening that are beyond the observation of your protagonist. Naturally of course there are exceptions to this rule, which I will discuss in my next post, but sticking to the rules and wanting to show beyond the protagonist means last perspective I’ve discussed might be better suited to yours needs.

The Unlimited Third Person Perspective gives you a lot more freedom in the observations that can be made for the audience to absorb. It means that you as the writer is telling the story from the unlimited perspective that you as the creator of the piece can convey to the reader. I did prove that it can go very wrong if the perspective is fumbled, but when it is done well (and I will admit I’m not convinced that even in my re-worked paragraphs were all that great) it can be a very useful tool for an author to use to tell a story.

Going about choosing which of the perspectives to use is entirely a personal preference. The general rule of thumb is that you choose one and stick with it. Personally as a writer I’m drawn more towards the first person than either of the third person perspectives, but I know that generally most stories are written in the third person. This is just one of those things that you just have to figure out yourself; all I can recommend is that you try to write a scene in all of the perspectives and see which one works best for you.

In my next post though I will discuss in more detail how you could go about breaking these rules.

The Key to a Great Story – Third Person Unlimited Perspective

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This post will be about how Third Person Unlimited Perspective can be used in a scene. As I explained in the basics to perspectives post, I will be using an example of a character called ‘The Debt Collector’, who I have been creating recently, arriving in a town via a carriage.

I have already done this for the first person and third person restricted perspectives, which I recommend you check out. However, unlike with the other third person, I’m not making a comparison with the first person, nor am I referring back to the other third person either. In this post I’ll approach the scene twice and show you how you can end up accidentally writing this perspective badly and how you can improve upon it.

The footman opened the door to the carriage anxiously; he was wary of the Debt Collector. She just sighed on seeing that they had arrived; she was uncomfortable in the bulky dress she had been told to wear and didn’t really want to move. The footman grew more nervous on potentially having disturbed The Debt Collector when he heard the sigh.

She looked calm though as she was as she took his hand and stepped from the carriage straight into the mud. She didn’t mind, but the footman tensed. There hadn’t been any proper roads for them to stop and the mud was everywhere.  The Debt Collector knew this full well and that the mud was unavoidable. The calm composure she maintained did little comfort her footman though; if anything her lack of reaction just made him all the more afraid of her. 

As you can see from the unlimited perspective you can read about the reactions of both characters and this comes from the all seeing and knowing perspective of the writer not restricting themselves to one character.

In my previous versions of this scene in the first and third person restricted, you knew that the Debt Collector had sensed that the footman was apprehensive about her having to drag her skirts through the mud. In the first person perspective I wrote from the footman’s viewpoint, I conveyed that he was aware that he was annoyed and was worried about irritating her further. You can get all of this from the unlimited third person perspective which allows you more insight into both of the characters reaction to leaving the carriage.

However conveying the detail of two characters perspectives does require more in terms of word count and the switching between the two characters can also be a bit fumbled. Within the first paragraph you are quickly getting the two characters perspectives on the ‘sigh’. I will admit that if I was reading a paragraph like that in a published work I wouldn’t be impressed. I would be even less impressed with the second paragraph where the perspective jumps within the same sentences and in some sentences the character’s perspectives isn’t even all that clear.

I would love to admit that I’d written the paragraphs to be that fumbled on purpose to show you how it could go wrong, but I didn’t, that is genuinely the first draft I wrote of the same scene using the unlimited third person perspective. It is not a perspective that I ever write in normally so I don’t have much practice in using it. Looking at it again I do need to tidy it up quite a bit.

The footman opened the door to the carriage anxiously; he was wary of the Debt Collector and didn’t really want to disturb her. She had been a bit irritated since this morning and neither he nor the driver had been sure what they had done to annoy her. They had looked desperately for a proper, unmuddied road to stop, but here in the town on the edge of the world there was only mud tracks.

The Debt Collector sighed when she noticed they had stopped; she was really uncomfortable in the dress she had been told to wear for this visit and didn’t really want to move. She saw the footman was anxious but she kept herself composed and took his hand to descend from the carriage. The heavy brocade skirts of her dress hit the mud and she felt the footman tense, wary of her reaction. She didn’t mind though; she hated the dress and she knew there would only be mud roads here. She wasn’t about to reassure him though; her reputation was the only thing that was likely to keep any of them safe.

Comparing the re-write to the original you can see that the two paragraphs convey only one character’s in each paragraph. You will however notice that I have had to add extra details to help explain the situation and emotional reactions.

