Choosing Your Perspective

Welcome to Part 10 of my Virtual Balticon panel writeup.

The panel description was as follows: What options does a writer have in choosing the point of view for their narrative? What kinds of stories are best suited by first-, third-, and even second-person narration? What are some ways that you can combine them, and when should you?

The panelists were: Ada Palmer (as moderator), Meriah Crawford, Jo Walton, and L. Marie Wood.

All stories have a voice and a point-of-view — or POV.

Voice

Voice sets the tone and the attitude, often alluding to a certain social class, a time period, and location.

While describing a room or a fight scene, some writers are lyrical and highly descriptive, while others are short and terse. In this bit of the narration, that’s neither character thoughts, nor dialogue, the level of voice can vary tremendously. Some are neutral, but descriptive, some are judgemental, and some are mocking. Descriptors and creative analogies can go a long way toward creating completely different tones.

Point of View

For the point-of-view, you can have first person — “I ate the cookies”, second-person — “you ate the cookies”, or third person — “She ate the cookies.”

The point-of-view character is who the story’s narrative is following. Plenty of writers switch between characters. It is up to the writer to decide how far into the character’s thoughts they wish to delve.

First Person

First person point of view is intimate, but that doesn’t require the writer to delve into the characters minds, they can choose to simply share the character’s actions and sensory inputs. It’s often used in YA, memoirs, literary fiction, and romances.

Second Person

Second person point-of-view is often seen as gimmicky. If the ‘you’ in the story reacts in a way unnatural to you, it can easily throw ‘you’, as the reader, out of the story. Now, news stories and discussions of trauma are often told this way, and it often feels natural to many people when writing reflective pieces.

Plus, of course, you’ll find second person used in those choose your own adventure stories and games.

In a mix of first and second person point of view are stories told to a specific person, “oh, daughter, when I was your age” or “dear reader, you may think… .” The panelists decided we’d call these “addressee second person.”

Third Person

Third person point-of-view has a huge amount of variety and thus is often the default POV. You can be as intimate and as zoomed in as first person, or you can have an omnipotent narrator, who knows all — past, present, and future. If you play video games, it’s the difference from a view right behind the character you’re controlling/following the plot of, and looking at the full map as everything plays out.

Warnings

Cultural norms change. Twist reveals of “he was secretly gay” or “the main character was a woman” aren’t so surprising or novel.

Head-hopping or switching POV characters mid-chapter is challenging to do smoothly.

Ways To Use Points of View In Your Story

As with switching between point-of-view characters, some writers switch between points-of-view entirely, such as using first person with a main character and third person with a secondary character. Often used in thrillers, to hide the identity of the killer. Switching between POVs can also make a section stand out, so if you want to switch tones, that can help. To either make it more intimate, or to back up a little, so the reader can rest and absorb before the plot picks back up again.

While the story is carrying us along, there’s always the choice to create an unreliable narrator in any voice. There’s a huge difference, though, between a character who doesn’t know the truth, and one who is lying to the audience. If you want an unreliable narrator, it’s best to have a good reason.

On the flip side, you can always have the narration, or use a secondary point-of-view character give the readers information that the main point-of-view character doesn’t know.

Some good examples of this are: Haircut by Ring Lardner Jr., Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes, or The Strange Case Of Jekyll and Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Now, there are other points-of-view writers have used, typically as an exploration of a concept — first person plural — “We are going to the store”.

Plus, there’s always the use of epistolary text — traditionally, a story told through letters, now used with articles, chat logs, and faux-book excerpts. This faux-documentation is also a great way to add world building and introduce new information, without needing to introduce a new point of view character.

There are a variety of ways one can combine both voice and point-of-view to create a story that resonates.


What is your favorite point-of-view?

Do you like to write something different than what you prefer to read?

Any tips I missed?


Thank you for reading. I’ll be back again next week with more writing tips and writerly musings.

There is No Finish Line: Momentum for Writers

Welcome to Part 8 of my Virtual Balticon panel writeup.

