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It's November again, the month when half my social circle decide they're going to write novels, whether or not they're normally given to auctorial pursuits.

You see, November is National Novel-Writing Month, affectionately (and sometimes less so) referred to as NaNoWriMo or simply NaNo for short. The idea is to write an entire novel in a month, from start to finish. Complete that task and you're said to have "won" NaNoWriMo. 50,000 words in 30 days, or 1,667 per day. It seems so... arbitrary. I'm all in favor of motivation and measurable progress, and having deadlines can be helpful in these areas. Still, there are things that cannot be rushed, or at least that perhaps shouldn't be. High on this list, at least by my lights, is the creative process.

Now, I've been writing novel-length fiction for a few years. Quite a few. (All right, since the Carter administration. Happy now?) Under a full head of steam, I can generate a couple of thousand words in an hour or two. But whenever I've focused more on wordcount than on form and content, it hasn't taken too long for the quality of my output to fall off dramatically.

For me, that's the biggest problem with NaNoWriMo. I tried it once. Somewhere around the 18,000-word mark I found myself writing in circles, just trying to make wordcount. What I'd lost sight of was how to make my words count.

I didn't "win" NaNo that year, and I haven't played since. For one thing, I'm old-school enough to regard 50k words as pretty slim -- in fact, for my money that's a novella, not a full-blown novel. If I'm going to write a novel, the story will be complex enough to require at least 80k to 90k words to really tell it properly. That's more than I'm likely to churn out in a month's time, however, unless I have virtually nothing else that requires my attention during that month -- no job, no freelance work, no other responsibilities, and enough money on-hand to not waste time worrying about how to pay the bills. Suffice it to say I've never been in that situation. At best, I've had the free time OR the money, but not both, and certainly not the lack of other responsibilities.

Writing fiction takes work. It takes thought, and the freedom to indulge one's imagination. Some days are better spent just figuring out how some new element that's presented itself can be made useful to the story than in pounding out another thousand or so words. I outline my work, but my Muse always surprises me with something I hadn't planned on, or else my characters take on lives of their own and insist on doing things I hadn't anticipated. I've learned the hard way to let them, because if they're fully-formed enough to be doing that in the first place, it usually means they have a better idea of what's going on in the story than I do. If an author is God in relation to his or her fictional world, then I am an absolute pushover of a deity 90% of the time. My characters tend to exercise enormous amounts of free will. Of course, this may also explain why so many of them can be best described as agnostic...

All this is in aid of saying that while I am indeed in the process of writing a novel, I'm not doing NaNoWriMo. I began this project a bit before November, and I'm sure I won't finish it before Christmas. And that's all right. My characters don't feel rushed, the plot isn't slapped together with chewing gum and baling twine, and I'm not as likely to lose whatever sanity I may have before the denouement. Mind, I'm not saying that any of these things are the case with all NaNo novels. I'm quite sure there are some good ones out there. Even so, I have to wonder whether they'd perhaps be even better for having being written in a slightly more relaxed manner, with the author taking his or her time at crafting them.

They say you can't hurry Art, much like you can't hurry love, or the perfect wine. Things take time, and that's fine by me.

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...because, you see, it's damned difficult to type while wearing them.

I spend a lot of time thinking in terms of blog posts. I make comments or posts on Facebook and think to myself, "If I expanded on that, it would make a great blog post." I sit in traffic or stand in line at the grocery store and think about this or that topic, and the words just come. Sometimes they even come over a second cup of coffee on a lazy Sunday morning when I have nothing pressing to do that should keep me from writing.

And then I don't actually do anything with them. It's time for that to stop.

This blog is my voice on the internet. Well, one of them, anyway. Facebook is something I restrict primarily to my circle of friends. I have a lot of them over there, although most actually are people I know personally whether in meatspace or online. Still, I post very little over there that's public; the vast majority of what I say in that venue is between myself and the people I know and trust. My real name and my photo are on Facebook, so I tend to be careful about making my activity there visible to the general public.

Here on Dreamwidth and in other blogging environments, I don't make my personal identity so well known, and while there are some here who do know me on a personal level, I trust their discretion. So that makes this a venue where I can feel reasonably comfortable about posting my views publicly. I have opinions -- quite a lot of them, in fact, and on all manner of topics. I'm going to try posting a lot more often, and on a wide variety of subjects. You may find me mouthing off about politics and current events one day, and musing about the meaning of life the next. I might post what amount to diary entries chronicling events in my life as they unfold, or offer my opinion on some film or book or album. I promise to be careful with regard to tagging things so that if you want to skip certain topics, or you have a preference to read about others, you should be able to tailor your experience accordingly.
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If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you already know that I write fiction. I've been doing so, off and on, for over 35 years. Recently, I found myself engaged in helping two friends, both aspiring fiction authors, with some elements in their writing. We got onto the topic of narrative voice, and the question of exactly who should be telling the story. The following is a short primer I put together on the subject, using examples from a piece of Stargate SG-1 fan fiction I've written, with which both of the friends in question are familiar.

