Writing

POV (And Why It Matters)

Point of view. It seems fairly self-explanatory. As a writer, you only have so many options here, and as long as you pick one and stick with it, you’re fine, right? But as straight-forward as it seems, it’s incredibly easy to misstep and veer your reader in multiple characters’ heads without meaning to. This article delves into how to do it right, and what to avoid.

First Person:

This is the “I” voice. In first person narration, the reader feels as if they’re being spoken to directly to by your POV character (not the writer). The great thing about first person POV is that your audience gets an effortlessly intimate view of your character because they’re in their head.

In order to make this POV work, you need to have a strong, well developed character that is capable of creating an interesting viewpoint for your reader to view the world from. This is a difficult tightrope to traverse, because you must have a character that just interesting enough to not be boring, but not so interesting that your audience feels adrift inside the head of a lunatic (unless, of course, that’s what you’re going for!).

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Where it begins to get hairy is when the story needs information your POV character either can’t know or can’t express out-of-character. They can observe, but everything is seen through the filter of their experience and understanding.

One way to combat this is to have more than one first person POV character. This should be limited by scenes. Don’t head jump from character to character in a single scene; multiple POV characters are generally broken up by chapters, to avoid reader confusion as to whose head their in.

Omniscient:

If first person is the most intimate, omniscient has the most perspective. However, it’s an excellent option when your story has elements your characters won’t know, but the reader needs to see. This gives the reader more of a cinematic view of your story–instead of having the actor’s voice narrating the movie, the reader is simply seeing it unfold and having the benefit of catching elements your characters are unaware of. Think of it as the background music of your story–it can be the upbeat melody of an impending delight or the ominous tone of impending doom.

This POV may be distant, but the perspective is excellent. The danger is telling the story without the benefit of getting a first-hand view of the emotions behind it, so as a writer, you’re expected to describe them well without “telling” your reader what those are.

Third Person:

Third person POV is the middle ground between intimate first person and perspective omniscient. This POV has a wide range of variables and balances between the two, and allows for a myriad of ways the writer can experiment with it. It all comes down to how your narration is worded.

If your narrative exposition focuses on feelings or emotionally rendered sensations, it will evoke an almost first person POV feeling for your reader, but if it focuses on distanced, matter-of-fact descriptions, your writing will have a more omniscient POV feelings.

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Generally, readers feel more of a connection to intimate-styled writing, so as a writer, be sure to invoke those feelings. It leads to a richer reading experience, and from the language you choose to use, you inform your reader of much more than just the “here and now” aspects of your story–you also show the education, history, and culture background of your character. A character may simply see a “black dress” or may see a “fitted chiffon Chanel” and the reader can guess at the history of that character based on the level of details they notice and give importance to from your narration.

However, there is a line to how much intimacy you have to your writing. Typically, readers associate “depth” with “importance”. If you make everything deep, your reader will become disappointed when a character they’ve emotionally invested themselves in has only a minor, relatively unimportant role not central to the story. Thus, having narrative distance can work in your favor to relay information without creating an expectation of importance.

Takeaway:

Your choice of point of view will dictate the direction your novel takes. Make the decision by considering how intimate you want your writing to be and where you want your reader’s focus to sit. Remember that balance is important, regardless of which POV you choose, and write accordingly. Don’t “head jump” or switch POV characters within a scene (always either create a new scene or chapter or insert a linespace to indicate the change so as not to confuse your reader).

What POV are you currently writing in, and would it serve your story better to write it in a different POV? Tell us below!

 

Writing

Exposition in Novel Writing: How to Do It Right (And How Not To)

Within any narrative, there is certain critical information that is outside of the plot which the author must delivered to the reader. This background information is necessary for the reader to gain a better understanding of the characters, plot and setting, so they can have an authentic experience with the narrative. The sharing of this information is known as exposition. Quite literally, the author is exposing unseen particulars he or she believes are essential to the story.

Why is it used?

Through proper exposition, we learn characters’ past, perspective, opinions, and general backstory. We may learn a character used to be romantically involved with another character. We may learn something simple such as the character enjoys a certain type of food, or something more juicy, such as the character used to be in prison. Regardless of what we learn through these expositional techniques, it should be relevant to the story either immediately, in the future, or it may help to further the reader’s understanding of something that has already happened. Exposition may be setting us up for something we need to know in the future or just helps us understand existing character relationships. It can also be more specific to setting, but typically deals with character development.

Third Person Exposition

A talented writer can go about this process is several ways. Commonly, we may further our understanding through the author’s third person description.

Although Eliza was born in San Diego, she never called it her hometown, since she spent most of her childhood in San Francisco.

The author just revealed some pertinent information that will help us in understanding Eliza better. Now that we know she doesn’t identify much with her  hometown, we can apply that to her interaction, thoughts, feelings, etc. throughout the story.

