What’s Your Point of View on Point of View?

Although I’m about to set it aside to dig into writing the second short story under my Spice Briefs contract, I’ve been working on a manuscript for the past few weeks that’s giving me fits on the issue of point of view and whether to go with third person or first person narration. Although I’m not going to “reveal” the plot here (because, shhhhh, it’s super secret, lol), I can tell you it’s urban fantasy (ghosts, angels, werewolves, etc.) set in London at the turn of the 20th century. There are romantic elements in the story, but it’s not a romance per se, and I envision at least a three-book series with this heroine as the protagonist.

I started out writing this in third person with the idea that I would tell the story from multiple characters’ POV, but now that I’ve gotten into the story a bit further, I’ve realized that the plot demands that certain information be parceled out to the reader in the same way it’s parceled out to the heroine. Because the other characters know things that I can’t reveal to the reader before the heroine learns them, I really can’t write from multiple characters’ point of view without “spoiling” it. (I suppose in theory I could write the other charactres’ POVs and just not let them reveal anything I don’t want the reader to know, but I am incredibly annoyed by this tactic when I encounter it in other books. If I’m in a character’s head, I want the narrator to share with me any relevant information that character knows, or I feel I’m being manipulated by an untrustworthy narrator.)

Now that I realize I’m going to write the whole book in ONE character’s limited POV (as opposed to multiple POVs and/or omniscient POV), I’m wondering if the narration shouldn’t be first person rather than third person. I can’t remember the last time I read a full-length novel that was narrated in third person from a SINGLE character’s point of view. It seems to me that writing in third person almost demands that the author present multiple points of view.

On the other hand, as much as I like writing (and reading) first person narration, I’m aware that a fair percentage of readers (and editors) dislike first person intensely. Given that I like the voice of the third person narration in the book I’m writing, I don’t want to change to first person just because I’m afraid someone will be annoyed by the lack of other characters’ POVs.

So, that’s my dilemma, and it’s made me really curious how you all feel about point of view and person. I’ve added a little poll below on the subject, but if you have additional thoughts, I’d love to read them in the comments.

[poll id=”7″]

P.S. Totally appropos of nothing in this post, I notice that Behind the Red Door is back on sale for the bargain price of $5.58 at Amazon. That’s cheaper than most mass market paperbacks, so this is a good time to buy :)!

Writing What You Don’t Know

I’m a little less than three thousand words into a new project, and already I’m angsting about its direction. Now, I’m always a trifle neurotic about whatever I’m writing, but usually the actual worrying about whether I’m “doing it right” waits a little longer than one chapter to settle in. The “OMG, what if this sucks?” anxiety normally sets in at around 10-15k.

I know why this is happening, though. It’s because this book ventures into territory I haven’t explored before–not just in writing, but in reading as well. I think I can say that the story revolves around vampires without revealing too much about the premise, so with that much in mind, I will admit my deep, dark secret: I don’t read vampires.

Oh, I’ve read some of the vampire classics, including the book I really think of as the definitive modern take on vampire life, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, and, of course, all of Emma Petersen‘s vampire romances (because she’s my best bud, critique partner, and awesome too boot), but in general, I’ve never been that interested in the vampire genre. I’ve never read either Stephanie Meyers or Charlaine Harris nor have I seen the movies/TV series based on their books. What’s more, I don’t intend on starting now.

I just heard your gasp of horror. But Jackie, if you’re going to write a vampire book, shouldn’t you read a lot of vampire books so you know the genre?

Well, yes, there’s something to be said for that approach. In general, I write the genres I like to read. I cut my romance-reading teeth on historicals and, therefore, when I started writing them, it was natural for me to write historicals. It’s what I’m familiar with and what I love as a reader, so of course, it’s where I went.

So, why not apply the same strategy to my foray into the vampire world? Mainly because, as much as I fear that my interpretation of the vampire genre will be either too dark or not dark enough, I worry even more about having my vision influenced by other writers and therefore “diluted” in some way. I don’t want the what I hope is my vampires’ uniqueness leached out by getting commingled with too many other people’s take on them.

Which is why I’m taking the scary step of writing what I don’t know. Yes, it’s risky and a little panic-inducing, but on the whole, I think it’s the right way to approach this project.

What do you think?

Worldbuilding: How Do You Do It?

The backstory to this post is that I have what I (and everyone I’ve shared it with) think is a really cool idea for a YA novel. At this point, it’s a concept without any real plot and, even trickier, requires me to build a non-existent, paranormal world, something I haven’t really ever done before. Some of my friends have encouraged me to just start writing and let the worldbuilding and plot come as I go, but I have a hard time doing that because for me, internal logic and consistency in worldbuilding is epically important. I simply can’t write the story until I have most of the details of how the world behaves and what it looks like.