(Disclosure: I write fan fiction because it's something I can actually publish on the web and gain reader feedback from, which allows me to experiment with various elements of technique. What I learn via this feedback then goes into my brainspace and is used to continually improve my writing of original fiction. It should be noted that I use examples from my own work here only because they are readily available online and I know exactly what my intentions were when I wrote each chapter, NOT because I think that my work is particularly good or awesome or exemplary in any but the most rudimentary sense of that last adjective.)

So, onward:

When I was first learning to write fiction, back in the days when we charred sticks in the fire and used the carbonized tips to scrawl our tales on the walls of caves now lost to distant memory, I wrote in omniscient third person. It’s a fairly common method of narration and storytelling that nearly all of us have encountered at one time or another, most likely during courses in literature when we were in secondary school. The bulk of 19th-century literature was written in this manner. However, omniscient third can be disorienting for the modern reader, and recent decades especially have seen a rise in the use of other third-person narrative modes such as tight (also known as ‘limited’) third-person and tight (or limited) third-person multiple-point-of-view.

In All That We Leave Behind, I write in tight third-person multi, utilizing a number of different characters as the narrators of my story. We experience the story through different people’s eyes and perceptions (also known as their ‘point of view’, often abbreviated ‘POV’) as it unfolds. My protagonist, Colonel Frank Cromwell, is the POV character I use the most, and we experience much of the story through his perceptions. However, there are chapters and scenes in the story for which he is not present, including a number of scenes that take place on Earth while he is off-world. Since there is no way for Frank to be aware of what is happening in a place where he is not present to observe events, I must of necessity use other characters who are present as my POV characters in those scenes.

In a similar manner, there are some events for which Frank is present, but which I have chosen to let the reader view through the perceptions of other characters. I do this both to give the reader a glimpse into the minds and personalities of these other characters and how they perceive the events of the story, and to illustrate how these other characters perceive Frank himself.

Using multiple characters as narrators in telling a story while remaining firmly in the POV character’s head throughout the entirety of a given scene or chapter is an effective way to tell a story from multiple angles while minimizing confusion for the reader. Science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer, who also teaches creative writing at the university level in Canada, has written a great lesson on this which I highly recommend reading.

When writing in 3rd-person multiple POV, it is important to remain inside a single character’s head throughout the entire scene, and if possible, the entire chapter. This is to avoid confusing your reader with dizzying hops from head to head. Of course sometimes it isn’t possible for an entire chapter to be told from a single viewpoint, as in instances where you have a brief scene that isn’t long enough to qualify as a chapter in its own right but also doesn’t tie in with any other nearby (in the temporal sense) scenes involving the same characters. When that happens, it makes sense to append such scenes to other chapters in such a way as to create continuity in your plot. In so doing, however, care must be taken to make the transition from one person’s POV to another as painless and as clear as possible for the reader, and once you have transitioned into another character’s head, it is essential to remain there either until the end of the chapter, or at least until the end of the scene, at which point it is permissible to transition into someone else’s POV if the chapter calls for it.

Chapter breaks are the most common and natural places to switch POV, but when you make the switch within a chapter instead, the switch should either coincide with a scene break or — if a full-on scene break is not possible — with the exit of the initial POV character from the scene which then continues on with the remaining characters and must be told from the POV of one of those remaining characters. Note that if a character is going to leave a scene before that scene ends, it is usually NOT a good idea to make him or her the initial POV character, unless you have some compelling reason to do so — say, for example, that you really do need to convey his or her direct impressions of what occurs up until the exit. I rarely have a POV character leave a scene, but I’ve done it on occasion. Also note that if you have your initial POV character exit a scene which then continues on in someone else’s POV, you MUST treat this the same way you treat a full scene break, by inserting an indicator that this change is occurring.

When you switch POV within a single chapter, whether or not you are fully switching scenes at the same time, it is imperative that you include some indication to the reader that the change is about to occur. Usually, leaving some white space — say, a blank line, followed by a centered row of three asterisks, followed by another blank line —  will do the trick nicely, and is my preferred method.

Here is an example from ATWLB of a chapter in three scenes, with each scene being experienced through the POV of a different character. They take place in three distinct locations: the planet known to its inhabitants as Tir 'nAwyr and to the SGC as P2A-870, the SGC itself, and Jack O’Neill’s house. Note how I have separated each scene and POV switch using space and asterisks. We experience the first scene through Frank’s perceptions, the second through Samantha Carter’s, and the third through Jack’s. Yet at no time is it unclear to the reader whose head he or she is inhabiting. The first scene opens with Frank’s name, and what follows indicates to the reader that these are Frank’s direct perceptions and experiences. Italicized material indicates his internal self-talk, the mental vocalization of a sampling of his thoughts.

For the second scene, we switch to Carter’s perceptions, again naming her in the first sentence and indicating clearly that these are her perceptions. A portion of her own self-talk is presented in italics as well; although it is not strictly necessary to go as far as to do this in every instance, it can be useful for firmly defining the fact that we are in one particular character’s head when multiple characters inhabit a scene. Another cue is the fact that the reader is presented with Carter’s own observations of the other characters, and that she is shown speculating on a number of things.