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Exposition through Dialogue

The author may choose to share this expositional background information through dialogue. Characters can reveal a lot about themselves through their conversations with other characters. Conversations held in secret can bring a different level of knowledge to the reader.

“I wish you could’ve been with me last year when I was recovering,” he sighed to his coach.

Now we understand there is a physical and emotional struggle this character has been dealing with, which will certainly come up again as part of the story. When it does, the reader can readily connect the previously shared dialogue with the current situations. A first person monologue can also be used to let a character deliver their own information to the reader. Exposition can also come in the form of media within the story. Authors can present newspapers, letters, and television, which can go a long way in sharing critical events with the audience. By reading a headline or a letter, or hearing a news anchor deliver a headline, we can store crucial bits of data for future or past reference. In some cases, an author may use a prologue in order to introduce the requisite information, but this can inhibit the reader’s natural discovery of information and flow of the narrative. There may not be as much artistry when using a prologue to deliver the exposition.

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Telling, Not Showing

It’s a popular repetition in the writing community; “show, don’t tell”. But exposition has it’s place in writing. Not everything should be told directly to your reader, although the careful use of exposition can work to counter an overabundance of showing. Regardless of the method employed by the author, the exposition should be entertaining enough that the reader’s interest does not fade, but it should not dominate the story. Exposition, by nature, lacks action, so it is important that it doesn’t drag on because while it is being delivered, the story is not progressing.

Yes, the reader requires these details to make full sense of all the situations and relationships, but it must be done properly. If an author goes on too long with this process, the reader may begin to lose interest. The author must still be working toward the climax of the story and building action. It should be kept rather concise and, ideally, be quite interesting. If the method used to deliver this exposition doesn’t maintain the reader’s interest, the information can go unnoticed or forgotten, and the story ends up with a gap in the sequence of events, along with the reader’s lack of necessary knowledge.

Takeaway:

The author’s artistry must shine through in every aspect of the story. It’s not something that comes easily. The best authors share this information seamlessly after years of practice. Most people don’t even realize there is real thought and effort put into delivering this information to the reader, it just seems organic. We know what we need to know and that’s why we can truly appreciate a properly told story with classic exposition. Make your expositions count in subtle ways, because it should be the exception, not the rule in your writing.

How are you slipping well-crafted exposition into your stories, and what are you struggling with in getting it in? Let us know in the comments!

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Writing

Creating Deeper Conflicts in Writing

Conflict is not only an integral part of writing a novel, it is the primary part of writing one. Without conflict in your story, you have no plot, your characters are flat, and your writing serves no purpose. But how does a writer go beyond played-out story tropes and create engaging conflict that captures readers? It all comes down to finding differences in values.

Values & Conflict

Most new writers tend to think in terms of polarizing values when trying to create conflict, which is a great way to bleed it out of your story. If your protagonist values the simple life and your antagonist values wealth, naturally they’ll experience a severe clash, as one negates the other. But not all values are so black and white in the real world, and the art of writing is to present a fictional reality that mimics our own in some way.

When plotting (and sub-plotting), give some thought to varying the levels of contrast between values. Recognize that not all of your character’s morals and wants are either strictly “good” or “bad”, but absolutely capable of both being thought of as “honorable” (like love and safety) that can still be in conflict with each other. If your protagonist wants to marry his high school sweetheart but the government arranges marriages for the genetic viability of their offspring which would result in eradicated illness, that poses a wrinkle in each side of the equation. In fact, the closer you can get the reader to sympathizing with BOTH sides, the deeper your conflict writing becomes.

Internal Conflicts

We often think of character vs. character fights when we think of conflict, but truly remarkable writing deals not just with the interpersonal but also with intrapersonal. In fact, the most profound issues our characters can face is within themselves, and often mirrors the external issues they face in some way. This is how they grow, and that is the main journey our character will go on through our writing.

Try to pinpoint what values the character has that can be at odds with another value they have and exploit that imbalance. Perhaps she loves her husband, but he’s lost his job and she is torn by the fact that she also values financial security for herself and her sick child. Maybe he values his relationship with his father who happens to be drowning, but can’t save him because he’s terrified of water. Or maybe a girl values honesty but is sworn to lie to protect her brother.

The key is to take stock of what makes your character tick, find what he thinks is good, take two of those things he thinks are good and make them clash. Poke at his fears, his flaws, his ideals. Make him make a choice between to good things or between two things he doesn’t want, and make his choice in THAT affect not just his own life, but those around him, also.

All 6 Conflict Types

We’ve talked about internal conflicts (man vs. self) and one type of external conflict (man vs. man). We even touched on societal conflicts in our example of love vs government-arranged marriage (man vs. society). Let’s break these, and the other three, down.