The biggest problem I’m having with this whole worldbuilding gig, though, is that I really don’t know how other writers do it, so I have no idea how to go about it myself. I’m not the sort of writer who tends to outline stories, although I do consider myself more of a plotter than a pantser when it comes to writing. It’s just that instead of outlining the story on paper (which to me feels a little too much like writing the actual story, and then I find the process of actually writing it boring and redundant), I tend to work it out in my head and hold it there. This doesn’t mean I have every scene in mind when I start out or anything as regimented as that, but it does mean I have the major turning points sorted out and know what I’m working toward at each step along the way.

Sometimes, I think my inability to outline (which I’ve had since I was a kid in school; I always wrote the term paper first, THEN wrote the outline, even if the teacher demanded the outline be handed in before the term paper) is a shortcoming because it means I sometimes get stuck. The past couple of weeks have been “stuck” weeks. Every story I’m working on reached a point where I just wasn’t sure what should happen next. I knew what plot points I had to cover, but coming up with a scene that actually covered those point without being nothing but plodding exposition was driving me crazy.

I feel a bit the same way about my worldbuilding issue. I have some broad outlines and a few details, but I have no idea how to organize them into a clear, comprehensive “picture” of the world I want to write about. So, I’m asking authors out there (especially those who’ve got experience in writing paranormal stories) how they go about it. Do you jot things down as they come to you? Write a “bible?” Or just make it up as you go along?

I know there isn’t any one “right” way to do this. But having not done it before, I’d like to know what ways have been the right ones for other people.

Choosing Names

As I’ve gotten into the nitty-gritty of writing my new novel, it struck me that one of the most important things we writers do when constructing a story is to choose the names of our characters. A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but a heroine named Rose is likelier to catch our readers’ fancy than one named Skunk. (Yes, it’s silly, but it illustrates the point.)

Often, I find I choose my characters names without much thought or effort. The character’s personality traits just seem to “fit” a particular name, or the hero/heroine comes to me with a name before I’ve even thought up more of the story. (In one case, I thought up a whole series of books based on a single name, Liberty Jenkins. Not that I’ve had time to write it, yet!)

To me, the fact that a name can suggest a story (or a story a name) illustrates just how powerful they are to shaping what your book becomes. A heroine named Hortense or a hero named Ernest will have far greater hurdles to overcome in playing against “type” than one named Angelina or Brad. That’s not to say an author can’t overcome those hurdles, but that by choosing those less attractive (apologies to all Hortenses and Ernests present) names, the author sets herself up from page one with a hurdle to overcome.

In the book I’m currently working on, the heroine’s name was decided before I wrote the first line. Because she appears in Sinfully Ever After, the last of the novellas in Behind the Red Door, I had to use the name I’d given her in that story. If I had known, however, that I would be giving her a book of her own, I probably wouldn’t have chosen the name Marianne.

It’s not that I have anything against the name Marianne. It’s a pretty name. It’s also a perfectly Georgian and Regency-era correct name for a lady (and there are precious few, as Jo Beverley points out here). It’s just that it’s not the name I would have associated with this particular character as she has evolved. That said, it’s what I had to work with, so it’s what I went with.

I had more leeway with the hero, since he doesn’t appear in any of the other stories. I also had to provide his nephew, who plays a pivotal role in the story, and his three daughters with names that seemed to “suit” them (and, as an added bonus, might provide me with grist for more stories down the road).

As is sometimes the case, the hero’s name presented itself almost immediately. Sterling. As soon as it popped into my head, I knew it was right. He’s hard and a little tarnished, but with a bit of polishing, his true worth shines through.

Okay, two down, one to go.

The nephew took a little longer. I started with Benjamin, and even used it in the first draft of the first chapter, but it just wasn’t working for me. I couldn’t say why, I just knew it wasn’t the name that character wanted and needed. I knew the name needed to start with a B (again, there’s no rhyme or reason to why I thought that…I just did!), so I kept trying and the name that kept coming to me was Bernard. It’s perhaps a little nerdy sounding, but for this character, that fits. Not that he’s nerdy exactly, but…well, let’s just see if someone actually decides to publish the book and you can find out for yourself!

YOUR TURN: Are the names of the characters in a book important to you? Will you deliberately pass over a book because you don’t like the name of the hero/heroine? Pick up a book specifically because you like the names? And if you’re a writer, how do you choose your characters’ names?

What do you mean, there has to be a conflict?

Cross-posted from the Mavens blog

When I wrote my first manuscript the first time (and the second, third, and even fouth times), one of the comments I persistently got from my critique partners and from contest judges was that there “wasn’t enough conflict to sustain a full 100K-word novel.” But since I’d actually written more than 100K to get to The End (the first completed first draft was a whopping 136K and that was after I chopped some stuff), I have admit, I kinda scratched my head over that.

I mean, I’d sustained a 100K novel with the conflict I had. What in the world were they talking about? Obviously, they didn’t know what they were talking about and should be shanked with Erica’s machete.

Read the rest of my moment of brilliance (or forehead-smacking d’oh!) here.