Experienced writers who have been on the roller coaster for a while know the big secret: you never really “make it.” Just because you’ve sold one book doesn’t mean you’ll sell the next one, and just because you didn’t sell the last one doesn’t mean the next one won’t hit big. Our panel offers tips and strategies for maintaining the will to keep creating.

The titular panel at Virtual Balticon 54 consisted of panelists Joshua Bilmes (as moderator), D.H. Aire, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Scott Edelman, and L. Marie Wood


Of all the panels I hit at Virtual Balticon, this is literally the one I’ve been wrestling with the most. Especially this month, but honestly, everytime I get rejected. I want to look at my work and see what I can do better.

When we talk about momentum for writers, we’re talking about when things are going well, versus productivity grinding to a halt. We’re talking the long term, not the day-to-day grind.

7 Struggles Of Getting Work or Finishing Work

  1. If there’s a deadline, that can be a way to know you’re done
  2. Sometimes you can think you’re done, but your editor sends it back to you
  3. Work often comes in feast or famine — either more than you can handle or crickets
  4. Never give up, never surrender. As long as it’s something you find worth the effort.
    • It took Scott Edelman 44 years to get a piece accepted by Asimov’s, but he kept trying (and getting many of those works published elsewhere).
    • Or, in Joshua Bilmes’s words, “if I saw you trying to get a car unstuck from the ice like that, I’d tell you get get a tow truck.” If you’re stuck on something, maybe it’s time to try something new or get some help.
  5. Decide how much you want to prioritize your writing
    • L. Marie Wood put off starting a family because her career was getting momentum
  6. Rule 1 – never give up your day job. Selling a short story for $25 isn’t gonna pay the bills, (even if you can always resell it when the rights revert.) You need benefits. (At least in the States)
  7. Don’t be a shark in the writing world — online or at conventions. Don’t see people as connections you can use to advance your career — people will always find out if you’re using them. Network — but to make friends. And be willing to help them as much as you ask for help from them.

8 Ways To Keep Your Momentum Up

  1. Allow the first draft to suck
    • Instead of noodling over the first 3 chapters for the rest of your life, accept that the majority of the words are going to be the word “the” anyway.
  2. Have a variety of projects in a variety of stages
    • If writing one story isn’t going well, try a different one — new characters, new settings, new worlds might help
    • If fiction writer brain needs a break, maybe editor brain is good. You can do line edits if you want simple tasks, or revising and re-conceptualizing the whole piece if brainstorming is more where you’re at.
  3. Feed your creativity
    • Read books (in and out of your genre)
    • Watch shows
    • Take a walk and drink in the world around you
  4. If you can’t write what you love, see if you have other stories in you
    • L. Marie Wood writes psychological horror, but it was too close to home when she had kids. Que writer’s block for 9 years. So, she wrote other things – mysteries and gardening and other articles.
  5. When life hits you, it’s okay to pivot
    • For DH Aire, in one year his lease suddenly ended and his father was dying, so he couldn’t write book 5. Instead, he started a novella, so he didn’t have to use as much brain. It ended up at 75k words…
  6. When deadlines won’t move, try to create an outline and get the words out the best you can. Then pray you have time to edit.
  7. Give yourself permission to not be god-like. Stop telling yourself “I’m supposed to write something meaningful. Change the world. Better than anything I’ve ever written before.”  — let it go. It’s a career. You’ll learn from that story how to write a better story. But you need to move on.
    • As Scott Edelman says, he couldn’t have written his favorite story without having written the twenty before it.
  8. The pandemic has been HARD. Be kind to yourself.
    • Joshua Bilmes couldn’t get edits done during March, so he did other stuff. When writing your own work, publishers will often extend a due date, if needed. Just don’t ask this if you don’t have to.

Making It Past Those Make-Or-Break Points

Writing is a tough field. Sharing your dreams and sweat and soul with strangers and hoping for a connection. But, we all have those make-or-break points — often dozens of times — where we have to decide if we’re gonna keep going, or if we’re gonna invest our time on something with maybe a more guaranteed return-on-investment.