For example in the first paragraph you hear of the driver as well, who with the footman was wary of their passenger who was annoyed, but it isn’t until the second paragraph that the reader learns it is because of the dress she had obviously put on that morning.

From the Debt Collector’s perspective you learn that she is aware of their reactions to her, but that her position in the wider world and in relation to them means that she can’t reassure them about the dress she hates. It isn’t a connection she is able to make with them; she knows they fear her and she needs to maintain that. You can even see from the first paragraph the footman’s assumption that it is something that they think they have done and try not to further aggravate because of the mud.

When done well (and I will admit it can be done a lot better than my attempts) the unlimited viewpoint offer the writer a lot of opportunity to convey a great deal more detail to the audience, you just have to be mindful of how you go about doing it and to not fumble your viewpoints as badly I as in in the original scene I wrote for this exercise.

The Key to a Great Story – Third Person Restricted Perspective

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This post will be about how the Third Person Restricted Perspective can be used in a scene. As I explained in the basics of perspective, I will be using an example of a character called ‘The Debt Collector’, who I have been creating recently, arriving in a town via a carriage.

I will be referencing the First Person Version I wrote for this scene to make a comparison, so I do recommend you check that out as well, but for your convenience I have included the perspective of the Debt Collector that I wrote at the bottom of this post.

The footman opened the door to the carriage and the woman sighed. She wasn’t comfortable in the bulky dress she had been told to wear. She composed herself and took the footman’s hand to descend from the carriage. She stepped straight into the muddy street, her brocade skirts falling straight into the mud.

The footman tensed, waiting for her reaction but she maintained her composure. She knew there was no paved roads in this town here on the edge of the world but she wasn’t about to be seen to be kind to her footman; her reputation depended on it. 

When you compare these two paragraphs to the paragraphs I wrote for the First Person you can immediately see the difference in pronouns. Rather than ‘I’, use ‘she’. You will also see that I wrote the scene a lot less personally and that is a reflection on how I approach this perspective.

I find the third person generally is a lot less personal than the First Person, even when in this case it is still restricted to the viewpoint of the Debt Collector. This is not her inner monologue, it is from the perspective of an outsider who has an insight on the character’s reactions (i.e. the writer) but not insight to everything else (that is what the Third Person Unlimited is able to do).

The differences between how I went about writing the First Person and the Third Person Restricted, is reflective on how my personal writing style changes between the two perspectives. The sort of observations that I make as a writer are less intimate; I don’t feel that as a writer I would have known that she was struggling to breathe in the dress, only that she was uncomfortable.

I could have quite easily just changed the pronouns and made third person restricted using the same observations, like so:

The footman opened the door to the carriage and she sighed; she was going to have to try and move in the bulky dress she had been told to wear. She breathed as deeply as she was able, and composed herself. She took the footman’s hand and stepped out of the carriage. The heavy brocade skirts fell straight into the mud.

Either of the third person restricted versions work, but differences in how you write either of these perspectives might become apparent to you over time and something that as a writer you figure out. You might decide that you are more personal than I am in using this perspective.

 

For comparison the First Person Perspective from the viewpoint of the Debt Collector herself.

(The footman opened the door to the carriage and I sighed; I was going to have to try and move in the bulky dress I had been told to wear. I breathed as deeply as I was able, and composed myself. I took the footman’s hand and stepped out of the carriage. My heavy brocade skirts fell straight into the mud.

I felt the footman tense, I assume because he was frightened about what I was going to say and do because the carriage had stopped in the mud. I couldn’t exactly tell him I didn’t mind; there was mud as far as the eye could see. I had a reputation to maintain, and here at the very edge of the world, I couldn’t be seen to be kind to my footman.)

The Key to a Great Story – First Person Perspective

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This post will be about how First Person Perspective can be used in a scene. As I explained in the previous post, I will be using an example of a character called ‘The Debt Collector’, who I have been creating recently, arriving in a town via a carriage.

The footman opened the door to the carriage and I sighed; I was going to have to try and move in the bulky dress I had been told to wear. I breathed as deeply as I was able, and composed myself. I took the footman’s hand and stepped out of the carriage. My heavy brocade skirts fell straight into the mud.

I felt the footman tense, I assume because he was frightened about what I was going to say and do because the carriage had stopped in the mud. I couldn’t exactly tell him I didn’t mind; there was mud as far as the eye could see. I had a reputation to maintain though, and here at the very edge of the world, I couldn’t be seen to be kind to my footman.