The third scene opens by naming Jack, and we experience his thoughts and emotions in this scene, including self-talk. In fact, the scene closes on an instance of his internal thoughts.

With practice, it isn’t difficult to learn how to write in limited 3rd person. The main thing to keep in mind is that you must ONLY write what your POV character of-the-moment is able to perceive, know, think or feel. Unless this character is a telepath or empath, he or she won’t know what other characters are thinking or feeling, although you can use perceptual cues to indicate that, such as having the POV character note that another character’s carried a note of amusement, or that the other character grimaced as if in pain, looked confused, or spoke in an angry tone.

Likewise, your POV character won’t be aware of things occurring beyond the area that he can see or hear, unless he is clairvoyant! This is actually the reason why this particular technique is called “limited” or “tight” 3rd-person — the POV is focused tightly on the character currently serving as narrator, and he or she is limited to telling us only what he or she observes or experiences and sharing with us his or her own thoughts and feelings.

With these restrictions in mind, however, you can write extremely detailed and personal scenes, and even expository passages if need be, simply by making the information you impart to the reader be information that the POV character knows and happens to be thinking about at the time. Here is an example of exposition presented as Frank’s reflections on all that he has learned thus far in his time on Tir Awyr. The reader comes away from this passage with a detailed body of knowledge regarding the environment in which Frank is living and an overview of the experiences he has had up until the present time, all filtered through Frank’s own direct thought processes.

By now it should be apparent that limited 3rd-person multiple-POV allows for a rich and detailed interaction between the reader and the characters in your story, encouraging the reader to identify with the protagonists and to at least understand anyone else in whose head he or she has spent some time. It also allows for you, the author, to explore your characters deeply and to tell the story on many levels. And all it takes is a little bit of practice!

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I've sort of abandoned this blog for a bit, because save for the occasional substantive entry it had begun to feel like more of a diary than anything. I'm not really the type of person to keep a diary, and I seriously doubt anyone's all that interested in the minutiae of my daily life. (And anyway, the people who are have already "friended" me on Facebook... where, as it turns out, I actually haven't spent much time talking about my daily life recently. Ah, well.) Not to mention that I am a writer of fiction, and my current fiction projects have taken up quite a bit of my mental real estate for the past few months...

However, from time to time I get the urge, or maybe "compulsion" would be a better term, to write something that is neither fiction nor a narrative of my day. And, well, if I'm going to write, I want to have an outlet for it. No sense keeping it to myself!

So, I'm going to take a different tack with this blog going forward, and try to limit my entries to the substantive, the humorous, or even the sarcastic. (Yes, yes, Dear Reader, I'll wait while you pick your jaw up off the floor where it fell  at the thought of my employing actual sarcasm.)

Oftentimes, I'll be doing some fairly mindless task such as yard work, folding laundry or washing dishes -- I lead such an exciting life! -- while mulling over some topic or other, and a fully-formed essay will come into being in my head. I've decided to start writing those out again and put them here, rather than allowing them to simply rattle about in my cranium and have wild parties (besides, I got stuck with the pizza bill the last time that happened). Having an outlet seems to be a useful thing, and just maybe someone will find my thoughts on this or that subject interesting enough to sit down and actually read them.

I'm not sure when the first entry in the "new" paradigm will occur, but as soon as something good pops into my brain and demands to be written, it'll wind up here. Stay tuned!

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Blogosphere, how I've missed thee!

Been writing a lot of fiction, which has been eating both my brain and my free time. This isn't a bad thing, mind you, but it hasn't left anything for this journal lately. Today, however, I'm fighting a head cold, which seems too have sent my fiction Muse running for the hills. So here I am. (Hack, cough, achoo!)

Surprisingly, it's pretty warm out today. It's surprising because this is March in Cleveland. Dare I hope that spring is actually going to come this soon? *crosses fingers*

Between fiction writing and the costuming work I'm doing for myself and for a couple of friends, I've kind of settled into a busy routine. This has its good points and a few bad ones. It's good in the sense that I can work, hit the gym, come home and begin cranking out whatever portion of whatever project I've chosen to work on that evening, and that takes me right up to bedtime. It's bad in the sense that I fear falling into a rut, which is something I always try to avoid. Routine is good for some things, but I don't want it to completely take over my life.

I might go out of town next weekend, just to shake things up a bit. See something different, do something different, just for the hell of it... a road trip for pleasure this time rather than for business. I just hope the weather holds.
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My Muse has been very good to me lately. I have three fiction projects going, and thus far she's been giving me some great material for all of them.

Now if I could only find more hours in the day to actually write!
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Survived Christmas. Have no idea yet what I'm doing New Year's Eve. Not even sure it matters. I have cats for company, wine for my drinking pleasure, a bunch of editing work to do on the new story I've begun writing, and no great desire to brave "Amateur Night" on the roads with inebriated drivers all around me. Unless I change my mind in the next 48 hours, it's likely I'll be ringing in the new year in the fashion of hopelessly dedicated pixel-stained peasants everywhere. And that's not a bad thing.

Now where did I put that corkscrew?

July 2017



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