For Scott Edelman – He’s still got a dayjob. After writing comics in the 70s, he wanted to write his own stuff and was tired of collaborating. He’ll quit jobs that get in the way of his writing.

For Keith – As a former editor, he saw what worked, what didn’t, and what was overdone. And it gave him connections. But knowing people, while helpful just for pitching, doesn’t mean you can get away with writing things that don’t suck. It can help you know the market and know opportunities coming.

For D.H. Aire, back in ’08/’09, he was unemployed and his marriage was ending. He wondered if he was writing stories good enough to get published. So, he entered one in a little writing.com contest. He won first place and got in an ezine. Then? One of his serialized stories from writing.com got picked up by a small press. Next, he got asked to contribute to an anthology. From writing.com, to the anthology, to the conventions he hits, he’s created his own creative network that encourages him, challenges him, and lets him know where new opportunities arise.

For L. Marie Wood – The convention world is her tribe, but she’s only been back for 2-3 years. During her 9 year drought, she wasn’t here. But? When people would compliment her local paper articles or her students would ask and she could answer everything… Not keeping it to herself helped. Hearing others say that she still had it gave her the confidence to go back to her writing. “You haven’t lost it all, it’s just sleeping”


Writing is one of those things that you can always come back to. Which is part of the attraction and part of the struggle. Only you can decide if the benefits outway the costs.

Tips for Writing Combat: Where Do You Focus?

Here’s Part 4 of my VirtualBalticon panel notes.

Even veterans and long-time practitioners can have problems writing fights that are both compelling and realistic; how is someone new supposed to keep up? We’ll discuss getting experience with the weapons you’re writing about, how to handle pacing in brawls, skirmishes, and battles, and how to keep the tension high when your protagonists have to survive.

These are my notes from the titular panel at Virtual Balticon 54. The panelists were: James Mendez Hodes (as moderator), Jeanne Adams, Ken Schrader, and Ryan Van Loan.

Ways to decide which details to focus on

Who is the character?

  • A new fighter
    • Focuses on scary things: the knife, the big guy, the gun
    • Is surprised by combat: how much their hand hurts after throwing a punch, how loud the gunshot is, the feel of the other person’s gut
  • A trained fighter
    • Notices small details
    • Can analyze their opponent, at least, before they get into things
    • Sometimes, time kinda slows for them

What type of scene are you showing?

  • In Hollywood:
    • Every move works (for the main character), every punch hits, every dodge works. Unless the plot needs it not to.
  • In real life
    • People don’t move as expected, and you’re mostly left just trying to react as the situation keeps changing

What’s the character’s flaw?

  • When the character is in combat, they’re usually dealing with a weakness
    • Are they in the fight because they won’t back down or have to instigate?
    • Is the weakness going to cause them to lose?
    • Do they overcome their weakness to win the fight?

What is the scene’s purpose?

The scene needs to either:

  • reveal something new about the character
  • move the plot forward
  • raise the stakes

The best scenes do all of these things.

[Note from other panels: Don’t have the bad-guy hurting babies/women just to show they’re bad. It’s cliche, overdone, and could be done far more subtly, with just as much impact.]

Tips for Writing Combat

  1. Use visceral details
    • You can keeping them to what the main
      character is feeling, they don’t even need to be graphic, just their physical/emotional reactions to the fight
    • Focus on the sensory details
      • Emotions – anger, fear, panic
      • Smells and Sounds
      • Feelings – texture, pain, loss of sensation
  2. Walk it through
    • Sit down with a friend/family member to make sure it tracks or just plain act it out.
  3. Make sure they’re hurting after the fight
    • If you get in a hand-to-hand fight, you’re going to be hurting the next day. You’re going to be tired after 30 seconds, exhausted after 3 minutes, and your adrenaline is gonna crash hard when you’re safe.
    • Note: The Indiana jones movie got a shout out for actually SHOWING him bruised and battered after a fist fight.
  4. Being in the military doesn’t make you an expert at every fighting style
    • Basic is more intro to what you will have to train
    • Most military is only taught some hand-to-hand basics, the rest is personal choice.
  5. Fighters have limits — especially during war
    • To paraphrase Ryan Van Loan, “Everyone has a cup, and if it overflows, you break. If someone can help or give you a break, you can recover.
    • In other words, this is why we give soldiers respite, why we rotate them off the front lines. And why so many have trouble transferring back to civilian life.