Man Vs. Man:

This is likely the most often thought about when considering conflicts. It could be the protagonist vs. a villain archetype, or could present itself as arguing lovers or a parent and child with conflicting opinions and outlooks.

Man Vs. Self:

The internal part of the conflict, which we’ve already discussed. This type is almost always necessary in some form to create depth in your novel, and should be used in conjunction with an external conflict.

Man Vs. Supernatural:

Another external type, this pits your character against the unknown, magic, gods, demons, fate, or anything that “outside” of a naturally occurring foe.

Man Vs. Nature:

Going in the other direction of man vs. the supernatural is man vs. nature. This can include struggles again hurricanes, tornadoes, grass fires, earthquakes, floods, snowstorms, and the like. While not an unknown force, nature is still just as lethal and unpredictable and can add excellent stress to an already overwhelmed character, or used as a primary conflict where your setting is well defined.

Man Vs. Society:

One we briefly looked at was societal conflicts. This generally puts your character at odds with a “societal norm” which makes them an outcast against many. A great example of this is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s character Hester against society in “The Scarlet Letter”.

Man Vs. Technology:

Few stories capture this conflict as well as Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”. Man vs. technology doesn’t just entail high powered devices (Shelley hit on what happens when technology advances beyond our control and our hubris clouds our judgement) but it certainly can deal with the influence it has over our lives and where that influence is taking us. Many stories that revolve around this primary conflict use it to dissect AI or nuclear powers gone awry, but it’s truly limited by the writer’s imagination and can be quite powerful.

Takeaway:

A novel is nothing without a conflict, and the best tales told don’t rely on one alone but many, allowing their character to grow through their choices and the resulting realizations. To get the most out of the conflicts present in your story, figure out where the values lie in your characters and the opposing values of those against them, and make them believable.

What conflicts are you creating for your characters and how do their values, and yours, affect your story? Let us know in the comments!

Writing

Plotting & Story Arcs

We’ve all been told how important the plot is to a story. Who? What? Where? When? Why? A successful writer uses these elements and more to draw in their reader with the plot, but does so artistically and systematically. Outside of character development and setting, a captivating plot consists of the following elements: conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. While a narrative does consist of these items, successful writers have learned over the years how to craft these elements into one cohesive product, and at the same time, maintain each as identifiable story elements that can be analyzed and discussed on their own. Let’s investigate these components and see how they fit into the overall narrative, while breaking down their usage and looking at some classic examples.

Conflict

Every story worth telling has some form of conflict, which can also be referred to as an inciting incident. The protagonist encounters some form of struggle. These conflicts can be seen in the following themes: character vs. self, character vs. character, character, vs. nature, character vs. machine, and character vs. society. These themes are fairly self-explanatory, but the ability to develop these plots into well written stories, takes years of practice. Some notable examples of these would be Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air (character vs. nature), which highlights a man’s the perilous encounters on Mount Everest, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love (character vs. self), which is a woman’s tale of self-discovery.

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Rising Action

The rising action is where the story gains momentum. Much of the exposition has already taken place, the conflict has been established, and the character is now on course for the highly anticipated climax. The author’s goal here is to build suspense and keep the reader interested, while not rushing into anything obvious. This is typically where most of the story takes place. There should not be any set length or limit to the rising action, as it serves to build into the climax. In Star Wars, we see Luke’s family killed, followed by Luke meeting Ben Kenobi, Han Solo, and Chewbacca, and eventually ending up on the Death Star to save Princess Leah. All these events are slowly, but captivatingly built with detail and intrigue, and lead to the climax.

Climax

The climax is where the conflict has reached its peak and the action or event is the most intense. Compared to the rising action, the climax is short-lived and generally comes toward the end of the story. This is a significant turning point and what the author’s audience has been eagerly anticipating. The characters have been developed, the conflict has been established, and the action and suspense has been building. The fight between Scar and Simba in Disney’s The Lion King, is a fairly obvious example of a climax. We all saw it coming, but now it’s here. They must battle and there must be a winner, there can be no ties.

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Falling Action

Our protagonist has defeated his enemy, hit the game winning home run, or kissed his true love after a series of sad or comical debacles. Now that the climax has taken place and the action has peaked, the story will naturally lose momentum. This portion of the story is quite sensibly called the falling action. Of course, this does not mean the story should lose interest or significance. The author can’t simply quit here. “What happens next?” is what the audience is now wondering. Once that home run has been hit, the author has a responsibility to tell us about the team’s celebration, or the upcoming wedding, depending on which story line you’re following here. In contrast to the rising action, significantly less time is spent in this part of the story, but it is still a critical component to the overall narrative.