As you can see from the paragraphs above I have used the First person which uses a lot of pronouns like ‘I’ and the perspective of the story comes from the character’s inner monologue. The perspective is limited to what the Debt Collector herself sees and feels.

You will notice that without dialogue included, you don’t know that she is the Debt Collector, only that she was told to wear a dress that she’s uncomfortable in, which suggests that she’s not in complete control of her own life. However, her self- awareness of being an intimidating person is conveyed because she consciously doesn’t reassure her footman that she’s not bothered by the mud.

Given that she isn’t happy about wearing the dress in the first place of course she doesn’t mind, which hints that she’s not that happy about being controlled but having been sent to a town on the edge of the world, she is also well aware that her reputation will help her keep her safe so she mustn’t compromise it.

Now if I re-wrote the scene purely from the perspective of the footman, you will see that there is a difference in what information you can learn.

I was wary of opening the door now that we had arrived. The Debt Collector had been annoyed ever since she had appeared from her room early on this morning. I couldn’t figure out exactly what I’d done, or even what the driver might have done, to annoy her so much. We’d searched in vain for a proper paved street for her to leave the carriage but apparently such a convenience didn’t exist at the edge of the world and I really didn’t want to know what she’s do to us when she saw the amount of mud.

I tried to stay calm when I heard the audible sigh from her when she saw me by the door. Whatever was bothering her though wasn’t about to be revealed; her icy demeanour didn’t even flicker as she took my hand and stepped from the carriage. The skirts of her ornate and very expensive dress began trailing in the thick mud immediately. I tensed but her stare didn’t give away anything; just having her look at me though made me quiver slightly and I dreaded what she had in mind for us because her dress had been ruined.  

As you can see limiting the perspective of the story to the footman, means that you have no idea that the reason she’s annoyed is because she’s struggling in the dress. You do however have a much better of how she is perceived .

From her perspective you know that she is perceived to be frightening, but having insight into her monologue you know that she is considerate and that the reason she isn’t towards her footman is because it is safer for her reputation to not be tainted by an act of kindness.

The footman doesn’t know that kindness even exists and is terrified in the belief that he has done something himself to annoy her and that she will blame him entirely for ruining the dress. His perspective changes the audience reaction tot he character; from his perspective the audience only knows that she is a frightening character not to be crossed.

From her perspective though you know more about more complex character that she is, and that she more than the icy ‘debt Collector’. After all someone put her in that dress, and the fact she isn’t bothered by the mud tells you all you need to know about what she thinks about being controlled.

As you can see there are limits to the first person perspective, as you can only know the perspective of the character chosen to tell the story. However you can also see the possibilities of adding depth to a character and facets of different aspects of a character’s personality that an inner monologue and direct dialogue with the audience can convey, but only if you chose the right character for the perspective.

The Key to a Great Story – The Basics of Perspective

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Every story is written from a perspective, and what I mean by this is the grammatical perspective. Generally speaking stories are written either in the First Person or one of the various Third Person Perspectives.

The differences between First and Third is the types of pronouns that you use and also the limitation you have on what you can tell. A story written in the First Person is written from the direct perspective of the character you have selected to tell the story. A story written in the third person can either be from the restricted perspective of one character or from the unlimited perspective of you as the author.

There is another perspective, but I will not be discussing in a post of it’s own because it is very rarely used, is the Second Person perspectives. How this one works just basically is that the pronouns used, make you the reader the character in the book that experience the plot and world. For example, Annie opened the door and the murderer attacked, slicing open her stomach with a knife would become instead You open the door to the room; you feel a pain in your stomach before you realise that you had been attacked. Okay not the greatest example in the world, but you get the idea. It is difficult to do well and I don’t recommend it.

For the other perspectives though I will prepare a scene to demonstrate the potential of the other perspectives. I mentioned in my post on sources of inspiration a character I had been developing called ‘The Debt Collector’. I’ve been working on her since then, and I can use her arrival in a town as an example of the differences between first person, third person restricted and third person unlimited.

In the upcoming posts I will write this scene in several different ways to show you how the different perspectives work and can change the same scenario, in some cases quite considerably. Also, I will re-write the scene to show how differences within the same perspective can alter the story and how the audience perceives it as well.

Once I’ve done that I’ll discuss in further details the merits and disadvantages of each and how you can go about choosing which one you might wish to use. And then how you go about potentially breaking all the rules.