Researching and Writing What You Don’t Know

I write fantasy, so I’m not a proponent of ‘write what you know.’ But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your research.

War (throughout the ages) in media:

  • Restrepo – an Iraqi war documentary
  • Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War – by Karl Marlantes
    • An in-depth look at what it’s like to go to war
  • The History Channel – some of their stuff
  • Legion Versus Phalanx: The Epic Struggle for Infantry Supremacy in the Ancient World – by Myke Cole
  • Shadiversary on Youtube
  • “‘We Have Always Fought‘: Challenging the ‘WomenCattle and Slaves‘ Narrative” – essay by Kameron Hurley

Other Ways To Research Fight Scenes

  • Beta-readers
  • Ask people who fight in the style you’re writing
  • Read fight scenes — study the pacing

Some of the panelists favorite books for fight scenes

  • Dune – by Frank Herbert, especially the ending
  • Wheel of Time: The Dragon Reborn – by Robert Jordan

Remember, when writing combat, it’s not about the guts and glory, it’s about the story and the characters.

Any tips or tricks you like to use? Anything I missed? Let me know in the comments below.

There’s No Target in Middle Earth: Economics in Fantasy

Back to Part 3 of my VirtualBalticon panel notes.

In your original fantasy setting, everything the characters own or interact with has to come from somewhere, from food and drink to durable goods. Let’s talk about how to build a believable material culture for your world.

These notes come from the titular panel from Virtual Balticon 54 with panelists: E.C. Ambrose (as moderator), Gail Martin, Roberta Rogow, James Stratton, and Beth Tanner.

First up, let’s talk about how people get this wrong. Some of the biggest pet peeves that keep cropping up in fantasy novels.

Pet peeves about fantasy logic

  1. Horses are not cars

    Horses are not like cheap used cars. They are expensive to both buy and to maintain. And, in a world with horses? You’re traveling the paths that exist, not a highway.
  2. Space and time have set values.

    Especially in alternate history, how long does it take to travel? How long does it take news to travel? It depends on who you are and where you live.

    Think of Napoleonic couriers, homing pigeons, ravens, and beacons.

    If you lived near their home base, you’d be far better informed, faster than many people betwixt and between the location where the news happened and where the news traveled.
  3. Stew is not portable.

    Think about your food preservation and its transport.
  4. Clothes are finite.

    Throughout history, many people only had only one change of clothing, and very little coin money. Most things were done by bartering.
  5. Wild country is rare in settled countries.

    Those ‘wild’ prairies or moors? Likely had something grazing on them, and a herder watching over them.

    Carpenters and loggers in the woods. People gathering medicinal herbs in all sorts of places. Open land outside of cities and towns were mostly farmed. There isn’t much up for grabs that someone doesn’t try to make a living off of… unless there’s a reason.
  6. Some fabrics are worth more than others.

    In The Hobbit, Bilbo’s robe is a patchwork robe, with a wide variety of expensive silks.

    (My Note: If he or his family were tailors and these were the offcuts? Maybe. But there needs to be a reason)

How To Set Up An Economy That Works

Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • What things are available in stores? What things must be given, inherited, or earned?
  • How good you looked often depended on family sewing skills — or the ability to pay someone with those. Plus, what cloth was from your region.
  • Coinage – do they have people, gods, or something else on them? Are they a consistent size, weight, or materials? Or mixed?
  • Show the different classes – there usually isn’t going to be a single economic class, even if they pretend it.
    • Someone’s usually in charge.
    • If someone is shocked at all the silverware, that tells us something about them.
    • If some people does something weird it can be: “oh, the coastal people usually do X”.
    • Are they nibbling on the ornamental fruit display?