Resolution

Now that the majority of the story has been told, the author must find a way to tie up the loose ends. This is called the resolution, or what your literature professor may have referred to as the denouement. The reader’s questions are answered, the characters’ secrets are revealed, and the reader is (hopefully) satisfied with their choice to stay the course and finish the story. This is decidedly different than the outcome of the climax. The resolution can be a natural part of the narrative, or can come in the form of an epilogue, as seen in many different novels. It’s the pay off for all of your work and for the reader, who gets to enjoy the fruits of the character’s labor.

Story Arcs:

A story arc is is the path the story takes from beginning to end, and typically features the character’s change in good fiction. But to craft a truly great story, your novel should feature multiple arcs. In fact, every character in your novel should have their own story arc, as each character should be pliable and change throughout your story in some way.

Some planning must take place to interweave these story arcs together, and critical scenes where you have multiple characters which include either alliances or conflicts will be crucial to getting that done. What may be of little importance to character A may have an extreme impact on the arc of character B, or the trajectory of each character can be thrown astray in a high-conflict scene in major ways to weave two or more arcs together.

While each scene should develop your story’s plot, use them to also advance your arcs together in unexpected ways.

Takeaway:

Authors spend their life crafting these skills with help from editors and publishers. It should be noted that including these five elements in not the entire formula for telling a story, and each element should stand on its own merit. Successful authors develop subplots, metaphors for their stories or characters, and other types of advanced literary devices. Knowing these building block elements will help put you on the right path for your narratives. Regardless, any story worth reading should contain these essential elements and they should always be well-developed and intentional.

Later articles will go into greater depth for each element to help you refine your craft and get the most from your story. For now, which of these elements is your strong suit and which needs work? Tell us below (and sign up here for free Master Lists for Novelists to help you flesh out your piece).

Writing

Ways to Outline Your Novel

Thanks for joining us! Today we’re going to be discussing where most writers choose to begin their journey in writing fiction; the outline. (To streamline your outlining, download our free outline template pack here. For other free Novel Writing & Editing master list templates, sign up here!)

Writers are typically cast into two different camps on this topic. You have the “pantsers” (those who “fly by the seat of their pants” and do minimal to no outlining before putting pen to paper) and you have the “plotters” (those who do extensive outlines before delving into their projects). While most traditionally published authors tend to be plotters, there’s something to be said for each style and ultimately it depends upon the writer’s personal style.

If you’re a pantser, you’ll effectively skip this part (though you may like the Draft Zero Method!). However, if you’re a plotter, there are a number of outlining methods you can use, or you can use a combination of methods to flesh out your major and minor plot points before beginning your writing.

The Traditional Outline

For structured writers, the traditional approach is often the go-to method for outlining. Using this method, you divide your novel into individual chapters and summarize the story arc in each one in a few sentences. You will get the general feel for each chapter and can easily see the trajectory of your plotlines using this method. Some writers will do this outlining on index cards, to make it easier to shuffle things around as they see fit.

The Three-Act Outline

Another favorite of the structure-loving writer is the three-act method. Instead of dividing the novel into chapters, this approach divides the novel into acts; Act I generally introduces the primary conflict, Act II introduces the turning point and climax, and Act III resolves the conflict.

The Hero’s Journey Outline

Like the Three-Act method, the Hero’s Journey breaks the novel into three parts. This is a popular method for fantasy and science fiction writers (Star Wars is a prime example), and typically has the protagonist refuse a call to action in Act I, be thrust into a series of trials in Act II, and “win” in Act III.

The Freytag Outline

This method breaks the story into not three parts but five; Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement. Because it’s not as structured as most other methods, this is for the writer who has a little pantser in them.

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The Synopsis Outline

Very unlike the previous methods which break novels up into bite-sized pieces, the Synopsis Outline is a running summary of the novel in its entirety without scene or chapter breaks. This is an incredibly useful method for writers who want to submit their work to agents and publishers, if for nothing more than to have a novel synopsis for their submission packages.

The Snowflake Outline

The Snowflake Outline focuses on “building up.” It begins with a one-sentence summary of your story, from which you expand to summaries of your characters, settings, scenes, storylines, goals, conflicts and resolutions.

The Draft Zero Outline

Pantsers who want to try outlining tend to love the Draft Zero method, because it focuses on speed rather than limiting oneself to formulas. This is really just a super-fast write-through of your story, getting out the general story as quickly as possible on the page to refine through later drafts, and often leaves out details (single letter placeholders for character names, or general ideas such as “they somehow escape”).

Regardless of what method you use, or if you use a method at all, thinking of the overall structure of your story early on leads to better, more refined work later on and is worth the time to reflect on.

Takeaway:

How you outline is very much a personal choice, but it does help craft a more intricate story and there’s more than one way to do it!

What’s your outlining style? Let us know in the comments!

(For Master Lists that help develop your novel from start to finish, sign up here!)

I always have a basic plot outline, but I like to leave some things to be decided while I write. — J.K. Rowling

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