The very best of science-fiction and fantasy showcase different cultures and hint at where they came from. They display the different economic systems and how that affects what people within them prioritize.

Examples of Good Fantasy Economics

  • Lois McMaster Bujold’s science-fiction VorKosigan series.
  • Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni series.
  • Fran Wilde’s Bone Universe series.
  • Juliette Wade’s Mazes of Power (she also has a world-building blog)
  • Guy Gavriel Kay’s work

Inconsistencies with your world’s economy, while sounding like the most boring lecture, can make or break the story for many of your readers. Be sure to think through the implications of where material items came from and how they got to be there, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a functioning fantasy world.


Any tips or tricks I missed?

Any world-building favorites you’d like to give a shout out to?

Making Write-Ins Work For You – Virtual or Live

Ah! April of 2020! With corona quarantines, for us writers (especially you Camp NaNoWrimers) the only type of write-in most of us are attending these days is virtual.

Now, I don’t know how your write-ins work, but these are the guidelines I follow, to get the most out of any write-in — virtual or not.

Some write-ins are just people sitting there, online or not, typing away. But, most of the ones I’ve hit (maybe because this ambivert is a social creature) tend to be a mixture of social and writing.

5 Tips To Get The Most Out Of A Write-In

  1. Pick a modest goal

    You’re here to write. And socialize. Sure, you can ignore the other people, but if so, why are you even there? (Okay, it’s probably peer pressure, to keep on track. No shame there).

    Most of the write-ins I’ve attended, I’ve ended up spending about half the allotted time writing, and half the time socializing (or being weirded out at how super quiet it was, then falling down the rabbit-hole of research or cleaning up my google drive folders).

    Long story short — expect to get as much writing done during 2 hours of a write-in as you would during 1 hour by yourself.
  2. Break your goal into discrete tasks

    My most productive time at write-ins tend to be during writing sprints. Someone will set a timer and then we’ll write for 10-20 minutes. After, we’ll chat, get snacks, then refocus and go again.

    How I make sprints work for me is I pick a discrete task:
    – create a list of names for characters
    – edit the rest of this chapter
    – find out how long it takes to travel from Loxley to Sherwood
    – decide what the next scene will be about
    – write that scene
    – write the dialogue

    You get the point. Something zoomed in and focused. Maybe it’s 50 words, maybe it’s 500. Set a goal that’s within your reach.
  3. Be competitive

    Make that peer pressure work for you.

    If you’re the person who likes writing/editing more words than you did last time (or at least not dropping below your average), race yourself.

    If you’re the person who likes writing/editing more words than other people, try to best the rest of the group (or at least beat the person you were closest to last time.)
  4. Embrace the breaks

    You’re at a write-in to write — but also to socialize, to network, to make friends (and potential critique partners). You’re there to hang out with people who understand why getting the story of some imaginary people RIGHT matters so much to you.

    Accept that the time won’t be 100% on writing, and welcome the friends you can make.
  5. Make Sure Your Equipment Is Ready

    If you’re in person, make sure you’ve brought everything you need — be it pen and pad, or laptop, power cord, extension cord, and mouse.

    If it’s a virtual write-in, test your microphone — and if needed, your video camera — ahead of time. Adjust the lighting, the equipment, your setup location for comfort — and productivity. Make sure you know how to use the app and that you’ve got the time right, or you’ll lose time you don’t want to tech support.

    In both places, you may want a drink and a snack. (Or maybe that’s just me.)

Even if write-ins weren’t your thing, if you’re feeling isolated, you may want to try them again.

If you’ve never attended a write-in, or had a bad experience, try it again. With the write right group, it could be exactly what you need.


Do like write-ins? Do you hate them?
Tell me about your write-in experiences!